To Catholic Reformers: ‘Nighty-Night, Baby’
The Pope has appointed progressive Newark Cardinal Joseph Tobin to the Vatican’s bishop-making panel. Why does this matter? Phil Lawler explains:
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 sent that infamous Twitter message in 2018, and after the 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 device, 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 his 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 elemenary sexual continence a necessary condition of priestly ministry, they would have done.
And which they can do 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.
To clarify, I was saying back then that Tobin’s explanation was possible — which it is. But the idea that it’s probable, or even close to probable, is not only laughable, it’s positively guffawable.
Cardinal Tobin later called the Catholic Catechism’s language on homosexuality “very unfortunate.”
So, this is the kind of made man that Pope Francis wants to be on the committee that decides who gets to be a bishop. Lawler says that for Catholics who were hoping for reform in the hierarchy, the pope’s move with Tobin sends a clear message: “Nighty-night baby.”
Meanwhile, did you see what the new Catholic Substack newsletter The Pillar posted yesterday about the small fortune the Archdiocese of Washington gave last year to retired Cardinal Donald Wuerl, to support his “ministry” that year? Excerpts:
The Archdiocese of Washington has allocated more than $2 million for the “ministry activities” of retired Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
The archdiocese, which has pledged in recent years a commitment to financial transparency, has not responded to questions about the details of Wuerl’s continued ministry, the costs associated with it, or the source of the funds allocated for Wuerl.
According to financial records of the Archdiocese of Washington, $2,012,639 was designated for “continuing ministry activities for [the] Archbishop Emeritus” during the 2020 fiscal year.
The amount is a 35% increase from the $1,488,059 allocated to Wuerl’s ministry in the 2019 fiscal year reports.
According to audited financial statements from the archdiocese, the funds for Wuerl’s continuing ministry were allocated from “net assets without donor restrictions.” That means the money was not given to the archdiocese explicitly for Wuerl’s use, and could have been deployed for other purposes at the discretion of the archdiocese.
The archdiocesan 2020 financial statement includes an unfunded priest retirement liability of at least $35 million, which has grown from $23.5 million since 2015.
The statement also includes a 30% drop in funds earmarked for “Archdiocesan charitable giving” in the 2020 fiscal year, which decreased to $401,136, from $651,136 in fiscal year 2019.
The amount allocated to “formation of priests” also declined, from $1,102,500 in 2019 to $1,000,481 in 2020.
This is stunning. Wuerl resigned under pressure from those who believed, with reason, that he covered up the dark deeds of his predecessor, Theodore McCarrick. And yet, Wuerl still gets two million dollars of the faithful’s money to support him for a single year — for what?
The Pillar reported that the ADW would not answer its questions about this. A furious Catholic friend of mine texted when he saw the report:
I make 3% of what [Wuerl] makes a year in retirement.
I don’t have sex with guys.
I don’t cover up for guys who have sex with guys.
I try to support my family and raise my kids…for what? These creeps?!
I bowdlerized this text. The friend dropped f-bombs in the original. He is incandescently angry.
It’s extremely perverse how those who run the Catholic hierarchy do not perceive the threat to their own organization from this kind of corruption. In my final year as a Catholic, I decided that my family’s tithe would not go to my local diocese, or even my local parish. I gave it all to the St. Vincent de Paul, because I was tired of supporting a system that would not change. I was in particular tired of the lavenderization of the Catholic clergy, and a system in which these guys look out for each other.
I have two Catholic friends now, both quite orthodox, who are at the end of their ropes with the Church. They are struggling to figure out how they are going to go on, despite the persistent corruption, and despite the seeming hopelessness of meaningful reform. These are both family men who are outraged that this is how the church’s senior leadership behaves.
This brings to mind one of the moments when I was most proud of my wife. Back in 2010, we were living in Philadelphia. We discovered evidence that the then-head of the Orthodox Church in America, Metropolitan Jonah, had given some very soft punishments to priests and deacons who had crossed major lines regarding (homo)sexual propriety. I can’t remember the details, but it was troubling. We knew Jonah personally, and knew that he no doubt thought these men deserved harsher punishment. Why was he waffling?
We had been through a lot of this in the Catholic Church: bishops who were probably not personally compromised, but who couldn’t bring themselves to take a bold, necessary stand to defend the Church, which entails the whole community. It’s easy to get the idea as a Catholic that bishops and clergy think that they are the entire Church, and the laity are just spectators. This is called clericalism. Metropolitan Jonah’s move stunk of clericalism to us.
My wife, of her own initiative, got on the train behind our apartment in Chestnut Hill, rode to Center City, took the Amtrak down to DC, cabbed over to the Metropolitan’s residence, walked in, and read him the riot act (he confirmed this to me later). She told him that there were moms like her all over this country who are working very hard to raise Orthodox children, and they have a right to know that the bishops have their backs. I don’t know what precisely she told him, but it amounted to, “Man up!”
He did. He rescinded the orders. Of course he didn’t last much longer in that Metropolitan role, but that’s another story. The point is, having to deal with an angry Orthodox mom brought the Metropolitan back to reality. (And to his credit, he was accessible, agreeing to see her. He later thanked her for what she did, because he knew that it came from a good place.)
For Catholics, I don’t know what to say. My angry friend is meditating on the powerlessness of the Catholic laity, and on how there’s nothing else he can do but figure out how to keep taking it, and taking it. The only alternative is to leave. He feels that the Pope and the bishops of the Church are grinding the faces of laity like him in their own humiliation.
The historian Barbara Tuchman, in writing about the six Renaissance popes who provoked the Reformation, said:
Their three outstanding attitudes — obliviousness to the growing disaffection of constituents, primacy of self-aggrandizement, illusion of invulnerable status — are persistent aspects of folly. While in the case of the Renaissance popes, these were bred in and exaggerated by the surrounding culture, all are independent of time and recurrent in governorship.
The Archdiocese of Washington on Thursday said that more than $2 million allocated for the “continuing ministry activities” of emeritus archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl was given by donors to cover Wuerl’s living and travel expenses, along with charitable gifts given on behalf of the cardinal.
But while the archdiocese said the donated funds were given with the stated purpose of funding Wuerl’s “expenses and ministerial needs,” the financial statements of the archdiocese categorize the money allocated for Wuerl as “net assets without donor restrictions,” rather than as restricted funds.
UPDATE.2: A Catholic scholar who requests anonymity writes:
Just read your Nighty-night Baby blog post on Tobin and Wuerl. I guess I’m beyond anger with these characters. I could go on and on about it. You and I know all about who these guys are and what they have been doing for decades in the Church.
Here is what really galls me. We pulled out kids from the public schools last fall and they are in our parish Catholic school. That had always been the plan, but the pandemic made the decision that much easier. While our public school is just going back in person after a whole year, our Catholic school has been in person since September. This has been a real moment for Catholic schools around the country as they have showed how to safely re-open schools and teach children, while public schools have mostly fiddled around.
But Catholic schools are desperately in need of money for basic operations (and maybe they could pay their teachers a bit more). If there is going to be any kind of Ben Op or resistance to work culture, parents need to have strong Catholic and classical Christian schools. So why are wealthy Catholics and/or the DC Archdiocese giving 2 million to Wuerl? Wouldn’t that money be better spent supporting Catholic schools? Think of all the money that conservative Catholics waste for pointless causes and politics. Why not put the money where it’s going to do the most good, in educating children and trying to pass along the faith?
Do you think Wuerl or Tobin care about this? Of course not.
UPDATE.3: A parish priest of my acquaintance, a man who suffered professionally at the hands of a weak bishop for standing up for Catholic truth, writes:
Reflecting on Tobin, et all. At this point I blame the laity. The episcopacy has been exposed and it should be clear to everyone who is fostering a gay, woke church and who isn’t. The only way to get the church/bishops to change is to stop giving them money. The only way to tell your parish priest you have had enough is to stop giving him money. Move parishes to a good one with a solid priest. It should be obvious which ones are solid. But the laity are lazy. They don’t want to drive an extra 10-15 mins. They keep giving their bishops money. (Here’s a hint, you can restrict your giving to only be used in your parish and then the bishop can’t get any of it. Any money you put in the regular collection plate can be taxed by your bishop. If you designate it to all stay in the parish it legally has to remain there.) To be honest I think it would be best if all diocesan offices were starved of funding and the laity only supported good parishes. The bishops are irrelevant so why keep giving them money? All that being said, the laity are sheep, and the bishops know it. These gay bishops would rather see the church reduced to ashes than confront their own disordered sexuality.