Bishop Barron confronts sexual abuse crisis in ‘Letter to a Suffering Church’

Reviewed by Matthew Vander Vennet

Throughout the church’s history, there have been times when she must go through a process of purgation and purification. While remaining the spotless Bride of the eternal Bridegroom, she also remains made up of human beings who continually fall short and are in constant need of reform.

Bishop Robert Barron, of Word on Fire fame, has recently released “Letter to a Suffering Church: A Bishop Speaks on the Sexual Abuse Crisis,” an extended letter in the form of a small book, that speaks to the tumult and outcry that ensued after another round of clerical sex abuse was made known to the public nearly one year ago.

He writes his letter as a loyal son of the church who just happens to be a bishop. His ultimate purpose in writing his book is to “urge my brothers and sisters in the church to . . . stay and fight — and to do so on behalf of themselves and their families, but especially on behalf of those who have suffered so grievously at the hands of wicked men.”

The book itself is no more than 105 pages. Bishop Barron lays the groundwork and status of the situation in the first chapter, titled “The Devil’s Masterpiece.” Too many aspects of the crisis have coalesced so ingeniously that it seems to have been thought out, designed, and intentionally conceived. It is Bishop Barron’s opinion that this situation is truly a diabolic masterpiece that has unfolded over the past 30-plus years through the works of evil men under the influence of the devil. Yet, the people who have shed tears and are rightfully angry over these revelations deeply love the church despite their disillusionment with her.

The good bishop understands completely the frustrations and embarrassment from those who continue to come to church and remain Catholic. It is to these people he implores not to give up hope.


The bishop offers a journey through Scripture and the original intent of God regarding human sexuality. The Bible is clear: human sexuality is good. However, as soon as sin enters the picture, we find myriad examples of perversion and lust. Sexual abuse begets sexual abuse and it is passed along from generation to generation. Christ himself speaks of the punishment that awaits those who harm children and objectify them.

According to Bishop Barron, the central tragedy of the scandal is that “those who were ordained to act in the very person of Christ became, in the most dramatic way, obstacles to Christ.”

The church has gone through this type of scandal before. This is the darkest moment for the church in the United States, but it also must be seen in its wider historical perspective. The most devilish of crimes have been committed by members of the church throughout the ages, from laymen up to the pope. Bishop Barron in no way wants to justify what has happened in our own age, but to show that we have been here before and survived. The Church reformed due to the holy men and women that remained a part of her. We must do the same.

Bishop Barron then asks, “Why should we stay?” His answer is simple and to the point. We should stay because of Jesus Christ. It is not meant to be an easy walk with Christ, but the burden becomes easier and lighter with Him at our side. The sacraments and the means to salvation that come through the church should give us all pause if we are thinking about leaving. As he remarks, “there is simply never a good reason to leave the Church.” The Church is an extension of the Trinitarian God and unites us with His saints in heaven. This is the pearl of great price and thus we must remain.


Finally, what is needed is true spiritual reform. We must proclaim Christ boldly and make the Gospel appealing again to a culture so drastically in need of hope. Institutional reforms and renewal must occur, and they have, but they are only part of the picture. The church has raised up saints in every age and we are all called to holiness. The great reformers of the church throughout the ages responded to God’s call and the church was purified each time. We must rally together and become the saints God made us to be and, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, reform the church once more.

Bishop Barron lays out in a simple and effective format his thoughts and suggestions of how to move forward through this crisis. His love of the church and his own hurt are apparent in this letter. I believe this work succeeds in urging us to remain faithful to Christ in the midst of turmoil and to stay and fight for what is good, true, and beautiful.

The book is available online and at your local Catholic bookstore. All proceeds from its sale will go toward trusted charities that help the victims of abuse.

MATTHEW VANDER VENNET is advancement director at The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign and a member of The Catholic Post’s book review team.

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