Oakland’s Catholic Bishop Robbed at Gunpoint of Cash, Episcopal Ring While Praying Near Cathedral

Bishop Barber, in recounting the incident, said he prayed to God and wondered whether he would die.

Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, Calif.
Bishop Michael C. Barber of Oakland, Calif. (photo: CC BY 2.0)

OAKLAND, Calif. — A gun-wielding man allegedly robbed Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland of some money and his episcopal ring near the city’s cathedral on Saturday, the very day the cathedral held a previously scheduled vigil against gun violence.

“A man pulled a gun on me, pointed it at me, and said ‘give me your wallet’,” Bishop Barber said during Sunday Mass, NBC Bay Area News reports. "I was terrified. I was afraid. I thought ‘maybe this is it.’ I said ‘I’m sorry for my sins, Lord’.”

On May 22, Bishop Barber recounted, he was praying the rosary at about 3 p.m. on a walk around the Cathedral of Christ the Light, just north of downtown Oakland. In front of the Paramount Theatre, he noticed a young man following him.

“That’s when I got a little suspicious,” he said, according to ABC7 News. “Thought I better turn back and head toward home but I didn’t make it.”

The young man quickly put a gun in the bishop’s face. He demanded he hand over his wallet and episcopal ring.

“He said give me the cash, so I gave him the cash, and then he said give me that ring,” said the bishop.

“I said please don’t shoot, I’m a Catholic priest,” he recounted.

“I was afraid. I’d rather have my life, so I gave him the ring — the ring with which I was consecrated by the archbishop when I was made a bishop,” Barber said. “The ring that means I’m married to the Diocese of Oakland. It’s as precious to me as your wedding ring is to you.”

The bishop said he prayed to God and wondered whether he would die.

“I had just given a sermon that morning, I ordained two new priests in the Cathedral and my sermon was about a Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep... go figure, you know,”

The encounter lasted about five minutes. The robber left the scene on a bicycle, the bishop said, estimating his age to be in his early twenties.

The Oakland Police Department told McClatchy News they are “actively investigating” the alleged armed robbery. Oakland has seen a 50% increase in armed robberies over 2020, the police department said.

Some forms of crime have spiked nationally in the last year, with shootings and murders especially rising during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Bishop Barber spoke about the need to forgive.

“I have to forgive him,” he said, according to ABC7 News. “I’m supposed to react like Jesus did, and I keep thinking, ‘gee I hope they catch that guy, I hope he doesn't rob somebody else’.”

Parishioners who have been victims of crime are now telling their stories to Bishop Barber after Mass.

“One lady said three guys car jacked her and she was terrified. Another lady said her window had been smashed while she had been in Church... poor Oakland,” the bishop said.

Later on Saturday, after the bishop was robbed, the cathedral held a previously announced vigil against gun violence.

In a May 6 statement, Bishop Barber had cited the “alarming” rise in violence and homicide in Oakland. He called for prayer to end gun violence.

“We know we are brought into this world to love: our Catholic faith teaches of a God who is all-loving, merciful and intent on bringing each one of us to our salvation,” he said in the statement. “Sadly, our human nature is not always true to God’s intent for us. Violence is due to sin, and it seems to be escalating again in Oakland, fueled by a proliferation of guns in our homes and on our streets.”

“Violence begins in the heart. It can also end when hearts are reconciled with Christ."