Bishop Robert Barron first came to fame in the Catholic world for his fight against what he called “beige Catholicism.” The founder of Word on Fire rightly saw that a milquetoast, flaccid expression of Catholicism—so common in parishes across the country and embraced by the liberal elements of the Church—is a death knell for the Church. Barron wrote eloquent articles and produced polished videos reminding Catholics that the Faith is more than the insipid liturgies and watered-down teachings they were being fed each week. Justifiably, his influence grew and eventually he was named the Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles.
Yet since being named bishop, Barron has pivoted his ministry, presenting Word on Fire as navigating between the Scylla of beige Catholicism and the Charybdis of “extreme traditionalist Catholicism.” In doing so, however, Barron misses the changing face of the traditionalist movement while falling prey to the very beige Catholicism he originally opposed.
When you read Barron’s descriptions of traditionalist Catholics, you find the words “extreme,” “radical,” and “angry” peppered throughout. Apparently, in his view traditional Catholics are a fringe movement of socially-inept people who desire to overthrow the Church and install their own 1950’s-style religion in its place. Clearly the good bishop hasn’t kept his finger on the pulse of this movement. Traditionalism is booming (in this country, at least), and it’s a diverse, joyful group of people who want exactly what Barron first promoted: a faith that’s no longer watered-down to conform with the surrounding culture.
Why is Barron so wrong in his assessment of the traditionalist movement? Some of his error is understandable; it’s true that traditional Catholics have long had a reputation for being mean and judgmental. This reputation is partially justified. From the early 1970’s until Pope Benedict’s motu proprio liberalizing the use of the traditional Latin Mass (what Benedict called the “Extraordinary Form” of the Mass), traditional Catholics were truly on the peripheries of the Church.
Traditionalists endured persecution from Church officials and fellow Catholics, all because they wanted to practice the faith as countless generations had practiced it before them. Labeled “schismatic,” they were given less respect by far than heretic theologians. While most Catholics ignored the growing abuse crisis among bishops and priests out of a misplaced sense of loyalty and obedience, traditionalists were among the few who spoke out…and they were attacked for it. It’s no surprise that perhaps they had a chip on their collective shoulder.
Much has changed in the Church since those days. In Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict acknowledged the key point that traditionalists had long argued: that the traditional Latin Mass had never—and could never—be abrogated. In addition, the abuse scandal went public in 2002, showing that traditional Catholics had been right all along in calling bishops to account for their terrible mismanagement of that crisis.
And that’s not all that’s changed: the 2018 McCarrick scandal demonstrated to the world that the episcopacy is still horribly corrupt, in spite of PR-driven efforts to address the abuse crisis. Church leaders were still covering up their sins and illegal activities while doing little to nothing to boldly proclaim the Gospel to the nations. Catholics realized that this wasn’t just beige Catholicism, it was black Catholicism. Yet bishops—including Bishop Barron—still speak about the McCarrick affair like an English gentleman who sees someone picking up the wrong fork at dinner. It’s unfortunate, but let’s not get too worked up, shall we?
Because of all this, traditional Catholicism has boomed as an alternative to the status quo—beige—Catholicism that Barron now represents. The movement has become far more diverse than it was back when you had to drive hours to find an underground Latin Mass to attend. Catholics from all backgrounds are now being drawn to traditional expressions of the faith, and while perhaps it was anger at events like the McCarrick scandal or the bishops’ sycophantic response to state COVID-19 restrictions that originally motivated them, they fell in love with tradition and now stay because they believe traditional Catholicism is the fullest expression of the Catholic Faith.
Traditional Catholicism is no longer monolithic, either, if it ever was; it encompasses a variety of opinions and views on how best to practice the faith and reform the Church. There are only two unifying threads within traditionalism: a love for the traditional Latin Mass and a suspicion about making Vatican II the sole key for unlocking the mysteries of Scripture and Tradition. Consider some of the public figures who attend the Latin Mass regularly, such as Scott Hahn, Janet Smith, and Leah Darrow. These figures are not the “mean, angry traditionalists” that populate Bishop Barron’s caricatures. They are joyful Catholics who have simply found a deeper devotion to Christ through the practice of traditional expressions of the Faith.
There lies the irony of Barron’s negative views of traditionalism. Catholics are fed up with beige Catholicism, but they don’t want the half-measures that Barron recommends in response. Instead of replacing felt-banner 1970s liturgies with slightly less gauche ones, they want liturgies that give all the glory to God. Instead of substituting heretical teachings with orthodox yet oh-so culturally-relevant homilies, they want unadulterated, politically-incorrect, and unapologetic proclamations of the Faith. And instead of a half-hearted, cover-your-*ss response to the abuse scandal, they want a deep cleaning of the hierarchy, from top to bottom. They see that Catholicism as practiced since the 1970’s is far worse than beige, and Barron’s response itself has lost all color. Give us that ol’ time religion, they say.
It’s clear that Bishop Barron is far and away one of the most talented members of the American episcopate. Unfortunately, it’s also clear that he’s missing the new pulse beating within the Church: the strong and joyful beat of traditional Catholicism. Instead of considering it his enemy, he should recognize it as the fulfillment of what he’s been striving for all along.
The above comes from a March 4 story by Eric Sammons in Crisis Magazine.
If Sammons is right that Barron shouldn’t be speaking “about the McCarrick affair like an English gentleman,” then why is Sammons still speaking like an English gentleman about Barron? Barron’s problems are also serious.
Juan…put up or shut up…
To what problems do you refer? Making a statement like that in the same context as a conversation about McCarrick implies a similar level of scandal, of which I’m sure most here are unaware. Care to elaborate? Or repent?
Juan, I agree. I don’t watch or listen to Bp. Barron– he doesn’t talk like a truly serious, holy Catholic prelate, and is too entertaining and media-oriented, plus, questionable on dogma at times…
Kneel and receive on the tongue, go to the Latin Mass, say the Hours everyday…that’s all wonderful…but sign up to lend a hand with Prison Ministry or the food bank or whatever as well.
Ite, missa est means something very real in the life of the Church and it doesn’t just mean “go home”. Not saying so for every diocese, but where I am, there’s an underrepresentation of “traditional” Catholics in Catholic Social Teaching ministries here….
Luther wanted to leave James out of his bible…it would be a cruel irony if some Catholics did…
That’s probably because what are called “Catholic Social Teaching Ministries” are really leftist government programs that traditionally-minded Catholics want no part of, besides which they are so busy raising their families of six to nine children. Nice try, trying to cut traditional Catholics like that. Nice try, but no cigar.
“Catholic Social Teaching Ministries are really leftist government programs” is a wide generalization. Nice Try but no cigar. Tell us which programs and why.
CCHD and Catholic Relief Services have both been exposed supporting abortion and sodomy …
Post-Conciliar “Social Ministry” often is too secularized, ignoring Christ and evangelization, often focusing only on the material needs of needy people– like secular government social services. Yes, run the church Soup Kitchen– and also, evangelize, say grace before eating, hand out info on our Catholic Faith, teach them to say prayers like the “Our Father” or “Hail Mary,” (etc.), give out blessed holy medals (like the Miraculous Medal) and tell the story behind it, invite them all to come to Mass. Christ is the Source of our lives, and of all we need. All material goods being given to the needy, come from the hands of our Loving God. We should invite all people– of all faiths or none, to dine at the Soup Kitchen– but also, kindly introduce them to our Faith.
St. Mother Teresa’s nuns– the Missionaries of Charity– always evangelize with love, when they do their social services work. They are excellent. Others who are involved doing modern-day Catholic charity work, are often very secular, sometimes immoral, against Catholic teachings, and sadly, many are just sick, crackpot political-leftist liberals.
Traditional Catholics do corporal workers of mercy. I have seen it for myself. They just do not go broadcasting it all over the place and taking pictures all the time of “look at me how goody, goody I am”. Most times it is sight unseen as the Lord Jesus recommended. They are not fond of “trumpets”.
My apologies. I meant to put this post under another article. Sorry for the confusion.
Atheists do corporal works of mercy. As do Jewish people, Mormons, Methodists, Baptists etc. Any human being can do corporal works of mercy and they should.
Many of these also do spiritual works of mercy. But when you are not in conformity with the fullness of revealed truth, you may not do them as well as others. You could even lead someone astray.
Sadly, the problem with traditional Catholics participating in social ministries is that in too many situations, the philosophy of the Catholic Social ministries is not truly Catholic. There is an enormous interest among traditional Catholics in Pro Life action and in learning and living Catholic values in the political arena where “Beige” Catholics have ruled the roost since the Council. There needs to be much more encouragement of catechesis in traditional social values in “Beige” parishes that have too often supported programs that contradict Catholic moral principles!
To use the phrase “Latin Mass” is ambiguous. Our parish celebrates the ordinary form of the Mass in Latin as well as the extraordinary form. When people ask when the Latin Mass is, I have to ask, “Which one?”
By their fruits you shall know them. The fruit of the new Mass is declining attendance at Mass, heretical Catholics, abusing priests and bishops, corruption, 3/4 of kids leave the faith, and Catholics are indistinguishable morally from the secular culture. Oh, yeah, don’t forget Biden. All the fruit of the new Mass. By their fruits you shall know them.
The Sacrifice of Calvary renewed is not responsible for declining attendance, heresy, abusive priest, etc.
Not the Mass itself, Anonymous– the problem is lack of respect for God and poor liturgies which lack respect for Him. Modern man so loves to glorify his “humanness,” stupidly– instead of worshipping and glorifying Almighty God.
Anon., I have not seen this.
Anonymous– millions have seen this problem, worldwide, and have complained.
FYI Half of the sex abuse started before the New Mass was re-Instituted. Mass attendance was already declining before the New mass was reinstituted, especially in Europe. A true reading of history, both the last hundred years and 2000 years reveals these things.
Are we Catholics imitating the Cancel Culture now?
Who canceled whom first?
Bishop Barron should be given his own diocese. Then let’s see what kind of job he does.
Why not make Ventura and Santa Barbara separate Dioceses? The numbers probably work, leaving LA still a large Archdiocese. Then Bp Barron would have a place to hang his miter.
I do not think Bishop Barron is criticizing those who attend a Latin Mass.
I like this article and a lot more could be written both about the spectrum of traditional and traditionalist Catholics and about the way the faith is expressed in the Church in the USA.
I see a slow crawl back to traditional practices and even practices that are from religious orders.
Make sure your parish has Eucharistic Adoration and times of public recitation of the Rosary. I have seen pastors who really weren’t into traditional things turn 180 degrees on it and then after they left, the new pastors would come in and see that traditional Catholicism was accepted at the parish and be encouraged to do even more.
There was actually a time where parishioners would complain about “old” Catholic things but a younger generation has risen who loves them.
Fairy tale thinking produces the above view of traditional Catholicism. Traditionalist Catholics refused to even consider my sexual abuse by the priests who would drive out to our rural parish while our priest was away receiving cancer treatment in the early-mid-60’s. I was 11-12, but I was blamed for being an “occasion of sin”…..then there is the sexual abuse scandal under the watch of Benedict’s brother……
No gays in the priesthood.
Mike….We’re sorry that you had to go through that abuse but it is precisely traditional Catholics who are trying to expose the homosexual sex abuse scandal which the rest of the Church is still trying to cover up to this day.
Ronnie you apparently missed the SSPX sex abuse scandal and that of marciel. It goes on in churches left right and center.
Of course it does but it was Church Militant, a conservative group, who is exposing this abuse by SSPX. However, the majority of homosexual abusers were liberals with few exceptions on the right. .I believe you missed my point, it is the conservative traditionalists laity who are exposing this homosexual abuse which the rest of the Church still fails to address. The first John Jay report was the accurate one which overwhelming blamed it on homosexuality. Couldn’t have that though, so the preceding reports which were infiltrated (you better believe just look at those who were involved in this whitewash) by those who wanted to cover-up the real reasons for this abuse. They came up with access to boys, the culture, etc. anything but the truth. Thank God at least Pope Benedict tried and announced a prohibition of men with homosexual tendencies but we now know it doesn’t appear to have worked out well. .
Eric Sammons is dishonest. What he presented as traditionalist Catholicism was not the target of Bishop Barron as the opposite of Beige Catholicism, it is the “Self-Devouring Catholicism” a term he never referred to in his essay. The Bishop here https://www.wordonfire.org/resources/article/the-evangelical-path-of-word-on-fire/30079/ referred to this extreme polar opposite of beige Catholicism as the disloyal and disrespectful bashers of Pope Francis and who outrightly reject the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.
Traditional Catholics need to be allowed to build parish life, especially where Beige Catholic parishes have failed. If the Extraordinary Mass is allowed to flourish alongside the Novus Ordo, and the chancery is in support of training clergy to celebrate the Extraordinary Mass, the Church will grow.
In the community where I live too many angry Traditionalist Catholics are also angry white nationalists. Thee folks are an anathema to the teachings of Christ as promoted by the Church. I’ll listen to Bishop Barron anytime over the twisted Traditionalists.
Sure sounds like you’re the angry one Richard with your absurdity in labeling Traditional Catholics (I don’t consider myself one) white nationalists. The only ones who are an anathema to the teachings of Christ are those on the Left who promote the violence of abortion and same gender confusion and actually believe Biden with his demonic executive decisions is a so-called “devout” Catholic. Let’s remember that the Devil can cite Scripture for his own purposes.
Richard: “In the community where I live too many angry Traditionalist Catholics are also angry white nationalists. ” please define this term. Perhaps you are just angry because us Trads are calling out the galactic failure of the modernist who have wrecked the Church. In today’s lexicon anyone who does not goose step the leftist narrative is now a “white nationalist/nazi.”
Beige Catholicism is just steaks in the Church’s underpants. Just wash them and return to the Mass of the ages. Only a much smaller and traditional Church will remain. The Vatican II Council that Pope Francis is so Hell-bent on completing was the death knell of Modernism. What a waste of 2000 years. Yet we will prevail against the Devil.
What if church leaders put the same amount of energy towards the McCarick investigation as they do towards continually trying to shut down the Tridentine Mass/Movement ? Baron has the time to be name calling traditionalist but nothing about ChoMo’s.
What’s a ChoMo?
I’m sick of the infighting and cliques like the church is high school.