Joseph Shaw

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Los Angeles auxiliary bishop Robert Barron chaired the revision of the U.S. Bishops’ teaching on the death penalty in Baltimore, Md., June 2019. Lisa Bourne / LifeSiteNews

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Bishop Barron laments lack of belief in Eucharist, but what’s he doing about it?

August 14, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Watching Bishop Robert Barron’s short video lamenting the ignorance and disbelief of self-described Catholics about the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, revealed in a study by Pew, is a disconcerting experience. Someone has clearly trained the media-savvy bishop to smile and laugh as much as possible when on camera, and this creates a strange dissonance when he assures us that he is angry about the situation. I don’t doubt his sincerity, but it does not come across like the anger of Elijah when he took on the prophets of Baal, of Moses when he witnessed the apostasy of the Golden Calf, or of Jesus Christ in the Gospels (Mark 3:5; cf. John 2:15).

Not only were they not smiling, I imagine, but their anger was expressed in action. Anger is the appropriate emotional reaction to injustice, but when we see injustice, we should not simply get angry. We should, if possible, do something about it. Moses and Elijah opposed  with force the attempted takeover of God’s chosen people by idolaters and apostates. Our Lord forced out the money-changers in the Temple with a whip. Bishop Barron does not mention any steps he is planning to take to rescue the situation of widespread ignorance and rejection of the Faith in his own diocese. Perhaps he thinks putting a video lamenting the situation on social media is enough. To be fair to Bishop Barron, by doing so, he has done more than most of his brethren in the Episcopate.

Just how serious is a situation in which half of nominal Catholics do not even know that the Church teaches transubstantiation? Bishop Barron tells us he regards it as pretty serious. He is right. Those who do not know the doctrine are not best placed to benefit from the sacrament, to put it mildly, and there is no reason to suppose that their ignorance and denial of the Faith end there. I wonder how many know that baptism washes away Original Sin, that confession takes away sins committed since Baptism, or that marriage unites a couple in an indissoluble bond. How many self-described Catholics understand, let alone believe, the Apostle’s Creed?

This is a pastoral emergency, and there are some cheap, simple, and obvious things that any bishop (any ordinary, that is: Bishop Barron is an auxiliary bishop) faced with such an emergency should do. 

He should ask all the catechists and priests of the diocese whether they personally affirm, and teach to others, the most important truths of the Faith. Lay catechists who do not should be sacked; clergy who do not should be forbidden to preach.

He should then lead a systematic program of diocese-wide catechesis on these truths through pastoral letters, his own preaching, diocesan newspapers, and social media channels.

Looking to the longer term, he needs to ensure that seminaries and whatever systems there may be for adult formation and the training of catechists are fully orthodox.

No bishop in the developed world will do these things, however. The more zealously orthodox will tinker around the edges by encouraging orthodox seminarians and appointing some good catechists. Even they would reject my simple three-step plan.

Why? Well, if half of all nominal Catholics are ignorant of the teaching or reject it, it would be surprising if between a quarter and a third of the clergy, even in a good diocese, did not reject it as well, and probably a far higher percentage of catechists. If a bishop began to signal that non-believers were not welcome in positions of trust and authority in the diocese, these individuals would complain, to Rome, to the media, and to the people. The bishop could expect no strong support from Rome, from fellow bishops, or from ordinary Catholics, let alone from the secular media.

Even if the bishop were able to weather the resulting storm, and the unbelievers began to leave their positions, the disappearance of such a large number of people from key roles in the diocese would create a manpower crisis.

The Church in the West has become dependent on people who do not hold the Catholic Faith: as administrators, clergy, volunteers, and benefactors. They are embedded in positions of influence and can count on backup from powerful friends throughout the diocese and beyond. A conservative bishop may in office, but that does not mean he is in power.

Such bishops are no doubt thinking that only when they have brought the situation under control by behind-the-scenes tinkering can they afford to confront it more openly. The Pew study gives them this unwelcome news, however: this policy is not working. The good people they are trying to promote through the system are too few and too isolated; the time the bishop has to make a positive difference is too short; the counter-evangelization of non-believers, by their very presence in positions of trust, as well as by what they say and do, is too powerful.

If bishops do not take real action now, knowing the price they may have to pay, the situation will continue to deteriorate.

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Joseph Shaw

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Dr Joseph Shaw has a Doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University, where he also gained a first degree in Politics and Philosophy and a graduate Diploma in Theology. He has published on Ethics and Philosophy of Religion and has edited a forthcoming book on the liturgy: The Case for Liturgical Restoration: Una Voce Position Papers on the Extraordinary Form (Angelico Press). He is the Chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales and Secretary of Una Voce International. He teaches Philosophy in Oxford University and lives nearby with his wife and eight children.