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Priestly Potshots: Bishop Barron speaks his mind

Bishop Robert Barron's apparent foray into a Facebook comments section has caused considerable controversy as he prepares to release Gloria Purvis' Word on Fire series on racism.

Those who have been following along know it’s been something of a wild week in a certain Catholic corner of the internet.

For those who haven’t, here’s a rundown.

On Wednesday, we here at BCM put out a piece by our own Gunnar Gundersen, a critical commentary on the recent public statements of one Robert Emmet Barron, an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

These include Barron’s repeated criticisms of modern social justice ideology—which he derisively calls “wokeism”,  “vile”, and Marxist.

Gundersen’s piece pushed back against this criticism, explaining the Christian underpinnings of the movement, breaking down the weaknesses in Barron’s terminology, and arguing that his decision to dialogue on the topic only with White conservative interlocutors is highly problematic.

This sparked a spirited conversation on social media, which was largely to be expected. (This was BCM’s second post in response to Barron, the first coming in March from Cory Frontin and garnering a similar reaction.)

What wasn’t expected, however, was an indirect—and shocking—response from Barron himself.

Shortly after the publication of Gundersen’s piece, Dcn Steven D. Greydanus (a film critic for EWTN’s National Catholic Register) reposted it on Facebook with a fairly innocuous caption, applauding Barron’s embrace of the concept of systemic racism but also noting his shortcomings when speaking on others’ attempts to address it.

Lo and behold, a personal account purporting to be the bishop himself responded.

Unsurprisingly, the comment quickly made waves after being shared on Twitter by Dr. Sam Rocha of the University of British Columbia, who has himself been outspoken on the intersection of Catholicism/Christianity and critical theory.

Concerns arose immediately, of course, that the Barron account isn’t really his.

As that debate raged there on Twitter and elsewhere, the account under Barron’s name followed up the first comment with two more, one of which accused Dcn Greydanus of “calumny”.

The Barron account’s other offering was in response to a commenter’s request that he engage directly with Rocha, Gundersen, or even Gloria Purvis on the topic of Critical Race Theory—which was not mentioned in Gundersen’s piece.

(Gundersen himself had commented on the post nearly two hours before the Barron account did, but the latter did not reply to or tag him despite mentioning him by name.)

The Barron account refused the request for dialogue—pointing readers to his extant pieces on the topic—and also cited a meeting between Barron and Purvis a week ago.

Purvis, based in DC, recently recorded a course for Barron’s Word on Fire Institute—a fact Barron announced (on his main accounts) in early November.

The topic of main accounts adds another wrinkle to the ordeal, as Barron indeed has a (verified) Facebook page that was uninvolved in the discussion on Greydanus’ post. Even so, every Facebook page is required to have at least one Facebook profile connected to it for management purposes.

(It’s unknown whether the Barron profile serves in this role for the Barron page, but multiple sources have confirmed that the Barron profile involved in the discussion does in fact belong to the bishop.)

Further, the profile’s first post also seems to confirm Barron’s ownership.

This of course opens up the debate of whether he himself actually wrote the comments, but a mere 15 minutes after the Barron profile cited the meeting with Purvis, the Barron page (and Twitter, and Instagram) posted pictures from said meeting, noting that it involved Purvis finishing the recording of her series—which is on racism—and joining Barron with her family for dinner.

Thus, while many are busy praising Barron for what will surely be a legitimately impactful video offering—and others are demanding an apology for what was certainly a series of poor judgment calls—it remains to be seen whether the bishop himself will follow his own rules as he seeks to address racism on his own terms.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, in priesthood formation with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).

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