The Disappointment of Word on Fire

Long ago, reader Tom Kreitzberg devised a simple metric for describing Catholic (and, in fact, pan-human) reactions to suspicion (and more than suspicion) of scandal.

The idea of finding out what happened and dealing with it justly doesn’t enter into it for lots and lots of people.

I think of that as I watch this train wreck unfold.

“We believe in the mission and the principles of Word on Fire, but not at all costs, and definitely not at the expense of our mental health,” wrote Jackie and Bobby Angel, in a May 9 resignation letter obtained by The Pillar.

“Any ministry that speaks truth with love will receive spiritual attack, but it is poor leadership, communication, and organizational principles that brought us here.”

The married couple, well-known Catholic authors and speakerswere appointed fellows of the Word on Fire Institute, a branch of Word on Fire, in early 2020: Jackie Angel as the fellow of family life and Bobby Angel as the fellow of parish life.

Their resignation came after public controversy over Word on Fire’s handling of an investigation into alleged sexual assault on the part of former senior producer Joseph Gloor, who was fired in October 2021.

Employees and former employees have charged that Word on Fire, a media organization founded by Los Angeles auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron, inappropriately identified an alleged victim of sexual assault, did not provide sufficient communication to employees about an investigation surrounding the incident, and that Word on Fire leaders favored Gloor during the probe into his conduct, only eventually firing him only as a public relations measure. 

The allegations came to light in late April, in a blog post from Catholic writer Chris Damian.

Since then, others have departed. And the whole thing has been handled with all the typical institutional ass-covering without regard for victims that has been a tragic feature of Company Men in the Church for decades after this kind of crap has had the full light of the sun shone on it. They are supposed to have learned something by now. But instead, the New Guy Hired to Replace the Suddenly and Mysteriously Deep-Sixed Old Guy at WoF, is tweeting out messages like “Grow Up!” to scandalized people looking for answers.

I wish that were the only thing amiss at WoF, but the reality is that, having set out claiming to “engage the culture” Word on Fire has, with disturbing speed, shown that it is willing to run the cultural gamut from A to B, focusing almost exclusively on platforming far right nuts and steadfastly ignoring, exploiting or silencing any voice that might offend the moneybags at the Napa Institute and other far right Catholic funding sources. So much time and energy has been spent on sympathetic dialogue with the likes of Ben Shapiro, Dave Rubin, and Jordan Peterson, but none on people like the folks who publish the Black Catholic Messenger, which published a very respectful plea to Bishop Barron (in response to his denunciation of “vile wokism”) not to remain silent about the long history of racist oppression in the US and, yes, in the US Church. In response to this call for dialogue, there was no invitation to converse, but a only the sort of double-down that Koch/EWTN/Napa Institute money loves:

Not that there has been nothing at all from WoF. After George Floyd, there was a lone Pentecost 2020 sermon and a much-ballyhooed acquisition of the excellent Gloria Purvis to do a series on race for their video ministry–followed by two years of nothing at all (except the occasional bragging that Gloria had been acquired to do a video series, in order to shut down complaints about the silence).

Naturally, defenders say “These things take time!”

Uh huh. Here’s what did not take any time at all: a deeply empathetic interview platforming a couple of absolute kooks who have been running around spreading deadly garbage about vaccines and hawking ivermectin as they whinge about being “cancelled”:

This deadly contribution to the MAGA Lie Machine’s Propaganda campaign was rushed into production and released just in time to celebrate the Right Wing Lie Machine successful effort to kill a million Americans by May 2022: more Americans killed than in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, Iraq Wars I and II, and Afghanistan–all in 2 1/2 years.

Why platform such people? What have they to do with the Faith? Nothing. But they and Peterson and Rubin, and, no doubt, future guests will have everything to do with selling Right Wing Culture War BS to a certain flavor of Catholic, which is increasingly what WoF is about, instead of proclaiming the Faith.

Which breaks my heart, as so much of The Thing That Used to be Conservative Catholicism now does constantly.

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21 Responses

  1. Yeah: subcommittees, board of directors, communications managers, CEO’s … you just know you’re going to get scr**** over by some marketeer.

    ”In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome where it became an institution. Next, it moved to Europe, where it became a culture. And, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise”

    But at least it’s not soooooooocialism, folks.

    1. Hahaha

      I still love Barron. His great mind has seen me through some darker times.

      Some of us don’t have the heart or skill-set to run an institute. Bishop Barron reminds me a little bit of Mark Shea. He can’t win no matter what he says or does, because at the end of the day, he is in love with ideas that translate to a way of life, and not necessarily a brick and mortar business that needs to pay employees.

      I also have no idea what CRT specifically is (are there bad characters associated with it?) In addition to this,I don’t have old white guys leaning on me heavily (anymore) to say the right things, so … I have the freedom to err on the side of the oppressed.

      1. Critical Race Theory (CRT) is an analytical framework that is taught at college level courses to law students. It proposes the idea that inequities in our society that can be traced along racial lines, are not (necessarily) the product of individual instances of racism, but instead, are the result of systemic disparities that have been built into our legal and economic systems.

        It would be analogous to what Catholics refer to as “structures of sin”.

        It wasn’t that long ago that CRT was something that was only discussed within academia. What happened recently was that Republican political operatives decided to repurpose the term and turn it into a catch-all phrase, where they just label anything related to blackness or anti-racism as “CRT”.

      2. CRT is that thing that makes people reflexively type either the ‘smile’ or the ‘frown’ icon. In both cases, it instantly shows both their political affiliation and the fact that their heuristics are guided by online algorithms. You yourself will most likely be more happy with 3vil5triker’s explanation below.

        As for the sad story of WoF management, I’m highly amused by the fact that those who left blame the ”lack of proper HR”, rather than the fact that there *was* HR in the first place.

        Oh well, even Saint Francis eventually recognized the need for a rule and for management, but I reserve my greatest respect for how he started out.

      3. >>I still love Barron. His great mind has seen me through some darker times.<<

        I know what you mean. For me it was the writings of Alasdair MacIntyre.

        The USCCB as an institution probably does not like CRT because it reflects poorly on their institution. As recently as the time of Segregation, the church would have two parishes in neighborhoods. One for the white folks, one for the colored folks.

  2. Aw man. I don’t follow Bishop Barron closely, only getting an occasional glimpse of what he’s up to now and then, like now, but I though he was an okay-ish fellow: someone who I disagreed with on a number of issues, but generally speaking, well intentioned and not committed to any political side.

    But with that comment on CRT, he didn’t just jump over the shark; he pole-vaulted over it.

    Bonus dunks on Jordan Peterson:
    Theology Expert EXPOSES Jordan Peterson’s Embarrassing Ignorance About The Bible
    Sam Seder: “Actual Intellectuals Look at Jordan Peterson As If He’s Steven Crowder.”

  3. “The Thing That Used to be Conservative Catholicism”?
    They’ve been exactly like this since Vatican II and they’ve been lap dogs of the American far right politicians since at least the mid 90s.

    1. No. It hasn’t. It used to have some integrity. But it has digested its own brains and the decline has gotten sharper and sharper more and more rapidly in the past 25 years.

      1. I never use the S word. But I will today. Satan, dressed in expensive suits, sipping the finest vintages, hobnobbing with Cruz, Trump, DeSantis, Vigano, etc. is laughing his head off in a way he hasn’t done in centuries. He’s bought the souls of Americans and Catholics like never before.

      2. Two large and highly negative influences on American political and social discourse over the past 20 or so years have been

        1. New Atheists
        2. MAGA/QAnon/Fox news

        Would have liked to see the American Catholic Church be a voice of wisdom and reason. Alas, the American Catholic Church is mutating into some sort of cult!

  4. “So much time and energy has been spent on sympathetic dialogue with the likes of Ben Shapiro, Dave Rubin, and Jordan Peterson…”

    This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them!

      1. The Holy Father, Cupich, Tobin, and the WPI crowd have that covered. “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all…And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?”

      1. You sound like Voris when he complained that Barron didn’t tell Ben Shapiro that he was going to hell for not accepting Christ as Messiah. Jesus didn’t berate Zaccheus, who had defrauded people of their money, or Jairus, or Simon, or the woman with the alabaster jar for their sins.

      1. So said the scribes and the Pharisees. Why don’t you guys give Voris a call? I hear they’re hiring at Church Militant.

      2. Exactly. Barron used to have a website focused solely on apologetics towards atheists. He didn’t become atheist. He also did a lot of film reviews engaging the secular culture, he didn’t become secular. He was always a voice of wisdom and reason. This submissive behavior and support toward the crackpot right is nothing short of disappointing.

  5. “This submissive behavior and support toward the crackpot right is nothing short of disappointing.” How is this any different than the Holy Father? Time is greater than space, isn’t it?

  6. The biggest supporters of CRT are liberal whites. Most people of common sense know it’s a pile of nonsense, skin pigment notwithstanding. They are the same entitled liberal whites who threw money at that BLM scam. Innocent children are murdered because of a lack of gun laws and there isn’t a single riot or demonstration, but a drug addicted loser gets killed by cops and cities across the country erupt in violence. None of these liberal whites would have even acknowledged Floyd on the street and probably would have avoided him.

    Good for Bishop Barron calling out CRT for what it is: a scam–a means for liberal elites to attain more power.

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