Pope Francis named three auxiliary bishops to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles on Tuesday -- and one of them is a social media star who has used his wide reach to cover topics ranging from gay marriage to "scientism."
Fr. Robert Barron, 55, has nearly 65,000 subscribers and over 13 million video views on his YouTube channel. He is the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, a nonprofit organization, and is creator of the "Catholicism" television series. Barron has also authored nearly a dozen books and hosts a weekly radio commentary.
According to Word on Fire's website, Barron is the most followed Catholic leader on social media after Pope Francis.
“[Barron's appointment is] surprising because bishops aren’t normally people who are so media savvy,” Jesuit priest Father James Martin told The Washington Post. “But given his talent and profile, I thought this was just a matter of time.”
“I think in the past, church leaders have not fully appreciated the potential of all forms of media, including social media,” Martin added. “Bob has a big presence on YouTube that very few bishops can match.”
Originally from Chicago, Barron has served as rector of Mundelein Seminary and president of the University of St. Mary of the Lake since 2012. He said in a statement that he welcomes the move to Los Angeles as an opportunity to delve into the city's vast media offerings and continue spreading the gospel.
"I can’t think of a more exciting field for this sort of work than Los Angeles, which is certainly one of the great cultural centers of our time," he wrote.
Los Angeles is home to the largest archdiocese in the U.S. by population, National Catholic Reporter notes, with about 4.3 million Catholics. Auxiliary bishops are frequently needed in large dioceses where presiding bishops cannot perform all of the responsibilities required.
A spokesperson for the archdiocese told The Washington Post the three newly appointed auxiliary bishops will likely become regional bishops in San Gabriel, Santa Barbara and San Fernando.
Barron, along with Joseph V. Brennan and David G. O'Connell, are expected to be ordained as bishops in the fall, according to The Tidings, a publication of the Los Angeles archdiocese.
“The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is gaining a wonderful priest, a great scholar of faith and culture and one of the best preachers in the Church today,” said Fr. James Presta, Mundelein Seminary's vice rector for administration.
Barron is also scheduled to deliver the opening keynote address at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia in September, during Pope Francis's first visit to the United States.
In his latest YouTube video, published Monday, Barron explains Catholic social teaching in relation to Pope Francis's recent statements on global capitalism:
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