Bishop Barron is a good guy who, I think, wants to be a better guy. He seems to struggle with the basics of synodality here.
Earlier today I posted a commentary on a friend’s social media stream along the following lines. Before the man was ordained a bishop, he was a seminary rector. On the side, he makes films and writes. That’s all good stuff. But his ecclesial environments have been seminaries, chanceries, and a hand-picked apostolate of reaching out to the churched. Nothing wrong with any of that; this is all good stuff. He wants to make good Catholics better. Young men heading to priesthood, and the priests and deacons in his direct fatherly care, and the administration now of a diocese. But the focus of his ministry has been and continues to be people who are already solidly Catholic. The occasional celebrity convert, yes, I suppose. But not the rank and file nones inhabiting the world today.
Speaking of synodal work, he wrote:
I found myself increasingly uneasy with two words that feature prominently in the document and that dominated much of our discussion—namely, “inclusivity” and “welcoming.”
If one’s environment is an office building or a highly selective school of theology or a film studio, being inclusive and welcome aren’t the highest priorities. And that is okay, mostly. The hope is that when the Diocese of Winona-Rochester hires someone, it is a matter of Equal Opportunity Employment where possible. Or if staffing a seminary, women and men both are considered for teaching positions. Or if seeking staff writers, post-production people, researchers, and such for a film project, that people of color are included for consideration. And once hired, they are welcomed into the fold. That’s not a matter of uneasiness, but common sense administration.
I know Bishop Barron’s ministry Word on Fire has stumbled lately with the treatment of women. If his awareness is drawn to those two words, perhaps the Spirit was tickling something of importance for his personal attention.
He wonders about a “precise definition” of the terms inclusivity and welcome. But he seems to have some affirmative answers for the basics:
What exactly would a welcoming and inclusive Church look like? Would it always reach out to everyone in a spirit of invitation? If so, the answer seems obviously to be yes. Would it always treat everyone, no matter their background, ethnicity, or sexuality, with respect and dignity? If so, again, the answer is yes. Would such a Church always listen with pastoral attention to the concerns of all? If so, affirmative.
So far, so good. These examples cite the situation for pre-evangelization, the attraction of persons to Jesus through the human qualities of Christian communities. He continues:
But would a Church exhibiting these qualities never pose a moral challenge to those who would seek entry? Would it ratify the behavior and lifestyle choices of anyone who presented him or herself for admission? Would it effectively abandon its own identity and structuring logic so as to accommodate any and all who come forward? I hope it is equally evident that the answer to all those questions is a resounding no. The ambiguity of the terms is a problem that could undermine much of the Synodal process.
Here is where my neighboring bishop stumbles a bit. The Church can be very selective in its challenges. Some of that is the human condition: not only do we have blind spots, but we treat ensconced members of our own tribe a bit differently than others. And when we sin, we don’t always make public our contrition. Sometimes we haven’t even bothered with being sorry. So if we judge a newcomer knocking has some objective sin, like being a tax collector or prostitute, we’re not giving good example on that front for the how-to of conversion. We are discriminating in the sins we recognize in ourselves and our institution. This is the stuff of … wait for it … discrimination. It’s why we fail the smell test with many people these days. Not just young same-sex oriented, remarried folks.
The simplest solution is just to ask people promoting welcome and inclusion what they mean and how to do it. And perhaps, learn something helpful.
“But would a Church exhibiting these qualities never pose a moral challenge to those who would seek entry?”
How consistent or selective is that Church in that regard? Does it tend to pose such challenges about moral matters its leader feel they’ve mastered, but not about matters that they haven’t?