Pope taps L.A. auxiliary bishop to lead Winona-Rochester diocese

Catholic bishops participate in a morning prayer
Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles (center), along with other bishops, participates in a morning prayer during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops spring meetings in Baltimore on June 11, 2019.
Jose Luis Magana | AP 2019

Pope Francis has appointed a Los Angeles auxiliary bishop with a large social media following to lead a southern Minnesota diocese.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced Thursday that Francis has appointed Bishop Robert E. Barron to lead the Diocese of Winona-Rochester. He will replace 76-year-old Bishop John Quinn, who has decided to resign.

An installation Mass is scheduled for July 29.

Barron, 62, was born in Chicago and grew up there and in Detroit. He was ordained in 1986 and was a professor of theology at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago from 1992 to 2015 — including serving as its president-rector from 2012 to 2015. He was appointed auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in 2015.

“I am overjoyed and humbled to receive this new assignment as the ninth bishop of Winona-Rochester," Barron said in a Winona-Rochester diocese news release Thursday. "I look forward immensely to getting to know the good people, priests, and pastoral ministers of the diocese. I will have to brush off my Chicago winter coat, which has remained unused for the past six years in Santa Barbara! My fondest hope is that I might be a good spiritual father to all the Catholics of southern Minnesota."

Barron has an extensive social media following through his Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, which he founded in 2000. Its website and social media accounts include blog posts, article and videos.

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The Word on Fire website describes it as "a nonprofit global media apostolate that supports the work of Bishop Robert Barron and reaches millions of people to draw them into — or back to — the Catholic faith."

During a press conference Thursday, Barron emphasized his commitment to leading the new congregation.

“I’ll continue my work with Word on Fire, but my mission is to be the Bishop of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester and there’s no ambiguity in my mind about that,” Barron said.

The National Catholic Reporter reported that Word on Fire recently has been “under scrutiny for its handling of sexual misconduct allegations from outside the workplace against one of its former employees.”

Barron spoke openly about leading in the wake of a recent clergy sex scandal. Last year, the Diocese of Winona-Rochester settled for $21.5 million with 145 individuals who were sexually abused by clergy members.

“I will do everything in my power to make sure that the environment is safe, for especially young people, for everybody, and do all that I can to end the scourge of the clergy sex abuse scandal,” said Barron.

Answering questions from press about his presence on social media, Barron also spoke candidly about his approach to using social media platforms.

“I’m well aware of all the negativity about social media. In some ways, things like Twitter can be a cesspool,” said Barron. “I’ve gone on this thing called Reddit — you hear from everybody what’s on their mind, you also gotta wade through an awful lot to get there. I still think it’s worth it.”

Barron went onto say he believes the Catholic Church would be derelict if they didn’t use social media as an outreach strategy.

The Diocese of Winona-Rochester covers 12,282 square miles. Nearly 600,000 people reside in the diocese. About 134,000 of them are Catholics.