Beginning on April 30, 2022, a writer named Chris Damian published a series of posts on his “substack” blog in which he defamed Bishop Robert Barron and attempted to smear Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Since the publication of Damian’s posts, Word on Fire staff and their families have received threats. This could have been prevented if Damian had reached out to Word on Fire for comment.
On May 2, Word on Fire released a statement which can be found here.
The primary concern regarding Bishop Barron in the Damian posts was that he mishandled charges of sexual impropriety by a Word on Fire staffer. The truth of the matter is that the process of investigating and dismissing the employee was conducted by a sub-committee of the board and not by Bishop Barron. He couldn’t have mishandled the situation since he was not handling it at all. A simple call to Word on Fire would have clarified this matter for Damian.
The false information published by Damian was provided to him by a disgruntled ex-employee of Word on Fire, Will Sipling, who clandestinely and illegally recorded a Word on Fire staff meeting, without the knowledge or consent of those participating. In that meeting, Bishop Barron communicated with staff the results of the investigation of sexual misconduct of an employee and subsequently opened the floor for staff to share their private concerns and questions.
Sipling resigned his position at Word on Fire after a separate investigation was conducted into his illegal actions and breach of confidentiality policies. Sipling actively obstructed the separate investigation, encouraging other Word on Fire staff members not to cooperate. During the separate investigation, the investigator discovered Sipling told staff members: “I take people down; that’s what I do.”
To reiterate, the entire process of handling the misconduct of the Word on Fire employee, Joe Gloor, was undertaken by a sub-committee of Word on Fire’s board of directors, not by Bishop Barron.
To dispel any disinformation, here are the basic facts:
Members of Word on Fire’s board sub-committee received letters from three women in Gloor’s private life who charged him with sexual improprieties. A fourth letter was later received. None of the women were or ever had been Word on Fire employees. None of the charges related to Gloor’s actions in the Word on Fire workplace. The charges had to do exclusively with Gloor’s private life.
Immediately upon receiving the complaint, Word on Fire, out of compassionate concern for the victims, activated its protocols for handling such complaints as required by the organization’s policies. Gloor was placed on leave by the board sub-committee for the duration of the investigation. The board sub-committee members responsible for handling complaints spoke with (and stayed in contact with) the women who consented to be contacted. The board sub-committee also promptly retained experienced female counsel in Los Angeles. Counsel in turn engaged an experienced female investigator to conduct an investigation. Bishop Barron was not involved in these activities.
During the independent investigation – conducted solely by the investigator – only one woman who made allegations chose to participate. She had been in a relationship with Gloor for approximately a decade. Subsequently, two of the other women formally withdrew their complaints, and the third declined to speak with the investigator.
As a result of the investigation, which concluded that no crimes had been committed, the board sub-committee members determined nevertheless that it was appropriate for Word on Fire to terminate Gloor’s employment. Bishop Barron did not make the decision to terminate Gloor’s employment. Bishop Barron communicated to Gloor the board sub-committee’s decision.
Following Gloor’s dismissal, Bishop Barron hosted a video conference call with Word on Fire staff members in order to communicate the board sub-committee’s decision. Members of the Word on Fire staff participated in the meeting from locations around the country. Unbeknownst to Bishop Barron or any of those participating, and without their consent, Sipling – at the time Word on Fire’s communications director – made an audio recording of the meeting. The audio recording violated eavesdropping laws of several states.
Multiple members of Word on Fire staff were extremely upset and registered complaints against Sipling upon learning they had been illegally recorded.
The Word on Fire board sub-committee conducted a separate independent investigation (again, through counsel retained by the board sub-committee and an investigator retained by counsel) into Sipling’s recording of the Word on Fire staff meeting. Bishop Barron was not involved in any of these actions.
Sipling refused to participate in the investigation. He also obstructed it by trying to persuade other staff members not to speak to the investigator. And he lied about recording the conversation. Sipling stated to a fellow Word on Fire employee: “I take people down; that’s what I do.” While the investigation was still underway, Sipling voluntarily resigned his position at Word on Fire.
Damian has no association whatsoever with Word on Fire. He has never been an employee or independent contractor of Word on Fire. He is a known friend of Sipling’s, and Sipling is his primary source. Sipling has no first-hand knowledge of the investigation results or the process. His understanding is based entirely on what has been shared with staff, hearsay, and speculation. Damian’s posts are factually false and full of unsupported conclusions intended to damage Bishop Barron and Word on Fire. Damian and Sipling are driven by agenda and animus, not a concern for truth, fairness or justice. They are promulgating deliberate untruths through false premises.
The board sub-committee carefully followed a process to investigate non-work charges against Gloor through independent counsel and an independent investigator. The board sub-committee members, and the independent investigator, consistently showed empathy and respect for the victims. The board sub-committee ultimately decided to terminate Gloor’s employment. Bishop Barron was not involved in that decision.
The Damian posts are nothing more than attacks by an ex-employee who resigned after violating the law, Word on Fire’s confidentiality policies, and the trust of his fellow employees. As we have seen, his own motivation becomes plain through his explicitly stated intention to bring down Bishop Barron and Word on Fire.