I try not to pay attention to Bishop Robert Barron, and I fail.
He’s the one who always seems to be blaming the mass exodus of young people from Catholicism on poor catechesis and “the dumbing down of our faith.”
Yesterday, I noticed him being ratioed on Twitter in a spectacular way, with many of my friends leaving frustrated comments. I watched the short video he’d posted, against my better judgement.
It was an advertisement for a new scheme of his. He lamented that 79% of Catholics leave the Faith before the age of 23, and that college can often be a “watershed moment” for young people making that choice. He wants to keep young people from leaving by donating copies of his Word on Fire edition of the Gospels to colleges for students to read. And by “donating” I mean that he wants us to donate money to him, so that he can give the Gospels to the colleges for twenty dollars apiece.
It was pointed out that this seemed to be a blatant cash grab and attempt to sell his books.
It was pointed out that Barron has been in the catechizing business for 16 years, meaning that the current crop of Catholic youths who are leaving are doing so in spite of his help (or because of it).
It was pointed out that there are already all kinds of missionaries handing out reading material and it doesn’t really help. I got a Book of Mormon just the other week and I’ve yet to join the Latter Day Saints.
For me, as someone who’s been wrestling with my Catholic upbringing for a long time, his grifting struck a nerve.
I was a little younger than 23 when I came to Steubenville and ruined my life, after all, and I’m far from the only one.
I was, more or less, a lapsed Catholic for the first half of 2023, because my religious trauma was so terrible that I couldn’t go to Mass without a panic attack. That was one of a handful of times I haven’t been able to practice my Catholicism due to religious trauma. I don’t know whether you’d call me a lapsed Catholic right now. I’ve been trying to go back to Mass lately. I honestly don’t think I could ever walk into a confessional again; I get sick just thinking about it. I’ve had to re-think everything the Church has taught me and decide what was good and what was bad, but I still think that Christ is good and I want to know Him. I still see so much good in Catholic theology and sacraments. I don’t know where this journey will take me. Most of my Catholic friends have left the Church entirely. Most of the new friends I’ve met along the way are not Catholic. I honestly don’t know if my daughter still believes, and I don’t even know how I feel about that. Sometimes it makes me so sad I don’t know what to do. Sometimes I am relieved.
None of this was because I didn’t have a copy of the Gospels. I’ve probably got ten. What’s more, I’ve got an internet connection, where I can search any translation of the Gospels for free. I love the Gospels. I meditate on the Gospels all the time. And I went to Franciscan University for graduate school, which has a library named after a late Pope where one can check out a stack of Bibles. If access to the Gospels could preserve somebody’s Catholicism, mine would be bulletproof.
This happened because the Catholic Church destroyed my life and took everything I had– and because I found out they treated others far worse than they treated me.
My friends, most of the Catholics I know, have left the Church for similar reasons. When you are raised a Charismatic Catholic, you come out permanently scarred. It’s a brutal sect of the Catholic Church and extremely traumatic. Going to Franciscan University is more of the same. Like many who went to Franciscan University, I found myself in a social circle of alumni or dropouts with five and six-figure debt, severe religious trauma, many of them in shaky or even abusive marriages they were told were God’s will, many with no idea how to live outside a high control religious environment. And then there are the sex abuse victims, the ones who make headlines and the ones who don’t. There are the queer people who were bullied or worse to get the gay out of them. There are the people who were wrecked by phony “deliverance prayer” administered instead of psychological treatment. It’s not pretty. We don’t re-think the Church because we haven’t read the Gospels. We’ve read them, and had them read to us, too often to express.
Often, we leave the Church because the Church doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the Gospels.
The Gospels are about a poor Person with nowhere to lay His head, who went about healing the sick, defending the marginalized, and speaking truth to power. Eventually He was lynched for it, but that didn’t stop Him. I don’t see that in people like Bishop Barron, people who want to be pop celebrities and fawn on right-wing internet stars. Generally speaking, I don’t see that in people who pass out Bibles and tracts. I wouldn’t say I’ve seen it very often in the Catholic Church as an institution, and certainly not in the hierarchy, and definitely not at my Catholic university. In individual Catholics doing their best, I have. But I’ve also seen it in my Pagan friends. So where does that leave my Catholicism? I’m still deciding.
But I know from experience that people who leave the Church when they go away to a university don’t do it because they don’t have a Bible.
The Gospels aren’t our problem at all, Bishop Barron.
The problem is the Church.