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The Nighty-Night Tweet

Sipe: 'Many [bishops] not dare to act against priest perpetrators lest it threaten the exposure of their own sexual lives'
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A priest well-informed about episcopal matters writes to speculate about how the US bishops are going to spin to get out ahead of this burgeoning scandal. He says that:

with great media fanfare, O’Malley and the U.S. bishops [will] rig up a “charter” that opens the books on past cover-ups (and lets the laity pay the legal bills that ensue), while of course claiming that complaints against sitting bishops are still sub judice (even if there’s no investigation under way) and the paperwork therefore confidential. In other words, they yank the dead before the firing squad and themselves join in the cheering.

Here’s a test of good faith lying in plain view: Tobin’s nighty-night tweet. No mentally functioning adult believes Tobin’s explanation and no honest person should be obliged to accept it. It reeks of the lavender rectory. A necessary (but not sufficient) gauge of sincerity for a bishop pledged to reform is public repudiation of Cardinal Tobin.

What’s the nighty-night tweet? This:

His Eminence, successor to the Apostles Joseph, Cardinal Tobin, subsequently explained that it was intended for one of his younger sisters:

Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s spokesman says the leader of the Newark Roman Catholic archdiocese later deleted Wednesday’s tweet because it was being misinterpreted.

Spokesman Jim Goodness says Tobin has eight younger sisters and “they’re all his baby sisters.” Goodness said he doesn’t know how the siblings were communicating before the message was tweeted out. Tobin’s Twitter account shows he tweets infrequently.

Hmm. If one could get the names of his eight sisters, one could check to see if any of them are on Twitter, and had accounts on February 21, 2018.

Tobin should be repudiated if it is ever established without reasonable doubt that he has, or has had, a lover, either male or female. Given the culture of cover-up among the bishops, as we have seen so vividly in the case of Cardinal Archbishop Theodore “Everybody Knew” McCarrick — it is fair and even necessary for bishops to have questions about their own sex lives put to them.

At one point, giving men like Tobin the benefit of the doubt might have been defensible. Not after McCarrick.

To some, this will sound like the anti-gay “witch hunt” that some liberal Catholic commenters (for example) are afraid is underway. This is a rhetorical strategy that has for many years dissuaded people from examining one of the main factors in the ongoing abuse scandal: networks of sexually active gay priests who protect and promote each other. A.W. Richard Sipe, the sociologist who specializes in clerical sexual culture, wrote in 2012 that in his (apparent) view, there is nothing wrong with homosexuality, but that the topic must be openly discussed within the Catholic Church, especially in light of the abuse scandal. Excerpt:

These are public relations myths aimed at diverting focus from one basic problem in the clerical culture’s sexual reality: namely bishops and priests in positions of authority who are serving in ministry (sometimes with distinction) at the same time that they have sexual partners, male and female.

Many Roman Catholic bishops and priests do have a sexual life. Because much of it is with age-appropriate and legal partners they seem to miss the connection between their own behavior and clergy who have sex with under-age boys and girls.

The Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. apparently think that accepting older candidates for ordination and men ordained in other countries are safer sexually and will solve a manpower problem. They are mistaken. Older candidates carry their own baggage—not all of it positive.

Clerics from foreign countries will not alleviate the problem of sexual violations by clergy. Quite the opposite: they are importing problems. The Irish experience in America is a cautionary tale.

Psychologist Thomas Plante who serves on the U.S. bishops’ National Review Board claims that in recent years about 50 percent of the newly identified priest child abusers”were seminary trained and ordained in foreign countries that do not have the same formation programs and screening used in the U.S.”

The nexus between the violation of celibacy and the abuse of minors does not reside in candidates, in their nationality or in their age. The most careful selection of candidates, although important for any professional training, will never solve the problems that the clerical cultural system inherently conditions and perpetuates. The basic factors that induce and preserve clergy sexual abuse of minors fulminate within that clerical cultural system.

The force and dynamic of that system resides on the top—with sexually active, sexually permissive, sexually tolerant and secretive authorities. Many favor or fear gay men because of their own unresolved identity. Many do not dare to act against priest perpetrators lest it threaten the exposure of their own sexual lives, past or present, heterosexual or homosexual. [Emphasis mine — RD]

This is how it works. This is how it has long worked. This is what the mainstream media will never understand until and unless it takes a serious look at the culture of homosexuality within the priesthood, and especially among the episcopal class. If you allow yourself to be persuaded that asking difficult questions about the sex lives of gay priests and bishops is homophobic, then you will be guilty of allowing your own biases to blind you to one key source of the crisis.

And it makes you a patsy for self-serving storytellers. From the bio on Sipe’s own website:

Sipe has no professional sympathy for the cardinals and bishops and other ranking church officials who cover up their crimes. “Some of them are so terrible,” Sipe says. “I mean the plain lying that I’ve seen, bishop after bishop saying, ‘No, this was never true. I don’t know anything. I can’t remember anything.’ And sometimes the bishop just smiles. One bishop said, ‘I only lie when I have to.’ “

Matthew Schmitz dug up this excerpt from a National Review Online report I filed from Dallas in 2002, at the end of the national conference at which the US bishops took up the issue of clerical sexual abuse. “Bruskewitz” is Fabian Bruskewitz, who was at the time the Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska (he retired in 2012):

Bruskewitz left the conference as the champion of many orthodox Catholics. He told the audience that “this hapless bench of bishops” had failed to address the roots of the crisis, and now courage and fighting tenacity from the laity was required. The avuncular bishop, who is considered a right-wing fringe figure by most of his colleagues, cited the 14th-century St. Catherine of Siena, “an illiterate nun who is now a doctor of the Church,” as a model.

“She was brave enough to tell the pope off when he needed telling off,” said Bruskewitz. “She did her duty. We must too.”

When an audience member asked Bruskewitz why Pope John Paul II has given the church in the U.S. so many lousy bishops, the bishop of Lincoln said he had no idea. Then he cited a letter that the medieval St. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote to a pope of his day, warning the pontiff that if he (the pope) was going to be sent to hell, it would be because he failed to get rid of bad bishops.

“I did pass that letter on to [the current pope],” Bruskewitz said, with a mischievous smile. He went on to praise the Holy Father for coming up with beautiful words and noble sentiments, but to fault him for failing to implement them through responsible governing of the Church. “

EWTN at the time asked conservative Catholic historian Warren Carroll (d. 2011) to comment on Bishop Bruskewitz’s statements. Carroll said:

Bishop Bruskewitz is solidly orthodox and one of our best bishops, but he should not be criticizing the Pope, who has taken firm steps against this scandal. Perhaps Bishop Bruskewitz was frustrated that the American bishops did not act sooner and more decisively. But he was at the conference in Dallas and had his chance to persuade them. Now he should come to their support and not divide the Church further.

How utterly naive, in retrospect. That’s where ultramontanism will get you.

Speaking of ultramontanism, Harvard Law prof Adrian Vermeule, the Cardinal Bellarmine of Cambridge, Mass., who has been Catholic for all of two years, predicts that the Catholic traditionalist Michael Brendan Dougherty, who has been tweeting furiously about the recent revelations, is about to descend to the depths of self-degradation:


A horrible fate, to be sure. Still, I wouldn’t place too much confidence in haughty Catholic triumphalism as a viable long-term strategy. One certainly understands why a believing Catholic would hope that another believing Catholic would not lose his faith over the scandal, as I did in 2006. But surely it’s not hard to hold that position without setting oneself up as a useful idiot for a besieged episcopate.

Promoting Catholic integralism — the idea that temporal power (the State) should be subordinate to spiritual power (the Church) — is one of Prof. Vermeule’s pet causes. I would suggest that Vermeule restrain himself from attacking angry but faithful Catholic parents like Dougherty, to conserve his energy for the superhuman task ahead of him — one that grows ever more daunting with each passing day. I speak, of course, about maintaining the conceit that the Roman Catholic Church led by bishops like these is capable of directing the State towards righteousness.

UPDATE: In fairness, it is possible that Cardinal Tobin was telling the truth about mistakenly direct-messaging his sister on Twitter. A search of Twitter reveals that his sister Ann Tobin-Levigne has been on Twitter since 2017, though she has not tweeted. She follows her brother on Twitter, which means they could direct-message each other. It is not hard to mistakenly send a direct message to your entire Twitter feed. As unlikely as it sounds, the fact is, at least one of his eight sisters was on Twitter when he made the tweet. I can’t find any other of his siblings on Twitter.

It seems to me that Ann Tobin-Levigne, who is a practicing lawyer, would do well to speak up here if her brother was telling the truth. She may have that opportunity later.

UPDATE.2: Good news from the Catholic Diocese of Fort Worth. Bishop Michael Olson has taken a stand in a letter released to his people concerning the McCarrick matter. 

He calls for McCarrick to be defrocked (!) and calls for all bishops who knew the truth about McCarrick but said and did nothing to be held accountable.

This is big. Bishop Olson is breaking ranks. Good for him!