Bishop Tobin defends right to weigh in on politics | Audio

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Often criticized for bringing his voice into the political arena, Diocese of Providence Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin says he is compelled by his faith to speak on issues of morality. And that, he said, is in line with the teachings of Pope Francis, who regularly addresses hot-button topics.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Often criticized for bringing his voice into the political arena, Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas J. Tobin on Tuesday defended that practice, saying he is compelled by his faith to speak on issues of morality. And that, he said, is in line with the teachings of Pope Francis, who regularly addresses hot-button topics.

His comments do not always win him support from liberals — or conservatives — the bishop said in a wide-ranging interview with The Providence Journal Editorial Board. The response depends, he said, on the topic in question, with the church’s strong support for refugees drawing critics, and its support for pro-life causes also evoking protest.

“I’ve often thought it’s funny if I’m speaking about whatever — immigration, gun control — conservatives will say, ‘Stay out of it, it’s not your business,’” the bishop said. “If I’m talking about abortion or same-sex marriage, the liberals will say, ‘Stay out of it.’ So sometimes I’m accused of being too conservative, and sometimes I’m accused of being a raging liberal. What we try and do is take the Gospel, the basis of our faith, and apply it to the issues of the day.”

Asked about the argument by some that clerics should avoid politics, the bishop said he and other religious leaders have an obligation to weigh in.

“If you want moral, ethical, spiritual, religious input on something, I don’t expect necessarily the unions to do it or the political leaders or the corporate world,” Bishop Tobin said. “That’s our job. Now, some people will like it, some people won’t like it; some will agree, some will not. I think we have not just a right but the need to be involved in these public conversations.”

The bishop has found a new means of involvement. In February, he opened a Twitter account, which in two months, as of mid-afternoon Tuesday, had grown to 1,309 followers. Unlike his Facebook account, which is managed by someone in his office, Bishop Tobin posts on his own to @bishoptjt

I do it,” he said, laughing. “That’s why everybody is…

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