The Republican Party picked up a convert recently, WPRI reported on Tuesday evening, and one of a rather remarkable nature. Disgusted by the spectacle of the celebration of abortion at the Democratic National Convention in 2012 and the recent passage of same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, the leader of Catholic Church in the state has changed his political affiliation from Democrat to Republican — and isn’t too shy to explain why (via CNS News):
“The a-ha moment for me was the 2012 Democratic National Convention – it was just awful,” said Tobin on Tuesday before a meeting of the Rhody Young Republicans in Providence. Tobin is 65 and has been a registered Democrat since 1969.
“I just said I can’t be associated structurally with that group, in terms of abortion and NARAL and Planned Parenthood and [the] same-sex marriage agenda and cultural destruction I saw going on,” said Tobin, as first reported by Ted Nesi at WPRI.com. “I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
“I’ve changed my party registration now, but the fact is that the registration itself doesn’t mean a whole lot to me,” said Tobin.
He scolded fellow Catholics in politics for the same-sex marriage vote. However, Tobin won’t impose ecclesiastic penalties for the differences that arose:
Tobin reiterated his disappointment that Rhode Island legalized same-sex marriage, describing it as “a failure” on the part of him personally and the Catholic Church statewide. “I was profoundly disappointed that some of our Catholics who were trained to be faithful and well-educated Catholics … abandoned the ship on this issue,” the bishop said. “We needed them.”
“Ultimately, their judgment will be up to God,” Tobin said. Asked if he was still in dialogue with them, the bishop said: “Not anymore.”
Yet Tobin shied away when state Rep. Doreen Costa, R-North Kingstown, and others in the audience suggested he should look for ways to punish Catholic politicians who take votes that contradict church doctrine, saying his options were limited. “It’s a complex world and a complex church,” Tobin said, adding that on other issues some of those same lawmakers “are very good and very supportive.”
Of course, we’ve been down this road before on the growing distance between the Catholic Church and the Democratic Party. My Townhall colleague Daniel Doherty wonders how any Catholic could remain a Democrat, let alone a bishop:
This must have been a long time coming, no? How a Catholic priest could ever support a president, let alone a political party, that increasingly supports abortion-on-demand is beyond me …
Of course this is not to say that every self-professed Catholic is pro-life or supports traditional marriage. Many do not. But the truth is that the Democratic Party has shifted so far to the Left in recent years on the issue of abortion that pro-life Democrats are harder to come by. There’s simply no room for Bishop Tobin (or any Catholic leader or lay person) in the Democratic Party who is fully committed to defending the unborn. The Eunice Kennedys of the world are a dying breed. And Catholic leaders, it seems, are finally starting to realize this.
No doubt many Catholic Republicans feel exactly the same way. I tend to agree, but it’s a little more nuanced than that for many Catholics, as I wrote last year. While for many of us, the question of abortion is so fundamental that it overrides all other concerns for active charity, for others it’s a question of balance:
Some of our readers express surprise that faithful Catholics can ever be Democrats in the first place. Conservatives — especially pro-life conservatives — focus on Democratic Party support for abortion and declare the party anathema, and I have a lot of sympathy for that position, quite obviously. The heart of the Catholic mission is the dignity and sacredness of human life as a reflection of our creator God, a dignity and sacredness that begins at conception, a consistent teaching of the Catholic Church for two thousand years. It’s the very basis of our teachings on social justice; without that acknowledgment of dignity granted by God, social justice becomes a hobby rather than a calling, and humanity is reduced to utilitarianism. Why bother spending public and private money on the poor and infirm if they could have been discarded with no consequences at the earliest stages of their lives?
However, while Republicans and conservatives embrace the pro-life part of the equation, they tend to run away from the social-justice mission that must necessarily follow from that pro-life embrace. In fact, the very term social justice inevitably creates hostility, in part because some confuse it with liberation theology, a philosophy that the Catholic Church has rejected, including our present Pope Benedict XVI, who decried much of it as a “Marxist myth” while still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Social justice is nothing more or less than the mission to which Jesus Christ called his church — the care of the poor, the infirm, the imprisoned, and the hopeless. It is a call to Christians of all denominations to ensure that we share our blessings with those less fortunate and find ways to lift them out of their misery, as brothers and sisters under God, conceived in the same dignity and sacredness as were we all. …
In fact, try reading the position papers at the USCCB website to see how some liberal Catholics might rightly ask how Catholics can be conservatives, especially on immigration policy, health care, the death penalty, economic justice and safety-net spending, and so on. However, a thorough reading of these positions offers lessons to Catholics across the political spectrum. The bishops do not make these doctrinal positions, but instead offer their considered (and very nuanced) approach to these issues that relate to the church’s social-justice mission, with plenty of acknowledgment of well-intentioned disagreement on how best to achieve success in these and many other areas. That is why bishops and pastors wisely treat these subjects with a great deal of respect for diversity of opinion in the parishes themselves, and rarely if ever lecture on these positions from the pulpit or insinuate that disagreement separates parishioners from the church or Eucharist.
I’d argue that support for abortion is one of those few issues that actually does separate Catholics from the Eucharist, as defined by the catechism, which is careful to condition that separation on the form that support takes. But many liberal Catholics oppose abortion while finding the GOP’s focus on reduced government to be the same as abandonment of the poor and disadvantaged (an impression which Republican candidates tend to exacerbate with their rhetoric), which is why those Catholics tend to vote Democratic. I disagree with that choice, but understand it in the context of the faith. Bishop Tobin was apparently among them until very recently, and even in his affiliation change announcement stated that his unofficial affiliation changes depending on the issue involved. As The Anchoress put it (and carried by Catholic Canada) in reaction to my June 2012 post:
A point I frequently try to make, around here, is that Catholicism is too large, too wide, too nuanced, too small-c-catholic to permit ideological purity. Catholic politicians or ideologues who manage such “purity” have always had to betray a tenet of Catholicism to get to that place.
Our faith does not fit neatly into ideological paradigms. At some point, though, one has to act publicly to express a danger in political and cultural direction. I would not be at all surprised if more Catholics reached that conclusion after the Democratic National Convention last year, either. Bishop Tobin has made a wise choice to act and speak as a shepherd for his diocese.
Update: The Catholic Canada post originated with The Anchoress; I’ve updated it accordingly.