By Shannon Rose Miekka
Moments after news broke of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on September 18, 2020, Catholic University theology professor Dr. Chad C. Pecknold tweeted a meme captioned “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!”
Pecknold promptly deleted the tweet, but not before it was screenshotted and circulated by students, alumni, faculty, and those unaffiliated with the university.
Author of Christianity & Politics, Pecknold has been a professor at Catholic University since 2008 and currently teaches four courses this semester. His Twitter has more than 29,000 followers and almost 60,000 tweets. [Update: After the publication of this article, Pecknold made his Twitter private. Links have been replaced with archived versions.]
Four minutes after the original post, Pecknold replied to Twitter user @shannon_last, “[The tweet] was unrelated to Justice Ginsberg [sic]. Nice trolling of a political enemy though. Such great Christian charity you demonstrate.”
After Pecknold explained in a since deleted tweet that “it was an inside joke with a friend… it was up for like 5 minutes,” some followers were relieved while others were doubtful.
Pecknold has not yet publicly clarified the context of the meme and has blocked some users who asked for an explanation, including @ScottEricAlt.
Pecknold replied to Twitter user @RichRaho, “I need to block you for promoting a tweet that was not about Ginsburg’s death, which was quickly deleted, and intentionally misrepresents me.”
The tweet has left Catholic University students, alumni, and faculty confused and disappointed.
Twitter user @Wendytime2stand wrote, “As an alumna of CUA, I am appalled by the Associate Professor of Systematic Theology’s vicious response upon learning of the death of RBG.”
Pecknold replied to the alum, “This was not about the death of Justice Ginsburg, it was deleted minutes after it [was] posted, and others are using it to smear me. Obviously you are free to believe what you like, but you should know we are in treacherous times. Pax.”
“I can see both sides of this,” tweeted user @shannon_last. “Unfortunately this particular image [and caption] popped up in some terrible corners of social media in the same time frame. Possible he just has tragic timing. But it’s not a ‘smear’ by any stretch to acknowledge that it happened.”
A number of CUA students contacted the University Provost Aaron Dominguez out of concern.
Dominguez replied, “The Dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies has addressed the matter with Dr. Pecknold. Because this is ultimately a personnel issue, I cannot comment further publicly.”
After The Tower requested an interview, the Dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies Rev. Mark Morozowich gave a similar response.
“As the Dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies, I have addressed the matter with Dr. Pecknold,” Morozowich said. “I have also discussed concerns with faculty, staff and students of TRS. Because this is ultimately a personnel issue, I cannot comment further publicly.”
After news of Pecknold’s tweet spread, many faculty members took to the CUA Faculty Assembly website, an online discussion board for university faculty to anonymously come together on issues of importance and common concern to the university.
“I am extremely disheartened, discouraged, and insulted by the tweets from a colleague in the School of Theology and Religious Studies,” a professor wrote anonymously on the discussion board. “This tweet started a series of misogynistic messages that characterized Justice Ginsburg as the ‘Wicked Witch’ of The Wizard of Oz and expressed glee at Justice Ginsburg’s death.”
“What kind of institution harbors such foulness?” one comment read. “If Garvey does not impose the same or greater sanction on the tweet’s author as was visited on the NCSSS dean, it will reveal a lot about Garvey’s character and that of the university as a whole.”
The incident in mention occured in 2018, when former NCSSS Dean Will Rainford’s controversial tweet about Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual abuse allegations gained national attention, which ultimately led President Garvey to suspend Rainford as dean for the remainder of the semester. Rainford resigned one month later.
In regards to Pecknold, one faculty member said, “Putting aside the moral calibre of the tweeter’s action, it was a monumentally stupid thing to do. Parents, this is who’s teaching your kids.”
Pecknold did not respond to The Tower’s requests for comment sent on October 5 and October 6.