In the midst of a sex-abuse crisis that has shaken the core of Catholics worldwide, Bishop Robert J. Barron has one simple message for the faithful:
Now is not the time to leave the Church; now is the time to stay and fight!

This is the main theme of the new book “Letter to a Suffering Church” that Bishop Barron, the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and the founder of the Word on Fire ministries, has written in response to the sexual abuse crisis. 

While recounting the scandals in detail in this 104-page tome, Barron writes “we’ve been here before in our history and we’ve survived; everything you love in the Church is still present and worth defending; there is a path forward.” 

But is that answer going to reach survivors, who have long felt ignored or forgotten? Or the “nones?” The millennial generation, the future, who are leaving the Church in droves? Bishop Barron attempts to use Scriptures and history to provide context for the scandal and how to find a way forward.

On the scriptural side, Bishop Barron says ‘the Bible is not the least opposed to … sex.” Through love and the sacrament of marriage, God tells his people to be fruitful and multiply. It is when “sex is wrenched out of the context of love and used as a tool for domination and manipulation” when things go so morally and criminally wrong. He references Sodom and Gamorrah, Lot and his daughters, Eli and his sons and David and Bathsheba as stories of how sexual perversion has twisted God’s covenant.

In the New Testament, he talks about the Gospel of Matthew and how Jesus responds, when asked by his disciples, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus calls a child over and says, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Bishop Barron says Jesus sees as the greatest sin the failure to protect, accept and love a child, or worse, harm them. And that is the stain the Church continues to try to deal with; the very people who were entrusted to keep children safe from harm, failed so miserably. 

Historically speaking, Bishop Barron adds the Church has been here before; has tried for centuries to sabotage and destroy itself through “outrageous sins of priests, bishops and popes,” notably John XII, Benedict IX and Alexander VI. 

When he references St. Peter Damian complaining in 1049 (1049!) of corruption, sexual abuse of young boys by priests and bishops, and bishops who stood aside and did nothing, it sends a chill up your spine. This has happened before in the Church; why is the Church still standing? Why should we stay?

In the next chapter, of the same name, he offers the answers.

Namely, Jesus. Bishop Barron says “if you have found Jesus’ everlasting life, salvation, the answer to the deepest longings in your heart … you must stay.” The vessels are fragile but this treasure is why we stay. The treasure is comprised of six aspects: 

1. The Church speaks of God; (“our hearts are wired for God and remain restless until they rest in God”); 2. The Church is the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ (“what the heart aches for … is realized … in him”); 3. The Holy Spirit (“which gives vitality and energy to the Mystical Body”); 4. The Trinity (“God is love”); 5. Sacraments and the Eucharist (“the Eucharist is the single most important reason for staying faithful to the Church”); 6. The Saints (people fall short of holiness but “the saints remain as beacons, models, companions on the Way.”)

If you can accept this, then stay and fight. From an institutional standpoint, Barron refers the 2002 Charter with it’s one-strike-and-you’re-out policy, background checks on every employee, specialized training to spot signs of sexual abuse, lay review and a National Review Board as concrete steps the Church has made. Protocols which are strictly enforced in the Diocese of Albany, if you’re asking.

He calls for a complete investigation into how the Theodore McCarrick situation was allowed to fester so long. (Reading this got me thinking of the Bishop Michael Bransfield mess and the credible accusations of alleged sexual misconduct and rampant spending and say, “How much has really changed?”)

Barron also asks for a complete spiritual renewal of the priesthood in which the laity is involved, because “if we want holier priests, we all have to become holier ourselves.” This statement in itself may anger some people because one can argue it was the unholy actions of the priests themselves that led people away from holiness. But that argument is for another time.

So when thinking about it from a Catholic perspective, this worthwhile read reiterates that God is love, a love you will not find anywhere else, and that is why you stay and fight.