(September 24, 2020)

Bishop Robert Barron strikes again.

His Excellency released yet another tone-deaf article on his site Word On Fire, this one titled, “Acknowledging an Abyss; Finding a Bridge.”

Bishop Barron contrasted the present social justice movement relative to the Civil Rights Movement, in that the latter incorporated a religious context whereas the former, he claimed, has an “absence of religious leadership” and “hostility to religion exhibited by many of the protestors.”

His Excellency must have been filming a video while his brother bishop in El Paso, Mark Seitz, was kneeling along with Black Lives Matter protestors.

Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros also marched with Black Lives Matter protestors following the death of George Floyd.

In fact, the Greek Orthodox archbishops have a tradition of solidarity with the Black community in its pursuit for justice. Archbishop Iakovos marched in Selma with Martin Luther King, Jr.

As Orthodox theologians George Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou noted, “Iakovos’ march alongside MLK is widely regarded as one of the iconic moments of Orthodox Christianity in the United States, if not globally.”

More recently, Archbishop Demetrios, the predecessor of Elpidophoros, also marched in Selma with President Barack Obama in 2015 to mark the 50th anniversary of the event.

Greek Orthodox archbishops have been able to join past and present racial justice movements to support the Black community, putting their faith into the focus of this support. Why can’t Barron do the same?

As described above, both Catholic and Orthodox religious leaders have courageously shown support for Black Lives Matter. Is Barron only considering “religious leaders” to be those who share his ideologies?

Bishop Barron’s repeated fumbling on the topic of racial injustice is deeply troubling in light of the California bishops’ announcement of a year-long initiative on racism.

Included in this initiative is the bishops’ commitment to listen to the African American community. However, one cannot authentically listen to another’s viewpoint clouded by implicit biases and prejudiced stances.

Barron cannot fulfill his duty as bishop in this regard given his stated positions. 

I believe it is high time for His Excellency to decide if he wants to be a shepherd or if he wants to remain a celebrity. If Barron wants to properly exercise his role as a bishop, he needs to start listening to and smelling like the sheep.

For starters, Bishop Barron justified engaging Jordan Peterson, who upholds gender inequality in his ideology, but chooses not to engage any of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter.

One of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, Patrisse Cullors, lives in the same archdiocese as Barron.

The optics play poorly for Barron to engage a white misogynist but not a Black queer woman. 

Rather than regurgitate right-wing talking points when speaking on the Black Lives Matter movement, Barron ought to have a dialogue with the leaders of this movement and learn first-hand what the organization is all about.

He can ask the co-founders about their background as trained Marxists and listen to why that shapes their framework, rather than writing them off for having this background.

The California bishops’ initiative describes the call to foster a “culture of encounter.” Bishop Barron ought to exemplify this call by encountering the Black Lives Matter co-founders and leaders.

A desire to foster anti-racism in the Church, particularly among the Black community, would be lacking without this encounter. Note that an encounter is just that: not an endorsement, not a capitulation, just a meeting with someone holding another viewpoint. 

Bishop Barron doesn’t have to engage the Black Lives Matter organization because some layman with a MacBook suggests it.

However, he ought to engage the movement because his spiritual boss Pope Francis exhorts all Catholics – priests, religious and laity – to “look more closely and sympathetically at others whenever necessary” as an art of accompaniment.

The Pope describes accompaniment as the call to “remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life.”

Pope Francis would urge Barron and all Catholics to not be so quick to judge the Black Lives Matter organization. In fact, the Pope would call Catholics to recognize the dignity inherent in the members, and that God is speaking through their pain and injustice.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18), and the racism experienced by the Black Lives Matter members, which is at the core of what they are seeking to dismantle, is a place of holy ground.

God is with those who suffer injustice, and therefore all Catholics, especially prelates, ought to be with them to listen to their cries and work with them for justice.      

The California bishops’ initiative will not be fruitful without naming and condemning white supremacy, white nationalism and white privilege.

Bishop Barron would be an ineffective minister in this regard if he did not name his own white privilege and desire to lament that he has received benefits that are deprived of Black people and Persons of Color.

Inherent in this lament is a call to work for equity for those without this privilege. 

I believe his white privilege and implicit biases prevent Barron from truly engaging with the Black Lives Matter movement, while justifying his encounter with a white cisgendered misogynist. 

Bishop Barron asserted that many protestors were hostile to religion.  However, he is not engaging with these protestors and is not close enough to the situation to have a credible basis for that statement.

Regurgitating right-wing reports does not approximate to the truth. I believe that if Barron were to surrender his biases and humbly engage the movement, he would meet many protestors who are motivated by faith, a movement that has engaged in peaceful demonstrations contrary to right-wing propaganda.  

When it comes to responding to racial injustice, Bishop Barron continues to dig himself into a hole. This hole prevents him from being an effective witness to the Gospel, one of his primary responsibilities as a bishop.

Moreover, this hole – “abyss,” if you will – prevents Barron from effectively following through on the year-long initiative on racism he is called to be a part of.

Therefore, I believe Bishop Barron ought to acknowledge the abyss – white privilege – that prevents him from accompanying those experiencing racial injustice as Pope Francis calls for, and find a bridge in the Pontifex and the Gospel to cross this abyss by naming and seeking to dismantle white supremacy, white nationalism and white privilege, especially his own.

Next on Novena:

Far from being anti-religious, faith and spirituality run deep in Black Lives Matter

More by Novena US contributor Matt Kappadakunnel:

It’s time to clean house: the Church must no longer harbour racists

Here’s what the California Bishops should do in their new anti-racism initiative… starting with denouncing Catholic white supremacy

Don’t fall for the racist ‘All Lives Matter’ gaslighting

‘All Lives Matter’ is not pro-life: an anti-abortion agenda alone is a cover for white supremacy

Matt Kappadakunnel
Author

Matt Kappadakunnel has a background in investment management and investment banking. Additionally, Matt spent multiple years studying to be a Catholic priest. He is a graduate of Creighton University and is a CFA Charterholder. Matt lives in Los Angeles with his wife and toddler, and they are expecting a newborn in November.