Bishop Tobin on Priests’ Right and Responsibility to Speak Out

On Thursday, August 30, 2018, the Ocean State Current sat down with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Providence, Thomas Tobin, to ask about controversies in the Church at the state, national, and international levels.  This portion of the interview addresses the environment for parish priests in this challenging environment.

Ocean State Current: In Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’s letter, you get this “he said, he said” kind of thing, and specifically one of the things I’ve heard is that some of the priests who might know something — this priest is doing that, that priest is doing this — might be afraid to say something, or even more generally to take sides in the national or international fight, but they worry about career prospects or conversely about somebody trying to embarrass them with dirt or something. I’m not saying I’ve heard that this is a huge problem, but I’ve heard it here and there. Do you think that might be a problem, and if so, is it misplaced?

Bishop Thomas Tobin: I don’t know. I’m not real clear what you have in mind, but one of the things that I’ve said to the priests, and I’ll probably say to our employees again, today, is that, in this turbulent, toxic atmosphere, we need to be very, very careful about, be very prudent about, what we read, what we hear, what we say, the conclusions we draw, because there’s just so much stuff floating around. You know, prudence is a Christian virtue, and we need to be very prudent and very charitable about all this, so I think I and all of us about what we read, what we say, the conclusions we draw.

As I’ve said, Pope Francis speaks about the “terrorism of gossip.” That’s very in play, right now, and you read the blogs. You see some of this stuff, and you see some of this terrible stuff that’s out there. So, I would hope that in discussing these things or in sharing them or whatever, that priests would be prudent and they’d be charitable, but also, if there’s something that they know is going on that they have both a right and an obligation to tell somebody.

What’s the phrase about terrorism? “If you see something, say something.” I would say the same thing. If you see something, say something to somebody.

OSC: Is there a process for both priests and lay people? Is there a process for priests who have concerns, when they hear this stuff, mainly national, I’m thinking at this point, but when they hear about this stuff, is there a mentorship process, is there some sort of resource for them?

Tobin: It depends on what it is, again, too. If we’re talking about personal misconduct by a priest or whatever they become aware of, is it just a question of personal immorality or is it something that’s criminal? I mean, it depends what the situation it would be, but any responsible adult, if they become aware of something, somehow should respond to that, should act upon it.

OSC: That would be appropriate for abuse-type allegations, but I guess I’m speaking more in terms of the institutional issues, where a priest reads Archbishop Vigano’s letter and says, “My opinion is he’s right.”

Tobin: They’re certainly entitled to have their opinions. We know the bishops have different opinions about it already. Cardinals have different opinions. And priests can have different opinions, too. There’s nothing wrong with that. But again, unless they know something I don’t know, they don’t have all the information that they probably need to come to a firm conclusion.


OSC: If priests were inclined to take that reform-minded approach, short of revolutionary obviously — obviously they should contemplate it and pray about it…

Tobin: Reform-minded in terms of what issues?

OSC: I guess the whole thing coming together.  You’ve got questions of divorce and who can be priests or deacons, you’ve got internal politics.

Tobin: There are lots of different opinions, but we expect the priests, and they’ve promised, in fact, publicly, to uphold the teachings and the faith of the Church.  I mean that’s part of their ordination vow in both the deaconate and priesthood:  a promise of obedience.  So, every priest has promised to uphold the teachings of the Church.  Now, within that, is there room for debate and discussion?  Of course there is, but in terms of preaching and teaching, we expect them to uphold the teachings of the Church.  That’s something they’ve promised to do.


Of the following two issues related to Rhode Island’s public schools, which one is a greater concern?

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