A Conversation With Bishop Tobin

Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence has a go at reactions to his “interview” with President Obama. I blogged earlier that I simply didn’t find the essay very good, even though on the issue of the morality of abortion, the bishop and I would likely be in total agreement. He seems to be reaching in this latest column. It’s a simple thing to cherry-pick through one’s objectors and find the ones with easy answers. More difficult, surely, would be these:

Bishop Tobin, your serious pro-life objectors aren’t concerned with being nice so much as being as effective as we possibly can be in the public realm. After all, I haven’t been very nice to you: I’ve said your original piece is poor journalism, unimaginative, and shows laziness. We simply need better writers than you, people able to persuade who needs to be persuaded rather than provide fodder for narcissistic cheerleading.

Because we’re criticizing you (at least for a few minutes), you rightly deduce we aren’t criticizing President Obama 24/7. You assume that because we aren’t criticizing the president and others all the time for their immoral stances, our consciences are somehow deficient compared to yours. But tell us: do you spend every waking moment of ministry on this particluar issue, the life of the unborn? Or are there other priorities, like writing a media column, for instance? You seem to assume that because we criticize you we haven’t written to the president or to other politicians who represent us.

Confronting moral evil was not a selective process for Jesus. When he was presented with a woman caught in the act of adultery, he was aware of the person’s sin, but also the undercurrent of self-righteousness of the woman’s accusers. The accusers were certainly correct in pointing out the woman’s sin, but there may have been a little too much enjoyment. That, I think, is one of the flaws of many in the political pro-life movement: an adoption of the cultural glee we have in America over one person stumbling and failing. We can bypass that and say, “Oh, but I pray for them.” Is that enough? And is it believable?

While being nice may be an overrated virtue, a Christian is called to be fair and just. Is it fair to put words in the mouth of one’s opponent, to make someone else appear stupid, wrong, dense, or immoral in comparison to our own insight, correctness, wittiness, and morality? That is where, Bishop Tobin, I think your original piece fails on moral grounds. I don’t care that you weren’t nice. My concern is that your pretense was unbecoming of a bishop and a Christian.

My final summation, Bishop Tobin, is not that you’re wrong on the issues, but that you’re not good enough to make this communication as effective as it needs to be. Of course, if the point of preaching is that the preacher preach the message and to hell with the listeners, then by all means, continue this line of reasoning. It’s for your own good anyway.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to A Conversation With Bishop Tobin

  1. Kevin in Texas says:

    Hi Todd,

    While I also found Bishop Tobin’s piece to be fairly weak gruel intellectually, I would suggest that many Catholic conservatives would find less fault with the “Catholic Left” if they saw more direct public statements from the latter against easily the most anti-Catholic and anti-life policies ever proposed in this country’s history. I think there is a tendency for society (including Catholics, of course!) to become numb to the nearly constant assaults on our beliefs and values from the secular Left in the media, universities, and political chattering classes. But that doesn’t mean that we should fail to see just how much more direct and bigoted those attacks have become in the last few years or so. We practicing Catholics may disagree on tactics used in the battle for the sanctity of both life in general and the teachings of our Church specifically, but we should not forget that we are united against a common Enemy who is working to subvert the Church and morality and to make vice appear virtuous and virtue appear bigoted.

    As a point of reference, I’ve searched in vain over the archives of your blog for the past few weeks to see even one single post directly critical of the Obama administration’s anti-life policies, political appointments, or even the State-level issues where the Chruch is being attacked (e.g., the brouhaha in CT a few weeks back, as well as the anti-Prop 8 bullies vandalizing churches and harassing/threatening Prop 8 supporters in California). To be sure, you have indirectly criticized some of these things, but you tend to do so in posts that first take aim at the Catholics with whose tactics you disagree. You’ll forgive the easy assumption, I’m sure, that some Catholic conservatives make that you are more critical of Catholics with whom you disagree politically than with the clearly anti-life and anti RC Church policies being drummed through the secular media almost non-stop since Obama’s seating as POTUS.

    There is valuable middle ground not being staked out when we of more conservative and more liberal Catholic stances fight each other instead of the Enemy, the same one who deceived in the Garden of Eden.

  2. Liam says:


    I will let Todd speak for himself, but in the past many years he has made very clear he is not using his blog as an echo chamber, but to pay attention to things in the American Catholic world that are ignored, misunderstood or exploited, et cet. He’s generally not seeking to cover ground that is already well-covered ad intra, as it were.


    If we could have a moratorium on the pious ejaculations of “I will pray for [them/you] [….sinner]” and “I only hate the sin but I love the sinner”. They are beyond repairing but instead instantly signal self-regarding insincerity not meriting a charitable interpretation. People who use them should be forewarned how they will very likely be understood.

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