Religion

What Exactly Is Bishop Tobin Apologizing For?

(File photo: Patrick Semansky/Pool/via Reuters)
He tweeted an unexceptional recitation of the Catholic Church’s teaching on an article of sexual ethics.

I  have yet to hear a satisfying rationale for why people who insist that religion is a series of myths used to manipulate the American underclass are simultaneously qualified to lecture me about the authentic values of Jesus of Nazareth. Silly Christian believer! Don’t you know that Jesus Christ — who probably didn’t exist and most certainly wasn’t divine — would have been on the front lines of smashing the patriarchy?

The typical clique of secularists moonlighting as Christian exegetes was out in force this weekend, attacking Bishop Thomas Tobin for his unexceptional recitation of an article of the Catholic Church’s bimillennial teaching on sexual ethics. His tweet set the Internet ablaze on Saturday, with Twitter users by the tens of thousands rallying to deride the Catholic prelate over the following statement: “A reminder that Catholics should not support or attend LGBTQ ‘Pride Month’ events held in June. They promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals. They are especially harmful for children.”

The last line of his tweet, which invoked concerns about the safety of children, was met with predictable accusations of hypocrisy. On the merits, however, is he wrong? Why should children be subjected to any profligate display of sexuality, homosexual or otherwise?

Bishop Tobin later apologized, stating that he was upset to learn that his “comments . . . about Pride Month have turned out to be so controversial in our community, and offensive to some, especially the gay community. That certainly was not my intention, but I understand why a good number of individuals have taken offense.”

Are members of the Church hierarchy now obligated to apologize publicly for reiterating the sexual ethics subscribed to by countless canonized saints?

Tobin’s original statement on the Church’s dogma on homosexuality and his subsequent apology prompted Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen to write a response column with the subtle headline “If Donald Trump were a bishop, he’d be named Tom Tobin.”

Kevin Cullen grants the reader unique access to the nuanced internal hermeneutic he used to make sense of the bishop’s remarks:

My first reaction was, “Jesus, what was he thinking?”

My second reaction was, “What’s Jesus thinking?”

And I’m thinking Jesus is thinking, “Why is this clown walking around claiming to represent me?”

After using the first permutation of his exegetical exercise to take the Lord’s name in vain, Cullen asked himself what the Lord of the Universe would think of Bishop Tobin and his statement. After deciding that his own opinion was a better window into the mind of Christ than the unchanging moral dicta of the Church that He founded, Cullen reached a mature terminus by calling the ordained successor to the apostles a “clown.”

Jesus would hate Bishop Tobin!

Forget the old debates over the supposedly low Christology of Mark versus the high Christology of John — Cullen’s Jesus is a ’60s radical whose good news was meant primarily not for the poor but for “nonconformists” and “nerds”:

Jesus loved outsiders and nonconformists. He walked with lepers, prostitutes, and nerds. He embraced anyone and everyone, especially the scorned and the devalued. And gay and transgendered people continue to be scorned and devalued by prominent citizens like the bishop of Providence.

Jesus came to call pot-smoking hipsters and World of Warcraft devotees!

Christ did indeed love and embrace “anyone and everyone” (and this includes, to the extent that they existed in first-century Judea, Galilee, and environs, “nerds.”) But His love never prevented Him from insisting that people change their behavior. To quote an example that Cullen is no doubt familiar with, here is Christ’s interaction with a rich young man in Saint Mark’s Gospel (emphasis mine):

And Jesus looking on him, loved him, and said to him: One thing is wanting unto thee: go, sell whatever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.

Christ’s love is grounded not in license but in truth; in the famous case of the rich young man, even as Jesus “loved him,” He still insisted that the man go and make a radically difficult decision to forgo temporal pleasure (could you imagine selling “whatever thou hast?”) for the Kingdom of God.

The bishop’s statement is self-evidently correct. It is an unremarkable statement of fact that “Catholic faith and morals,” in the bishop’s wording, have been unanimous and unambiguous on the question of sexual ethics since the very first days of the Church.

One is free to reject the validity of those values, but the bishop’s statement, inasmuch as it plainly reflects the unchanging position of the Catholic Church on same-sex sexual behavior, should be beyond dispute.

If you think the Church is wrong, say so. If you think that Jesus of Nazareth was an obscure first-century figure whose death was an ignominious event that sparked a group of schizophrenic followers to fabricate a resurrection story to assuage their consciences, say so. But you can’t simultaneously claim the mantle of the New Testament and assert that John Q. Public, waywardly floating about in 21st-century Brooklyn and disconnected from organized Christianity, is speaking in persona Christi while the Church He founded is leading the flock astray. Though it may reasonably surprise an American public that has grown accustomed to the moral imprecision of the post-conciliar clergy, there are still prelates in the Catholic hierarchy who believe what the Church does and always has taught.

Bishop Tobin is not a human-resources manager at a woke tech startup; he is a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church, subservient to the deposit of faith and an heir to the unbroken chain of apostles who have served in the episcopate over the past two thousand years. He has duties far higher than currying favor with Mia Farrow.

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