Robert Barron | – When Church Leaders Fail

Just recently, Catholics were devastated to learn of another case of sexual abuse, this time involving Jean Vanier, the esteemed founder of L’Arche and a man once considered to be a living saint. Vanier, who passed away last year, was accused of sexually assaulting six women in France, using his religious position to abuse and manipulate them. How do we make sense of all this? How can a man who produced enormous good fruit fail so abysmally? And how should Catholics respond to this sort of abuse, and prevent it from happening again? Bishop Barron offers advice on all these questions and more.

A listener asks how energetic young people, passionate about apologetics and evangelization, can take their study to the next level.

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About The Author

Bishop Robert Barron These are brief and insightful commentaries on faith and culture by Catholic theologian and author Bishop Robert Barron. The videos complement his weekly sermons posted and podcasted at

Comment (47)

  1. Where all your reasoning and arguments fall down is with believing that the Roman Catholic system is the 'church' which Christ is building. Utter nonsense. The so-called priests and cardinals who fail are only sinful men showing their true colours. The put on this 'form' of godliness yet their lives deny their claims. The church which Christ is building is 'spirit' and individuals are living stones fitted together to form a habitation of God by the Spirit. The qualification for entry is being born again of the Spirit of God and being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, making the believer a new creation in Christ Jesus and a member of the Body of Christ – NOT a member of the Roman Catholic system.

  2. I listen to Catholic leaders, including Bishop Barron, for whom I have a lot of respect, hem and haw and b.s. their way around these issues, throwing in enough "concern" to slide by, but refusing to boldly address the deep, repetitive, dogmatic, and fundamental corruption of the Catholic Church which is undoubtedly throwing up road block after road block to many God loving people, who are looking for help in forming an intimate relationship with God. I agree with many of Bishop Barron's basic arguments about Jean Vanier—Who are we to judge? We are all recovering sinners. We must participate in the life of the Church. The horrible actions and intents of some leaders shouldn't negate that they did a lot of good as well.—But in the end these arguments are tone deaf to the overall problem, and not nearly enough to be helpful. Many of us are left with the counterintuitive conviction that we are being led by charlatans who are primarily concerned with their own interests, using the Church, above God, and the best way to find our way toward God is through rejecting the misleading falseness of self serving, manipulative Catholic dogma, and the horrifying, hidden intentions of the "charismatic" Church leaders. My view is not related ONLY to Jean Vanier or all the sex abuse scandals, but I believe the trouble is systemic within the Catholic leadership, and has been causing it to fail for decades. Relating to my own efforts and journey to develop an intimate relationship with God, I hate, hate, hate this feeling and conviction, but any other view feels dishonest, and I have no idea where to turn to get any explanations and concern other than these rubber stamp defenses of the Church, and mortal threats to continue participating in the life of the Church, no matter haw far it chases me from God.

  3. Bishop Barron, your videos are a great source of insight into my beloved Church. I am very thankful to you and all your staff for the work you do. On this video, however, listening from a woman’s perspective, I heard about how disappointed and shocked you were at this current news. Disappointed that someone you held in such high regard disillusioned you. I would have liked to hear how you and all of you are outraged, not just disappointed. Think of the victims. I know you take this very seriously so I am not criticizing. I would have just liked a stronger condemnation. Just my humble opinion. Thank you.

  4. No matter the sect or theology my study of history shows charismatic religious figures seem to draw people to themselves, nothing new here. But some "victims" seek these people out. This is not to excuse Vanier, but this type of sexual sin is, at times, a two way street. No, I am not blaming the victims but don't presume there was no sin that preceded another sin. I find it odd none of the women, probably, preyed upon never said a word until now. Only God knows.

  5. Believers in Christ shouldnt try to find the next mother Theresa. That concept alone distance us subconsciously to look to Jesus and living His examples just like the apostles. As much as they give us an example, their foundation has always been Christ and that should be the same with us.

  6. Saints in scriptures are those who are followers of Christ. Not uniquely as understood by catholic church. With all our limitations and weaknesses, multiple verses in scripture call us to be saints and are called saints not because we are perfect, but we re being perfected through the Word and the power of the Holy Spirit as we daily depend on Him.

  7. It’s very disheartening to hear about Jean Vanier. I looked at him as such a beautiful person, which he may still be, but this is such a tarnish, such a terrible thing to learn about someone who exemplified Christ-like behavior in his dealings with the mentally challenged

  8. Hey your Excellency
    I enjoyed this talk!,
    I could argue with you on subjects,
    yet I see the goodness In your heart.
    So I’m spreading it around to people I know.
    Keep up your good wok and mission.

    With much love
    Kevin Daum

  9. To be a sinner is no excuse for leading people astray, they need to repent publicly, go to confession and either change or leave., of course if they don't change they can't be forgiven in confession, accepting that some of our leaders are astray is not sufficient we need these people disciplined we need to put things back the way they should be. The Church needs not reform it needs a house cleaning of the bad leaders, the leaders who are pretending the church needs to have its traditions, and teachings diluted.

  10. These analogies are terrible and avoid/obfuscate the various issues. A recovering alcoholic who commits to the twelve step process does so openly and, in an important way, publicly, acknowledging a problem with courage, humility and grace. Did Jean Vanier ever acknowledge that he preyed upon and abused women under his charge? Does anyone know that? If not, he’s miles off the honesty and integrity of someone committing to recovery. Saying that we’re all sinners feels so disappointing : it’s a truism and seems to be used here to avoid any discussion of the particularity of this case, of its many aspects and the different levels of complicity and responsibility involved. I can’t help but feel that such a response prevents us from learning anything or truly getting to grips with abuse in the Church.

  11. The Reformers said that justification is by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. True faith, if you’re really resting in Christ, and you’re really counted righteous by God, will immediately, necessarily, and inevitably produce the fruit of sanctification.

    If no fruit follows from your justification, it is perfect proof that there was no justification, because the idea of faith without the fruit of obedience is what James called a dead faith (James 2:20)—and that can’t justify anyone. For Luther, justification is by a faith that he described as a fides viva, a faith that is alive, a faith that is vital, a faith that shows itself by faithfulness.

    But again, the issue is: How am I justified? I am justified not by my own righteousness and not by my own merit, but by the righteousness of Christ and of Christ alone.

  12. I am Roman Catholic.If I was the Pope ,believe
    me I would lead the Catholic Church with :-,
    3.Travelling-meeting the the Faithful throughout the World.
    4.Looking at the Issues within the Church and
    Resolving them.
    5.I would call an Ecumenical Council (Vatican 3).for all the Bishop’s in the World.
    We cannot change the Past,but we must look
    forward to the Future.
    In the Catholic Church,you have the
    Traditionalists,Reformers and Modernists.
    I was an Alter Boy with my brothers in the
    1950’s and the 1960’s,and I loved the Latin
    Mass and the Gregorian Chant.The Latin Mass
    is still celebrated today.When I left University,
    I was hoping to become a Priest,but it was not
    to be.(I would have been a Good Priest).You
    never know,I could off come a Cardinal,and
    probably the next Pope.
    It is Our Lord Jesus who decides our Journey
    through Life.

  13. This is excellent. (So glad the Bishop has moved away from von Balthazzar and his "reasonable hope that all men are saved"). I have moved from being a "recovering Anglican" to being a "recovering Catholic"! Very grateful for the Bishop's compassionate response to this very sad story of a brilliant man who felt a mission to so many vulnerable people, yet who who had such a dark side. It is for God, not us, to judge. "God, be merciful to me, a sinner".

  14. Yes, it is surely crushing to hear these news about some of our Catholic leaders but that shouldn’t keep us away from the church or crush our Faith.
    As disappointing as it may be, us faithful children of God and faithful of the church should know that we are all DUST that means subject to fall into sins.
    Even God was saddened because of our sin the Bible said in Genesis 6 and He regretted to have made man.
    We need then to pray to the Holy Spirit so that He could guide our leaders, our shepherds in order for them to bring their sheep safely to Heaven. As it is said at Mass: All for the Glory of God and the salvation of the world through Jesus Christ our Lord.
    I have seen parishioners leave our church because they preferred one Priest over another and they‘ve based their decision on the Priest’s demeanor or way of talking,… I always say I go to church first and foremost for God because I love Him and church is like a frame, a structure for me in which I can proclaim my Faith, my love for God and the cherry on the cake is to do it with my fellow parishioners like Jesus wanted.
    You know I can honestly say that I love God unconditionally, you know why? Because God does not change, because I also know that His Love for me is bigger than I can ever imagine. Whereas, my love for my Mom, Dad, husband, a Priest or any human being as a matter of fact has no other way but to be conditioned because one day they may respond to my love in a positive way another time in a negative way, their motives change. Then, I became to have expectations and when they are not met I am disappointed, I am conditioned so to speak! That’s why God says to come to Him and to put Him first because where your Mom, Dad, husband, Priest or any human being will fall short, disappoint you God will never disappoint you.
    Rely then on God, be Compassionate like Jesus and pray always pray to the Holy Spirit for our Catholic Church especially our shepherds, pray for you the faithful of the church so that It may breath on us and change negative into positive in uniting us and bringing more and more souls to come to know Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen

  15. A couple of "aha" moments here:
    1) I have never, ever, heard the word "congrue." Congruent? Sure! Congruence? yeah. Congrue? Never. Woo hoo – the good bishop just launched us into a top 1% conversation. Strap on your vocabulary helmets!
    2) The points at14:07 are a key difference between Protestant & Catholic thinking. I'm no theologian, but Martin Luther's "sola fide" never made sense to me as a useful statement, except for someone on his/her deathbed. The rest of us must continue to live our faith (_facta non verba._) Paul said as much. James said as much. Jesus said as much. My epiphany here is how extensively "sola fide" pervades protestant (particularly evangelical) thinking and why it always bothered when I listened to my Baptist preacher neighbor — excellent speaker, devoted to the Lord, unquestionably a good man — extoll to his congregation, "Love Jesus, so you can go to heaven." I wince (internally) when someone says they're "saved," but I never knew why I wince, until now. It's the same reason that my answer to "Are you going to heaven?" differs from all my Protestant friends: because my answer is "it's not my decision, and I know I'm not worthy." The protestant sense of finality for destination Heaven does not
    …wait for it…
    congrue with mine.
    I just can't assume when I get to my terminal bus station that my ticket will be waiting for me to board that golden Grayhound. God willing, it'll be there. If it's not, I'll know who to blame. Thanks for the ephiphany, Bishop! That's one less puzzlement in my life…
    3) I'm taking the "beam" metaphor with me. That takes "the straight & narrow" to a new level.
    4) My appetite is whetted, but not sated. By 22:30 I realize what's lacking in the Bishop's response: There is no reminder of any organizational changes that have been introduced to prevent the next Catholic Sex Scandal. Yes, that sort of thing is beyond his paygrade, but: any other modern organization, when faced with a failure like this, adapts to prevent the failure from happening again. "We've been here before, and we should expect it" is dissatisfying. This scandal is a bit more of a pickle, as it happened outside the Church, but the situation is guilt by association. His response to Brandon, calling laity to radical sainthood is a step in the right direction, and that answer may be a lot more potent than it appears at first blush. That's probably about all he can say, given his position.

  16. I joined the Word on Fire Institute. It was a mistake. … I ordered three of Bishop Barrons's books and said I would, of course, pay the postage (I live in Europe) but they refused to send me the books. All I got were emails, none of which explained WHY they wouldn't sell me the books. I am no longer a member of the Institute.

  17. Bishop barron explains things so different…i haven't been to church the last 10 years and i have even fought against it but i have been roughed up by life and conviced God exist..but cant admit it cause I've created a character that i feel is convenient around most people i know
    Is anybody in that situation?

  18. In my opinion, a saint is someone who, in a moment of crisis, shows heroic virtue. Saints are not really always nice, always kind, always selfless. Not at all. Every saint has needed forgiveness. More than once. They are all too human; but, in a moment of crisis, they show heroic virtue. To me, that is sanctity.

  19. Even the heads of religions indulge in killing animals while trying to pass as saintly persons. This mockery and hypocrisy in human society bring about unlimited calamities; therefore occasionally there are great wars. Fearlessness; purification of one's existence; cultivation of spiritual knowledge; charity; self-control; performance of sacrifice; study of the Vedas; austerity; simplicity; nonviolence; truthfulness; freedom from anger; renunciation; tranquility; aversion to faultfinding; compassion for all living entities; freedom from covetousness; gentleness; modesty; steady determination; vigor; forgiveness; fortitude; cleanliness; and freedom from envy and from the passion for honor—these transcendental qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.

  20. The mass of people must be taught to practice these principles (austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness) from childhood. Austerity means to accept voluntarily things which may not be very comfortable for the body but are conducive for spiritual realization, for example, fasting. Fasting twice or four times a month is a sort of austerity which may be voluntarily accepted for spiritual realization only, and not for any other purposes, political or otherwise. Fastings which are meant not for self-realization but for some other purposes are condemned in the Bhagavad-gītā (BG 17.5-6). Similarly, cleanliness is necessary both for the mind and for the body. Simply bodily cleanliness may help to some extent, but cleanliness of the mind is necessary, and it is effected by glorifying the Supreme Lord.

  21. But gradually, as the basic principles of brahminical culture, namely austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness, became curtailed by proportionate development of pride, attachment for women and intoxication, the path of salvation or the path of transcendental bliss retreated far, far away from human society. With the progression of the age of Kali, people are becoming very proud, and attached to women and intoxication. By the influence of the age of Kali, even a pauper is proud of his penny, the women are always dressed in an overly attractive fashion to victimize the minds of men, and the man is addicted to drinking wine, smoking, drinking tea and chewing tobacco, etc. All these habits, or so-called advancement of civilization, are the root causes of all irreligiosities, and therefore it is not possible to check corruption, bribery and nepotism. Man cannot check all these evils simply by statutory acts and police vigilance, but he can cure the disease of the mind by the proper medicine, namely advocating the principles of brahminical culture or the principles of austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness. Modern civilization and economic development are creating a new situation of poverty and scarcity with the result of blackmailing the consumer's commodities. If the leaders and the rich men of the society spend fifty percent of their accumulated wealth mercifully for the misled mass of people and educate them in God consciousness

  22. Chapter 3: Karma-yoga
    TEXT 37
    sri-bhagavan uvaca
    kama esa krodha esa
    mahasano maha-papma
    viddhy enam iha vairinam
    sri bhagavan uvaca—the Personality of Godhead said; kamah—lust; esah—all these; krodhah—wrath; esah—all these; rajo-guna—the mode of passion; samudbhavah—born of; maha-sanah—all-devouring; maha-papma—greatly sinful; viddhi—know; enam—this; iha—in the material world; vairinam—greatest enemy.
    The Blessed Lord said: It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material modes of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring, sinful enemy of this world.
    When a living entity comes in contact with the material creation, his eternal love for Krsna is transformed into lust, in association with the mode of passion. Or, in other words, the sense of love of God becomes transformed into lust, as milk in contact with sour tamarind is transformed into yogurt. Then again, when lust is unsatisfied, it turns into wrath; wrath is transformed into illusion, and illusion continues the material existence. Therefore, lust is the greatest enemy of the living entity, and it is lust only which induces the pure living entity to remain entangled in the material world. Wrath is the manifestation of the mode of ignorance; these modes exhibit themselves as wrath and other corollaries. If, therefore, the modes of passion, instead of being degraded into the modes of ignorance, are elevated to the modes of goodness by the prescribed method of living and acting, then one can be saved from the degradation of wrath by spiritual attachment.
    The Supreme Personality of Godhead expanded Himself into many for His ever-increasing spiritual bliss, and the living entities are parts and parcels of this spiritual bliss. They also have partial independence, but by misuse of their independence, when the service attitude is transformed into the propensity for sense enjoyment, they come under the sway of lust. This material creation is created by the Lord to give a facility to the conditioned souls to fulfill these lustful propensities, and when they are completely baffled by prolonged lustful activities, the living entities begin to inquire about their real position.
    This inquiry is the beginning of the Vedanta-sutras, wherein it is said, athato brahma-jijnasa: one should inquire into the Supreme. And the Supreme is defined in Srimad-Bhagavatam as janmadyasya yato 'nvayad itaratas ca, or, "The origin of everything is the Supreme Brahman." Therefore, the origin of lust is also in the Supreme. If, therefore, lust is transformed into love for the Supreme, or transformed into Krsna consciousness—or, in other words, desiring everything for Krsna—then both lust and wrath can be spiritualized. Hanuman, the great servitor of Lord Rama, engaged his wrath upon his enemies for the satisfaction of the Lord. Therefore, lust and wrath, when they are employed in Krsna consciousness, become our friends instead of our enemies.