|Bishop Patrick Ahern|
I am sorry to have been away from the blog for a few days—some unexpected travel came up and I can’t make a lot of promises for the next few days as I am swamped at work—but I do want to make at least one posting this weekend and while I intend to get back to the story of the Anglica Church (even though we have gotten to the point where ol’ Henry has separated from Rome,we are only about half-way through) and we have only begun to look at the text of Pope Francis’ interview with La Civilta Cattolica and the reason it has the wing-nuts running scared, I want to deal with the crazy blogs and their new nemesis—Father Robert Barron. It seems that Fr. Barron has triggered a bit of, shall we say a “firestorm” by posing the hypothsis that hell may be empty. That is enough for Michael Voris to send his legions of flying monkeys over Oz scouring the countryside for any lions, strawmen, tin cans or other “heretics.”
First of all, in case you are unfamiliar with him, Father Barron is today’s leading Catholic Evangelist. He holds his Masters in Theology from the Catholic University of America, his Licentiate in Sacred Theology from Saint Mary’s of the Lake and his Doctorate (Pontifical) from the Institute Catholique in Paris. He is fluent in English, French, German, Spanish, and Latin. He holds several honorary degrees and has lectured at the Angelicum in Rome in addition to serving on the faculty of Saint Mary of the Lake University in Mundelein IL which is the seminary of the Archdiocese of Chicago. At Cardinal George’s appointment, he currently serves as Rector of the University. He is most famous for his extensive media apostolate and in particular for the highly recommended series Catholicism which was broadcast on many PBS stations across the US and in DVD format has been used in countless parishes for adult faith formation and RCIA programs.
Mr. Voris, who holds a bachelors degree in Theology from an American campus of the Angelicum (the same Roman university where Dr. Barron frequently lectures), has gone after Barron for his statement that while there is a hell, it is not in the teaching of the Church that anyone has been condemned to it. An empty hell is just too much for Voris and his flying blogger-monkeys to abide. What good is hell if countless souls aren’t imprisoned there without hope, much less mercy? What kind of a God would it be who didn’t delight in punishing the unfaithful with unspeakable torments for all eternity?
Now I am not saying that there isn’t a hell—that is, I believe, a defined dogma of the Church. And I am not saying that hell is empty. I frankly don’t know. But I am amused that Mr. Voris simply can’t live with that possibility. I have often pointed to Voris as an example of the Jansenism that still lingers in the American Catholic experience.
About fifteen years ago I was interviewing Bishop Patrick Ahern (1919-2011), late auxiliary of New York and leading scholars on St. Thérèse of Lisieux for a video we were producing on St. Thérèse who was being named a Doctor of the Church. Bishop Ahern said in the preliminary interview that the prospective Doctor of the Church believed that everyone would be saved. I warned Bishop Ahern about saying this when the camera was rolling as it was one of the points for which the great theologian Origen was condemned and I didn’t want to scotch Thérèse’s Doctorate on this point. The Bishop agreed, but he told me—“but she did believe this—she believed that God’s love would triumph over our sinfulness in every single case.”
I am not a theologian and I am not going to get involved in arguments above my pay grade. Of course, unlike Father Barron, Mr. Voris is not a theologian either. But I am amazed how Father Barron or Father James Martin—the popular Jesuit author, speaker, and editor—and other voices who are such vital proponents of the new evangelization can trigger the crazies into an absolute rage. For some people the Good News (Εναγγελιοη, news of a victory ) simply has to be turned into the bad news of condemnation. As for me, I am with Fr. Barron. I was never too sure of Michael Voris’s being on Catholic focus in the days of Benedict XVI—I am sure that in the days of Pope Francis Voris is marching to the tune of his own drummer.