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 Life, commented:
“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