Are Catholic flame wars evangelizing online? Bishop Barron says ‘no’ 

CNA Staff, Jul 8, 2020 / 07:00 pm (CNA).- A California bishop challenged Catholics online to “cut it out” and better represent their Christian faith through their social media engagement.

On Tuesday, Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, issued a “pastoral cry of the heart” to encourage Catholics to stop tearing each other apart online and instead provide well structured and charitable arguments.

“I understand that people are passionate, especially about religious matters, but when it comes to this commentary we always must keep truth and love in the forefront,” he said.

Speaking of social media, Barron said that “I must admit the vitriol, negativity, personal attacks, and outright calumny that come regularly from self-professed Catholics is dismaying and disedifying in the extreme.”

The video message followed a June 24 article Barron had written, which he said the drew unhealthy criticism from mobs of Catholics who responded not with arguments, but with vicious insults. For four days, the bishop had to assign co-workers to assess and remove disturbing comments from his different social media pages, he said.

“In the wake of my article,” he said, “armies of commenters, encouraged by certain internet provocateurs, inundated my Twitter and all my social media sites with wave upon wave of the most hateful, vituperative, venomous words that you can imagine.”

“I was called spineless, gutless, cowardly, and that’s just to mention the most benign and unobscene remarks.”

In the article, “Why ‘what are the bishops doing about it?’ is the wrong question,” Barron noted Catholics had been calling for a greater contribution from the bishops against racial injustices, including the death of George Floyd.

He said bishops are lobbying politicians, encouraging legislative changes, and calling on community leaders. However, he said there must be footwork done by the laity as well.

“The crisis precipitated by the brutal killing of George Floyd is one that involves many dimensions of our society: law, the police, education, government, neighborhoods, families, etc. Priests and bishops, to be sure, ought to teach clearly and publicly,” he wrote.

“But I would argue that the lion’s share of the work regarding this massive societal problem belongs to those whose proper arena is the society and whose expertise lies precisely in the relevant areas of concern, namely, the laity.”

As a public figure on social media, Barron said in his recent video, he expects vocal opposition and even welcomes well-formed criticism. He said even the most finely articulated demonstration is susceptible to objections and new suggestions.

But the comments he received last week were a “moral outrage,” he said. Rather than challenges offered in love and truth, the comments were “calumny” – mean spirited accusations that violate both charity and justice.

“There is a sharp distinction between legitimate argument and calumny. A real argument, involving the marshaling of evidence, the citation of authorities, the fair and careful reporting of one’s opponent’s position, etc, is morally praiseworthy,” he said.

“For real argument fosters both truth and love. It seeks to shed light on what is really the case – truth – and to invite others to see more clearly – it’s a type of love. Calumny, on the other hand, is indifferent to truth and inimical to love.”

Among those with whom Barron has clashed in recent weeks is author and YouTube commentator Taylor Marshall, whose book “Infiltration,” claims to outline a plot by which “Modernists and Marxists hatched a plan to subvert the Catholic Church from within. Their goal: to change Her doctrine, Her liturgy, and Her mission,” according to the book’s website.

Marshall has said that bishops should lead defenses of sacred statues at risk of being torn down by rioters. After the bishop blocked Marshall on Twitter, the author has also criticized Barron’s response to criticism.

“What we see here is kinda tone deaf. We feel like we have been bullied, and pushed down and lied to by our bishops for decades,” Marshall said in a July 8 video.

In the face of attacks against Catholic statues, “we’re looking for the bishops to do something….So when we hear ‘that’s the laity’s job,’ that really ticked off a lot of people, Bishop Barron.”

Marshall said those engaging with the bishop disrespectfully should repent, but also that Barron seems not to understand the frustration of him and his supporters. “That is why you had to make a video yesterday.”

Marshall disputed the idea that he encouraged his supporters to attack Barron online, “but what you saw, Bishop Barron, were tens and tens of thousands of Catholics who want to support you outraged – is that too strong a word?-  confused, bothered, that the bishop who has the biggest platform and the biggest voice would say ‘that’s the laity’s job!’ or ‘Vatican II taught that the secular arena belongs to the laity.’”

In his video, Marshall subsequently criticized Barron because he said that the bishop did not condemn “the sin of idolatry” during the 2019 Amazon synod, and that he did not believe Barron had vigorously enough defended the institution of marriage at the time of the Obergefell vs. Hodges decision. He added that the reason “trolls” antagonize Barron is because he is not sufficiently accessible to answer questions about such criticisms.

Marshall and Barron have clashed previously over theological issues. Marshall has recently criticized other bishops for their response to the coronavirus pandemic, among other things, and is affiliated with the priestly Society of St. Pius X, a traditionalist group in “irregular communion” with the Catholic Church. Barron has reportedly described Marshall as an “extremist.”

In his video, Barron said that online mob comments and abusive reviews do not help promote change but are, instead, anti-evangelical. If non-Catholics who are curious about the faith were to observe such behavior, he said, they would be repelled by the insidious comments of Catholics toward their pastors.

Catholics should be examples of charity, and model respectful disagreement within the Catholic community.

“As Tertullian reminded us long ago, what first attracted many pagans to Christianity was the obvious love that Christians showed to one another,” he said.

“Catholics on social media,” Barron concluded, “you need to pick up your game”


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    • Meiron, with all due respect, I believe insulting anyone, especially Bishop Barron, only makes the Bishop’s case in this article. The reason our Lord, Jesus Christ, took up His cross and carried it up that hill was to give us an example as to how we are to live our lives; i.e., love your neighbor, no matter what. Turn the other cheek, and on and on. Being disrespectful, expecially in a religious context is morally wrong and against what our Lord taught. Shame on you. Read your Bible and educate yourself for the sake of your soul.

      • Christian charity and civility are certainly one thing, yes, but a footnote here on sometimes-conflated groveling by Christians, which is quite another. Josef Pieper observes Christ and then quotes Aquinas:

        First PIEPER: “Christ drove the money-changers from the temple with a whip, and when the most patient of men stood before the high priest and was struck in the face by a servant, he did NOT turn the other cheek, but answered: ‘If there was harm in what I said, tell us what was harmful in it, but if not, why dost thou strike me?’” (Jn 18:23).

        Then AQUINAS in his commentary on St. John’s Gospel: “Holy Scripture must be understood in the light of what Christ and his saints have actually practiced. Christ did not offer his other cheek, nor Paul either. Thus to interpret the injunction of the Sermon on the Mount [turning the other cheek, Mt 5:39] LITERALLY is to misunderstand it. This injunction signifies rather the readiness of the soul to bear, IF IT BE NECESSARY, such things and worse, without bitterness against the attacker. This readiness our Lord showed, when he gave up his body to be crucified. That response of the Lord was useful, therefore, for our instruction” (Pieper, Fortitude and Temperance, 1954).

        • Excellent explanatory quotes on Christian virtue. Josef Pieper is among the very best commentators on Aquinas.

  1. The BURNING (!) QUESTION awaiting both the laity and the clergy is what to offer the leaderless mob when their demand for perfect purity is not humanly possible? What now to demonstrate to the demonstrators?

    Those who tear down everything—in a spoiled-brat rage? Those who smear graffiti—like spreading one’s feces on asylum walls? Those who topple statues—like heads falling under the guillotine? Those who allow their legitimate grievances to be commandeered by the underworld. How very imitative, uncreative, and predictable!

    The swarm is almost like some insects, spiders, and worms who eat their own mothers. And not to sound too sexist, it has been observed that the final aim of amnesiac and radical Leftism throughout history is also to destroy fatherhood (today like Washington, the Father of our Country).

    The TEACHABLE MOMENT—from the Laity, in response to a list of pure ultimatums:
    (1) a reminder of the not perfect, but the best, as articulated by (the toppled) Jefferson—in the Declaration of Independence,
    (2) rather than carnivorous Socialism, a protective division of powers—as articulated in the Constitution (likely inspired in part by a cleric, Bellarmine!), and
    (3) from a radically-apostolic Clergy—the always prior and higher truth, for example, that “without God we can do nothing” (John 15:5), and alarmingly that He has actually spoken and walks with us—rather than not.

    The call for Laity and Clergy, together, to think outside their boxes. Carpe diem!

    • Bishop Barron certainly does not deserve the invective he describes, because he has done great work for the Church. At least on this website, I thought the comments were generally not over the top.
      I also have to say that in reading what Bishop Barron says here, and what Taylor Marshall says on his site, I am inclined to sympathize more with Mr. Marshall. He raises what I think are legitimate questions that need to be addressed, but our bishops ignore them and dismiss the questioners as provocateurs, unworthy of a response. Well, I do not consider myself a provocateur, just a very confused and demoralized Catholic. And Mr. Marshall’s questions to Bishop Barron seem very reasonable to me. I wish he would respond to them. His silence speaks volumes.

  2. Having staff spend 4 days censoring comments reminds me the what the Big Tech companies are doing with the Cancel Culture Movement to cancel conservative Pro-Life websites, or actually any thinking person who questions what is going on right now in our country. I don’t like the fact the Bishop Barron is not responding to some genuine criticism, and instead just engages in censure and silencing voices he has decided not to listen to. It is what the secular world is doing to Christian voices in this country. Catholic Bishops shouldn’t be doing this. I would rather he did something like the Bishop of San Francisco who performed an exorcism at the spot the statute was taken down, which is a greater role model of Christian behavior. If Bishop Barron performed an exorcism on his posts or his computer, that would make more sense to me to rebuke Satan, but not Christians.

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