The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence has decided to disallow Motif magazine from using McVinney Auditorium for an awards show after the magazine endorsed a very hostile and personal attack on Bishop Thomas Tobin in reaction to his tweet suggesting that Catholics should not participate in gay pride events. The controversy raises much more complex questions for Christians than the news media will help people understand. To them it is at best, as with the Boston Globe’s Edward Fitzpatrick, something like a clash of organizational personalities. At worst, as with the Providence Journal’s Patrick Anderson, it is an opportunity for continued cultural activism.
In being respectful and pluralistic, how much can we tolerate those who are not? In this case, it’s important to read the letter that produced the diocese’s reaction; its tone is sneering throughout. In it, Kevin Broccoli calls Bishop Tobin “a virus” and implicitly addresses all Catholics and others who aren’t entirely on board with the radical individualism that privileges sexual identity:
You are a relic amongst relics that will one day be forgotten.
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.
Weighing on the other side of the question is that the anti-Catholic attacks from the stage will likely be more extreme, now, which won’t be helpful for the souls in attendance. But again, these are difficult questions. Which is better for those souls: contempt for the Church that simmers just below the surface of everything they see, or open contempt proclaimed from their secular pulpits?
Sharp clarity can be uncomfortable, but sometimes discomfort is necessary. Take note of the Christians whom Broccoli presumes to lift up as a model for the bishop in his letter. He explains that he is a former Catholic and an atheist and that “part of that journey included some of the most wonderful religious people anyone could hope to meet.”
Well, they couldn’t have been so wonderful if they believe religious faith to be crucial to a person’s eternal soul and still affirmed Mr. Broccoli on his path to disbelief. He applauds them for “choosing to care rather than criticize” and “celebrate rather than shame,” but celebrating spiritual error is akin to a doctor’s complimenting the impressive development of an illness. True, with spiritual healing we must do what we can to prevent the person from running away from us, but at the same time, we have to be clear about error so as to convey what he or she should not be drifting toward.
Broccoli and his ideological fellow travelers understand this, as can be seen in their hostile reaction to Bishop Tobin. They don’t choose care over criticism or celebration over shame. What lessons did Broccoli learn from the Christians of his past if he now viciously attacks others as relics to be forgotten, statues to be torn down, and institutions that should be “chucked completely.” It looks like they taught him that Christianity is meekness without confidence and affirmed his ability to reach the Truth of reality without guidance. He has taken their affirmation as evidence that they their beliefs really weren’t all that important, certainly not important enough to justify tension in their relationships and certainly not as urgently true as his own radical ideology.
Either the radicals are dogmatic in thinking their beliefs are simply true or they want to remain as children, whom adults are perforce required to celebrate and affirm no matter what they do. At some point, adults who really care about children convey to them that their behavior is unhealthy and not acceptable. Good parents know that figuring out the right timing and approach is difficult work, but it has to be done. Bishop Tobin is such a target in our society because he realizes that he has to try, and thank God that he does.