07 June 2022, The Tablet

Robert Barron named bishop of Winona-Rochester

Robert Barron named bishop of Winona-Rochester

Bishop Barron has been appointed by Pope Francis as the new bishop of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
CNS photo/Kevin J. Parks, Catholic Review

Bishop Robert Barron was named bishop of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, on 2 June. Barron is best known for his work as the founder of “Word on Fire,” a multimedia ministry, and his role as host for the 10-part documentary series “Catholicism” that ran on Public Broadcasting System channels in 2010. Barron is also the chairman-elect of the US bishops’ conference’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth. 

The diocese has 130,000 Catholics according to official statistics, far fewer than the 1 million Catholics in the Santa Barbara vicariate he oversaw as an auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles. 

Barron expressed “great gratitude” to Pope Francis for the new assignment and pledged to acquire “the smell of the sheep”. “I want to spend a good deal of time, in the spirit of Pope Francis, listening to you, learning what’s on your hearts,” he said at the Co-Cathedral of St John the Evangelist in Rochester. Barron indicated he would continue to produce content for “Word on Fire” but his first responsibility was his service as a bishop.

The announcement came while Word on Fire is facing a slew of resignations and troubling questions about its handling of allegations of sexual impropriety, albeit outside the workplace, made against the company’s now-formerly top paid employee. Joseph Gloor, a former bodybuilder and fitness model, who served as a senior producer at Word on Fire, has denied the allegations. A committee of the corporation’s board of trustees authorised the investigation that led to Gloor’s termination in October 2021, the circumstances of which became publicly known only recently.

 Those resigning, including such high-profile Catholic writers as Elizabeth Scalia, complained about secrecy and a culture of “hypermasculinity.”

Many complaints focused on Fr Steve Grunow, the ministry’s chief executive officer and, like Barron, originally a priest from Chicago. “If anybody talks about this [investigation], they’re fired on the spot,” Grunow reportedly told several employees. Grunow also is a bodybuilder. Jared Zimmerer, who directs the Word on Fire Institute, was a competitive bodybuilder. 

“I've never been involved in [Word on Fire’s] day-to-day management,” Barron told the press conference, adding that his work with the ministry never took more than about 10 per cent of his time.  

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