Catholics in Rhode Island rallied this weekend against their bishop who claimed that children would be harmed if they attended Pride celebrations. The bishop apologized but that hasn’t ended the controversy.
Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence sent his LGBTQ-negative tweet on June 1st as millions worldwide began celebrating Pride month. The bishop (who should not be confused with the largely LGBTQ-positive Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark) warned his followers:
“A reminder that Catholics should not support or attend LGBTQ ‘Pride Month’ events held in June. They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. They are especially harmful for children.”
Catholics and LGBTQ advocates immediately pushed back against Tobin’s tweet. Led by Rhode Island Pride, hundreds protested outside the Diocese of Providence’s Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul on Sunday evening. The group’s president, Joe Lazzerini, had released a statement calling on Tobin to “do some self-reflection as the majority of Catholic Rhode Islanders in this state reject the idea that to be Catholic is to be complicit to intolerance, bigotry, and fear.” Also in attendance was Providence’s mayor, Jorge Elorza, who told protestors, “love will conquer all animosity and all hatred,” reported the Providence Journal.
Also critical of the bishop was a Providence priest, Fr. Edward Pieroni of the St. Raymond’s Church, who begged at Mass for lesbian and gay parishioners not to leave the Church:
“‘My concern is that for people who are lesbian or gay — same-sex attraction — that they may leave the church. A lot of people have hung in there, but it’s like “One more slap and we are done.” I am here to beg you — and I will get on my hands and knees and beg you — not to leave. . .For a long time the official church has had a tug of war going on between liberal and conservatives.
“‘Maybe we ought to concentrate more on getting the message out there and less on backbiting. The ultimate goal is Jesus pulling us all together. . .If you are thinking of leaving because you are disappointed or don’t understand please don’t I am begging you.'”
“A reminder that the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church is not in any position to pontificate on what is or isn’t ‘especially harmful for children’. Pale, stale, male….give us all a break. Celebrate #LGBTQ with #PRIDE.”
Tiernan Brady, who led Ireland’s marriage equality campaign in 2015, added his comments on Twitter:
“A reminder to bishops if you let voices of inhumanity like this gent represent you at any time of the year you will have lost all moral compass and understanding of Christianity. You will also be ignoring the will of your own flock. Happy #Pride to all – know you are not alone.”
On the same day that LGBTQ advocates rallied, Tobin released a partial apology, writing in a statement:
“I regret that my comments yesterday about Pride Month have turned out to be so controversial in our community, and offensive to some, especially the gay community. That certainly was not my intention, but I understand why a good number of individuals have taken offense. I also acknowledge and appreciate the widespread support I have received on this matter.”
But the bishop continued saying it was his “obligation” as a Church leader to “teach the faith, clearly and compassionately.” He wished the protest would be “a safe, positive and productive experience for all.” Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, came to Tobin’s defense, offering his own tweet that suggested stating Church teaching “is not homophobia, it is simply reality.”
Bishop Tobin’s anti-LGBTQ record is lengthy, including his perpetuation of the myth that homosexuality somehow contributed to the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Just this February, he tweeted that “gay currents in the church” were responsible for abuse. He also tweeted last June that Pride was “morally offensive” and directly criticized Fr. James Martin’s book on LGBTQ issues in the Church. Tobin has said a Nativity scene with two Josephs rather than Mary and Joseph was “sacrilege, has cited Pope Francis to defend the firing of a gay church worker, and has 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 2014 Synod on the Family a “rather Protestant” event. Tobin also left open the possibility that LGBTQ Catholics should be denied Communion.
It is worth noting that critics of Tobin specifically zeroed in on his comment that Pride celebrations are “especially harmful for children,” a point many people said was quite hypocritical given not only the Catholic Church’s, but the bishop’s own failed record in protecting children from clergy sexual abuse. Last year, Tobin acknowledged to the Providence Journal that while an auxiliary bishop in Pittsburgh, he knew of sexual abuse complaints made to the diocese but took no action because he was “not primarily responsible for clergy issues.”
Tobin’s tweets could be easily dismissed as ignorant were they not so deeply harmful to many people. The bishop continues to fail to show respect and compassion towards LGBTQ people and their loved ones. To perpetuate homophobic myths about child endangerment only compounds that wrong. Last year, Tobin announced he was leaving Twitter because it had become an “occasion of sin.” If he obstinately refuses to listen to LGBTQ people’s stories and learn from them, he should at least listen to his own words and leave Twitter because of the pastoral catastrophes he creates on that platform.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 4, 2019