To: His Excellency Thomas J. Tobin, Bishop of Providence, RI
Dear Bishop Tobin,
These lines are in response to your tweet of Thursday, July 19th, 2018. I’m afraid I have rather more to say than the 280-character platform will comfortably allow. You will recall that you said:
Despite the egregious offenses of a few, and despite the faults and sins we all have, I’m very proud of my brother bishops and I admire and applaud the great work they do every day for Christ and His Church.
I assume that the “few” to whom you refer are the Catholic bishops who abuse people sexually, and those who enable such clerics’ abusive behavior by winking and connivance if not active coverup.
To be frank, whether those men are a “few” in any defensible sense of the term is at this point doubtful, but that is not what I would like to discuss. Here, I am concerned to address a different elephant in the sanctuary.
You have all failed us.
You, personally, and all your brother bishops have failed Christ’s faithful. You have failed our children. You have failed our clergy. You have failed the people searching for the Lord, who have a right to the Gospel and therefore a right to the Church as Christ intends her to be, rather than as you have made her; you have failed us all.
I hope you are not one of the “few”, who knew something and yet did nothing – but candor compels me to tell you that, for the present purposes, I do not care.
Your duty as a bishop is to know, and to act.
It says so right in the name of the office you hold: episkopos. You episkopoi are the curators, the guardians, the superintendents – in a word, the overseers – of the Church.
Seeing that justice is done by way of transparent and reliable criminal procedure whenever a credible accusation is lodged, while indispensably necessary and imprescindible, is only a small part of the seeing for which Christ instituted your office. Before that, it is your duty to see that the Christian faithful of every age and state of life in the Church are safe from every possible bodily, psychological, and spiritual harm. If you bishops cannot do that, you cannot hope to help us grow in the holiness to which Our Lord calls us, and for which he has placed us in your charge. It simply will not do for you to tell us that you did not see, hence that you did not know, what was before you.
If it were not an insult to our intelligence, it would still be gravely unsatisfactory.
It is your duty to see that your brethren in the episcopacy and the clergy in your charge live morally upright and orderly lives. Ideally, you would see that yourself and all of them live lives of exemplary virtue. At a bare minimum, you must see to it that the children and young people everywhere are safe, and that vulnerable people are protected; that no seminary should become or continue to be a farm for perversion, nor any chancery or chapter a hotbed of corruption and disorder – for, so long as they are, parishes and schools and oratories cannot fail to become playgrounds for perverts. I say again: it is your duty to see, and to act – even to see and to denounce your brother bishops’ failures and misdeeds and miscarriages of duty when and where you do see them.
Just this Sunday, we heard Our Lord tell words of stark warning to the shepherds of His people:
Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD.
Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds.
We need leaders who will not mislead us and scatter us. We cry out for shepherds who will shepherd us, so that we need no longer fear and tremble.
There is something else, Bishop Tobin, which I feel I must say to you: I do not doubt for one second that Our Lord will in His own good time send us good shepherds, who shall do what is just and right. The only question I have for you, Your Excellency, is this: what kind of shepherds will you and your lot try to be in the time the Lord has appointed you to watch over His flock?
You will not see the end of the ruin to lives and souls that you have wrought – not if you live to see a hundred years – but if you open your eyes and act now, you may be in time to arrest the destruction. You may even be in time to take such steps, as may begin to repair the damage.
I believe I speak for many of our brothers and sisters in Christ, when I say that we will not fail to support any shepherd who proves his willingness to toil and to suffer in this cause for our sake and Our Lord’s.
Nevertheless, our patience with those of you, who do not see, is at an end.
Yours in Christ Our Lord,
Christopher R. Altieri
(Opinions expressed in articles for Catholic World Report are the authors’ alone, and do not necessarily represent the positions of other contributors or of Ignatius Press.)