Every time you think the mandarins who run the Catholic Church have turned a corner and realized they are operating what is essentially a business in the 21st century, somebody like Thomas Tobin opens his mouth.
Or, in this case, his Twitter account.
Tobin, the proudly provocative bishop of Providence, invited controversy when he took to Twitter to remind his followers they shouldn’t attend gay pride events, lest they be seen as giving aid and comfort to the Sodom and Gomorrah crowd.
My first reaction was, “Jesus, what was he thinking?”
My second reaction was, “What’s Jesus thinking?”
And I’m thinking Jesus is thinking, “Why is this clown walking around claiming to represent me?”
The providence of Tobin’s unsolicited advice was suspect. Does anyone seriously believe that someone who embraces his close-minded, intolerant views on homosexuality would attend a pride event?
Does Tobin seriously believe his pastoral advice might save some clueless suburban dad from stumbling into a huge parental mistake?
“Hey, honey, I was thinking about loading the kids into the minivan to go watch the pride parade downtown, but after reading Bishop Tobin’s tweet I realize that doing so might be misinterpreted as my condoning intrinsically disordered sexual acts, so I think I’ll take them to Taco Bell instead.”
The malice implicit in Tobin’s initial tweet was compounded by a statement in which he purported to apologize for any offense caused by insulting gay people.
It reminded me of that scene in “Anchorman 2,” when the Ron Burgundy character says to a guy, “No offense, but you are a stupid bleephole.”
In his statement, Tobin seemed quite pleased with himself, noting that many support his views. The self-referential tone of the statement was revealing. This is hardly an original thought, but it bears repeating: If Donald Trump were a Catholic bishop, he’d be named Tom Tobin.
As for the canard, repeated by Tobin, that his church hates the sin but loves the sinner, please. Saying you have no problem with gay people, just with gay sex, is ridiculous. It’s the essence of homophobia. It’s like saying you have no problem with blind people except for the fact that they can’t see.
Trying to justify homophobia by saying it’s the sexual act not the person — who is, in that deliciously outdated and medically unfounded judgment, “disordered” — is to insult and devalue that person, to say they are less than a heterosexual. It is positively un-Christian. It also betrays the church’s institutional creepy, medieval obsession with — and fear of — sex.
Tobin’s tweet carried all the subtlety of some country preacher climbing onto a creaky, paint-peeling pulpit in a backwater hamlet to hiss a sermon along the lines of, “Brothers and sisters, I’m here to remind you that Jesus didn’t like them queers.”
Except that Jesus never said any such thing. Jesus loved outsiders and nonconformists. He walked with lepers, prostitutes, and nerds. He embraced anyone and everyone, especially the scorned and the devalued. And gay and transgender people continue to be scorned and devalued by prominent citizens like the bishop of Providence.
While Jesus never condemned gay people, he explicitly singled out for contempt anyone who harmed a child. And it is on that point that Tobin’s words were particularly galling, not just because the Catholic Church as an institution presided over the biggest coverup of sexual abuse of children in history, but because as a bishop Tobin has participated in that coverup, refusing to turn over records to victims of sexual abuse and using legal technicalities to deny them justice.
Hey, it’s a free country. Tom Tobin can believe anything he wants. And, in one of the wonders of this glorious republic, he gets to do so with tax-free status.
But he is misguided and uncharitable in trying to pass off his bigotry as some high-minded, dogmatically consistent principle. Because, to paraphrase Michael Corleone, another proudly conservative Catholic, when he does that, he insults our intelligence.