Don’t Shoot the Bishop, by Peter Wolfgang

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Vintage engraving of Boston Riots 1765, Thomas Hutchinson fleeing the rioters. Thomas Hutchinson (9 September 1711 – 3 June 1780) was a businessman, historian, and a prominent Loyalist politician of the Province of Massachusetts Bay in the years before the American Revolution.

By Peter Wolfgang, The Stream, June 9, 2019

Peter WolfgangHe alone among his peers spoke up. He alone stuck his neck out. And still some conservative Catholics attacked the bishop of Providence because they thought he wasn’t hard enough. Or because they were angry about some other problem.

It’s a bad habit among Christians of all sorts. Instead of standing up to the world, we attack our own. One reason? They’re safer targets to attack. The world fights back. They don’t.

One of the Few

As my friend Jennifer Roback Morse said in an excellent Facebook post, The bishop of Providence “is one of the few bishops in the US who has said anything at all to push back against the LGBT juggernaut. Attacking him is simply not a good idea.”

Friends who’ve criticized Bishop Tobin: The role of a layman is not to relate every single issue to our disappointment with the state of the Church. Especially when a high-ranking Churchman is trying to do the right thing. Support him in his attempt to warn the Catholic faithful away from “Pride” events.

The Story

Here’s the story. A few days ago, Tobin tweeted: “A reminder that Catholics should not support or attend LGBTQ ‘Pride Month’ events held in June. They promote culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. They are especially harmful for children.”

People reacted as expected. “Pure ignorance & bigotry,” said an actress not exactly known for the sexual order in her own life. God loves everyone, others said. The Church should preach love and inclusion, not hate. Gay people have done great things and we celebrate them. (That was the governor.) Catholicism’s the real enemy.

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The pride movement reacted to the tweet by staging a rally in the square outside the cathedral while a service was going on. The bishop responded to that with a statement. He was sorry some people were offended, he said. But “my obligation before God is to lead the faithful entrusted to my care and to teach the faith, clearly and compassionately, even on very difficult and sensitive issues.” He pledged to keep doing this as the need arises.

He also repeated the Catholic teaching — and practice — that the pride activists are so eager to deny. “The Catholic Church has respect and love for members of the gay community, as do I. Individuals with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God and our brothers and sisters.”

Stand Up With the Bishops

Jenny’s quite right in asking how we can expect bishops like Tobin to stand up in the public square when even the most conservative of us tear the guy down for not being perfect. 

My fellow southern New Englanders, Phil Lawler and Dave Carlin, disagree. Phil has written on it here. I am particularly sympathetic to this one point of his: “As parents we should be fighting to protect our children; as lay Catholics we should be working to advance the faith in a secular society,” he writes.

The role of bishops is not, in the first place, to fight these battles in public life. These are primarily our battles, and lay Catholics have been, quite properly, on the front lines. Bishop Tobin wasn’t taking the lead; he was joining us.

I said essentially the same thing to fellow laity in the matter of New York’s Cardinal Dolan and Gov. Cuomo. Cuomo pushed a radical pro-abortion bill. Catholics reacted I was speaking to my fellow Catholics, but this applies to my brothers in other churches as well.

I said: If you react to Cuomo’s barbarism by shaking your fist at Cardinal Dolan, you’re doing something wrong. You are not doing what God calls you to do as a layman.

I’ve seen this repeatedly in my fifteen years as a Catholic lay activist: As I wrote in my article on Cuomo: “The strange tendency of the lay faithful to focus almost entirely on the internal drama of the Church, to the exclusion of much else. The result is a clericalized laity that is not much more effective than the priests and bishops against whom they inveigh.”

Support the Bishop

In fairness, Phil Lawler has taken on issues both inside and outside of the Church for decades. I admire his work. But I disagree with him on this one.

Here, in part, is where he loses me. He’s writing about the online petition launched to defend Bishop Tobin: “Isn’t there something backward here? Should lay Catholics defend their bishops? Shouldn’t it be, rather, that the bishops defend lay Catholics?”

No Catholic launched that petition. My friend Dave Aucoin, an Assembly of God minister, launched it. Dave has done the heavy lifting of trying to get a Family Policy Council off the ground in Rhode Island.

Look, I get it. I know why my fellow Catholics reacted against Dolan, and why they react against Tobin. These men aren’t perfect. To be honest, they’re farther from perfect than they should be. The bishops overall have [here fill in the blank to change the subject of any given topic to how the hierarchy has failed us].

Glass-Half-Empty Guys

As a Catholic head of an ecumenical pro-family organization in New England, I can’t help but note that on the one occasion when a Catholic bishop took a public stand against Pride parades, it was a Protestant minister who tried to rally the locals to support him. While some of my favorite local Catholic commentators went glass-half-empty on him.

Guys, I love you all. But Jenny is right, Dave Aucoin is my hero, and Bishop Tobin deserves our support.


Peter Wolfgang is president of Family Institute of Connecticut Action, a Hartford-based advocacy organization whose mission is to encourage and strengthen the family as the foundation of society. His work has appeared in The Hartford Courant, the Waterbury Republican-AmericanCrisis MagazineColumbia Magazine, the National Catholic RegisterCatholic Vote and Ethika Politika. He lives in Waterbury, Conn., with his wife and their seven children. The views expressed on The Stream are solely his