On Thursday, August 30, 2018, the Ocean State Current sat down with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence, Thomas Tobin, to ask about controversies over his statement to local news media that sexual abuse issues in Pittsburgh were not within the scope of his official responsibilities.
Ocean State Current: You’ve been coming under a lot of fire lately about the Province Journal report with you saying that your responsibilities were other than dealing with the abuse scandal, and with the help of the article itself and the headline writer, especially, people on social media, friends of mine included, people have been taking it as if you had said, “I would hear about things and then do nothing about them.” But even from the text in the Journal, that didn’t seem to be what you’re saying.
Bishop Thomas Tobin: Of course not.
OSC: First, I’d like to your clarification of what you meant to say.
Tobin: The questions came about really in the context of the grand jury report, and the questions came from Ted Nesi and from Kathy Gregg, and the basic thrust was, “You were in Pittsburgh during part of this time. What did you know about these reports and were you involved the grand jury process?” The basic answer was, “I was not involved in the grand jury process.” I was not contacted; I was not interviewed; my name doesn’t appear in the report. And the reason for that is because I was not dealing with clergy issues during my time at the Diocese of Pittsburgh. I had other obligations, and the bishop did not designate me, he did not authorize me, to deal with clergy things.
That does not mean that they weren’t being dealt with. They were being dealt with by the bishop’s office, by the legal office, by the clergy office, and by communications. So the fact that I was not personally dealing with those things, nor was I authorized to, they were still being handled very promptly (I think) and professionally by the Diocese of Pittsburgh, at least during my time there. Including, by the way, that response by the diocese, including reporting to civil authorities. So the question would be, when they say I did not report those incidents, that’s true… because they had already been reported and how many times do you report the same thing?
They were being reported by other people the diocese. They were being handled, but not by me.
OSC: So when you said in that exchange with the Providence Journal that you would hear about things while you were there you meant mainly in your context as an official of the church. People would talk about what was going on and report on it.
Tobin: Yeah, I would hear about it, of course, because I was part of the central office staff. But the, allegations, the incidences of abuse did not come to my office. They went either to the director of the bishop’s office or to the clergy office or to the communications office or to the legal office. So, the allegations didn’t come to my office, they went to other people in the diocese, and after they came to the diocese is when I became aware of them, and they were already being handled and reported by other people.
OSC: In your time in Pennsylvania, did you ever hear independently of any instances of abuse or allegations.
OSC: So, anything you heard of was already within the context of…
Tobin: I was never made aware of any, you know, of anybody saying, “Did you know father so-and-so is doing this and that?” No, we never heard about those kinds of things, and that was part the problem, because they were always kept relatively secret, so no, I never heard anything about father so-and-so doing this or father so-and-so doing that.
OSC: Kept relatively secret by whom?
Tobin: Well, by the people involved.
OSC: So you never had to report anything because you heard of it independently.
Carolyn Cronin, communications director for the diocese: Because it wasn’t reported to you.
Tobin: No, it was reported, again, to the bishop’s office, to clergy, to legal, to communications, and that was the team, more or less, that would handle these things — would remove the priest, would report it to the civil authorities, would notify the parishes, would work with the families. But again, my duties did not include that.
OSC: And in that process, if an allegation came forward, obviously, some would not be criminal, even if inappropriate, was that the first step, to determine that, and if it was potentially criminal immediately be reported to the police?
Tobin: Well, I think, again, in this context I think mostly what we’re talking about is sexual abuse of minors. Now, I’m sure there were other priests, you know, involved in other inappropriate things, but sexual abuse of minors didn’t come to my office. Now, for example, I might get a complaint about a priest if he wasn’t sending in his annual financial report, or I might get a complaint about a priest in my office if he was undertaking a building project without permission, or I might get a complaint about a priest in my office who was preaching heresy. Clergy misconduct — clergy sexual misconduct — especially of minors, did not come to my office.
OSC: So you were basically part of a team addressing different…
Tobin: Yeah, not everybody in a chancery does the same thing. I’ll give you an example: Bishop Evans is our auxiliary bishop, as I was in Pittsburgh, although he deals with clergy things, but 10 years from now, if somebody comes to Bishop Evans and says, “Bishop Evans, when you heard about father so-and-so doing this and that, did you report it?” He’s going to say, “no,” because he doesn’t report it. Other people in the diocese report it, even if he’s heard about the allegation, Kevin O’Brien, who’s our compliance officer, or our attorney will report it to the state police and the attorney general. But if they ask him 10 years from now, “When you heard about that, did you report it?” He’s going to say, “No, I didn’t report it.”
Does that mean you don’t care? Of course he cares, but it’s already been taken care of by somebody else, and I think that’s the thrust in Pittsburgh. It was being taken care of — in my time, in my view, in a rather responsible and prompt way — but it just wasn’t in my office, and I wasn’t receiving reports to deal with those things. Other people were dealing with them.
OSC: And in the process that those other people were following, at what point would they report something to civil authorities? As soon as they heard of an allegation?
Tobin: I don’t know. I would presume so. I don’t know if they would have a staff meeting first and then report it, or if an individual would report it. I think probably the protocol changed over the years. Remember, the grand jury report covers 70 years. As I said to Ted Nesi, some of these reports were allegations before I was born. I was there 11 of those 70 years, so I can really only address what happened during that time, and again, I wasn’t always directly involved in those conversations. I was dealing with other things, so did they have a staff meeting first and then report it? Did they report it first? It may have varied from case to case. I don’t know that.
OSC: Would you ever hear about the outcomes of the cases?
Tobin: Oh, sure, because they’d become public. If a priest was removed from office, it would become public. If a priest was arrested, it would become public. So, yeah, eventually most of them did become public.