On Bishop Rot, and Making Bad Things Worse

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2018/08/01/on-bishop-rot-and-making-bad-things-worse/

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of the Diocese of Providence hesitantly joined Twitter last February, warning that “I need a heavy dose of prudence in things that I post, because I don’t use a lot of filters,” he told the Crux online publication.

Bishop Tobin disabled his Twitter account a week ago Monday night. It was not that he was too snarky but, in the minds of many Catholics, he was not harsh enough.

The bishop’s latest tweets come while the Catholic Church in the U.S. is enduring another sex abuse crises and, this time, the alleged perpetrator is a retired cardinal, Theodore McCarrick.

People are angry. I’m not talking about the trolls who trash the Catholic Church at every turn, but the faithful Catholics who are stunned at the allegations against the cardinal. McCarrick, who is accused of abusing boys, seminarians, and young priests for decades, rose to power, eventually heading the Archdiocese of Washington. 

In 2002, at the height of the sex abuse scandal in Boston, the U.S. Catholic bishops assembled and produced new policies to deal with sexual abuse allegations by priest and deacons.

J.D. Flynn, in an exceptional Catholic News Agency story, pointed out the policy did not mention dealing with bishops. Flynn also quoted McCarrick from the 2002 bishops’ meeting, saying, “We will be accountable.”

But no one held McCarrick accountable. His abusive actions in two dioceses before Washington led to out-of-court settlements. Now, McCarrick’s wickedness is coming to light. More allegations keep surfacing. If true, this man ruined lives.

Amidst all this sense of betrayal, sadness, and fury, Bishop Tobin sent out the following message on Twitter:

“Despite the egregious offenses of a few, and despite the faults and sins we all have, I’ve very proud of my brother bishops and I admire and applaud the great work they do every day for Christ and His Church.”

 I can only assume Bishop Tobin meant well. He seems to be a caring, holy man, based on his previous tweets, interviews on the radio, and in this New Boston Post story (when he defended a Providence College student who was being harassed for standing up for Church teaching).

But the tweet applauding his brother bishops missed the mark. Replies to the tweet came quickly, referring to the McCarrick scandal and calling Bishop Tobin’s words shameful. Now is not the time to cheer on the bishops who do great work, but to reassure the flock that this matter is being taken seriously, with actions to follow.

Tobin’s next Tweet:

 “If you find a perfect church out there somewhere, by all means, join it. But remember, the moment you join it, it will cease being perfect.” 

That was clever but, again, Bishop Tobin is not helping his flock. Yes, they know the Church is not perfect. Yes, they know they are sinners themselves. But we are talking about a successor to the Apostles being a sexual predator in Christ’s Church. That goes beyond the “nobody’s perfect” mantra.

Bishop Tobin’s were similar to the vanilla comments made when the sex abuse scandal broke last decade – like it was not a big deal. The media was blamed. Statistics were cited that the percentage of pedophiles in the clergy was less than the general population.

But the flock deserved better. Back then, Catholics had to endure not only news of pedophile priests, but bishops who covered up the abuse.

When the Church appears serene about evil actions of its own clergy, it insults the victims, deflates the congregations, and, I assume, undermines most of the clerics that are truly holy.

Faithful Catholics love the Church – the Body of Christ – and grow in Her sacraments and the proclamation of the Gospel. But it only takes the horrific actions of a few clerics – and the idled actions of leaders – to smear the Church’s mission.

The congregation needs to hear words like those of Father Tim Grumbach, a young priest from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. He sent out this tweet:

 “Don’t think I’ve choked up in a homily quite as much as today when I tried to say something meaningful into the latest revelations of abuse in the Church here in the U.S. I was caught off guard, not realizing quite how much this all has broken my heart. Jesus come now.”

 An honest reaction, recognizing the pain caused by abuse in the Church.

Bishop Tobin’s tweeted Monday night:

 “A final tweet. Sadly, Twitter has become a major distraction for me, on good days and bad, an obstacle to my spiritual life, an occasion of sin for me and others. So, good-bye. If I’ve offended anyone, I’m truly sorry. If I’ve helped anyone along the way, thank God.”

 I’m sure Bishop Tobin has been helpful, but not with these tweets. It is frightening how far this investigation of McCarrick will go, and a forceful response is needed. McCarrick’s recent resignation from the College of Cardinals seems like a first step, not a resolution.

It is already devastating. It will only get worse if Church leaders shrug their shoulders, instead of putting their feet down. The flock awaits.


Kevin Thomas is a writer and former teacher living with his wife and children in Standish, Maine.