Two U.S. Bishops Claim Synod Reflected "The Devil" and Was "Rather Protestant"

Bishop Thomas Tobin

Bishop Thomas Tobin

Pope Francis has many fans, but Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia are more clearly than ever not among that fandom. Both prelates lodged some of the harshest criticisms of the synod yet, comparing the meeting to Protestantism and even calling it the work of the devil.

Tobin, in a blog post for the Diocese of Providence’s website, wrote some “random thoughts” on the synod and included the following points:

“The concept of having a representative body of the Church voting on doctrinal applications and pastoral solutions strikes me as being rather Protestant…

“Have we learned that it’s probably not a good idea to publish half-baked minutes of candid discussions about sensitive topics, especially when we know that the secular media will hijack the preliminary discussions for their own agendas?

“Pope Francis is fond of ‘creating a mess.’ Mission accomplished.”

What is is striking is Tobin’s apparent ignorance about the Catholic community’s history. For centuries, consensus-based decision making, synodal debates (and even, sometimes, fistfights), popular election of church leaders, and fierce controversies carried out publicly were normative rather than unique occurrences. Representative bodies are indeed found in Protestant communities today, but they are also deeply Catholic. In appealing to tradition, Tobin seems to miss the tradition of persistent messiness present since the church’s earliest days in Jerusalem.

Tobin also added an endorsement of the recently demoted Cardinal Raymond Burke, calling the cardinal, who routinely criticizes Pope Francis and LGBT advocates alike, “a principled, articulate and fearless spokesman.” Tobin has been lukewarm in his evaluations of the pope previously, and vigorously opposed marriage equality before Rhode Island, the state with the highest number of Catholics per capita, became the 10th state to legalize it.

Archbishop Charles Chaput

According to US CatholicChaput was in Manhattan for a lecture sponsored by a conservative publication when he made his remarks disparaging the synod. The archbishop commented on the synod, which he did not attend, during a question period, saying:

” ‘I was very disturbed by what happened…I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image that came across was one of confusion.’ …

” ‘None of us are welcomed on our own terms in the church. We are welcomed on Jesus’ terms…That’s what it means to be a Christian. You submit yourself to Jesus and his teaching. You don’t re-create your own body of spirituality.’ “

At the same lecture, the theme of which was a comparison of traditionalist Catholics’ “internal exile” to the Babylonian exile in the Hebrew Scriptures, Chaput harshly attacked the spread of marriage equality. Characterizing LGBT advocates as dishonest and hateful, he suggested that Catholic priests refuse to officiate civil marriages “as a matter of principled resistance.” Ironically, he suggested American bishops do so “in the spirit of candor encouraged by Pope Francis” which he also attacked.

Interestingly, it is Archbishop Chaput who is set to host Pope Francis and delegations from across the world for the 2015 World Meeting of Families. We can only speculate on how the pope, who has called for church to be a “home for all” and a “field hospital” will get along with a bishop who, even after the synod, speaks of LGBT people’s human rights advancement as a point of conflict which “purifies the church and…clarifies the character of the enemies who hate her.” Or, as Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter writes of it: “This is a train wreck waiting to happen.”

Yet, what Chaput and Tobin seemingly miss is that their ability to so strongly and so publicly criticize the pope is itself a sign of progress in the church. Under Francis’ predecessors, such frank discussions were stifled and people were silenced. Perhaps they do not dislike that the church is “rather Protestant” and “confused” as much as they claim to?

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

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16 replies
  1. Susanne Cassidy
    Susanne Cassidy says:

    Oh how lucky we are to have Chaput in Philadelphia, the city of Brotherly love, God help us! On a recent visit to him as parents advocating for our children and the Lbgt community, he said we shouldn’t consider ourselves Catholic, if we didn’t agree with all church teaching, now we are considered “dishonest and hateful, in advocating for our wonderful children

  2. Anton
    Anton says:

    The Synod was God working. When the Tower of Babel was being built, the “gods” confused the languages to prevent human hubris from taking over the heavens. In the 1500s the Roman church tried doing the same thing and God sent the Reformation to prevent the building of a second Tower of Babel. And now God has sent Pope Francis to prevent the same hubris from rearing its ugly head. Pope Francis is imitating his namesake, St. Francis: removing the clothes of Holy Mother church in the main piazza and trusting in GOD to clothe her in righteousness, love and peace. Cardinal Burke and the likes of him still prefer the arrogant cappa magna trailing behind her/ oops him! and its tail held up by a servant. Bishops like Chaput and Tobin have already lost credibility. Long live Pope Francis and may God give him the strength to keep opening windows for fresh air, and may we, the people of God, keep those windows open this time and not let the likes of Burke, Chaput and Tobin to close them. Deo Gratias!!!

  3. Wild Hair
    Wild Hair says:

    I welcome the “Mess”. The forty years in the wilderness of silencing, banning, and shunning created by JPII and BXVI may finally have ended. Thank you, Pope Francis.

  4. Anton
    Anton says:

    Wild Hair,
    I agree with you. You might find this interesting, from an ex-Jesuit “expert” on Vatican affairs:

    POPE JOHN PAUL II AND THE CHURCH – Peter Hebblethwaite,(1995) p. 88, “The Middle Years”
    “…But along with this general goodwill – which is a condition of understanding – Williams makes one or two remarks which, if followed up, would prove devastating.
    He notes, for example, that the Polish church has come to resemble the Communist Party. “Nothing so much resembles a convexity as a concavity. The urge for moral and theological uniformity is very strong in the sovereign pontiff. … No loyal opposition is tolerated in communism.” But this promising line of inquiry is not pursued.” And this still goes on in the Polish church and has spread widely. Bishops Chaput and Tobin and Cardinal Burke are prime examples. AND they’re not alone.

    • Anton
      Anton says:

      Jesus did not agree with all the ways his own tradition was interpreted and lived out. And following him, neither did Saul/Paul of Tarsus. It’s wonderful that they refused to live in the past. They realized that God was still with us and working in the present, OUR present. I refuse to be diminished by the likes of Burke, Chaput and Tobin and will continue to be inspired by Pope Francis. May God continue to make him an Instrument of Peace, Hope and LOVE.

  5. Marcy Reynolds
    Marcy Reynolds says:

    I Am glad Chaput is in Philadelphia & I’m not. So now we are dishonest & hateful because we are advocating for our children. Where does this guy live, under a rock?

  6. Christopher
    Christopher says:

    How does he feel qualified to discuss the synod if he wasn’t there? He has other issues in that Archdiocese of his, and yet he’s calling people who support love and their children dishonest and hateful? I don’t understand what gospel that comes from, and when Christ said that. What makes the US bishop think they’re above everyone else? That it’s ok to be hurtful and hateful when talking about their brothers and sisters? Makes you wonder just how ashamed Christ is of their actions and his church. After all, Jesus ran around with twelve men, and a woman with a certain past.

  7. Friends
    Friends says:

    Does anyone really think or worry that Chaput and Tobin and their ilk could put a dent in Pope Francis’ own deeply warm, genuine and sincere outreach of good will toward ALL who seek the loving presence and guidance of Jesus in their lives? Such a fear is laughable, bordering on preposterous. Pope Francis appears to have a direct pipeline to the Guidance of the Holy Spirit. Not only that, but in hierarchical terms, he’s their boss! Let him do what God clearly appointed him to do, in this amazing new epoch of Church history.

    • Bill Freeman
      Bill Freeman says:

      They can most definitely “put a dent in Pope Francis’ deny warm, genuine and sincere outreach”! They can continue to fire gay and lesbian employees who are civilly married, refuse sacraments to gays and lesbians, and continue to hound our community’s attempt to secure full civil rights. For them to be so very vocal does not bode well for any change of heart.

      • Friends
        Friends says:

        Perfectly valid points, Bill — but give the Holy Spirit some running room! If these aging troglodyte bishops persist in their hateful and decidedly unpastoral activities, the RCC either will collapse into a vestigial and irrelevant cult, most likely before the end of this century; or else it will be dynamically reformed and rebuilt from within by its young members, who simply will not put up with such hatefulness proffered “in the Name of Christ”. I can’t see any other plausible outcome. It’s a binary “either/or” situation. Trust the Holy Spirit to render God’s Own Judgment through the final outcome, whatever it may be.

  8. Judy Jordan
    Judy Jordan says:

    What happened to the right wing dictates that we must obey the Pope? Apparently, it only applies to liberals and not the right.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] said the 2014 synod confused the faithful. At the 2015 synod, the archbishop was among those participants who opposed to Pope […]

  2. […] For LGBT issues, perhaps the most worrisome of these choices are Chaput, Gomez, and Cordileone.  Chaput has been a vocal opponent of this past month’s preparatory synod, saying that it caused confusion and that confusion is “of the devil.” […]

  3. […] will host the September 2015 World Meeting of Families, will also be a speaker.  After the synod, Chaput had commented on that meeting, stating: “I think confusion is of the devil, and I think the public image […]

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