Social Media-Savvy Bishop Brings Fresh Approach To Spread Of Catholicism

Sep 18, 2015
Originally published on September 18, 2015 6:39 pm
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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

The Catholic Church and social media prowess are two things you might not immediately think of together. Pope Francis certainly fits the bill with more than 22 million Twitter followers. But past him, well, there is newly appointed Bishop Robert Barron in Los Angeles. If you don't know him now, there's a good chance you will after the Pope's visit. He is the keynote speaker for the World Meeting of Families, and he'll be doing commentary for NBC throughout the Pope's visit. NPR's Nathan Rott has this profile.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Bishop Barron is prolific. He's everywhere. His sermons are on the radio and available for download on iTunes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SERMON)

ROBERT BARRON: Friends, our second reading for this weekend, taken from the second chapter of the letter of James.

ROTT: His YouTube channel has more than 68,000 followers, and his videos have been viewed more than 14 million times.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

BARRON: Stephen Colbert gave an interview to GQ magazine in which his Catholic faith was on pretty clear display.

ROTT: And the content of Bishop Barron's messages, as you just heard, aren't always aimed at the ardent Mass-attending Catholic. He's done movie reviews of "Cinderella" and "The Hunger Games," basic explainers of Catholic practices and a sweeping, 10-part television series on the faith...

(SOUNDBITE OF "CATHOLICISM" TRAILER)

ROTT: That's trailer looks and sounds a lot more like that of a summer blockbuster's.

NICOLAS COLLURA: I think in some ways, Barron is a visionary. I think he recognizes what the church needs.

ROTT: Nicolas Collura is a blogger for the National Catholic Reporter.

COLLURA: Going out into the marketplace of ideas, going out into the world and trying to attract people, he's evangelizing where people are, and especially where young people are.

ROTT: And Collura thinks that's what caught the eye of Pope Francis. Barron, who's been in Chicago for years, was recently appointed by the pope to the position of auxiliary bishop for the archdiocese of Los Angeles.

COLLURA: It's very significant that this kind of person, that kind of as close as you get to a celebrity in the Catholic Church, has been made a bishop and that he's going to send him to Hollywood, to the media capital of the world. It's very interesting.

ROTT: Interesting in that it gives Barron a higher position in a larger media market to continue doing his preaching.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHURCH BELLS RINGING)

ROTT: Barron's temporary home and office isn't too far from Hollywood. It's a 20-minute drive from the famed sign, in downtown Los Angeles at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

BARRON: Brandon set up my microphone over there for our podcasting and various things.

ROTT: He takes a seat in the opposite corner and jumps right into what he sees as the church's challenges of our time.

BARRON: The church is going through a rough time with the sex abuse scandal. We're having a very hard time convincing the political establishment to see things our way. I think what's called for now, especially, is deep teaching of the faith, especially with the next generation.

ROTT: And to an increasingly secularized world. That's why he tries to preach in an accessible way, generally avoiding hot-button issues like abortion and gay marriage.

BARRON: Because I think we get immediately distracted then. We immediately are involved in a kind of a firefight about that, and people tend to back away. Start with the beautiful and convince people of the reality of God, I think, is the compelling task of our time.

ROTT: Father Allan Deck is a priest and professor at Loyola Marymount University. He says that Barron's approach is shared by another social media-savvy Catholic figure, Pope Francis.

ALLAN DECK: For several centuries now, the church has tended to be in what we might call a somewhat defensive mode.

ROTT: Introspective and resting on its laurels.

DECK: What this pope, Pope Francis, is about is being prospective. He really believes that we need to engage the present reality and the future.

ROTT: Namely, Pope Francis believes that the church needs to engage people like Margaret Butterfield, a graduate student at LMU, who says she's watched Barron's work and finds his approach refreshing.

MARGARET BUTTERFIELD: He's not just sort of hashing out an old commentary of something. He's trying to make it accessible. He's trying to make it dynamic.

ROTT: Which, she says, is exactly what any religion should try to do in the 21st century. Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.