June 27, 2020 [ABOVE IMAGE: FROM PIXABAY—BARRON’S PORTRAIT OF THE CLERGY]
A couple of days ago, a fracas broke out between Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles and members of the Catholic media who have been asking for stronger leadership from the Church during the riots. In California, statues of saints were destroyed, and the question on many minds was whether enough was being done to protect church property. True, the statues in question were not on church property, but that detail misses a larger point. The targeting of saint statues suggests that the Church is very much in the sights of violent rioters.
Indeed, churches have been vandalized during the riots. A tabernacle was stolen from a Catholic church in North Carolina. And the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. was set on fire by rioters. And it was reported yesterday that a Catholic church in San Diego has been threatened by extremists. What was Barron’s response to calls for greater leadership? It’s not his responsibility.
The Bishop’s Response
You can sum up the Bishop’s thinking with this tweet:
Here is the longer version of Bishop Barron’s thinking over at Word on Fire, which is also published at Aleteia and Catholic World Report. Clearly the bishop wants his side of the story told, and there really is no shortage of publications willing to tell it. (That’s a very important separate issue about the independence of Catholic media, which I have raised before.)
Over and again, perhaps a hundred times, commentators said some version of this: “Well, bishop, making a statement is all fine and good, but what are you and the other bishops going to do about it?” Now almost none of these questioners made a concrete suggestion as to what precisely they had in mind, but I will gladly admit that there are certain practical steps that bishops can and should take in regard to such a situation. We can indeed lobby politicians, encourage legislative changes, and call community leaders together, all of which bishops have been doing. But what struck me again and again as I read these rather taunting remarks is that these folks, primarily lay men and women, are putting way too much onus on the clergy and not nearly enough on themselves.
Allow me to help out the bishop in coming up with some concrete steps. How about getting some security guards on areas that are at high risk? For example, the Catholic church in San Diego that has reportedly been targeted by a group of protesters. And a statue of Junipero Serra in Ventura, California that has also been threatened. Thankfully, a large group of Catholic youth successfully defended the statue without incident—a miracle, given how uniformly violent these protests have been. We have divine intervention to thank that no one got hurt. What we don’t have to thank is episcopal intervention.
But the good bishop reassures us that it is not his job. And he offers us the light of his good counsel too! He goes into a lengthy citation of Church documents to teach us that it’s not the bishops’ role to protect Church property:
According to the documents of Vatican II, the clergy are, by ordination, “priests, prophets, and kings.” As priests, they sanctify the people of God through the sacraments; as prophets, they speak the divine word and form the minds and hearts of their flocks; and as kings, they order the charisms of the community toward the realization of the Kingdom of God. Accordingly, the immediate area of concern for bishops and priests is the Church, that is to say, the community of the baptized. Now the laity, by virtue of their baptism, are also priests, prophets, and kings (Lumen Gentium, 31)—but their sanctifying, teaching, and governing work is directed, not so much inwardly to the Church, but outwardly to the world. For the Vatican II fathers, the proper arena of the laity is the saeculum (the secular order), and their task is the Christification of that realm. They are charged to take the teaching, direction, and sanctification that they have received from the priests and bishops and then go forth, equipped to transform the world and thereby find their own path to holiness.
It’s worth quoting Vatican II directly here, from Lumen Gentium:
. . . .From: Rigmarolis ad Nauseam
Did you get all that? As bishop, he is “priest, prophet, and king.” So mundane matters regarding the protection of church property and Catholic kids don’t concern him.
Permit me for a moment to dissent from the bishop’s “apostolic” snake oil.
Who Controls Church Finances?
The question as to whose responsibility it is to protect church property is really a question about who controls the money. It isn’t Ed the janitor’s responsibility to pay for security. All of the laity have a responsibility to materially support the Church. And that we do by our tithes and donations. It is certainly the responsibility of the people who control Church finances to ensure that churches have adequate security. And we all know who controls the Church’s finances. The bishops have shown themselves to be remarkably adept at handling such mundane matters as money. How about taking one of those envelopes stuffed with cash and handing it over to a security company? A simple enough solution that might have saved Notre-Dame.
Remember Notre-Dame de Paris?
It is a fair question to wonder whether that irreplaceable monument, Notre-Dame de Paris, would be undamaged today if it had received the necessary security and monitoring to protect it. The French had plenty of warning. There had been hundreds of cases of church vandalism prior to the Notre-Dame fire. So it’s not a crazy theory to suggest that the blame for Notre-Dame is on the hands of a lazy and negligent clergy.
Take a Lesson From President Trump
Our heavenly bishops have made their contempt for President Trump only too obvious. But the truth is they could learn a lesson from their president. Here’s how to do your job:
Our heavenly clergy have shelled out billions of dollars in hush money to protect themselves from justice and jail time. Dioceses have declared bankruptcy because these men of heaven couldn’t keep their pants on. Maybe if someone else controlled the finances, priorities would be a bit different. Whada ya think?