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Bishop Barron: Election of atheist as Harvard chaplain president ‘complete and abject surrender’

Joe Bukuras   By Joe Bukuras for CNA

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)

Washington D.C., Sep 1, 2021 / 18:00 pm (CNA).

Bishop Robert Barron said on Tuesday that the Harvard University chaplains made a “complete and abject surrender” by electing an atheist as the president of their association.

“What does bother me,” Barron wrote in an Aug. 31 op-ed for the New York Post, “is the complete and abject surrender on the part of the presumably religious leaders at Harvard who chose this man.”

“If a professed atheist counts as a chaplain — which is to say, a leader of religious services in a chapel — then ‘religion’ has quite obviously come to mean nothing at all,” he continued. Barron is the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire Catholic media.

Last week the New York Times announced that Greg Epstein, an atheist and humanist chaplain at Harvard University, was unanimously elected as the “chief chaplain” of the Harvard Chaplains, the association of more than 40 chaplains serving Harvard students of various religious denominations.

However, the Harvard Catholic Center and a Christian alumni association took issue with some reporting of Epstein’s new role. The Harvard Catholic Center clarified to CNA this week that Epstein’s role as chaplain facilitator is administrative, and has no effect on its ministry at Harvard.

“There really is no influence in the role other than the fact that he has the title as the president as the Harvard Chaplains and that he’s the liaison between that group and the president of Harvard,” said Nico Quesada, marketing and media director at the Harvard Catholic Center, to CNA on Monday.

Epstein will also convene all the university chaplains when they have matters to discuss, he said, and thus will be “representing the entire group but he’s not representing his own opinions if that makes sense.”

The Harvard Catholic Center is the chaplaincy to the university’s Catholic students, based at nearby St. Paul’s parish in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is staffed by three priests serving as part of the university’s chaplains’ association.

Barron on Tuesday urged Harvard religious chaplains who elected an atheist to lead their association to “[s]how a little self-respect. Being a chaplain has something to do with the worship of God — and you shouldn’t be ashamed to say it.”

“My point is,” Barron said, “that the relativizing of doctrine has led, by steady steps through two centuries, to the situation at Harvard today: Even that most elemental of doctrines — belief in God — doesn’t matter. One can still, evidently, be perfectly ‘religious’ without it”

Before his election as president, Epstein previously served as the vice president of the university chaplains’ association. He has been the humanist chaplain at Harvard since 2005, and also serves as humanist chaplain at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

During the 2020 presidential election, he served as the national chair of Humanists for Biden on behalf of “humanists, atheists, agnostics, and others.” He has authored the book, “Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe,” a response to prominent atheists on humanism.

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  1. We read from Bishop Barron: “My point is that the relativizing of doctrine has led, by steady steps through two centuries, to the situation at Harvard today…”

    And what is that situation? Sounds a bit like ghouls are simply feeding on the bones of a former Associate Justice…In the Harvard Law Review (1895) Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. already set the tone for relativistic legal invention when he wrote:

    “. . . I often doubt whether it would not be a gain if every word of moral significance could be banished from the law altogether. . . .” Earlier, he had written: “I think that the sacredness of human life is a purely municipal idea [!] of no validity outside the jurisdiction” (Mark de Wolfe, ed., “The Pollock-Holmes Letters,” 1874-1932, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1942, Vol. 2, p. 36).

    But, perhaps all can agree with the report that his “administrative” position, like so many others, is totally lacking in meaning.

  2. If you concede you are a chaplain among many then you also concede your religion, including the shamanistic and the atheistic, is one among many, a matter of preference not a matter of truth; relativism by the side entrance. There was a time, before Assisi and pachamama, the Holy Catholic Church conceded nothing to this sentimental, warts ‘n’ all «ecumenism». Just look where this faux charity has got us.

  3. On the contrary, an atheist chaplain makes perfect sense in “the New Christianity,” or as Fulton Sheen called it, “Religion Without God.” It is the logical development of the New Things of modernism and socialism, which invert the natural and supernatural orders, and put the abstraction of humanity created by human beings in place of God, demoting God to man’s servant. Émile Durkheim’s “divinized society” takes over as the transcendent God fades away.

  4. At the risk of sounding flippant, I make a point of assuring my atheist friends that Christianity finds comfort in atheism’s self-evident demonstration of what in my Catholic school years was always called the ‘gift of faith’, a special grace to be treasured and accepted with thanksgiving.

  5. People don’t like the fact, but disbelief is a sin.
    Harvard… well, that’s an abomination.
    God bless Barron for speaking clearly.

  6. Would one really expect something different from Harvard? It is the perfect culmination of post-modern relativism, of which they generally are a promoter. What basis, pray tell, would these folks have for negatively judging such a representative of the age? He is one of them. He is the reincarnation, tuned up a few notes, of R. W. Emerson (to mix a metaphor).

  7. “There really is no influence in the role other than the fact that…he’s the liaison between that group and the president of Harvard,” … Nico Quesada, the Harvard Catholic Center

    Band-aid on a cancer.

  8. Bishop Barron is a very intelligent man and I have found many of his lectures, particularly on philosophy and history, very insightful. However, Bishop Barron weighing in on almost any ethical (certainly moral) issue always gives me pause. He is far more Kantian than Thomistic and far more Pope Francis than St.Pius X.In the American USCCB milieu of groupthink, theologically, he blends into the background. Pray for him and all the bishops.

  9. Anyway we may consider atheism a faith-based religion. They believe there is no God, no First Cause, no Intelligent Creator. If they believe this, let us remind it is their right to have such a faith.

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