by Christian Ohnimus Wednesday, November 6
Well-known evangelist Father Barron, in discussing Hell, hopes and prays for universal salvation, stating that we cannot positively know that any human person is in Hell. Catholic commentator Michael Voris, in a video entitled simply “Fr. Barron is Wrong”, volunteers a brutish retort. After disregarding the Church’s silence on the issue as meaningless, Voris argues that many souls must be in Hell and to hope otherwise is naïve and erroneous. Voris appeals to scripture, Fatima, and ultimately questions the entire priesthood and Fr. Barron’s own vocation if no one is in Hell.
I find Voris’ response and the crowd that has come to cheer him on disturbing. What is so disturbing to me is not his belief that some must, seemingly of necessity, go to Hell as part of the Divine Plan but that Voris is so compelled to defend the Church from such faithful Catholics as Fr. Barron, to the point of defaming him. I believe, as I think Fr. Barron does, that in all probability someone is in Hell; Voris is probably correct in his assertion that souls will indeed be damned to eternal torment but like Fr. Barron I hope for everyone’s salvation. Despite Voris’ many counter-arguments, no matter how strong they may be, Fr. Barron’s beliefs regarding Heaven and Hell are in no way heretical, in no way contradict Church doctrine, and do not lead souls into sin. Instead, as he tends to do in his work, Fr. Barron enlightens and builds up others towards Heaven. He warns of the very real danger of Hell, explains how even this dark concept is a manifestation of God’s love and mercy, and, in hoping for universal salvation, places no limits on God’s mercy.
The Church, while condemning the heresy of universalism that everyone will be saved, which disregards free will and our ability to reject God, in her wisdom, has never posited that anyone is in Hell or condemned the possibility that everyone can be saved. The Church, like us, simply cannot know who will be saved. Voris, however, states that the Church is silent because it has no authority on the subject and that to appeal to the Church’s silence as license to employ our own rational judgment is wrong. I find such a stance incomprehensibly absurd, especially in light of Voris’ subsequent quoting of scripture to attack Fr. Barron and to confirm that there are human souls in Hell. I must ask, however, how can Voris possess the authority to interpret scripture in answering the question “who’s in Hell?” but not the Church? I am hesitant to personally interpret scripture, especially in condemnation of a fellow Catholic. Instead, in trying to be docile to the Truth and not be misled by my own shortsightedness, I must turn to the Church for guidance. Because the Church has not declared anyone to be in Hell in light of these scripture passages I can only consider that a possible interpretation but not one possessing definitive, doctrinal authority.
The Church teaches that there is no hope of salvation apart from Christ and those who reject His bride reject Him. In no way does it follow, however, that some must of necessity then be damned to Hell as we know the heart of no man at the moment of his death. Again, we can put no limits on God’s mercy and every man, even in his final moment, may repent, accept Christ, and be saved.
We really should get out of the practice of shooting those closest to us. As Catholic author and blogger Mark Shea notes, “The exasperating thing about Voris’ consistent method is that he targets, not heretics or enemies of the Faith, but innocent people, disobedient to no precept of Holy Church, and dissenting from no doctrine of Holy Church, and then maliciously smears them with the suggestion (and in this case the flat declaration), that they are believing, living (and in Barron’s case) teaching error.” (Mark also addresses the question of who’s in Hell)
We may find the hope of an empty Hell foolish in its improbability or even impossible in light of our own understanding of scripture or private revelation like Fatima. Such hope, however, in no way contradicts our Catholic belief, nor does it detract from the Truth. In fact, such hope in salvation and trust in God’s mercy seems invaluable to the salvation of many. Why are we striking at the heel of the Church when we should be striking at the head of actual heresies? We must stop trying to “defend” our faith against fellow faithful Catholics and instead turn our energy towards real dangers. Our world keeps them in ample supply without us having to resort to condemning the “naivety” of Catholics next door.
Christian Ohnimus is a registered nurse in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He holds a Bachelors of Science in Nursing from Franciscan University. He is a contributor to The Porch and The Catholic Renaissance.