Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

Waiting for episcopal reform? Nighty-night, baby.

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 04, 2021

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 elementary 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.

Today the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has appointed Cardinal Tobin to the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican body charged with choosing new bishops.

If you’re still waiting for that overdue reform of the Catholic episcopate, I have a message for you: Nighty-night, baby!

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: Fr Eric Lepanto - Mar. 09, 2021 10:26 AM ET USA

    Tobin has openly gay parishes. If he is saying "nighty night" it could be a Levitical code violation: sister or man. Either way, nothing will be done. Francis listens to Cupich, Tobin and the like. THAT is more frightening. So, Archbishop Gomez of LA not receiving the red hat should speak volumes about Francis along with his appointments to the Congregation of Bishops

  • Posted by: ILM - Mar. 08, 2021 5:00 PM ET USA

    The road to hell is paved with......

  • Posted by: philtech2465 - Mar. 06, 2021 8:47 PM ET USA

    I agree with gskineke. While there may be an innocent explanation, like a text to his sister, a senior cleric who held himself accountable would have proffered that explanation and identified the sister. In the post-McCarrick Church, there is no benefit of the doubt.

  • Posted by: gskineke - Mar. 05, 2021 11:00 AM ET USA

    Given the affection within families, I can totally see that tweet being made to his sister. That said, I would expect one honest peer to go to him quietly and ask to see the sister’s account, a trail of similar exchanges in the past, and thus evidence that there is a reasonable certitude that it was a misdirected message. Then that peer can find a microphone to assure us of the honest mistake. In fact, Tobin should have initiated it with someone in the hierarchy, as an act of love for the flock.

  • Posted by: miketimmer499385 - Mar. 05, 2021 10:51 AM ET USA

    The daily news of the Church comes with audio, the increasing rumble of destruction as a massive boulder speeds downhill ever closer and closer to us. I admire your bravery, Philip. The Catholic Thing has posted David Carlin's newest commentary today in which he addresses the issue of faithfulness and courage. And, he specifically comments on the rosy assumption that God will not allow the Church to disappear, with a rejoinder best kept in mind by the more optimistic among us.

  • Posted by: Pius _X - Mar. 05, 2021 7:08 AM ET USA

    Not to sound too cynical, but are there now or were there recently Catholics who thought that the Catholic episcopate was going to be reformed? I don't expect anything from my church except to hold Mass and distribute the Sacraments. Beyond that, I assume it's a total clown show on the inside.