A Catholic bishop and media luminary sees a “danger being built into the forum” of social media, as the Catholic Church tries to engage new media in an effort to bring back those who have left.
Bishop Robert Barron spoke at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania on May 24th. His talk to a packed and enthusiastic ballroom was titled: “New Evangelization: The Impact of Social Media.”
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, DC and Carolyn Woo, President of Catholic Relief Services also headlined the “The New Evanglization and Higher Education: the Vision of Pope Francis” conference. According to spokesperson Don Orlando, the three day event hosted people from 20 different states.
Bishop Barron is an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He is a documentary film maker, bestselling author, theologian, founder of Word on Fire global media ministry and one of the “most-followed” Catholics on social media.
Over the past 35 years the Catholic Church has made a concerted effort in engaging those who left the faith. This effort has been called the ”New Evangelization.”
According to the 2011 revised report from the Pew Research Center for Religion and the Public Life, ”Those who have left Catholicism outnumber those who have joined the Catholic Church by nearly a four-to-one margin. Overall, one-in-ten American adults (10.1%) have left the Catholic Church after having been raised Catholic, while only 2.6% of adults have become Catholic after having been raised something other than Catholic.”
Bishop Barron said the age when most U.S. Catholics leave is during their college and young adult years.
His media ministries started out hosting an early morning show on WGN radio in his native Chicago nearly 20 years ago. He then ventured into documentary film making. The CATHOLICISM documentary series has been broadcast nationwide on the Public Broadcast System, and it set to release a new series this fall.
Bishop Barron was an early pioneer on social media, where his YouTube videos have been viewed more than 15 million times. The Word on Fire website says it, “reaches millions of people by utilizing the tools of new media to draw people into or back to the Catholic Faith.”
His time online has exposed him to the maliciousness between Catholics in social media. “Now, anyone – and his brother – can go into his basement and hurl off some invective.”
The polarization in American social and political life is also reflected in the Catholic Church in the United States.
Traditionalists and progressives are waging a civil war over hot button issues such as gay marriage, transgender rights, abortion, and whether divorced and remarried Catholics should receive the sacraments. Their battle ground for this war of words is social media.
The Reverand Thomas Rosica is the Chief Executive Officer of Salt + Light Media Foundation in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the Vatican’s English-speaking media attaché and member of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.
Father Rosica’s lawyer had threatened to sue traditionalist Canadian David Domet, in February 2015, over mischaracterizations and personal attacks in the blog Vox Cantoris. Legal action has not occurred up to this point.
Father Rosica recently offered a sharp critique of the uncivil tone of social media conversations in Catholic circles.
“Often times the obsessed, scrupulous, self-appointed, nostalgia-hankering virtual guardians of faith or of liturgical practices are very disturbed, broken and angry individuals, who never found a platform or pulpit in real life and so resort to the Internet and become trolling pontiffs and holy executioners! In reality they are deeply troubled, sad and angry people.”
Bishop Barron echoed Father Rosica’s comments. “I know [Father] Tom [Rosica] well, and I did see those remarks. I think he is right. It’s a built-in problem with this form of communication.”
The only solution to this dilemma that both Bishop Barron and Father Rosica offer is to remember that it is a person with whom you are engaging with on social media, and to pray for them when they offend you.