“Unite the clans!” frequently urges Michael Matt of the Remnant Newspaper. After months of shambolic infighting amongst faithful Catholics over the status of the SSPX, with one small tweet, Bishop Robert Barron, an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and former rector at Mundelein seminary, has gone where no traditional Catholic has been able to go before. He has united the clans, momentarily. Nothing unites like a common enemy.
Perhaps it is too harsh to describe Bishop Barron as an enemy (though Dr. Taylor Marshall might believe differently on the matter). But it is not too harsh to gawk at Barron’s latest musings with bewilderment. When asked what tangible action he was taking to combat the Cancel Culture mob that has been publicly targeting the Catholic Church — and its statues — Barron, dipping into his Spirit of Vatican II playbook, replied, “That’s the laity’s job!” Bishop Barron has since doubled down on his fiery words — that the toppling of public Catholic statues is solely for the laity to resist. So much for accompaniment. Just don’t touch the Pachamama carvings.
The truth is that the toppling of statues might be an uncomfortable topic for bishops, and it might point to a growing dilemma for the modern Catholic Church. That is, the Church does have many Catholic figures deserving a public toppling. It seems there are more than a few images, statues, and school namesakes that the laity should not be in a rush to protect. The putrefaction of scandal runs deep, having been mischievously buried for so many years. Examples abound.
I once spoke with a man who glowed reverently over a past monsignor whose name and image graced various quarters of his parish buildings. Some time later, I spoke to another man, much older and from the same town, and asked him about this past monsignor. He snarled, “Us men couldn’t leave that son of a b—- alone with our wives…but sometimes he got what was coming to him, and would have to say Mass with a black eye.” Evidently, the priest was a notorious womanizer. For whatever reason, this story was shamefully hidden from future generations.
Years back, I was interning at a Catholic school. I was told to teach religion from the infamous Born of the Spirit Canadian catechism — aptly shortened to BS. This catechism has spawned a generation of clueless and lapsed Catholics. As I was handed the BS, I was then given a sheet of paper from my practicum teacher. “Here,” she said, “this is a list of the page numbers you shouldn’t teach from the book. They feature some priests who…have done some bad things.”
Fittingly, such publications by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) frequently included a foreword by a certain Bishop Raymond Lahey. Ex-bishop, I should say. Lahey himself was later caught having “done some bad things,” mainly in the realm of child pornography. Lahey was a poster boy for the CCCB. It would be severe Pollyanna folly to believe that his is an isolated case.
What shall we say of Jean Vanier, the “living saint” — since deceased — whose sexual misconduct has recently come to light? His name is everywhere, including on ten or so Canadian schools. Even a prominent Catholic editor has a son bearing Vanier’s name. If the “living saint” was exposed, are there other saints, canonized after 1983, heading toward a similar fate?
It does not stop with the deceased, either. Bishop Erwin Kräutler is quoted as boasting, “I have not yet baptized an Indian, and I also will not do it.” How is this not discrimination — to deny baptism to an entire culture? For his part, Cardinal Walter Kasper, demonstrating an audacious racism, stated that the Church should not be listening to the concerns of African bishops. None other than Pope Francis himself has allowed these prejudiced men to lead high-profile lives within the Church. And I haven’t even mentioned the favor nefarious men such as Gustavo Zanchetta continue to enjoy at the Vatican.
I suppose these cases are inconsequential to the life of a bishop such as Robert Barron. But I can guarantee there are many examples that do impact him. Think of the prominent place Cardinal Roger Mahony, a man caught covering up sex abuse cases, continues to enjoy within Barron’s diocese of Los Angeles. Dare we hope that Mahony be called out by Barron? Or consider Barron’s beloved Mundelein seminary, named after Cardinal George Mundelein (d. 1939). As part of Mundelein’s outreach to black Catholics in Chicago, he segregated all Catholics of color to one parish, St. Monica’s, and did not permit his regular priests to serve there, opting instead to bring in the missionary Divine Word Fathers to serve the non-whites. One wonders how passive Barron would be if protesters tried to topple Mundelein’s legacy in the Chicago area.
I should caution: do not think I am advocating for the removal of every statue and image of persons who did not live a perfect life. History is filled with heroes, villains, and complicated persons holding both titles. “Grandpa was a great man,” someone might say, before adding, “But he was a bit racist at times.” Shall the man forever remove the memory of his grandfather from his home? Of course not. There needs to be careful discernment (in the proper sense of the term). But is it too much to ask that we not permit our saints to be condemned as manifest sinners, nor our manifest sinners to be exalted as saints?
As stated, Bishop Barron will not aid the laity in publicly protecting the memory of the Church’s saints. Fine. We are getting rather used to feeling abandoned by the shepherds. But as a fair question to ask, if such bishops won’t publicly defend the honor of the saints, why do so many of them publicly defend the honor of the manifest sinners?
It seems it will be the laity’s job to end this shameful duplicity.
Dan Millette is a husband and father of five. He teaches in Saskatchewan, Canada. Millette is a graduate from Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College in Ontario and has a Master of Arts degree in theology from Holy Apostles College in Connecticut. His personal blog is www.bravestthing.com.