Rhode Island Bishop Condemns Pride Celebrations as “Morally Offensive”

As June begins, a bishop in Rhode Island has warned Catholics against participating in Pride celebrations because it “promotes a lifestyle and agenda that, in the extreme, is morally offensive.”

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence made his condemnation in a tweet, writing:

“Catholics should be very wary of events in the June LGBTQ month. It’s not a fun-filled, family-friendly celebration of respect. It promotes a lifestyle and agenda that, in the extreme, is morally offensive.”

His statement has been retweeted nearly 600 times, but many Twitter users pushed back against the bishop’s LGBT-negative words.  John Gehring, the director of Catholic projects at Faith in Public Lifecommented:

“This kind of fortress Catholicism, hunkered down and fearful, does little to reflect the joy of the Gospel to the wider culture. It also is deeply wounding to LGBT Catholics and families who love their Church. We need bridges between the Church and the LGBT community. Not walls.”

Though not responding directly to Tobin, Fr. James Martin, SJ, who has been promoting such dialogue through his book, Building a Bridge, affirmed Pride celebrations. He wrote in a Facebook post (thoughts he also shared on Twitter):

“Catholics need not be wary of June’s ‘Pride Month’ events. It’s one way for LGBT people to be proud that they are beloved children of God, that they have families and friends who love them as they are, and that they have the right to be treated with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,’ as the Catechism asks, especially after years of persecution. And, for many of them, years of coming to accept themselves as God created them. . .How can Catholics join in? By loving their LGBT brothers, sisters and siblings. . .Be proud to love them!”

The tweet by Tobin (who should not be confused with the LGBT-positive Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark) adds to the bishop’s lengthy LGBT-negative record. Last year, Tobin directly criticized Fr. Martin’s book and said a Nativity scene with two Josephs rather than Mary and Joseph was “sacrilege.” He has also cited Pope Francis to defend the firing of a gay church worker, a decision about which he said there was “no choice.” Tobin criticized President Barack Obama’s regulations aimed at protecting transgender youth.  He suggested clerks like Kim Davis who oppose marriage equality should commit civil disobedience by denying marriage licenses to same-gender couples. He called the Vatican’s Synod on the Family  a “rather Protestant” event.  He also left open the possibility that LGBT Catholics should be denied Communion.

Bishop Tobin’s continued inability to see the goodness and holiness of LGBT people shows a disappointing lack of education not only about LGBT issues, but about church policy and tradition. His claim that LGBT people are “morally offensive” is a far cry from Pope Francis’ words to a gay man that “God made you like this.” Thankfully, Tobin’s views are increasingly out of step from not only Catholics overall, but from many church leaders who are opening themselves to dialogue and encounter. As Pride month commences, the bishop’s words are a reminder that all Catholics have a responsibility to educate the ignorant and defy the hateful as we joyfully celebrate the holiness of LGBT people and the goodness of their love. Like his anti-LGBT companions on Twitter, Bishop Tobin’s best move now would be to put down his keyboard and start taking notes instead.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 4, 2018

8 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    I think there’s a grimly-humorous symmetry in having our country’s smallest state as home base for our country’s smallest-minded bishop! Here’s his Wiki, for the record:


    A guy like this is an “anti-magnet” — i.e., a force which is pushing young people AWAY from the Catholic Church, instead of drawing them into it. Even Cardinal Dolan in New York, though not exactly a friend of the GLBTQ community, is far more congenial and gracious than this guy. Fortunately, Tobin is reaching retirement age. Let’s hope Pope Francis replaces him with a more congenial and compassionate individual.

  2. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    How very sad that Bishop Tobin would make a statement like this. His referral to it as a lifestyle is telling. It is not a life style. It is a life. The “agenda” he refers to is that gay people just want to be treated like anyone else. Not special. Not different. Worse, his remarks could even promote or encourage violence. Of course, he is entitled to his opinions, but maybe he should have a chat with the Pope.

  3. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    Bishop Tobin in an odd way is correct and many even supportive people also miss the point of LGBT Pride events. While they appear festive celebrations, at their heart they are deeply political calls for equality They are statements that the marchers can’t be discriminated against and are not going away.

    In the last several years LGBT marriage and other equality issues have been mandated as the civil law(s) of the land and that has lent a particularly happy mood to these events. In reality they had been only partial victories marked as good steps along the way to full citizenship. As the small mindedness of too many Catholic bishops (and others) still shows they don’t get that God created and loves all humans. Homosexuality isn’t a lifestyle to put on, it is a life to be fully lived. Pride Parades as a protest against those who would deny that fact must continue until there is no need for them.

  4. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    Reminds me of a showing of Last Temptation of Christ that I went to when the movie was first screened amid great controversy. A small group of protestors outside sang some song and and made some outrageous claims about what they thought the movie was about. The movie was nothing like what they claimed. They were still there after the movie was over, still making their ignorant claims. It occurred to me that they were just making themselves fools, unaware of how foolish they were by spouting nonsense.

    Bishop Tobin may pride himself on being knowledgeable about LGBT people and about pride events. But he is just showing himself to be ignorant and foolish.

  5. Tom Casserly
    Tom Casserly says:

    I am a gay Rhode Islander and father of four children, all raised in my Catholic faith. This is so deeply offensive to me. When asked at a celebration of silver wedding anniversaries a year or two ago, what about gay couples, Bishop Tobin’s reply, as quoted in the newspaper, betrayed ignorance that there was even such a thing as gay couples who had celebrated equally long partnerships. He had not given it enough thought to recognize its possibility. Some pride parades I have attended in recent years verge on the boring, there are so many church groups marching, one after the other. I have determined to find solace in my faith in one of them. I have enough pride now that I cannot endure such treatment any longer nor associate myself with it. And yet I weep.

  6. Dan
    Dan says:

    Why anyone would give a hoot about what this guy has to say about anything is amazing to me. The Catholic Church has rendered themselves to a point beyond insignificant. They continue to be in the news about their sex scandals and cover ups, and trust me, we only have only begun to uncover the real scope of the issues, but they want to continue to comment on items like this. Okay, you’re credible … not!!! Organized religion needs to go away … people just need to be good to each other, know that there is a higher being (and call him what you want, because he is only one), and just celebrate life and diversity.


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