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Tweeting Bishop Twit: Thomas Tobin Tries to Temper Tides of Time

On June 1, 2019, a wannabe prima donna who seems incapable of knowing when to accept his irrelevancy as a moral leader, issued this Trumpian imitation through (what else) Twitter. Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence decided to weigh in on current affairs by writing:

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.

At the outset, I will say that I was raised Catholic. I went to a parochial school (the New England form of separate and not even trying to be equal education) until sixth grade, when I was run out on a rail by the boys who recognized I was queer as the $3 bill.

I was an altar server through high school. I have a cousin who is a priest in the Diocese of Providence and an aunt who worked for many years in a diocesan hospital (more on that in a minute). I’ve spent evenings smoking cigars after dinner at the seminary on Mt. Pleasant Avenue and understand that the clergy is a politicized body, with a left and right wing that is far more complex than simplistic notions that someone like the ghastly William F. Buckley, Jr. would suggest. I also have a killer ear for queer community gossip and know some high-grade smut that you’re going to love!

Let’s start with Tobin’s moral stature these days. Bishop Bigmouth has in the past five years overseen the collapse of two separate pension funds. The first pension, known as the St. Joseph’s Pension Fund in local politics, was a hospital employees fund [1]. Evidence suggests that Tobin knew for many years prior to the collapse that the fund was in trouble. Owing to the fund’s status as one run by a religious organization, it was legally exempt from various oversight and reporting laws that would have sounded alarm bells earlier. Over 2,700 pensioners and employees learned in August 2017 the fund was on the edge of an implosion unless benefits were substantially cut. Then, less than a year later, in June 2018, news broke that the separate teachers and staff pension was on the verge of collapse also. [2] (By the way, the pension for priests is fully-funded and healthy…)

And just wait, stealing from old people is the least of his problems!

During my lifetime, there have been three prelates to sit on the perch Tobin now occupies. His immediate predecessor, the late Robert Mulvee, was an affable red-faced Irishman that was certainly known for toeing the line during Pope John Paul II’s extra-conservative tenure. But his tone and attitude was always grounded in a kind of love and generosity that made clear he wanted to heal his flock, not hurt them.

Mulvee’s predecessor, however, was another story…

Louis Gelineau never saw a Culture War battlement he didn’t love to climb upon, particularly if it involved human reproduction or same-sex relationships. He also allegedly never could find a way to avoid being snagged by the Providence Police for lewd conduct in cars parked in the old Jewelry District, which is adjacent to the city’s theater and gay bar section. The late Vincent “Buddy” Cianci is alleged to have joked about how often he had to bail the Bishop to staffers and friends.

Gelineau’s most famous run-in, however, allegedly happened just over the state line in Massachusetts. The long-standing rumor was that the Bishop was snagged by State Troopers in the Commonwealth while patronizing a highway rest stop bathroom and the Lion of the Senate himself, Ted Kennedy, swooped in at the last minute to save the hypocritical bastard.

My longtime theory is that Kennedy scored a favor there that lasted for the rest of his life and it is this:

Ted’s ne’er do well son Patrick became a Congressman from Rhode Island from 1995 to 2011, 16 years. He was known as a reliably-liberal vote, particularly on a woman’s right to choose, which went right up the ass of the rightward-leaning clergy (in hindsight remembering that consternation elicits certain laughter from current author).

However, it wasn’t until January 2010, six months after Ted died in August 2009, that news broke about Tobin directing Patrick to abstain from Communion over being pro-choice [3], a matter that had dated back several years but had yet to be enforced.

Was there a quid pro quo stemming back to that Massachusetts rest stop and Bishop Gelineau’s closet case behavior? Ecce homo…

The rest stop story, while both smutty and sensational, unfortunately is the least putrid thing Gelineau was involved in. Sworn depositions and documentation show a long history of bad behavior towards youths dating back to the 1950’s, when it is alleged that the future Bishop attempted to drown a youth at a Vermont orphanage that wouldn’t allow the cleric to cop a feel of his crotch.

The fact Gelineau was able to retire into luxury, still living today at 91 ghoulish years old in the bosom of the Church, and has never been subject to excommunication proceedings for repeated pedophilia episodes while he and his successors dole out excommunications to those who help a woman obtain her Constitutionally-guarded right to abortion care was the reason, amongst others, that I gave up on that maniac shit-show years ago.

Roman Catholicism certainly has left its indelible mark on me. I plowed through entire gallons of booze and pounds of marijuana trying to push away the hurt and anger caused by Catholic teachings about gender, sex, and sexuality, a fiasco I am not totally done with. Critical readers perhaps note that the current scrivener has a certain way with words, which is undeniable, but that came at a price. Putting it in the shortest formulation, of course I would have time to read and learn from the volumes I was consuming as a kid, when you’re sitting on the side of the school yard because everyone has ostracized you for being a fag there’s only so much to be done with the boredom! Being physically assaulted repeatedly for being queer was informed by Catholic theology as well, which of course means I particularly loathe the Christmas season when I start having panic attacks linked to a particularly wonderful rumble during college. Would homo/transphobic family members be that way if it were not for Bishop Tobin and his fellow right wing degenerates? In the contest of nature versus nurture, I have a 50-50 take on homophobia, which I do see as being caused not solely by religion but a wider ideological nexus whose hegemony was built over centuries.

Tobin, who guards alleged pedophiles from their day in court, tells the faithful not to give money to panhandlers [4], has probably robbed two pension funds blind in the name of God only knows, and is whispered within the queer community to have a live-in lover, a priest who skirted the purging of a group of gay seminarians in the early 2000s, is the author of his own judgment. There is an added irony to this, however. His political efforts of late have been focused on preventing the Rhode Island legislature from enshrining abortion care protection as state laws, something that has yielded some successes. There’s an unpronounced irony that the anti-choice forces should consider, however. Currently the Roman Catholic Seal of Confessional is granted statutory and common law protections by clergy-penitent privilege, a legal doctrine that also protects other Christian denominations and clerics from other faith traditions. That privacy has much of the same legal heritage as the Roe v Wade decision’s extension of privacy to women seeking an abortion. In other words, though they currently find themselves at odds with pro-choice advocates, Tobin would do well to realize their efforts erode a general legal protection of privacy that they see as essential to the practice of their faith. Or, to paraphrase Niemöller, “First they came for abortion but I said nothing because I was not a doctor. Then they came for my confessional and no one was left to speak for me.”

Notes.

1) https://www.golocalprov.com/news/massive-lawsuits-lawyers-for-failed-st.-joseph-pension-fund-sue-catholic-ch

2) https://www.golocalprov.com/news/exclusive-diocese-of-providences-teachers-staff-pension-fund-faces-failure

3) https://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/rep-patrick-kennedy-bishop-thomas-tobin-asked-not-communion-moral-issues-article-1.416393

4) In March 2017 he wrote on Facebook (https://www.ncregister.com/blog/kschiffer/bishop-tobins-cautious-advice-about-panhandlers-shakes-up-the-internet):

Three Reasons Not to Give to Panhandlers

a) Throwing some loose change at a panhandler while passing by is demeaning of his or her human dignity. While it might make us feel better, in fact it sustains a very unhealthy and degrading lifestyle. Our community has legitimate and structured means of helping the poor and needy. We should support those.

b) It can be a very real safety hazard, endangering the individuals on the curb or in the street asking for help, as well as for passing motorists and pedestrians.

c) It is a practice that enables a few dishonest individuals to prey upon the compassion of others to ask for money, even when they don’t have legitimate needs.

 

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Andrew Stewart is a documentary film maker and reporter who lives outside Providence.  His film, AARON BRIGGS AND THE HMS GASPEE, about the historical role of Brown University in the slave trade, is available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video or on DVD.

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