An Untimely Review of Joker.
It’s the Child Abuse, Stupid
Reform, not Twitter, is what the Church needs.
Wait, you mean you didn’t hear about the recent gathering (or as they say, “General Assembly”—LOL, OK boomer) of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops? Their annual meeting was held in Baltimore in November; Baltimore, you may recall, was recently newsworthy for being particularly rat-infested.
So many rats that no one paid much attention to a few hundred bishops scurrying around.
Cue the Ritual Rearranging of Deck Chairs
The glorious event opened with speeches on the gravest issues facing the Church: gun violence, climate change, and DACA immigrants. Sorry, which General Assembly is this again? Paging the DNC!
Not much—not nearly enough—was made of the Chief Crisis of the Church. You know, the never-ending torrent of rape accusations. Those pesky kiddo eruptions. All those darn coverups.
Also too briefly touched upon was Chief Crisis #2: the hemorrhaging of Catholics from American parishes. For every one person that joins, another six flee. The average age of a cradle Catholic when they stop identifying as Catholic has dropped from 18 to 13. (Must be a coincidence that 13 is roughly the average age of a priest-abused child.)
Did any of the assembled elders figure out that Crisis #1 and Crisis #2 might be related? That in fact, Crisis #1 has caused, or is a major cause of, Crisis #2?
Who knows! All these bishops know is that 13-year-olds are mysteriously vanishing from the pews, in mind if not body, and this must be stopped. It must be stopped, they say! We must keep them, hold them close…not like that! Get your mind out of the gutter…
They’re right, of course. Without new parishioners, a parish dies in a generation or two. Without new parishioners, who’s going to pay the lawyer bills and victim settlements? This explains much of their frantic push for open borders. The writing’s on the wall for these guys and they know it. Most Sunday masses look like an open casting call for Golden Girls impersonators.
But instead of rooting out the deviants who continue to pirouette through seminaries and rectories, they focus on installing the Francis political agenda and tap dance around the elephant behind the altar.
What we the parishioners want to see is action. I want to see a Zeal Team 6 made up of armed Carthusian monks and highly trained Belgian Malinois with headcams strapped to their snouts storming sacristies and chasing down degenerates until there’s not one of them left in a frock.
This would pretty much take care of Crisis #1.
Instead, the doughy dotards have decided they need…
Better websites. Some good tweets. You know, for kids!
Enter Bishop Barron
The Gómez election was somewhat overshadowed by the appearance of Bishop Robert Barron. You may know him as the 60-year-old auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, where he landed in 2015 after being pushed out of Chicago by the simpering Cardinal Cupich, a hardcore Francis ally. Barron is “conservative” (though he wrote his master’s thesis on the political philosophy of Karl Marx), so that makes him popular among traditional boomer Catholics.
He is most famous as the host of the popular PBS series Catholicism, which is sort of a Catholic version of Kenneth Clark’s memory-holed Civilization series. Episodes consist of Barron standing in front of ancient monuments around the world doing deep dives on scripture. They are historically enlightening and theologically sound. Barron comes across as intelligent, affable, and—vitally—not overly creepy. A rare combo! In the Wall Street Journal, Matthew Hennessey called Barron the “bishop of Catholic social media.”
A true evangelist, Barron seems to care deeply about the survival of the church into the future and has created a multimedia empire around his mission: to create new Catholics and entice the unaffiliated (he calls them the “nones”) to consider conversion. There is the nonprofit Word on Fire Institute, there are videos, DVD sales, books, speaking tours, and more. And he has plans—big ones—for rescuing the Catholic Church from its present mess.
Finally! A smart guy to fix the problems, root out the rot, and clean out corruption! If anyone can do it, it’s Barron! After all, he’s the Bezos of bishops. The Musk of the Magisterium. The Oprah of the Novus Ordo. The Zuckerberg of the zucchetto. And ZOMFG he has over 150,000 Twitter followers! (New York’s Cardinal Dolan has 240,000, but who’s counting). Barron’s even done a few Reddit AMAs—his last one kind of blew up.
He’s the man for his time and place.
He has the answers we need.
If we are only wise enough to listen.
Effetes vs. Aesthetes
Back in the giddy days of the original dot-com bubble, I was a junior creative at a fancy web design biz. The slick creative directors—famous for throwing parties in New York that featured go-go dancers and underdressed, empowered females in tech—saw themselves as missionaries to impossibly lame massive corporations. “If it can be digital, it will be” these slick salesmen would whisper in the ears of dorky CFOs poised over their checkbooks.
Back in those days, big companies trying to build a cool website were like drunks with no arms trying to find a lightswitch in the bathroom. The flat fee for our Phase 1 deliverable—an itemized list of everything wrong with your current totally lame brand and what we could do to make your brand less lame—was one million dollars.
A million bucks and you wouldn’t even have a website. That would require a much larger check. And if you wanted it to actually work at the end of the process, well, that was really gonna cost ya.
Barron, bless his heart, is trying to help these guys out of their hole for free! No charge for his brilliant digital creative consulting!
During his presentation to the other bishops, Barron laid out a precise five-point plan for enticing young people to come and rest their weary foreheads upon the pillowy manboobed bosom of the Church. His Institute even created a training film about the plan, so it would be easy to share with priests in their diocese.
Bishop Barron, tell us your secrets!
First: Tempt kids with the “way of justice.”
I guess having the Sultan of SJWs in the Vatican is not enough. One of Barron’s suggestions is to get local children trained to be “community organizers” (his words) through the parish action committees.
Second: Lure them with the “way of beauty.”
“People find us through our websites,” he said. “Let’s make sure our websites are beautiful.” He’s right. If you’ve ever tried to navigate your local parish website to find say, a mass time, you know it’s a disaster.
Third: Barron urged bishops to transform parishes into missionary outreach centers.
“The young people aren’t going to come to us,” said Barron. “We have to go out to them.” Picture it: a mob of obese elderly men staggering down the street toward the nearest unsuspecting middle school. If that’s not the stuff of nightmares, what is? He urged the bishops to invest in social media experts.
There’s actually a word for that thing where super friendly adults want to get between you and your kids, reach out to them, offer them fun activities, and get them to try new things.
That word is grooming.
Fourth: Stop dumbing down the faith. Seconded and adopted!
And finally, how does the wise Bishop propose to help the assembled enfeebled effetes appeal to teens?
Fifth: By embracing a “creative use of new [sic] media.”
“It’s a tool that we can and should use to reach out to this world,” said Barron. “There’s a sticky quality to things you put out there. Meaning, it goes out there and someone gets stuck to it.”
“Young people live online,” Barron helpfully informed his colleagues, and therefore they need to be accessed where they are. “Using this new [sic] tool, we can now reach into their world.” Brilliant! Who among us has not welcomed random messages on their teenagers’ Discord chats and Minecraft servers from random adult men?
“We want to get them to parishes,” Barron said, “but as a first step, I think that’s one way to do it.”
As an example, he brought up that one time he made some Word on Fire vids about Bob Dylan and Catholicism, and one guy saw it and decided to head to mass.
Gee, Bob Dylan videos? Heck, my preteens can’t get enough Dylan content, especially when delivered by priests. Hey, how about a totally awesome video series where Cardinal Dolan takes on Donny Osmond? Or Cardinal Wuerl tackles Earth, Wind, and Fire?
Now we’re talking sticky!
Beauty and the Beasts
When Barron brought up beauty, I was confused. A little wistful. Beauty? Was that a thing once?
As a former non-Catholic, I was drawn to the art of the Church first. It’s the worst cliché, but who wasn’t?
Isn’t it prima facie proof of the church’s early aesthetic success that literally everyone (universally!) enjoys the spires, the stone, the art, the domes, the Michelangelo. You are seduced first by the pagan (Bronze Age?) biceps of the David, which is actually just foreplay to soften you up for the slam in the gut from the Pietà. How could a human carve this? Recall the rending of garments as Notre Dame burned. Not the flying buttresses! Do not hurt my flying buttresses!
On semester abroad, I signed up for an art history tour across northern Spain that tracked the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. It culminated in a packed mass in an absolute unit of a Gothic edifice at the windswept northwest corner of Spain. Afterward we had scallops and sangria. It was a delight.
When I decided to join up with the Caths, I knew the eyesore church in which I would serve out my RCIA sentence was a pink 1970s atrocity. But what did I expect, a bunch of masons in Van Nuys to recreate Chartres just for me? It’s not about the aesthetics, Peachy. You have to look beyond the linoleum, you snob, I was told by the lifers—like prison inmates telling the fresh meat that the Friday mystery loaf is actually pretty tasty if you put enough Tabasco on it.
I knew I was not going to get Sistine ceilings and Gregorian chants. I knew I would be baptized by a tanned, white-haired gentlemen who resembled Liberace’s younger brother and spent weekends in Palm Springs with a close male friend.
I knew all this going in.
When Mount Pedophilia erupted, I was assured, it’s ever been thus, the priests are human and sadly all too fallible, just worry about yourself and your own sins, Peachy. There is a wonderful Word on Fire video you should watch that will really help put it in context.
When priests offered pandering, meandering homilies about racism and immigration and excuses for molesters that included phrases like “a few bad apples,” things that made me want to convert on the spot to something else, anything else, I was admonished, the homilies are never good, didn’t you know that? Why are you even paying attention to such petty details? Even bad priests still give communion, it’s about the consecrated body of Christ, not what the priest says. Stop being so shallow, Peachy!
Maybe this is how Barron survives his own banishment in Los Angeles. Just look at his homebase. The L.A. cathedral is an infamous, incoherent edifice courtesy of former Cardinal Roger Mahony. Wags call it the Taj Mahony.
Of course, the disgraced Mahony is not spoken of these days. Better known as the Jeffrey Epstein to the junior set, he cost his diocese the largest pedo payout in history (roughly 1 billion) and today enjoys a cozy sinecure emeritus at St. Charles Borromeo in North Hollywood—Theodore McCarrick’s old stomping grounds, dontcha know. He even gets to pop in to mass alongside Bishop Barron from time to time. Mahony, who sent more young boys to their doom than WWI Field Marshall Douglas Haig, still clings on, an eternal boil on the underside of the city.
And no one says anything about it in public.
You want to keep kids Catholic? Ignore the kids. Pay attention to their parents.
Show us competence. Demonstrate action. Round up rapists. Build pretty churches. Bulldoze the rest. And sure, make the websites nice and the tweets pithy.
When Archbishop José Gómez was formally elected at the end of the conference, some conservative Catholics cheered. Did they realize they’re cheering for the new captain of the Titanic when we’ve already hit the iceberg?
Gómez, who has been unable to stop Mahony from performing public ministries, will now ride this battered boat all the way to the bottom. Because they are the real crisis: the bishops themselves! The chief crisis is not one of abuse, or a fleeing flock, or bad art.
Those are all just symptoms.
The true Chief Crisis is competence—or lack thereof.
You want to save the church? Make sure not a single U.S. Bishop ever, ever, ever shows his face in public again. In fact, abolish the General Assembly. Hide, run, leave, quit. All of you. Today, if possible.
Because Bishop Barron can’t save you now.
Introductory remarks honoring Michael M. Uhlmann, recipient of the Claremont Institute’s Henry Salvatori Prize in the American Founding, Washington, D.C., October 27, 2018.