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MARCH 4, 2021 (Catholic Culture) – Let’s suppose that a man you know accidentally makes public a Twitter message that was obviously supposed to be read by only one person. The message reads: “Nighty-night, baby. I love you.” The man who sent that message is not married. What do you conclude?
Now further suppose that the man in question is a celibate priest. In fact, a cardinal of the Catholic Church. Does that alter your conclusion?
After Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, sent that infamous Twitter message in 2018, and after the Theodore McCarrick scandal broke, Rod Dreher observed in the American Conservative: “At one point, giving men like Tobin the benefit of the doubt might have been defensible. Not after McCarrick.”
Oddly, Rod later seemed to ignore his own advice, and displayed at least some measure of willingness to accept the cardinal’s unlikely explanation for his accidental message: “In fairness, it is possible that Cardinal Tobin was telling the truth about mistakenly direct-messaging his sister on Twitter.”
Yes, it’s possible. But is it probable?
A friend of mine, a priest who did not pull any punches, was not so willing to credit the innocent explanation. In fact, my friend (who, sadly, died suddenly last year) found it difficult to understand why other prelates quietly accepted the cardinal’s story. He wrote:
All the other calls for investigative commissions and policies and forced resignations of Wuerl and McCarrick miss the point. As long as Nighty-Night Baby is kept on his feet by his brother bishops, they are all still playing “let’s pretend.” They have no true concern for the souls of their brethren nor, a fortiori, for those for whom their brethren are pastors.
The problem is not, how can we keep bishops from committing crimes. A branch of the military service in need of techniques to keep its members from criminally punishable treason would have ipso facto lost its reason for existence. But Tobin has announced to the world (by accident, true) that he currently has a lover, that he refuses to repent and turn from his state of sin (shown by the preposterous lie offered in lieu of the true explanation), and is in fact defying his brothers to call his bluff — which, if they thought elementary sexual continence a necessary condition of priestly ministry, they would have done.
And which they can do at any moment. No papal action necessary. No petitions or open letters. No committees or canonical trials. Just a couple man-to-man phone calls, with a promise to make the substance of the call public unless Tobin did so first.
As long as Tobin has a miter, nothing whatsover will have changed.
Today, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has appointed Cardinal Tobin to the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican body charged with choosing new bishops.
If you’re still waiting for that overdue reform of the Catholic episcopate, I have a message for you: Nighty-night, baby!