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R.I. diocese won’t let magazine hold event at auditorium after it criticized bishop

Bishop Thomas Tobin
Bishop Thomas Tobin(Josh Reynolds/Associated Press/File 2009)

PROVIDENCE — The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence said that it won’t let the Rhode Island Theater Awards take place at a diocese-owned auditorium this summer because the magazine that produces the event published an opinion piece blasting Bishop Thomas J. Tobin.

“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.

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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.”

On June 4, Motif Magazine posted an “open letter” to Bishop Tobin from contributor Kevin Broccoli, an actor and writer from Johnston who helps to organize the theater awards event. Broccoli was highly critical of Tobin for a June 1 tweet in which the bishop urged Catholics to not support or attend LGBTQ Pride Month events.

“You are a relic amongst relics that will one day be forgotten,” Broccoli wrote, in part. “You are a statue amongst statues that will one day be torn down. You are an institution at a time when institutions are being challenged, changed or chucked completely.”

Ryan said he was disappointed in the diocese. “As journalists, we value free speech and dissenting opinion and the conversation that results,” he said. “When we publish an op-ed, it doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with it. If the bishop had written a response, we would most likely have published it.”

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While he would have phrased Broccoli’s piece differently, Ryan said, “We stand behind Kevin’s op-ed. I agree with his sentiments.”

Ryan said the change of plans puts the magazine in a tight spot, with the Rhode Island Theater Awards less than two months away, but other theaters have already reached out to offer alternative locations. “The outpouring of support has been remarkable,” he said. “People have even offered their backyards.”

McVinney Auditorium is a 750-seat venue in downtown Providence, at 43 Dave Gavitt Way. It is named for former Providence Bishop Russell J. McVinney, who served as bishop from 1948 until his death in 1971.

Tobin made national news on June 1 when he tweeted: “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.” The tweet elicited 95,000 comments on Twitter and 29,000 “likes.”

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. Individuals with same-sex attraction are beloved children of God and our brothers and sisters,” Tobin said in a statement at the time.

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In an interview Saturday, Broccoli said he was not planning to criticize the bishop at McVinney Auditorium if the theater awards were held there. “I was not going to use it as an opportunity to make a statement — it’s not the Oscars,” he said. “It’s just a nice opportunity for the theater community to get together.”

The furor over the bishop’s tweet had just begun to die down, Broccoli said, but withdrawing the venue for the theater awards “is like throwing gasoline on a fire.” He said it was bound to be a hot topic at weekend arts events and at the Rhode Island PrideFest, including Saturday’s Illuminated Night Parade.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at Edward.Fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FitzProv.