Fact check: Did Cardinal Dolan lend Rihanna his mitre?

Rihanna arrives in a papal mitre for the 2018 Met Gala (Getty)

Many Catholics were dismayed by Monday night’s Met Gala, a fashion event which this year had a “Catholic theme”. As might have been foreseen – but as the Vatican seems not to have expected when it agreed to participate – the celebrities turned up in costumes which bypassed the virtues of poverty or modesty. (“Some of the world’s sexiest stars strutted their bodice-busting ‘Sunday best’ on the red carpet,” the magazine Page Six observed.) Or, indeed, piety: symbols of everything that’s precious – the Nativity, Our Lady’s tears, the Cross – were used by multi-millionaires as a postmodern joke.

Then yesterday evening a story broke which seemed to sum it all up: Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who gave a speech at the Gala, told Sirius XM that he had lent Rihanna her jewel-encrusted papal mitre. The Wrap reported that “Cardinal Dolan Says Rihanna Borrowed One of His Miters for Met Ball”. The story has nearly 650 retweets and more than 2000 Facebook shares, was repeated by Time and made it onto the Drudge Report, one of the biggest aggregator websites.  It is, however, based on a misapprehension. Listen to the exchange (it starts at 5:50) and it is pretty clear that His Eminence is being playful.

HOST: I saw a couple of the celebrities…Rihanna was wearing a mitre.
DOLAN: Yes. In fact, the news said she was wearing a tiara, which…no. She was wearing a mitre. And, you know, she gave it back to me this morning. [Laughs] I was teasing my Auxiliaries, who were teasing me about Rihanna, and I said, ‘Hey, you guys should not complain, because she’s volunteered to do some Confirmations. [Laughs] She was very gracious. Everybody was, I couldn’t believe it.

In context – and given Cardinal Dolan’s jovial character – the remark is obviously a joke. The archdiocese confirmed that to me over email.

It would be a shame if cardinals felt they couldn’t make a surreal wisecrack. And the story does illustrate the danger which faces every journalist in the internet age, where stories spread before they can be properly checked.

But this may be one of those cases where an error reveals an uncomfortable truth. The story sounded almost plausible, because it was so strange for a cardinal to turn up to the Gala in the first place, or for the Sistine Chapel Choir to sing at an event which also included Madonna performing “Like a Prayer”.

Cardinal Dolan did not lend Rihanna his mitre. But he and the Vatican may have unwittingly lent the Met Gala more credibility than it deserved.