In the midst of tragic and disheartening news brought on by abusers in the Church, Bishop Barron says: “Don’t give up on the treasure just because the vessels that bear it are flawed and fragile. Stay and fight.”
In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with Zenit, the Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles and founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, said this, as he discussed his new book ‘Letter to a Suffering Church.’
Even if the 105-page paperback book costs a mere dollar, any and all profits from the sale of the book are going to trusted charities that support the victims of sexual abuse. It has been distributed to over 3,000 parishes and has sold close to a million copies.
In the interview, the American prelate reflects on the abuse crisis frankly, what is commonly misunderstood, and how in the midst of these attacks by the devil, how Catholics can keep hope. He also responds frankly to questions about what the Church has done or ought to do to confront these crimes, and also discusses the case of ex-cardinal McCarrick, and what should be learned from that bleak episode.
Here is our interview:
ZENIT: Bishop Barron, why did you feel compelled to write this book, or rather ‘letter’, Letter to a Suffering Church?
Bishop Barron: I felt that this issue of clergy sex abuse had been examined from a number of standpoints—legal, canonical, even cultural—but it had not sufficiently been analyzed theologically, biblically, and spiritually. I also thought that the people of God, demoralized and deeply discouraged by this scandal, needed to hear a word of hope.
ZENIT: With the harm abuse has done to the People of God, and the most vulnerable, the little ones, how do you make the argument that we should not be discouraged?
Bishop Barron: I’m extremely frank in the book about the damage the scandals have caused. I purposely don’t pull any punches. But I also endeavor to put this present suffering within a wider spiritual context. As St. Paul said long ago, “Where sin abounds, grace abounds the more.” God’s love is always greater than our wickedness. Nothing we do can ever finally defeat the purposes of God. This lesson is taught throughout the Bible and the great theological tradition, and it is confirmed in the lives of the saints.
ZENIT: In the book, you discuss how the Church has undergone turmoil in the past, but the many saintly men and women kept it afloat. This sounds certainly like a comforting reassurance for the Catholics who love their faith, but need a burst of hope. Can you elaborate on this?
Bishop Barron: In the book, I make mention of a conversation I had with Cardinal George, just a few years before he died. Knowing full well that the Church was going through a terrible crisis, he said, “Where are the orders? Where are the movements?” A wise historian of the Church, Cardinal George knew that it is precisely at moments of crisis that the great reformers and founders and spiritual leaders tended to arise. So, he was actively looking for them. This divine providence is what gives us hope.
ZENIT: In the book, you note how abuse has the devil at its core. You note how the devil is powerless unless humans cooperate with him. What can be done to prevent this ‘cooperation’ with the devil, this giving in to temptation?
Bishop Barron: We should return to the spiritual basics: prayer, regular attendance at Mass, frequenting of the sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance, the rosary, performing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The devil hates all of that.
ZENIT: Americans are horrified with findings revealed in the PA Grand Jury Report and throughout the news, about historic abuse cases. But isn’t it also objectively true that since the Dallas Charter, and in most of these Anglophone countries where rigorous standards/guidelines have been implemented, that cases of abuse against minors have plummeted dramatically?
Bishop Barron: Absolutely. And this story needs to be told more and more. I was chagrined when a pollster told me last year that the majority of Church-going Catholics thought that the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report had to do with unreported cases from the present day. In point of fact, it had overwhelmingly to do with cases from the past, stretching back thirty, forty, even seventy years. As you say, the Dallas Accords from 2002, though by no means a perfect instrument, have indeed proven enormously helpful in reducing the number of these cases. I don’t know any institution in the world that has done more to address this awful matter than the Catholic Church. This should never, of course, be an excuse to relax our vigilance, but it should give the lie to those who say the Church has done nothing to respond to the crisis.
ZENIT: Do you believe the Church’s current actions will be more effective than in the past? Do you believe something else must still be done?
Bishop Barron: I do believe that the Church has been responding to the scandal with good institutional reforms. In the wake of the 2002 revelations, the Dallas Accords emerged, and after the McCarrick revelations of 2018, Vos Estis Lux Mundi was published by the Vatican and our national protocols were formulated in line with it. These are indispensably important moves. But what still needs to be done, of course, is the spiritual work of conversion and purification—at both the institutional and personal levels. I bluntly state in the book that a “rot” got into the priesthood, and this has to be addressed. Moreover, all of us, all of the baptized, must turn again to the Lord.
ZENIT: Many Americans felt betrayed that someone like ex-Cardinal McCarrick was able to keep moving up in the ranks, and be influential, despite it apparently being well-known about his misconduct. How can Americans regain trust, following this? What should have been done differently?
Bishop Barron: For the past year, I have been calling for a full investigation into the McCarrick situation, specifically in regard to the issue that you raise. Who looked the other way as he rose through the ranks of the hierarchy and who continued to look the other way when he persisted, even after retirement, as a key player in the life of the Church? I think the people of God deserve answers to those questions. Having said that, I do think that the recently enacted protocols for the U.S. Church will go a long way toward preventing a McCarrick-style scenario in the future. People will know that they have a right to complain and they will know to whom to bring their grievance.
ZENIT: How through this letter, available for only $1, and through your online resources, do you expect to clarify misperceptions of American faithful regarding the crisis? What other hopes do you have for it?
Bishop Barron: My fondest hope for this little book is that it encourages people to stay and fight for their Church. Just as I was beginning work on Letter to a Suffering Church, I came across a poll that suggested 37% of Catholics were considering leaving the Church because of this scandal. I totally get the frustration, but there is finally never a good reason to leave the Church. Don’t give up on the treasure just because the vessels that bear it are flawed and fragile. Stay and fight.
On the NET:
Order the Book Here: https://order.sufferingchurchbook.com/order