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For Bishop Tobin of Providence

Apparently, he just switched party affiliations from Democrat to Republican. I think most people from RI thought he already was a Republican!

But the news provides me with a nice opportunity to link to a very cute little video about my home state, based upon a song from the 1948 musical review "Inside U.S.A." by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz. (HT: Barbara Fick)

About the Author

Cathleen Kaveny is the Darald and Juliet Libby Professor in the Theology Department and Law School at Boston College.



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Cathleen, you have a very nice singing voice :-)

The interview with Tobin is pretty interesting.  It sort of humanizes him.  I agreed with the majority of his comments.  And he's not off-base in his characterization of the 2012 Democratic convention.

 I don't know that a bishop's political registration is anybody's business but his own. In fact, if he is going to lead Democrats, Republicans and independents, it is probably better if no one knows it.

When I didn't know Bishop Tobin was a registerd Democrat, I assumed he wasn't happy with the D's platform on abortion and same-sex marriage. Now that he has made it loudly known that he is a Republican, am I to assume he is cool with the R's 40 votes in the House against the Affordable Care Act, the House Republicans' efforts to defund SNAP and his party's opposition to "amnesty for illegals"? If I shouldn't assume that, why not? If I do assume that, why should I look to him for political leadership on any issues?

It wasn't clear why he registered as a Republican rather than unaffiliated/independent. Being unhappy with the actions of one party isn't a reason to register for the other. Furthremore, if I were in a position like that, I'd probably not affiliate with a party. Picking sides makes it harder to speak against those who are part of one's team.

If by school choice he means vouchers for private schools, I'm a bit surprised that it's on a list of Catholic issues. Catholics believe that society should provide for the education of children, but I'm not aware that how it goes about it matters as long as it is effective. Lobbying for vouchers looks like trying to get more money for the Catholic school system than promoting the common good.

Military officers have the decent and long tradition to not register as party members.. bishops should take note.

He should have joined the Pirate Party. Intellectual property reform, net neutrality, privacy rights and open government are things we can all get behind.

I'm not surprised.  What would surprise me is if a bishop came out as a registered Democrat!  Now that would be news.

This guy Tobin allowed himself to be snuckered in a discussion with Chris Matthews about abortion a few years back.  All Tobin had was a lame response of something along the lines of "that's for the politicians to decide" when Matthews pointedly asked him, "If abortion is murder, as you say, then on whom to you impose capital punishment, the woman or the doctor?"  

How could a bishop be so clueless as to go on a political talk show and not anticipate the most salient argument of the pro-choice crowd?

Providence does have its charms. A somewhat lighthearted place, I've always thought, a town that takes itself sometimes less than seriously. Who can forget the year that the whole city was populated with huge potato-head statues mocking well-known local figures? Downtown, they seemed to be everywhere.  I think Providence College declined to have a Friar one, but the Episcopal Bishop went with the flow and allowed a goofy-looking potato-head with mitre and staff to be set up outside his headquarters.  And how about a city that turns out night after night every summer to engage in fire-watching in the local Providence water-park :



Mr. Thomas Tobin, in his capacity as a citizen, is entirely free to vote as he wishes, and to express his opinions in accord with our free-speech rights. In his private capacity he may align himself in partisan politics, if he wishes to do.  One person, one vote: it is all good.

The Most Reverend Mr. Thomas Tobin, in his capacity as bishop, may (must, I suppose) teach in matters of faith and morals to those over whom he has authority.  

His authority within his church, however, implies no standing superior to that of any other citizen in general discussions of politics. His remarks in the interview, and in fact the editorial decision to cover the story at all, seem to me to cross the boundary set out by Jefferson (largely following Milton, really), in the Preamble to the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, that “truth is great and will prevail if left to herself.”  This is the intellectual heart of the relationship between Church and State in the US, the basis for protection of religious liberty.  

The Church (and not at all only the Roman Catholic Church), of course, does not recognize the authority of the Enlightenment over the lives and minds of persons.   Nor does it see the strains that its conflict with these ideas sets up in American life. 

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