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Word on Fire’s Bishop Barron: ‘We’ve dumbed down the faith too much for too long’

Buchi Akpati By Buchi Akpati for CNA

Bishop Robert Barron speaks to tens of thousands of young people at a World Youth Day gathering in Lisbon, Portugal, Aug. 2, 2023. The event, hosted by the U.S. bishops’ conference, culminated in a eucharistic procession and Holy Hour. / Credit: Nuria Chiccon/EWTN News

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Aug 16, 2023 / 15:50 pm (CNA).

Bishop Robert Barron of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, this week argued that events such as the recently concluded World Youth Day are not only relevant to the Catholic Church but also essential to counteract what he said has been the practice of “dumbing down the faith too much for too long.”

Known for his highly popular Word on Fire ministry as well as his regular “Sunday Sermons” across social media, Barron in a recent interview with EWTN Vatican’s Colm Flynn on EWTN News Nightly reflected on the contrast between Catholicism’s decline in certain areas of the world and its growth in African and Asian countries.

The Catholic faith “is, in some ways, declining in the West; in other parts of the world, it’s not,” he said.

“One thing about World Youth Day,” the bishop said, “is that you see Catholics from all over the world, and it breaks us out of our sometimes Western myopic view of things.”

“I love that you see the vibrancy of the faith in Africa and Asia,” he added.

Asked what makes World Youth Day so special, Barron argued that people are “hungry for God whether they acknowledge it or not, whether they feel it directly or not.”

“So, when there’s an opportunity to come together to seek God, to praise God, young people respond,” he said.

Barron said young people “don’t want an uncertain trumpet; they don’t want a vacillating message. They want something clear, and when they get it, they respond to it.”

“They want something with a solid foundation,” he said. “We dumbed down the faith for too long.”

The bishop reflected on his own generation, which he said “got a ‘dumbed-down’ Catholicism” that “has been a pastoral disaster.”

That assessment, he argued, is “not just my private opinion” but is reflected in “every survey showing more people disaffiliating from the Catholic faith.”

Stressing the need for the Church to spread the Gospel, Barron in the interview recalled Pope Benedict XVI’s counsels for three main goals of the Church, which the bishop described as “to worship God, to serve the poor, and to evangelize.”

Those goals, the bishop said, are necessary on a continuum “in season and out, whether we’re successful culturally or hated culturally, we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.”

Barron argued that young people should also be taught that while social media can be “a tool,” it’s “not the real world.”

“The real world is the worship of God, service of the poor, and communion with one another,” he said.

“I love social media,” he added. “I use it. But it’s got a very negative aspect and the numbers of anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies are all spiking among young people.”

“I know it’s tougher now,” Barron said of the present world in which young people are coming of age, “which means we need Christ more than ever. And I want them to come away with a sense of Jesus who loves them, who walks with them, and wants to be the Lord of their life in a liberating way.”

Watch the full EWTN News Nightly interview with Barron below:

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  1. Its long been thought that people leave the Catholic church because it is too demanding. In reality, is is because there is not enough emphasis on moral standards and practical applications of being a Catholic. The church is not asking too much of its members, it is asking too little. And with each capitulation to secular society’s whim of the day ( like gay blessings) more crushed and disheartened catholics leave. The Bishops may be puzzled but the catholics in the pews are not.Where are the homilies about abortion, living together unmarried, gay unions, trans issues, etc? Bishops and priests, why did you become a priest at all if you were going to be content to follow what the New York Times wants you to do? That is NOT leading your flock. It is abandoning them. Very sad.

    • Sad to say that those subjects have had people leave the church… hard to believe, but true. The church wants the money and those that have spoken up (priests) have been scorned from their bishops and fellow catholic’s. I want them to speak up but when they do they get removed or go to another parish.

    • Where are the homilies about abortion, living together unmarried, gay unions, trans issues, etc? ”
      Every one of those issues, plus contraception, was actually all addressed during the homily at our TLM last Sunday but Father doesn’t just save that for the TLM, his homilies are similar at his NO masses also.
      But I do agree with what you say. People want to be challenged by their faith, especially young people. If the Church only offers what the world offers why bother?

      • And that is a rarity. I live in NY where I can “shop around” to many different parishes trying to find priests giving non-mundane homilies, and it is still very difficult. Fortunately, I have a car, and there are some good priests. It shouldn’t be a struggle.

    • So do you want to hear homilies about other peoples sins or do you want to hear homilies that convict you of your own sins and encourage you to change your behaviour. Unless you are tempted to homosexuality, what is the point of hearing a homily about that? Would it not be better to have a homily about pride or how to love your enemy, things that are really difficult and most people need to work on.

    • A couple of years ago, it was reported in the B.C. Catholic Newspaper, published in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada that 83% of young people, both male and female, by the time they reach the age of 25, have dropped out of the Catholic Church.
      It would be worthwhile to interview young people who attended a World Youth day several years ago, if they are still practicing Catholics.

  2. The Church is dying in Western culture and there’s one very simple explanation:

    The dominant, secular, atheistic culture has successfully evangelized Christians in the West including those in the Catholic Church founded by Christ.

    Let’s put it plainly for those who are not inclined to abstruse theological principles: There was a family with 10 children. The father was a thorough-going narcissist who enjoyed certain pleasures and paid little attention to his wife and children and their needs. He was rarely home and so the household went undisciplined. He rarely worked and so his family ate poorly and could not afford adequate medical attention. As a result, they could not resist disease and and were prone to long periods of being bedridden. Their house was in sorry need of repair: the roof leaked and routine maintenance was neglected. The children were provided little or no education because they were either too sickly to attend or they were busy fighting among themselves because the mother was over-stressed and the father routinely absent. Given their weakened state, the family was vulnerable to all sorts of attack from the outside – especially from those who hated families with many children. One of these external threats decided to eliminate the family altogether and plotted to infuse the family home with toxic gases while they slept. The denouement of their fate has yet been written. But onlookers feared the worst for them – all except the father who was observed to be playing the fiddle at the local pub when he was not advising his confreres about how best to raise their families.

  3. Dumbed down faith, dumbed down liturgy. It’s truly amazing to come across a young person with any degree of personal devotion, given the thin gruel we’ve all been fed this past 50 years.

    • Richard, lest you implicitly connect “dumbed down faith” with Vatican II, read the Bishop again. It’s clear he distinguishes the West from the rest of the world. This phenomena of declining Catholicism due to secularism is true in the West but not in the Rest. In the Rest, the Church after Vatican II has grown explosively. Notably, the reformed liturgy in the people’s languages has significantly helped in this surge.

      • Worse than dumbed down, our faith has been compromised. The church is growing in Africa and Asia but there are two questions.
        Is it the true uncompromised Catholic faith?
        Is the growth due more to persecutons Catholics face?

        • Nick: Examine your line of thinking. You show traces of the typical sense of Western superiority short of racism. Why do you think the non-Westerners as incapable of embracing the Catholic faith fully? What makes you think that they can only get and live it compromised and dumbed down?

      • While I agree that hearing the Mass in your own language is a great plus, I don’t agree all the changes after Vatican II are good. It took me a long time to feel as if I was at Mass when attending the NO. Seemed the worship, the awe was mostly gone.

  4. And tomorrow, the ambitious, weathervane Bishop will praise the extraordinary leadership of Pope Francis. Hard to take one’s eyes off that red biretta…

  5. What the youth all need and want is a liturgy that shows the utmost of respect to God. Why do you think Islam is on the rise? They drop to their knees 5 times a day and give honor and respect to their “allah”. They show him respect. At some point, while on ones knees one comes to the realization that – not only should God be respected – but, that the respect He’s given is most appropriate. The NO Missae falls woefully short of respect for God. It’s a “celebration” of ourselves with a passive nod (if at all) to the Divine. Even this notion of “communion with one another” is way off target. ALL focus should be on the holy high altar and tabernacle. In the presence of God, we should understand ourselves to be nothing, dust at best. Let us respect our good and gracious God again by honoring Him with worship worthy of Him. Give the youth the Latin Mass, give us ALL the Latin Mass and see what happens – the full restoration of the faith and the fullest expression of Catholic life. The longer we wait, the more souls we put in jeopardy.

    • Absolutely correct.

      This past spring, I had business in the small town of Utica, NY. The city gasps for life; infrastructure and once notable architecture stood in grave need of repair. Three beautiful churches dating back to mid 19th or early 20th Century spoke of neglect and disregard or downright abandonment. The doors of St. Joseph-St. Patrick Catholic Church were bolted shut on my visit during a sunny spring weekday morning. Its website noted hours of operation: Mon-Thu 9:00-13:00, Fri 9:00-12:00, Saturday and Sunday: Closed.

      Iron rails barred what appeared to have once been an adoration chapel, accessible from street level a few steps down. Thick layers of grime and dust veiled church windows. Stairs leading to the main church entrance were crumbling or cracked concrete. No Mass schedule was posted; perhaps Mass was no longer said there.

      The town’s stately Episcopal Grace Church supports a majestic 216-foot spire which is visible from the nearby expressway. The awe of the distant observer dissolved with proximity. Overgrown grass, weeds, and litter matted and marred the yard near the main entrance. Notice soliciting goods and donations for the homeless was the only -communication on an ornate free-standing and cement-posted bulletin board on guard in the yard. A few years back, the church solicited a new rector–a beautiful young woman whose son arrived with her, but no mention was made of the boy’s father or the rector’s husband.

      A mere two blocks from city center, a bright, light-colored, new, clean, attractive, large, Muslim mosque stood gleaming in a newer and updated area of downtown.

      Signs of life, signs of the time. Desperate to escape, I could only bow my head to pray, thanking God for sunshine.

        • Yes.

          Sign of hope: My parish priest (FSSP) informs that the Maui Catholic Church spared destruction was where the TLM was said.

      • I don’t have any experience in Utica, NY but one of my children has traveled through NY State quite a bit for work and they’ve shared that there seems to be quite a lot decline in towns like Syracuse, etc.
        Ive noticed that immigrants often take advantage of opportunities in places like Syracuse or towns in Appalachia. Communities that don’t attract upwardly mobile Americans. Perhaps that’s part of the reason behind the new mosque in Utica?

  6. Meanwhile, another “Prince of the church” is engaged in this:
    The kind of cognitive dissonance the faithful today are required to suffer for their allegiance to Christ through the church brings one to tears, not only tears of sorrow, but tears of pain at the migraine that arises from attempting to reconcile such absurd extremes. Can we all just go back to ACTUAL CATHOLICISM, PLEASE? When is enough, enough?

    • The link makes reference to the First World Parliament of Religions in 1893, also in Chicago….While we are repeatedly reassured that an internally synodal Church is not simply a “parliament,” now are we to learn from His Eminence that the non-parliament Church is only part of an external and composite—PARLIAMENT? A seat at the table!

      Or, will we hear something at least remotely like what has heard in 1893, when religions were not so inclusive as to welcome anti-religions? Of the 111 papers delivered in 1893, seven (7) were from Catholic clerics, and one was from (the also mentioned) CARDINAL GIBBONS. Here’s part of what this Catholic Cardinal had to offer:

      “The Gospel of Christ imparts to us not only a sublime conception of God, but also a rational idea of man and of his relations to his Creator. Before the coming of Christ man was a riddle and a mystery to himself. He knew not whence he came nor whither he was going. He was groping in the dark [….] The Gospel of Christ, as propounded by the Catholic church, has brought not only light to the intellect, but comfort also to the heart. It has given us ‘that peace of God which surpasseth all understanding’–the peace which springs from the conscious possession of truth […]– peace with God by the observance of His commandments, peace with our neighbor by the exercise of charity and justice toward him, and peace with ourselves by repressing our inordinate appetites and keeping our passions subject to the law of reason and our reason illumined and controlled by the law of God.

      [later follows several pages of not-so-new concrete benefits of the Faith]…
      “To sum up: The Catholic church has taught man the knowledge of God and of himself; she has brought comfort to his heart by instructing him to bear the ills of life with Christian philosophy; she has sanctified the marriage bond; she has proclaimed the sanctity and inviolability of huma life from the moment that the body is animated by the spark of life till it is extinguished; she has founded asylums for the training of children of both sexes and for the support of the aged poor; she has established hospitals for the sick and homes for the redemption of fallen women; she has exerted her influence toward the mitigation and abolition of human slavery; she has been an unwavering friend of the sons of toil. These are some the blessings which the Catholic Church has conferred on society” (Gibbons, in “The World’s Congress of Religions,” Chicago: Mammoth Publishing Co., 1894, pp. 810-816).

      TODAY, will Cupich berate the “backwards” Gibbons’ for mentioning abortion, today a “rabbit hole” superseded now by care for our “common home”—and our global amniotic sac?

      Will he exchange the shepherd’s staff for a Wiccan stang as Pope Francis did at the World Youth Synod in 2018?

      Or!!!, instead, will he seize the moment (Carpe Deim, that’s Latin!), and seize the mic (!) from the Wiccans (as he did from Cardinal DiNardo at a recent USCCB annual meeting)?

      What a great opportunity, in crime-capital Chicago, for the Church and Cardinal Cupich to speak gently but clearly (1 Peter 3:15) about the self-disclosing Word of God. Like St. Paul did at Corinth—proclaiming the Contradiction of the Cross—after having been rejected in Athens by the indifferent and inclusive “pluralism” of the Areopagus.

  7. Letter CWR synod 2023 WYD 08-17-23

    Yes to WYD, but is there a larger scheme by some in positions of power? How much does WYD (and even the Eucharistic Revival?) serve a more dialectical or only decorative function? Worse than simply “dumbing down”…

    The Hegelian ploy of positioning the “backward” flock (of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church) as simply one pole within a larger, dialectical and synodal “tension” on the move? A backward pole now to be expertly harmonized within a more inclusive “synthesis” more concretely in step with the revelatory arc of history—the “never-ending journey”! Contradictions? What contradictions?

    Yes, a worthy challenge, this—in season and out of season (!)—how to announce the Contradiction of the Cross to a deaf and unwelcoming world? And how, too, to call out the false shepherds? How to tell the truth AND nothing but the truth?

    So, back to Bishop Barron. Here’s a meditation on the relatively innocent “dumbing down”: a meditation on a bookmark from way backward in the early 1980s:

    discovering their spiritual emptiness,
    look to the Church
    not for a breezy bon mot,
    but for the hard truths of
    mystical life, fasting and prayer.
    Lapsed Catholics,
    tiptoeing back into the Church
    on Sunday Morning,
    look not for a communal meal
    and a handshake,
    but for a holy Sacrifice
    and the promise of redemption.
    Our faith is like a strong drink,
    or a plate of hearty food.
    We can make it easier to accept,
    by watering it down
    and taking out the spices.
    But who wants a watery drink,
    or a tasteless dish? (“If the salt
    has lost its savor…”)
    Our society is begging for red meat.
    If we offer a thin soup, instead,
    we shall rightly
    be rejected.”

    • Yes, he does seem to be oblivious to the syncretistic theme of WYD. an attitude that is not exactly new in the dumbing down process of several decades. Like the layperson George Weigel, whom several of us just criticized for not identifying the source, Bishop Barron can be too obsequious to the high episcopate when the chips are down.

      • Many salient points here. I thought I’d just mention one we’re all familiar with, Niebuhr’s famous lament of liberal Protestantism clearly applies to our current crisis, which might have been useful for Bishop Barron to describe contemporary ecclesial reality in one sentence:

        “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”

  8. I agree, but it’s more words in a sea of words until physical change is manifested. Make the liturgy more reverent. The Church elite removed the beauty and reverence from the old Rite claiming it was only relevant to the past. Replacing it, in arrogance, with ‘good ideas’ from the 1960s and 70s – the era where music, art, architecture etc all nose dived from order and beauty into the convenient and absurd. Less talk, more action.

    • Wish the liturgy was more reverent and the beauty and reverence you refer to wasn’t destroyed. To my astonishment, a priest told me the NO is closer to what was practiced in the early church and that the TLM was stupid sition. Wow. He also said a lot of other weird things.

  9. I don’t think Bishop Barron has a grasp on the fundamental problem.

    His theme of “dumbing down the faith” is a way (intentionally or unintentionally) of avoiding the main issue, which is the “preference” of the contemporary Church establishment to “re-invent” Jesus, and exchange “the Lion of Judah” for “buddy-Jesus,” the Church’s preference to evade the high moral demands that Jesus said he expects of us, and the preference of the Church establishment to substitute “themselves” as the head of the Church, and offer to us instead (as so insightfully stated by Fr. Robert Imbelli) a “Decapitated Body of Christ.”

    I think Bishop Barron just pulls his punches, because he doesn’t want to go there…

  10. “We’ve dumbed down the faith too much for too long.” Who is the “We”?
    I think we know who the “We” is. But they do not wish to acknowledge their responsibility.

  11. I agree, of course. Who could disagree?

    But, as The Mass is “the point” where all Catholics receive, give, live…well, as The Mass is The High Point of everything, the “Sum and Summary of The Faith,” a Thing always Beyond Description, and as bishops are responsible for how poorly It is celebrated, how poorly It is offered, how poorly It is understood, how poorly reverence is “done,” etc., I can only say that this man, this bishop (while most likely sincere and well-intentioned) nonetheless shows just how blind he himself is, just like the vast, vast majority of his (mentally effeminate) brother bishops are. The apostles were men, authentic, ardent, deep (in accordance with their gifts), lovers of God and of our Lord and Savior, obedient to Him and to His Word in all Its depths. These (mentally effeminate) men who “lead” us today are, as the great and ardent lover of Our Lord Archbishop Sheen prophesied, these men today are politicians: he prophesied, “Theology will become politics.” We do not hear the term “political correctness” any more, but that is because is has taken root and borne its fruit.

    I am no Traddie — going “backwards” is not the answer. I can understand (and also vigorously support) those who desire the Extraordinary Form, but I also believe in Vatican II and the hermeneutic of continuity (the only authentic and real hermeneutic). Vatican II was hijacked — and “men” such as this need to finally face up to that fact and work against that force.

    The Mass of Vatican II — the Real One — whenever It is finally promulgated (perhaps not until The Era of Peace prophesied by Our Lady) will be obviously a growth/fruition of what is known as The Extraordinary Form, ORGANICALLY grown from It, ie, from that very same “organism.”

    This man, one of the very few “good” bishops, shows he is just a blind as the rest of them, and, sadly, is not credible to me.

  12. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is complete in itself. Has the Holy Catholic Church forgotten that?
    There is no need to dish out the Holy Eucharist to seemingly all and sundry, whether «shriven» or not, like M&Ms on every grand occasion such the above. That the celebrant and his ministers, no concelebrants required, partake of the Sacred Element/s is sufficient as is an act of Spiritual Communion.
    Truly, familiarity has given rise to a mood of indifference to the Real Presence, and possibly worse. This «candy store» outlook to Holy Communion needs «fixing».

  13. Dear Virginia, that’s an often repeated falsehood. In reality, the church in Africa *used to grow*, explosively, even, right up to Vatican II. Then the growth leveled out and now African Catholicism grows merely at the level of general population growth, i.e. it really just stagnates.

  14. [“The real world is the worship of God, service of the poor, and communion with one another,” he said.]
    Let’s apply this to Catholic schools which are now too expensive for the poor:
    “A preferential option for the poor” should be maintained in our Catholic Schools. If we find that we cannot afford to keep our schools open to the poor, the Church should be ready to use its resources for something else which can be kept open to the poor. We cannot allow our Church to become a church primarily for the middle-class and rich while throwing a bone to the poor. The priority should be given to the poor even if we have to let the middle-class and rich fend for themselves.
    Practically speaking, the Catholic Schools must give up general education in those countries where the State is providing it. The resources of the Church could then be focused on “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine” and other programs which can be kept open to the poor. These resources could then be used to help society become more human in solidarity with the poor. Remember, the Church managed without Catholic Schools for centuries. It can get along without them today. The essential factor from the Christian point of view is to cultivate enough Faith to act in the Gospel Tradition, namely, THE POOR GET PRIORITY. The rich and middle-class are welcome too. But the poor come first.

  15. Mark: Your thinking is illogical in declaring that only the Vetus Ordo is worthy worship of God and that the Novus Ordo is not. Your thought on this is simply erroneous. I can see you think of the abuses of the NO but they are few in between and they do not constitute the full reality of NO. NO as implemented and celebrated well is worthy of the worship of God. In fact, as Pope Francis has decreed in rescinding the unrestricted celebration of the VO, the NO is the only legitimate way to worthily celebrate the Mass of the Roman Rite that is in line with the reformed liturgical laws and teachings (lex credendi, lex orandi) of the latest ecumenical council that is Vatican II. As food for your thought, read Pope Francis’ letter on the worthy worship of God in the liturgy, Desiderio Desideravi.

    • “…as Pope Francis has decreed in rescinding the unrestricted celebration of the VO, the NO is the only legitimate way to worthily celebrate the Mass of the Roman Rite that is in line with the reformed liturgical laws and teachings (lex credendi, lex orandi) of the latest ecumenical council that is Vatican II.” If you truly believe this nonsense, I would suggest you read Sacrosanctum Concilium. Pope Francis’s erroneous views notwithstanding, and despite the document’s occasionally contradictory language, there is there is absolutely no way you can stretch that conciliar document to derive a justification for the typical Novus Ordo celebrated throughout the world today.

  16. There’s no doubt that the faith has been dumbed down for centuries. However, the most damaging above all is the gay network in the Church. Few, including Pope Francis, dare not mention it. Some promote it. Tens of thousands of young men lost their lives at the hands of this particular group. Millions of others have been affected by this. These are also of the peripheries, to say the least. many were led to suicide. How outrageous! Not worth mentioning and treating firmly>? I think so. We’ve heard nothing definitive on that from the Vatican but we know that the Pope has named most cardinals, archbishops, and bishops who are gay friends or gay… many haven’t even hidden it. Is a gay Pope next? It’s quite possible. When it comes to messing with my kids, no one would go near such an institution. It’s high time we had a ‘synod’ on that reality: the gay network in the Church.

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