A Catholic bishop who sent a homophobic tweet warning Pride events are harmful to children has now barred a local magazine that carried a letter critical of him from hosting an event at a Church-owned facility. This incident is the latest controversy related to the Catholic Church and Pride, but despite harmful comments, many Catholics continue to celebrate Pride.
The Diocese of Providence, led by Bishop Thomas Tobin, said Motif Magazine would not be allowed to use the Church-owned McVinney Auditorium for its annual Rhode Island Theater Awards because it had published a letter critical of the bishop. The Boston Globe reported:
“‘Motif Magazine published and embraced an open letter which does not comply with our venue’s policies,’ diocesan spokeswoman Carolyn Cronin said Saturday. ‘McVinney Auditorium did not have a signed contract in place for this event and felt it in the best interest of both parties to not host the magazine’s award ceremony this year.”
“Last year, Motif Magazine held the theater awards ceremony at McVinney Auditorium, which is owned and run by the diocese, and some 500 people turned out, Publisher Mike Ryan said. This year, the auditorium director committed in writing on March 5 to hosting the awards ceremony again on Aug. 11, he said.
“But Ryan said the auditorium director called him on Friday to say: ‘With the Kevin Broccoli letter in regards to Bishop Tobin, I think the agreement over here was that it’s probably in the interest of both parties that it’s probably not a right fit for the theater awards.'”
The letter referenced came from a contributor to the magazine, Kevin Broccoli, who described Tobin as “a relic amongst relics that will one day be forgotten” and “a statue amongst statues that will one day be torn down.” Ryan said that he would have phrased criticism differently, but was clear that the magazine published op-eds with which it did not necessarily agree because it values free speech.
At issue is Tobin’s tweet from the beginning of June which warned Catholics from attending Pride and said such celebrations are “especially harmful for children.” Others in the Church have echoed Tobin’s warning. CBC reported that Fr. R.J. Chisholm, pastor of St. Gregory the Great Church in eastern Ontario, published an announcement in the parish bulletin warning Catholics not to attend Pride events because they are “especially harmful to children because it could lead them away from God’s revealed Truth.” Thankfully, in Fr. Chisholm’s case, the local ordinary, Archbishop Michael Mulhall of Kingston, made it clear he “did not sanction this message, and it does not reflect the spirit of accompanying charity and compassion that should always characterize our faith.” The Archdiocese stated that after speaking with the pastor he regrets any harm caused.
But the latest news from Providence indicates only escalation in a situation where Catholics and LGBTQ advocates have remained quite vocal in their criticism of Bishop Tobin. For instance, there have been protestors outside the cathedral and ABC-TV’s The View’s co-host Sunny Hostin said it was her belief as a Catholic that Jesus would have marched at Pride.
John Gehring of Faith in Public Life criticized Tobin in The Washington Post, suggesting the bishop revealed “a stunning lack of self-awareness” when referencing children being harmed in light of the hierarchy’s repeated failure to address the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Gehring continued:
“Catholics who attend Pride events are reclaiming their humanity and honoring the basic dignity of those they love in response to a history and culture where gay, lesbian and transgender people have often been discarded by their religiously conservative families and rejected by churches. Those who consider themselves “pro-life” Christians can’t ignore the reality that sexual minorities are disproportionately at risk for self-harm and targeted for violence. . .
“Any Catholic bishop who doesn’t understand that context, and uses his digital pulpit in ways that wound instead of heal, contributes to a culture where stereotypes are reinforced, discrimination is blessed and extremists feel emboldened to violence.”
Gehring suggested that Church leaders critical of Pride first, before judging, “be willing to walk in the discomfort of another’s experience,” specifically LGBTQ people who still face extreme marginalization. He also highlighted the many examples of Catholics who celebrate Pride because of their faith, not in spite of it.
Bishop Tobin is causing further harm by taking punitive action against Motif Magazine which, like any decent publication, elicited differing views on a topic. If the bishop is going to make strong statements, like his anti-Pride tweet, then he should be prepared for equally strong reactions and not react punitively when challenged. He should know, too, that leaders who rely on coercion rather than persuasion reveal the weakness of their argument and indeed a certain lack of authority. But leaders who choose a different path, the path of reconciliation which begins with asking forgiveness when one has caused injury, reveal themselves as the most effective and most Christian of leaders who can bring people together–as a bishop should.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 19, 2019