Motif, McVinney, and the Challenge of a Reasonable Faith


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.

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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.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    One might look to the events in the Episcopal Church which have resulted from differences over same sex marriage and the like. About 250, of the 7500 congregations have “withdrawn”. This is becoming a national problem, a local church has withdrawn from the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of Anglicanism, and aligned with the conservative Anglican Mission in the Americas, which is not recognized by the national church.
    An Orthodox Anglican bishop in Africa now advises the congregation here. “Schism” in the 21st century seems so medieval.

  • bagida’wewinini

    The publisher of Motif magazine said he would publish a letter from the Bishop. Don’t you think that would have been preferable for Bishop Tobin to use that opportunity to make his case rather than the action he has taken. The Globe article mentioned that the Bishop has apologized for the tweet that some found offensive. If it is indeed a sincere apology why not engage the subject in a more thoughtful way. You rightly in the past have pointed out instances where those who preach tolerance are sometimes not tolerant in practice when their beliefs are challenged. What’s different here?

    • Rhett Hardwick

      “The Globe article mentioned that the Bishop has apologized for the tweet that some found offensive.” I expect he was apologizing for giving offense, not for the nature of his beliefs.

    • Justin Katz

      Rhett has it correct. And what is the “thoughtful” response to a person who calls you a “virus”?

      Note two additional things:

      1. Even now, Motif is qualifying its intent by saying it “ALMOST certainly” would have published a letter from the bishop. It’s a practical question how much time to spend trying to engage with a hostile publication on their own terms… and inviting what response?
      2. None of this addresses the legitimate concern that, in our new context, the event at McVinney would have been used as a platform of attack. Lines have to be drawn somewhere.

      • bagida’wewinini

        Unfortunately it seems that the lines you want drawn leave love compassion and understanding and tolerance on one side and strict adherence to a politicized message from the Bishop on the other.

  • ShannonEntropy

    MOTIF is so far Left it makes AOC look like a John Bircher

    Every issue aggressively promotes a pro-LBGTQRSTUʤʦʨʡʬϕ agenda; supports infanticide abortions; and has *never* to my knowledge printed anything even remotely approaching a “middle of the road” political opinion

    Phillipe & Jorge’s Cool Cool World column …penned by ‘Rudy Cheeks’ & Chip Young… promotes a gay lifestyle [ having met both, neither seem to be gay ] and spews acid anger venom every article against Trump. Even the “Got Beer?” feature — which reviews local micro-brews — manages to slip in insults of our POTUS

    So bottom line: The Catholic Church agreeing to host a MOTIF event is like The Knesset holding their annual family day picnic at Auschwitz