Bishop Barron’s Moral Subversion and
the Perils of Celebrity Clericalism
by Christopher A. Ferrara
February 21, 2017
In my previous column on Bishop Robert Barron, the celebrity cleric elevated to the episcopate by Pope Francis, I discussed Barron’s total cave-in on the question of “gay marriage." This was a capitulation that one could presume in charity was an artifact of the situation in which the trendy “explainer” of Catholic teaching had placed himself: consenting to be interviewed by a “married” “gay conservative” whom he did not wish to offend on camera.
But the problem with Barron’s supposedly new and vibrant way of presenting Catholic teaching is not just situational. There appears to be a deep vein of error that runs throughout his whole approach to questions of sexual morality, an error that arises from his attempted defense of the already catastrophically problematic Amoris Laetitia (AL).
A case in point is Barron’s recent video commentary on AL, which mischaracterizes and thus subverts the moral truth that makes us free. The pertinent quotations and my responses follow. I will be blunt because, quite frankly, in my view the Church has suffered far too long from a “New Evangelization” that sacrifices the truth of Christ to the rhetoric of palatability.
- BARRON: “The Church — let me put it this way — is extreme in its demand and extreme in its mercy.”
False. The Church’s “demand” is not “extreme” but rather reflective of what God has inscribed in our very nature for our freedom and happiness — the natural moral law that binds all men, possessed of rational souls and capable of freely willed moral action. As Our Lord Himself declared: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free…. My yoke is easy and my burden light.”
Barron presents a caricature: The Church that demands something extreme, but then is extremely forgiving when, of course, we fail to meet her “extreme” demand. God the Father did not issue an “extreme demand” when He commanded: Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery. Nor did Our Lord make an extreme demand when He declared: “Whoever puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery.” There is nothing “extreme” about fundamental precepts of the natural law.
- BARRON: “So it [the Church] holds up a very high objective moral ideal.”
False. The Sixth Commandment is not a “very high objective moral ideal” but a fundamental, universally binding moral precept that insures the integrity of the family as the basic cell of society according to the divine plan that “the two shall be one flesh.” To reduce the avoidance of adultery to a “high ideal” is to subvert the law of God and strike at the very foundation of civilization. This is not even to mention the incalculable danger to souls.
- BARRON: “And it [the Church] has a very high sense of compassion and care for those who are struggling to integrate that high moral ideal.”
Nonsense. The notion that one must struggle to “integrate” the “high moral ideal” of refraining from adultery reduces the Sixth Commandment to some sort of benchmark for personal development reached only by a relative few, and the role of the Church becomes that of an endlessly indulgent life coach to those who lag behind in the Church’s grand self-improvement program.
This is simply ridiculous — all the more so when applied to Catholics who have all the helps of the Church in maintaining the state of sanctifying grace and obeying the Commandments. Yet even pagans, acting on the level of purely natural virtue, are able to observe the simpler precepts of the natural law, including the precept against adultery (assisted by such actual graces as God may give them).
- BARRON: “And it’s not a zero-sum gain…. And even a lot of readers of this letter [AL] fall into that trap: If you say mercy very strongly that means oh you’ve gotta dial down the ideal. Or if you dial up the ideal, you’d better dial down the mercy…. The logic of Catholicism is a radical ‘both, and’ logic. We make an extreme demand and we express extreme mercy. That, I think, is the key to reading this letter [AL].”
False. Again, the Sixth Commandment, expressing a fundamental precept of the natural law, is neither an “ideal” nor an “extreme demand.” Barron’s mischaracterization of the moral law — in line with the very theme of AL, Chapter VIII — eliminates the very concept of moral law.
The moral absurdity of Barron’s argument is apparent on a moment’s reflection: He would never argue that “Thou Shalt Not Kill” or “Thou Shalt Not Steal” or “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor” are “ideals” and “extreme demands” that one must “struggle to integrate.” Why, then, the stealthy exception for the Sixth Commandment, forbidding sins of the flesh — which, as Our Lady of Fatima warned, are the cause of more souls being lost than any other sin?
The answer should be obvious: AL itself seeks to create such an exception, and Barron is intent on defending AL. In tomorrow’s column, we will see just how far Bishop Barron is willing to go in compromising the integrity of the Church’s moral teaching and related discipline in order to defend the indefensible novelties of AL.