Barron described the Church’s “disaffiliation” of its own members as a pastoral concern he wants to address, adding that his “number one concern” is to reach young people who are leaving the Church.
In his introduction of Barron, departing Bishop John Quinn said he suspected the diocese would be "trading up" when a new bishop was appointed, but said he "didn't know we'd be trading up so high." Barron in turn praised the outgoing bishop for being known as one of the "kindest and most grace-filled" bishops in the national conference.
Winona and Rochester are about an hour’s drive apart, with Winona sitting on the western bank of the Mississippi River, across from Wisconsin. A Chicagoan, Barron joked that his heavy winter coat had gone unused during his years in California, but he was ready to take on Midwestern winters once more.
Barron expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work closely over the past seven years with Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles, whom he called "one of the great Churchmen on the scene today."
Gomez said in a statement that Barron “is a man of prayer, with a fine intellect and a beautiful zeal to spread the love of Jesus Christ. I am certain that he will be a great shepherd for the family of God in Winona-Rochester. I am very grateful for his service here in the Santa Barbara Pastoral Region over these past several years.”
Discussing his existing connections to his new diocese, Barron said he was befriended and mentored as a seminarian by Bishop John Vlazny, a Chicago native who led the then-Diocese of Winona beginning in 1987 to 1997.
Apart from that connection, Barron admitted he did not know much yet about the diocese, but that he is excited to visit and get to know all 107 parishes spread across the bottom portion of the state.
When asked about whether he will continue with his role at Word on Fire now that he is an ordinary, Barron said he will continue to do audio recordings of his weekly columns and homilies. Word on Fire has main offices in Chicago and Dallas, he said, plus a small office in his former city of Santa Barbara. He said he plans to bring that small office with him to Rochester.
Describing Word on Fire as his “pride and joy,” Barron said that although he has always contributed a lot of content to WOF, "I've never been involved in its day-to-day management.” He said WOF has historically taken up "about 10% of my time" and that there is "no ambiguity" that his work as bishop is his primary role.
Absent from the press conference was a discussion of recent questions raised about the workplace culture of Word on Fire. In recent weeks, Word on Fire has faced claims that its leaders mishandled charges of sexual impropriety related to the personal life of a high-ranking Word on Fire staffer.
Word on Fire has said that the process of handling the misconduct of the Word on Fire employee, Joseph Gloor, was undertaken by a sub-committee of Word on Fire’s board of directors, not by Bishop Barron.
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Gloor ultimately was fired after an investigation, but a few anonymous former employees have said that they were left feeling discouraged and uncomfortable by the episode, and by certain aspects of the workplace culture at Word on Fire. Several staff members, including Catholic speakers Jackie and Bobby Angel and editor-at-large Elizabeth Scalia, announced their departure from Word on Fire amid the controversy in May.