I grew up in a family of boys and even though I wasn’t the youngest, it’s clear now that I was the runt of the litter. I also grew up in a neighborhood full of boys around my age and the same comparison could be made with them.
And while I was the shortest and least physically capable, I often used this as a motivation to try harder to keep up which probably led to a lot of overcompensation.
And with that, gullibility was one thing that I hated to be convicted of which often led to a hyper-critical attitude or skepticism. This attitude meant that I was often skeptical of claims or people that I shouldn’t have been which can be worse than allowing oneself to be misled.
So I sympathize, in a big way, with people who, once they’ve been misled or betrayed by an authority, don’t give second chances. That whole, fool me once, shame on me, saying , that applies to me in a big way.
But cunning, shrewdness, and prudence are virtues that any good Christian should be aiming at acquiring, which is why it’s no good to settle on a simplistic formula or attitude towards questions of trust.
So when this most recent round of scandal in the Catholic Church erupted over the past few years, I, like many of you, felt extremely betrayed and not just by the revelations, but also by the ongoing refusal to take necessary steps to remedy the problems that exist.
And because of that, I sympathize with the climate of outrage that exists out there. If I followed my red-headed instincts, I’d be right out there alongside so many, pitchfork in hand, indiscriminately demanding that heads roll.
But Catholics and Christians are called to be better than the mob. We’re called to be patient and discerning and not easily fall prey to simplistic explanations that restore our sense of control or understanding when we haven’t earned it.
One such idea that I think has been really influential throughout this crisis is the idea that the Church has been infiltrated at every level by subversive adversaries and that we must root out that influence to save the Church.
Now, I’m not one to say that those ideas are completely without merit as there have been well documented attempts and conspiracies to infiltrate the Catholic Church. But the response to that has taken on a bit of a hysterical fever pitch in recent years where many of us are jumping to unwarranted conclusions.
One really egregious example that I keep seeing on social media is this phenomenon where if self appointed inquisitors can detect anything that a Catholic leader or thinker says that is out of alignment with their understanding, then they immediately jump to this conclusion that they are one of the infiltrators.
We’ve become irrationally paranoid there is a wolf in shepherd’s clothing hiding around every sacristy door and the way we detect them is by treating their particular understanding of Catholic teaching like a Venn diagram with our own and unless it’s a perfect single circle, they must be a freemason or a communist or something like that.
And this response is destined to do more harm than good to the Church because, firstly, Catholic teaching isn’t always so well defined that we can place such high contrast borders around it, and secondly, there are alternate explanations that are at least as feasible, if not much more feasible.
For example, just because some leader or high profile personality disagrees with you on some fine point, it doesn’t mean that they are saboteurs trying to destroy the Church from within any more than it means you’re a saboteur for disagreeing with them. It could just be that you disagree on something that is difficult to have unanimity on.
Part of the reason this is so pervasive, and I’ve spoken about this in the past, is that outrage media is very lucrative on social media. And so, publishers who have dabbled in this approach have been rewarded for it and many have made it their bread and butter since the scandals emerged.
And many will jump to their defence saying, but look at all the corruption they’ve uncovered, which might be true, but how many innocent people do you think they’ve slandered in the process?
If I spray an automatic gun into a crowd, I may hit the odd child abuser, but how many innocent or good people will I take down with them.
Caving into the appetite for outrage at every opportunity is not shrewd and it’s not prudential. It’s lazy, reckless, and unnecessarily divisive.
And this becomes especially concerning when we talk about the Church, because as much as some of us may not like it, as St. Ignatius of Antioch said, wherever the bishop is, there is the Church. We, by default and as a matter of justice, owe our deference to the bishop.
If instead, we’re laboring to scrutinize his every move under the assumption that he might be part of the velvet mafia, then we’ve taken a wrong turn. And the great risk in all of this is that we may unnecessarily sow division withing our Lord’s own flock.
And I suspect that He won’t consider that sin to be a mere trifle. Recklessly throwing stones in a manner that would injure his bride or his body, is the kind of thing I would not want to be caught doing.
Now, practically, this matters a lot because if you’re concern is combating the enemies of the Church, then you should know that many of them are lined up together for no other reason then to oppose the Christ’s message and the advancement of the Kingdom of God.
The reason the acronym representing those who endorse alternative sexual ideologies is growing by the day isn’t because they all endorse the same coherent intellectual propositions. It’s because together they can better oppose traditional beliefs about human relationships.
There is a battle raging for the heart and mind of every culture around the world right now and the Church should be poised to shape the outcome of that, but if we are needlessly and recklessly taking aim at each other, then we will only continue to concede ground in that fight.
So, at the risk of overplaying my hand, can I make a couple specific recommendations? If you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic, then Bishop Barron is not your enemy. I like many traditional Catholics can think of the odd thing that he’s said that I would want to reword.
But it’s also unreasonable for me to expect that someone who publishes as prolifically as he does, is going to say and write in such a way that I agree with 100% of it.
So just because I can think of a few instances in which I disagree, it doesn’t mean he’s my enemy. If the LGBTQQIP2SAA community can overcome their differences to work towards a common objective, then surely, we who all confess the creed and are doing our utmost to stand firm in the faith can find more reasons to work together than to tear each other down.
And if I can just press this point a little further. The main hang-up that a lot of people seem to have with Bishop Barron is his endorsement of the idea that we can have a “reasonable hope that all will be saved”.
I think most people simply don’t understand what he means. I don’t think he’s saying that he believes all men will be saved or that hell is empty. Maybe it would help if you put it like this.
Think of any person who is not a canonized saint who has died and then consider the question, “is that person in heaven?” By Bishop Barron’s estimation, it would not be unreasonable to respond by saying, “I don’t know, but I hope so.”
Lastly, we need to stop relying on social media for our news and editorials which I can appreciate the irony of because you’re watching this on a social media platform. So, maybe just limit the way you’re using social media.
The reason is, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are designed to disarm you of your critical faculties. Why? Because they want you to lower your guard against advertising messaging.
Television first tapped into this. We sit down to watch tv in order to escape everything including our own thoughts. Phrases like veg out and couch potato exist for a reason.
We suspend our rational mind so that we can be amused for a period of time. Well isn’t that just the perfect moment to try to persuade someone that they should buy something that they don’t need!?
Social media does the same thing, but with an added element of psychological manipulation. All kinds of research is emerging that says that all those little rewards built into social media (like when someone likes your content) creates a dopamine effect in your mind not unlike recreational drugs.
In other words, the more you expose yourself to social media, the more intoxicated you are. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s not the best time to try making sense of geo-political or ecclesiastical difficulties that require careful and nuanced critical thinking.
So no wonder we’re so easily stirred up into accusatory outrage and it just won’t do. The only way to immunize ourselves against this kind of thing is to be much more shrewd and deliberate about the way we’re using media like this and to severely limit our exposure to it. Just make sure that before you do so, you subscribe to my channel and hit the bell for notifications.