by Damian Thompson
posted Thursday, 30 Jul 2015
During the reign of Benedict XVI, blogging became a mighty instrument in the hands of conservative Catholics. But the medium soon revealed a darker side
A fortnight ago, Pope Francis appointed Fr Robert Barron, rector of Mundelein seminary in Chicago, to be a new auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The news was greeted with little explosions of delight from conservative-leaning Catholics all over Twitter, including many from Britain. Why?
It wasn’t just because Fr Barron, 55, is himself rather conservative theologically, though he’d prefer to think of himself as simply orthodox. That wouldn’t be big news: plenty of conservative priests get made bishops, even under this supposedly “liberal” Pope (though not so often in England and Wales).
No: Twitter and the blogosphere were excited because Fr Barron is famous. He runs “Word on Fire Ministries”, which sounds to a Brit like an outfit run by an orange-haired US televangelist or one of those pop-up Nigerian “prosperity gospel” churches. He hosts Word on Fire with Father Barron, a half-hour show that airs nationally on WGN America, making him the first Catholic priest to have his own regular television programme on a national commercial channel since Fulton Sheen in the 1950s.
Word on Fire also makes programmes and DVDs for EWTN, the Catholic television network founded by Mother Angelica, and Fr Barron has a weekly radio programme called – you guessed it – Word on Fire. He pops up on NBC and Fox News as a Catholic commentator and writes lots of articles for Catholic publications, including this one. So he’s a media priest, and one who can call on expert advice: his brother John is a former editor-in-chief of the Chicago Sun-Times. (Incidentally, Fr Robert Sirico, distinguished founder of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, also has a brother in the media: Tony Sirico, the mobster-turned-actor who played Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri in The Sopranos.)
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