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Providence Bishop Tobin disparages Biden’s Catholic faith in tweet

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.Gretchen Ertl

The Roman Catholic bishop of Providence doesn’t think Joe Biden is a real Catholic.

After Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, chose US Senator Kamala Harris of California as his running mate Tuesday, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, the highest ranking Catholic Church official in Rhode Island, tweeted: “Biden-Harris. First time in awhile that the Democratic ticket hasn’t had a Catholic on it. Sad.”

Tobin’s zinger apparently was aimed at Biden’s support for abortion rights, one of several church teachings with which many Catholics disagree, including its opposition to birth control and capital punishment.

Not all Catholic clergy agree with Tobin. Jesuit priest James Martin, editor at large of America magazine, tweeted: “Mr. Biden is a baptized Catholic. Thus, he is a Catholic.”

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“I cannot say why Bishop Tobin tweeted that out yesterday,” Martin told the Globe. “All I can say is that as someone who was baptized as a child, Mr. Biden is as Catholic as anyone else in the church. Baptism as a sacrament is irrevocable.

“Mr. Biden may not be the kind of Catholic that Bishop Tobin agrees with,” Martin said, “but that’s not the standard for what makes a person a Catholic.”

Harris has said she is a Black Baptist.

The Democratic ticket has featured a Catholic in each election cycle since 2004, when John Kerry of Massachusetts was the presidential nominee. Biden was on the ticket as VP to Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and US Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, also Catholic, was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016.

The outspoken Tobin has stirred controversy before. Last June, he sparked outrage in the LGBTQ community when he told Rhode Island Catholics not to attend any Pride Month events because they “promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals” and are “especially harmful for children.”

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On Twitter and Facebook, Rhode Island Pride called Tobin’s remarks “shameful” and the group demonstrated in front of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence. Joe Lazzerini, the president of Rhode Island Pride, said, “He is like the Donald Trump of the Catholic Church, he goes on Twitter and spews out hate.”

Tobin later said he regretted the tweet, while also noting that he had received words of support for his stance. “The Catholic Church has respect and love for members of the gay community, as do I,” he said in a statement at the time. “Individuals with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God and our brothers and sisters.”

Then, when Motif Magazine of Pawtucket ran an opinion piece that criticized Tobin for that tweet, Tobin refused to let the magazine hold its annual theater awards ceremony at McVinney Auditorium, which is owned and run by the diocese. The column was written by one of the event organizers.

Most recently, he tweaked Tom Brady for leaving the Patriots and joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, tweeting in May that “Bob Kraft is auctioning a Super Bowl ring for charity. Very admirable indeed. But is it true that Tom Brady bid on it because he knows it’s the only way he’ll get another ring?”

Two summers ago, Tobin announced he was leaving Twitter, calling the social media platform a “major distraction for me, on good days and bad, an obstacle to my spiritual life, an occasion for sin for me and others.”

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But the bishop couldn’t resist the temptation to tweet. He returned to Twitter in January 2019, mostly using his feed to promote Catholicism and wading into politics, urging a Rhode Island Senate panel to vote down abortion-rights legislation.


Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits. Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.