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Spending Time with My Spiritual Father

Some thoughts on a recent ad limina visit in Rome with Pope Francis.

Auxiliary Bishop Robert E. Barron of Los Angeles and bishops from California, Hawaii and Nevada process to Mass in the crypt of St. Peter's Basilica during their "ad limina" visits to the Vatican Jan. 27, 2020. (CNS photo/Stefano Dal Pozzolo)

I write these words from the Eternal City of Rome, whither I’ve come with my brother bishops from Region 11 (California, Nevada, and Hawaii) for our ad limina visit. This is a regular and canonically required trip to pray at the limina apostolorum (the threshold of the Apostles), the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul, and to meet with the successor of Peter. Yesterday was the first official day of the pilgrimage, and it was extraordinary indeed. We gathered early in the morning for Mass in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica, in the presence of the tomb of the Galilean fisherman to whom Jesus gave the keys of kingdom of heaven. And then, just about a half-hour later, we were ushered into the Apostolic Palace, and after traversing a number of elaborately decorated corridors and receiving a few salutes from Swiss Guards (I’ll confess that I rather like the salutes!), we lined up to meet the Pope.

Pope Francis was in remarkably good form, especially considering that he is a man of eighty-three years. He was friendly, warm, and energetic, and he engaged with each bishop as we entered the room. Once settled into elegant but rather uncomfortable chairs (one of my brother bishops said that he thought they had last been used during the Spanish Inquisition!), we commenced an extremely lively conversation with the Bishop of Rome. Francis spoke exclusively in Italian, while about two-thirds of us spoke to him in Spanish and about a third in English. It would be impossible to summarize what turned out to be a three-hour dialogue in the scope of this brief article, but I can mention a few major motifs.

First, Pope Francis was extremely interested in prayer. He spoke with real feeling about the importance of initiating our young people into the practice of Eucharistic Adoration. Several times he repeated the word “adoration,” urging us to teach our people this most fundamental form of communing with God. And in regard to bishops, he indicated several forms of “vicinanza” (closeness) that ought to characterize our lives: closeness to our people, to our brother bishops, and to our priests. But then he emphasized that all of these are grounded in the most important kind of vicinanza—namely, the intimacy with the Lord that comes through prayer. I will confess that these words of his have already burned their way into my mind and heart: “The first task of the bishop is to pray.”

A second theme that the Pope articulated with particular clarity and passion was that of gender ideology. As he has often in the past, he bemoaned the “ideological colonization” that takes place when Western notions of gender fluidity and self-invention make their way aggressively into parts of the developing world, often through a kind of blackmail: unless and until you adopt Western values in this regard, we will refuse you material and medical assistance. The Pope’s fundamental argument was biblical. The book of Genesis tells us that God made the genders distinct and that this difference is key to human flourishing. Whatever seeks to eliminate difference in this arena of life, therefore, is contrary to God’s will.

But by far the dominant theme in our lengthy conversation, expressed both in the questions of the bishops and the substantive responses of the Pope, was evangelization. When one bishop made reference to Evangelii Gaudium, Francis’s seminal encyclical on the topic, the Pope wryly commented that that text was largely “plagiarized” from St. Paul VI’s 1975 encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi and the document that emerged from the meeting of the Latin American Bishops’ Conference at Aparacida in 2007. All three statements are, in fact, landmarks of the New Evangelization, and all three operate out of the assumption that the Church is missionary by its very nature. When I had a chance to speak, I asked the Pope to elaborate on the theme of the via pulchritudinis (the way of beauty), which is central to Evangelii Gaudium. He spoke of the recovery of beauty in the work of contemporary theologians and philosophers, and he urged us not to denigrate the beautiful as it is found in the popular culture—film, books, sports, etc.—which often appeal to the young more than some expressions of beauty in the high culture.

The most clarifying moment regarding evangelization occurred when a bishop asked the Pope to address what appeared to the bishop as something of a tension in the Pope’s teaching. On the one hand, he said, Francis seemed very strong in his recommendation that we announce the faith publicly and draw people to Christ, but on the other hand, the Holy Father frequently inveighs against what he calls “proselytizing.” I will confess that I have often wondered at some of Francis’ rhetoric here and have longed for something like his definition of the term. The Holy Father clarified that he, of course, advocates the spreading of the faith, but he is opposed to an aggressive, divisive, numbers-oriented approach to the task. Evangelization, he joked, is not like getting people to join your football club! As he often has in the past, he emphasized with us the centrality of personal witness to the joy of living a life of faith. Whatever teaching we do, he said, must take place within the context of that way of life. In this, of course, he was simply echoing Pope Paul VI, who said that people today listen to teachers precisely in the measure that those teachers are also witnesses. I was particularly gratified to hear him on this point, for there have been some in the commentariat who have suggested that engaging in apologetics or theological clarification is tantamount to “proselytizing.” Not according to Pope Francis.

Before I posed my question, I told the Pope that we were all grateful to him for giving us the opportunity to be with him as a true spiritual father. And that indeed is what the experience was like: our father speaking to us from the heart and with great affection. It was an encounter that I will not soon forget.

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About Bishop Robert Barron 205 Articles
Bishop Robert Barron has been the bishop of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester in Minnesota since 2022. He is the founder of, a nonprofit global media apostolate that seeks to draw people into—or back to—the Catholic faith.


  1. ” All three statements are, in fact, landmarks of the New Evangelization, and all three operate out of the assumption that the Church is missionary by its very nature. When I had a chance to speak, I asked the Pope to elaborate on the theme of the via pulchritudinis (the way of beauty), which is central to Evangelii Gaudium. He spoke of the recovery of beauty in the work of contemporary theologians and philosophers, and he urged us not to denigrate the beautiful as it is found in the popular culture—film, books, sports, etc.—which often appeal to the young more than some expressions of beauty in the high culture.”

    No mention though of the liturgy and how beauty is important for liturgy in all aspects? Pity.

  2. Bishop Barron, if Pope Francis is such a loving father, why has he not answered the dubia presented to him in 2016 asking him to clarify the basic principles of Catholic faith and morality? And why has he not responded to the testimony of Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano averring that he personally told PF about Cardinal McCarrick’s serial sexual predations in 2013? And why has he not revealed documents the Holy See possesses showing who protected McCarrick? And why does he continue to make McCarricks’s cronies bishops and archbishops? And why did he bring a pagan idol into Saint Peter’s Basilica and worship it? And why…and why…and why…

    This article comes across as wishful propaganda that is intended to make the Catholic faithful ignore reality. We deserve truth and straightforwardness from our spiritual father, not equivocation and ambiguity. Jorge Bergoglio is a destroyer of the Catholic faith. Bishops like you would gain more respect from the laity if you would have the courage to step out of denial, even at the expense of your own careers.

    • He “answered” the dubia, just not directly and forthrightly like a real spiritual father. He approved the cynically pre-arranged Argentine guidelines and had them published in the official record of Vatican acts, making them part of the Church’s Magisterium. Then he eviscerated the JPII Institute for Marriage and Family, dismissing everyone who questioned AL and replacing them with his own cronies. But that was not enough. He even went so far as to officially kill the Institute and “re-found” it with an entirely new constitution based explicitly on AL.

    • What the LGBTG-welcoming hierarchy will not acknowledge is that more and more Catholics are choosing the ‘red-pill.’ We cannot and will not, sacrifice our souls for the sake of novelty and heresy dressed as ambiguity.

  3. I used to think that listening to a bad homily was the only thing that would make my skin crawl. But I’ve discovered that reading these “ad limina campfire” musings are having the same effect.

    As the Church bumbles along, firefighting each new self-inflicted crisis; unsuccessfully trying to be everything to everybody; and elevating social justice to a pedestal previously reserved for the Monstrance during Adoration, we need to know if the Holy Father is actively engaged in understanding your (bishops) problems; what’s he doing to help you solve them (aside from vilifying capitalism and the rich, opposing Trump and right wing religious conservatives, and advocating totally open borders)?

    But glad to see you got your “I got to ask the Pope” merit badge, Bishop Barron. I only hope you were able to lay a few words on him about all your research on “The Nones” and explain to your Spiritual Father, that the word has also come to mean “the answers and leadership that faithful Catholics can expect to hear from the Pope & Magisterium”: None.

    • And did you address the problem of homelessness in your huge diocese?
      I want to know what our Catholic Church is doing to, if not eradicate the problem, then to help with solutions. Thank you.

  4. Bishop Barron, did you bother to ask the Pope to give you three of the most egregious examples of where in the Church today he identified proselytizing taking place? I thought so.

  5. Sorry, but no matter how many of these bishop interviews I read, telling me how moving it is to be in the ad limina room with Francis, it does not make me any less disgusted with him for the mess he has made and prompted others to make these past seven years.

  6. The Pontiff Francis is neither holy nor fatherly.

    Men like the Pontiff Francis are enemies of Christ’s justice, and as such are enemies of every parent trying to raise wholesome children in this horrible reality we are living in as parents.

    In 2014 the Pontiff Francis overturned justice against a notorious serial sex predator, and restored convicted boy rapist Mauro Inzoli to priestly duties, after Pope Benedict found this criminal guilty of serial sex predation and stripped him of priestly functions (after an exhaustive investigation by Cardinal Mueller and the CDF).

    By this act of horror, the Pontiff Francis slapped every parent of those poor boys in the face, and inaugurated his reign of terror and injustice. The families were so outraged at the injustice of The Pontiff Francis that they subsequently sought justice outside the Church, and the Italian courts found Inzoli guilty, forcing the brazen coward Francis to undo his criminal restoration of the boy rapist Inzoli.

    Not holy.

    Not fatherly.

    But it is no longer shocking, now that we know about the secret society who engineered the 2013 conclave, led by the criminal sex abuse cover Cardinal Danneels of Belgium (protector of the “Belgian McCarrick” Bishop Roger Vangelhuwe, who raped his little nephew), and orchestrated by the sociopath sex abuser and arch-liar McCarrick, both longtime friends of the Pontiff Francis.

    This article is nothing but preaching to an empty choir.

    • Sinful and disgusting! I wish more people would read the Catholic World Report to understand what is going on in the hierarchy of our church. Ask anyone what they really think of our modern day St. Peter and they would say “Don’t use St. Peter’s name in vain.”

  7. As to the brotherhood of bishops, here is a very horrible example of a “brother Bishop,” Bishop Carlson (I believe of St. Louis?), who remains in “good standing” in the Church:

    It was said by a wise man that “children love justice because they are innocent, and adults love mercy because they are not.” Hence the pontificate of mercy…the enemy of justice.

    In better days, justice and mercy were married in the Church. Not in these dark days…

    May this nightmare end someday, in God’s justice.

  8. What a puff piece pretending to be news. Where was your question about idol worship in the Vatican? The Dubia? The McCarrick file? Benedict’s house arrest? Gay orgies among the curia? Vatican Bank corruption? Destruction of contemplative life? Nope. Just business as usual. Hanging on the Pope’s every word to show how loyal he is…yuck. What a disappointment that CWR gives an empty suit a platform.

  9. Finally, it is preposterous for the Pontiff Francis (or Bishop Barron) to think Catholic parents paying attention believe a word that Francis (or his team) speaks about “gender ideology,” when his premier spokesmen in the US is the subversive counterfeit Christian homosexual-ist “Rev.” James Martin, and the appointed Cardinals of Francis are the homosexual-ists Tobin of Newark and Cupich of Chicago and now Gregory of Washington, all 3 of whom are close associates of the sociopath sex abuser McCarrick, and all 3 of whom have promoted flying the gender ideology flag in our Churches in Newark, Chicago (and as Gregory did when Archbishop of Atlanta).

    Taking it as a whole, the Pontiff Francis seems contemptuous of the very idea that a Pontiff’s or Bishop’s words and deeds might cohere in the truth of Christ.

    But for the Pontiff Francis, there is only this goal: psychologically manipulate our children by make a mess, so that counterfeit men like Francis and his friend McCarrick reign over their own chaos.

  10. Sorry, not buying it Bishop Barron. We’re well past the point of being “brought around” on PF by a puff piece like this. You’re clearly alarmed by the open and vocal rejection of PF by so many American Catholics. Hence, attempts like this one to prop him up and suggest he’s really not so bad. And, hence, your request for a new inquisition to shut down or delegitimize the most vocal “opposition” outlets. Just remember this: our “Holy Father” despised us first. He’s made it abundantly clear by repeating over and over again that he thinks we’re psychologically disturbed and “not Christian” just because we actually believed and tried to live out what the Church taught up until the reign of PF.

    • Yes………………I do! You have to pick your battles. What go would it have done to mention the items talked about above? Give Bishop Barron a chance to pick his battle! We good Catholics will win this battle. Christ is with us, who could be against us?

      • Yes, you do have to pick your battles but sometimes you miss your moment and then its gone. With the opportunity to directly ask PF anything he wanted, Bishop Barron asked a meaningless kiss-up question about the Way of Beauty to which the answer was obvious. I can think of about 1,000 more pressing questions but it appears he was more interested in obtaining papal affirmation of his own evangelization program that addressing any truly serious questions. I suppose PF may have considered it “bad form” or for him to ask a real, challenging question, and he certainly couldn’t risk that! Gee, thanks.

    • I always liked Bishop Barron. He represented a sort of “middle way” exemplified by St. JP II and Benedict XVI. Neither traditionalist nor progressive; accepting Vatican II as valid but interpreting it in continuity with the past. Well, it is looking like that project has failed. The center did not hold. The radical progressives are in charge now and they are moving rapidly to transform the Church into their own image and likeness. Bishop Barron does not seem to have realized or accepted this. He still thinks we are all basically on the same team, just with different emphases. Now he is panicking at the vocal and determined opposition to PF and his agenda, so he has suggested that the Church officially censor outlets that are critical of PF. His choice seems clear: when the center does not hold, he’s going with PF, wherever that may lead. It looks like he is unwilling to risk his ecclesiastical career. Just my take.

  11. “we were all grateful to him for giving us the opportunity to be with him as a true spiritual father. And that indeed is what the experience was like: our father speaking to us from the heart and with great affection. It was an encounter that I will not soon forget”

    Much of the account is encouraging, but this closing line makes me think priests end up living in a a bubble that’s impenetrable to laymen. Outside of his official position, how is Francis supposed to be a ‘true spiritual father’ to men he has never even met before? Seems as inflated as Joel Osteen rhetoric. I resonated more with papal gushing when I clicked with the utterances of earlier pontiffs. But Francis has pushed me closer to a position where I think the swooning is unhelpful, regardless of the man.

  12. Your Excellency,

    You are a gifted man who I believe loves the Church very much. You are a wonderful teacher, evangelist, and apologist. I pray that if it is the Lord’s will, that you would embrace the prophet’s mantle.

  13. Where is the respect our Holy Father and Bishop Barron? The bishop was simply sharing his experience and it appears to be very positive. He wasn’t commenting or excusing or agreeing with every word Pope Francis has ever spoken. I find it hard to believe that the comments of almost everyone were so angry, accusatory, and unforgiving. We build up the church by our witness of life. How is our brotherly love expressed in the words I’m reading here? When my thoughts turn in the direction of your words I run to confession. Then I have the power to catch my words before they leave my mouth. It is better to be silent and to pray.

  14. Realistically Bishop Barron where is the need for warm solace. Is it with Our Spiritual Father or with the lambs who are crying out in anguish. Sleepless nights confused seeking sustenance. We the clergy presbyters pastors bishops take their wool and drink their milk and feed them platitudes, false coin. Their faith is shaken. Presbyters who feed the sheep are silenced. Most prominent Catholic websites are managed by converts one born into the faith scarred by vile priest example. Laity are allowed to vent their anguish given a forum to maintain moral and emotional sanity. Yes some do go too far. Must hierarchy strike with crook and staff or must ordained defenders of the faith reach them with the truth of our faith? If we do that for the least of our brethren we do it for Christ. Where your heart is there is your treasure.

  15. This isn’t meant to console me or anyone else, but the fact is we live in an instant information age where we know (or think we know) everything about everyone, even to the extent of knowing their motives. If we had access to this level of information (or disinformation) in the past, I daresay every era in Church history would look as chaotic as it does today, more so in certain eras. Yet, the Church survives and even thrives in the prayer and work of its many saints.

  16. Two things come to mind after reading after reading the above (in a charitable way). One, there is a clear demonstration of a case of Stockholm syndrome and secondly, the easiest to fool is oneself.

  17. With all due respect, those who encourage Bishop Barron to maybe one day embrace the Papacy as he is now (maybe the ultimate purpose of the Bishop’s article, whether consciously or unconsciously), are misguided by a SENTIMENTALIST IMAGE and ignoring HARD REALITY, something we have been SO pushed into and SO indoctrinated for the last 70 years, as one of the most effective and devastating anti-Church, anti-Truth, anti-America strategies, and which has already done great evil “wonders” in society at large.

    Bishop Barron definitely has many good virtues but definitely not the maturity, holy bravery and solidity to lead the Church when so many anti-God groups and their associates are asking for compromise (betrayal) and softening of the Truth of God into a Pretty Sweet Marshmallow Catholicism. This exemplifies what is happening in all of Christianity, where extreme softness, niceness and prettiness is totally confused with love, holiness and compassion, and the devastating effects are everywhere and self-evident.

    Due respect and appreciation but not worship to Bishop Barron and, instead, even more infinite respect for the Authentic Truth and the true worship due ONLY to Jesus Christ. We are obviously being led to Hell by the heart, and our heart and whole being should belong ONLY to God not to any prelate (or lay person) no matter how virtuous or saintly he/she appears to be. That would be idolatry. “Of all the things guarded, guard your heart”, Saint Teresa of Avila and Proverbs 4:23.

  18. “… and receiving a few salutes from Swiss Guards (I’ll confess that I rather like the salutes!)…”

    “Once settled into elegant but rather uncomfortable chairs (one of my brother bishops said that he thought they had been used by the Spanish Inquisition!)…”

    With all due respect to Bishop Barron, who exactly was the intended audience for this piece? Serious Catholic adults or 8 year olds? Such adolescent observations smack of homilies wherein the priest opens with a joke. Disgusting. And so revealing.

    Teachable moment for seminarians and young priests: Give us steel doctrine. Give us Truth and ammunition for the lifetime spiritual struggle. Respect the laity and treat us as adults, conduct yourself as an adult and let your writing exhibit this.

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