Bishop Barron floats 'online mandatum' for Catholic teachers

CNA 5bd9d10febf2f 148054 1 Auxiliary Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles, at the Vatican Press Office on Oct. 12, 2018. | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Bishop Robert Barron has said that bishops should consider an official designation for Catholic teachers on social media. Barron is himself well known for his work promoting Catholic teaching online.

In an interview with the National Catholic Register last week, the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles said he believes it is within the scope of a diocesan bishop's authority to apply a vetting and recognition process for online teachers of the faith, similar to the mechanism Pope St. John Paul II developed in the 1990 apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae for colleges and universities. 

"There are, to be blunt, a disconcerting number of such people on social media who are trading in hateful, divisive speech, often deeply at odds with the theology of the Church and who are, sadly, having a powerful impact on the people of God," he said to the Register in a feature on social media that was published Jan. 24. 

The bishops, said Barron, are "the shepherds of the Church, those entrusted with supervising the teaching office," and they "can and should point out when people on social media are harming the Body of Christ."

In order to combat online misinformation online from people claiming to represent what the Church teaches, Barron told the Register that perhaps he and his brother bishops could "introduce something like a mandatum for those who claim to teach the Catholic faith online, whereby a bishop affirms that the person is teaching within the full communion of the Church."

While some websites denounced Barron's suggestion as an attempt to "police" Catholics on social media, the bishop's proposal was narrowly drawn to apply to those presenting themselves as teachers or Catholic theologians on social media.

Canon 812 of the Code of Canon Law states that "those who teach theological disciplines in any institutes of higher studies whatsoever must have a mandate from the competent ecclesiastical authority." This mandate, called a mandatum in Latin, is technically required to teach Catholic theology at a college or university, but not all schools require their professors to possess a mandatum. 

College professors teaching mathematics, science, literature, or other subjects unrelated to theology, are not required to seek a mandatum. An online mandatum would also seem, according to Barron's proposal, to only apply to those who present themselves as theologians or who claim to be presenting authoritative Catholic theology.

Barron himself is known for his frequent and innovative use of the internet and social media to spread the word of God. Barron has an active YouTube presence, and has participated in several "As Me Anything" sessions on Reddit. He also maintains an Twitter and Facebook presence. 

In a November 2019 presentation to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Barron encouraged other U.S. bishops to realize the potential for social media to evangelize the "nones"--people, often younger people, who do not have a religion. 

Barron said in his presentation that priests, bishops, and parishes must embrace a "creative use of new media," namely, social media platforms such as Reddit, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook.

The bishop called social media the "prime tool" to reach religiously unaffiliated young people, and said that the Church should work to make itself easy to find online, where increasingly numbers of people were seeking answers in their lives.

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