“Wherever there is degeneration and apathy, there also is sexual perversion, cold depravity, miscarriage, premature old age, grumbling youth, there is a decline in the arts, indifference to science, and injustice in all its forms.” – Anton Chekhov
While contemplating a conversion from Roman Catholicism to Eastern Orthodoxy, resembling most contemporary searchers of new knowledge, I almost immediately turned towards the vast world of YouTube. Like the Catholic universe of social media, podcasters, and on-line influencers, I discovered a smaller group of Orthodox YouTubers – primarily among them was a Canadian Orthodox iconographer named Jonathan Pageau. He seemed to be doing some interesting work with pop-culture; actually looking at the material and not just criticizing it from a Christian point-of-view that is often the reactionary stance taken by those with a more conservative perspective. But his neo-Jungian preoccupation with symbolism seemed to be a reworking of the ideas already explored by Joseph Campbell. But to a new generation of young men looking for meaning, I suppose it all sounded fresh and different.
And then in 2017, Pageau began to collaborate in a series of videos with Canadian psychologist and intellectual Jordan Peterson. Beginning with his rise to notoriety in 2016, I had always found Peterson to be a completely fascinating character. He was one of the few people willing to stand up against the increasingly powerful transgender cult. Making him an unlikely symbol of heroism. And as he became famous – his YouTube channel began to change. There were more guests. Some were well-known. One of them I knew. The Roman Catholic Bishop from Los Angeles, Robert Barron – the Kim Kardashian of the American Church; he would mysteriously turn up wherever there was a camera. Earlier in 2017, he appeared on the Log Cabin Republican Dave Rubin’s podcast. There, he refused to answer a surprisingly candid question from an earnestly inquisitive same-sex married Rubin about gay-marriage. But Barron had always been feckless on the “gay” issue; he once wrote: “Over roughly the past twenty-five years, armies of gay people have come out of the closet, and this is indeed welcome.” How many of those supposedly “gay people” were sexually abused as children – perhaps by Catholic priests?
By the time Pope Benedict XVI suddenly resigned – Barron was apparently glad to leave behind any more comments about the LGBT faction; according to Barron’s 2017 book, “To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age,” taking his cue from Pope Francis, Barron wanted to deemphasize the so-called “sexual issues.” He said:
As I read Francis, it’s a Gallipoli kind of moment…Yes, we could keep pouring all of our energy into the sexual issues, but let’s change it to the environment, let’s change it to the poor, to immigration, and to the other parts of our Church.
He’s [Francis] not soft on transgenderism or same-sex marriage, but he’s changed the subject. It’s Gallipoli: Look we’re getting mowed down over here. We’re not making any progress, so maybe let’s bring some men and material elsewhere in this grand struggle. That’s what I see him doing, and it strikes me as just the right move.
Due to Barron’s brand of Catholicism-lite, he became a welcomed guest on various podcasts, from Ben Shapiro to PragerU; if he had been around in the 1970s, one might have found him joking with High Hefner on Johnny Carson’s couch during an episode of “The Tonight Show.”
After I published a critical blog-post, that was albeit respectful and fair about Barron’s conversation with Dave Rubin, one of the Bishop’s employees immediately contacted me through Facebook “Messenger.” He threatened me. According to him, if I did not immediately publish a retraction and an apology to Barron, he would blacklist me. He claimed that several high-profile Catholics followed me and read my posts – he would make sure they would no longer do so. I said, “Go ahead…I am not a professional Catholic like you. I do not make a living off my religion.” These are the exact same intimidation tactics used against priest sex abuse survivors.
“If moderation is a fault, then indifference is a crime.” ― Jack Kerouac
There is somewhat a forgettable scene in the 2015 movie “Spotlight” that struck me as highly significant. The editor of “The Boston Globe’s” Spotlight investigative team attends a sort of ivory-tower cocktail party attended by the glitterati of Boston social life: the media, the wealthy, local politicians, the intelligentsia, and representatives of the Catholic Church – namely Cardinal Bernard Law. Its this sort of incestuous environment of apathy and indifference that made the abuse crisis possible. The inability of those who should have remained impartial – to question the powerful. I was reminded of this scene from the film when I saw a 2021 podcast conversation between Pageau and Bishop Barron entitled “A Return to Cosmic Christianity;” I had the same feeling with another 2021 podcast episode from Jordan Peterson’s YouTube channel, “The 4 Horsemen of Meaning: Bishop Barron, John Vervaeke, and Jonathan Pageau.” During these collective hours of deliberating the mysteries of the universe, no mention was ever made of the abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. None. Which is rather surprising because Peterson was explicitly interested in exploring this question with Barron: “What is Wrong with the Church?” For the most part, I found these discussions to be somewhat interesting, but also self-involved, overly self-referential, and borderline decadent. Reminding me of the Thomistic rabbit-hole involving dancing angels on a pin. The “intellectual dark web” (IDW) as a monastic circle-jerk for awkward male egg-heads. While perusing some of the guests and topics explored by various members of the IDW – it seemed that they most often talk to each other. They are in a mind-bubble.
While I understand that neither Pageau nor Peterson are journalists – let alone investigate journalists, but at the same time they also bear a certain responsibility. To never address child sex abuse in the Catholic Church with a high-profile representative of Catholicism (no matter the subject at hand) is like sitting down with Romanian tyrant Nicolae Ceaușescu and his evil wife Elena and never asking them about the AIDS infected orphans they left in overcrowded orphanages to die in misery. But there is a larger problem. And a bigger question. Can one have a polite little tête-à-tête or an intellectual dialogue with an individual from an abusive criminal organization or institution? And should you? For instance, after the horrors of the Gulag and the “killing fields” were revealed, communism and totalitarianism were rejected as viable ideologies by anyone with morality or intellectual honestly. Once we knew that millions of children were raped in the Catholic Church, is it the same with Catholicism?
A fascinating example is how the mainstream media has treated the actor, Tom Cruise. From my standpoint, the most intriguing conversations Cruise has ever had with various interviewers are those that just do not focus on his acting, but also his belief in Scientology. While there is evidence of abuse taking place within Scientology, Cruise is not an official representative of Scientology, but a member of the religion. Yet, many reporters ask him about it. As they should. But Bishop Barron gets a pass. This is somewhat most surprising coming from Peterson who has been at least partly responsible for popularizing the work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the 21st century. A man who railed against apathy and silence in the face of evil. Here, what Chekhov was describing as a sort of “slippery slop” in complete moral degeneracy is made clear by the actions of Pageau who also collaborates with the same-sex married “Christian” apologist Spencer Klavan.
Therefore, I squirmed during these on-line interviews. Like I did at one of the several talks I attended at the annual Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. When Barron was an Auxiliary Bishop in the LA Archdiocese, there were initial hopes that the largest gathering of Catholics in the United States would overcome its notoriously heterodox reputation and offer something edifying to believers. Nothing of the sort happened. In fact, it got gayer. During one workshop addressing transgenderism, a young woman born a biological female (who later got a double mastectomy) was addressed as “he” and by a new “male” name. She praised her decision to undergo sex-change operations; while a Catholic parent of a transgender child fear-mongered the mothers and fathers present into unconditionally accepting the decision of their child to identify as the opposite sex. It was sick. But later, I went to another lecture by a priest from LA who claimed that children as young as 7 or 8 years-old can identify as LGBT. He recommended that adults in the Catholic Church (clerics, religious, teachers, etc.) recognize these children, gain their friendship, and then confirm them in a gender or sexual identity. As I listened, I said to myself: “This is a blueprint for how to abuse a vulnerable child.” Afterwards, I walked out of the auditorium and directly into the men’s restroom – where I bent over a toilet and vomited.
Later that day, I tried to voice my concerns with Bishop Barron, who was the headline speaker at the event. During the afternoon, he emerged from the massive Anaheim Convention Center, into a large sunny courtyard that was semi-filled by the various Catholics in attendance (mainly young Hispanics and older White women) surrounded by a musclebound entourage. He had more bodyguards than Madonna, Beyonce, and Rihanna combined. Why? As he oddly rushed through the crowd – who were wondering: “Who is that?” I shouted out to Barron. Then, one of his goons shoved me aside. The “prince of the Church” never even looked at me.
When I got home, I wrote to Barron; spoke with his personal secretary; sent him a registered letter; and even drove to Santa Barbara in order to hand-deliver the same letter (see below) to him. I thought it was that important. I never heard a word. Nothing. This is the post-scandal Church that is supposedly open to hearing from victims. But they do not care. I once sat in front of Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, I described some of the abuse I endured as a child. Did he say: “I’m sorry.” Or: “What can I do?” No. He said nothing. I know a brave priest abuse survivor who sometimes endlessly stands in front of Catholic churches and cathedrals where those who enabled his abuse are going to be. He holds his signs. And they ignore him. The Church will only speak with pre-approved and pre-screened ideologically compatible survivors; for example, the gay self-identified Juan Carlos Cruz who is a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. When he is not doing that, he poses for photo-ops at GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) events with Karine Jean-Pierre. You must be invited to the cocktail party. Barron recently “blocked” me on Twitter.
Perhaps I expect too much from the likes of Jonathan Pageau or Jordan Peterson. But survivors do not get the opportunities that they have. I could not even get near Bishop Barron without being elbowed. As for Pageau, I initially went through the proper channels of contact pages, emails, and messages on Twitter and Instagram. I wasn’t surprised that he never responded to my inquiry about why he engages with Barron. But that is his right and he does not own me answer. And I also understand that public-figures, even minor ones, can not reply to all of those who contact them. Even I try, but I can’t. Then, the only thing to do is to “Tweet” a response or question on someone’s Twitter account. And so I did, several times with Pageau. His answer was surprisingly “Catholic.” (See below.) In that he does not try to understand, but to pathologize the motives of a survivor. And, maybe sometimes those of us who were abused in the Catholic Church can become a bit “annoying” or “obsessive,” but we have had to be. In the movie “Spotlight,” it was the annoying “guy who would not stop writing letters” to the editors at “The Boston Globe” who eventually helped break the scandal wide-open.
Could someone momentarily put aside their interest in psychology, symbolism, and “Snow White” and take a few moments to address something as trivial as the sexual torture of millions of children? I guess that is expecting too much.
Better yet, they should not enable those who enabled the abuse of children. Barron himself, rose to prominence out of the incredibly corrupt Chicago Catholic machine of the 1970s and 80s that was controlled by the satanic pedophile Joseph Bernardin. As the recent promotion of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s favorites (the gay-affirming Cupich, Gregory, and McElroy) proves, that no one gains power in the Catholic Church unless they are incredibly perverse or highly compromised. If you are a lowly priest and stand-up against the abuse of children (like the incredibly brave Fr. Mark White) you end-up marginalized, persecuted, and existing on the precipice of laicization. I knew another priest who dared to speak-out for justice and righteousness. Slowly, he was very subtly harassed. Then sent away for re-programming to one of the centers for “bad priests.” While there, he called me on the phone – terrified. Later, he went insane. The only member of the Catholic hierarchy in the United States with any fortitude is Bishop Joseph Strickland – and he recently received an apostolic visitation from Rome. Interview him. As for Barron – he is the ultimate Church insider.
For survivors like myself – the abuse continues. In fact, it never really ends. Sometimes, I wish I had been abused by some random stranger. And not by a system, or an institution, or a religion. There is no such thing as closure. Because your abuser never dies. They endure. In the Church that created them. And through their devotees and “spiritual sons” who they groomed, promoted, and probably abused. Recently, the presence of rampant sexual abuse of young men in Catholic seminaries has become evident. For some, that is where it all begins.
One of the greatest agonies I have had to endure in my life is this overwhelming feeling of helplessness. As I was on my way out of the Catholic Church, I made one last desperate push to make some sort of difference. Through a friend, a meeting between myself and Cardinal Raymond Burke was arranged. I spoke with him for 30 minutes. But before I even said anything – he looked like a man with the weight of a bloated corpse on his shoulders. When I finished – I knew he could do nothing. He was a powerless as me.
Online influences, podcasters, and some of the dark-web intellectuals have championed the truth; and they took great risks to do so; they jeopardized their careers and their livelihoods. But those risks paid off for them. For most of us who were abused in the Catholic Church – there has been no recompense; because only 16% of male victims ever report their sexual abuse. Most remain silent; or kill themselves. Not long ago, I spoke with a survivor who came forward, but he knew of at least two other male survivors molested by the same priest who never reported their abuse because they committed suicide. They have no voice. And they never will. They were never given the chance to sit down with the likes of Bishop Barron. Why squander that opportunity? If you want to have a conversation about the meaning of fables, pop-culture, or the existence of God – do not have it with the representative of an institution with a long history of child-rape, and no interest in self-reform, because it makes it look like you don’t care.