Twitter Outrage, Responsibility, and the Bishop


Nationally, the news media hasn’t picked up on the latest in Catholic scandals much, so the local outlets may be missing some context for Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin’s exit from Twitter.  In brief, a prominent archbishop, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick (a title he no longer holds as of today) was exposed for sexual predation, with boys and adult seminarians, and behavior suggestive of a gay subculture in the ranks of priests.

Many lay Catholics, coming across the news, can’t help but wish the Church had done a thorough cleansing when the abuse scandal took fire some fifteen years ago.  Rather than penance and reconciliation, we’ll have a slow bleed of stories (most decades old).  One way or another, this process will continue, with the questions being how much damage it does to the Church and to souls across the world, whom the scandal may wedge away from God.

In some cases, though, I have to confess that reactions — and reactions to reactions — make hope more difficult to maintain.  A post from Orthodox Catholic writer Rod Dreher brings Bishop Tobin into the story along these lines.

Presumably apropos of the McCarrick story, Bishop Tobin tweeted:

Despite the egregious offenses of a few, and despite the faults and sins we all have, I’m very proud of my brother bishops and I admire and applaud the great work they do everyday for Christ and His Church.

To this, Catholic National Review writer Michael Brendan Dougherty responds:

Tobin’s reaction would be appropriate if it had just come to light that an archbishop had been a scofflaw on his parking tickets. It is utterly perverse when applied to the revelation that his nation’s leading Catholic official — the public face of the Church’s response to the abuse crisis — turns out to have been a pederast well-known within the Church as a serial sexual harasser and groomer of seminarians. Bishops should not be fearing and tamping down the feeling of scandal and anger among the laity; they should be promising to boldly and angrily confront the injustice, immorality, and crime in their own ranks. Tobin’s tweets read as the shrug of a man who long since gave up on the idea of actually protecting the flock from the wolves, and has taken to telling the surviving sheep not to be too disheartened that their friends and children continue to be devoured by his colleagues.

Dreher presents a few other similar reactions, the accumulation of which has the feel of an outrage mob that isn’t really thinking about how reforms will play out.  Let’s stipulate that there is a serious problem that cries out for internal reform.  That can mean that some prophet will strike through the Church like a bolt of lighting — which is certainly possible — or that the solution will be more like thunder rolling through the natural processes of the institution — which would be much more common.

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Prophets whom contemporaries heed are rare, though, so our hope should be in priests and bishops who are currently trying to figure out how to respond in a strong, Christian way, who are gathering their strength and gathering together the like-minded so they have more collective authority.  In those terms, browbeating Bishop Tobin makes no sense.  Here, we have a conservative bishop stating that some of his brothers have engaged in “egregious offenses” and proclaiming a unifying vote of confidence to his others.

It seems to me that this is a sentiment that should not be written off, but affirmed… with pushes to move toward stronger action.  Pundits popping off will tend to produce the opposite effect from what the Church needs.

This observation brings us to an existentially important principle.  The bishops have a responsibility to address this scourge, but so do we all.  To be sure, the responsibility of men in the institutional hierarchy is more acute, but the rest of us don’t get to sit back and tell them to do something.

We also don’t get to pretend that it is adequate to act like consumers and vote with our wallets.  Religion is supposed to operate according to different principles.  It’s not about what people can do for us, but about our taking responsibility, even for things that aren’t our fault, because it move the world toward God.

Catholics have to help the Church to root out corruption, and snapping at bishops who are more likely than not to move in our favor than against is not a solution.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    “a gay subculture in the ranks of priests” This is not news. I know several men who told me they left the seminary because of homosexual overtures. I didn’t demand proof, but, I did believe them.

    Now we have this

    Why is anyone surprised that gay men are attracted to a situation in which many men are being denied women. What goes on in jail where the same situation persists? Look into the secular history of why “celibacy” was enacted.

    • ShannonEntropy

      I spent four yrs in a boarding Catholic seminary high school and the only two members of my class of ten who went on to be ordained were the two obviously gay guys who spent a *lot* of time “visiting” with faculty members in their quarters

      As for that article you linked to… we used to say:

      “You can kiss a nun… but don’t get in the habit”

      • Rhett Hardwick

        Many of my relatives are from a part of the country where a reference to “the Church” would not be readily recognized as referring to the Roman Catholic Church. They assumed that convents were bordellos for priests. Of course, they had no evidence of this; they simply applied common sense.

        My mother was Catholic (the first my father had ever knowingly met), she would never have left me alone with a priest.

  • guest

    “We also don’t get to pretend that it is adequate to act like consumers
    and vote with our wallets. Religion is supposed to operate according to
    different principles.” Is that an opinion, or what you have been indoctrinated to believe? Quite ironic coming from you, who believes the market should dictate all.

    • Justin Katz

      Religion ought to operate according to different principles. That’s not indoctrination; it’s just a statement of having different appropriate behaviors for different areas of life. One follows a religion (any religion) because it gets at truth. Even if the people who are involved with the religion mess up, the truth still comes first.

      • guest

        As Christians, shouldn’t we strive to NOT have “different appropriate behaviors for different areas of life”?

        • Justin Katz

          Of course our Christianity ought to permeate all of our activities, but deciding which baker to patronize (for example) is different from deciding which religion is true.

    • ShannonEntropy

      “…the market should dictate all.”

      That applies to secular life. Roman Catholicism is NOT a democracy or a free market, altho you might not realize that cuz of the existence of all the “C&E Catholics” [ who only go to church on Christmas & Easter ] and the “Cafeteria Catholics” [ who pick n’ choose which doctrines to abide by — like my sisters, who used contraception but oppose abortion ]

      This sometimes leads to maddening idiocies — like condemning Galileo for saying the earth revolves around the sun instead of vice-versa; or our current Pope and his ultra-Socialist positions

      Luckily for me I divorced and re-married without getting my 1st marriage annulled, so the Church ex-communicated me… no more doctrinal dilemmas or dragging my butt to Mass every Sunday & Holy Day of Obligation !! The Popester & his Cardinals are apparently mulling that humongous drain on their membership [there are literally millions of folks in my shoes]… but it will prolly take them 400 yrs to fix that one, just like it took with Galileo

      • Rhett Hardwick

        Entropy, I think you will find that the Church is shifting it’s focus away from Europe and the U.S. (except for funds) and towards South America and Africa. At least, it appears that way to my under informed eye.

        African churches are much more conservative. Observe the goings on in Uganda (aside from being a major supplier of mercenaries). Interesting things happen. When the Episcopal church here split over a lesbian bishop, many churches here switched their allegiance to an Episcopal Bishop in Uganda. Strange things happen. The cost of St. Peter’s Basilica almost bankrupted Europe and gave rise to Martin Luther and the “reformation”.

        When my father married my mother, the church required he sign papers that I would be raised as a catholic. That ended when he found a nun had taken an architect’s scale to my hand. I will spare this crowd and not quote him. When I married a Catholic, I had to slip them a few hundred.

        Forget Galileo, “modus tollens” will get you through.

  • Chip

    If a priest commits a crime, turn them over to the police. Do not priests take a vow of celibacy? If so, fire them if they break it.
    Many who have an ax to grind against the church are giddy that this crap lets them ride a moral high horse while they drop their faith.