On June 3, The Westerly Sun printed an opinion piece from Rev. David Stall. He publicly came to Bishop Tobin’s defense after the latter used Twitter to post controversial statements about the LGBTQ community.
After the Bishop’s tweet went viral, many activists and individuals (including Mia Farrow and Patricia Arquette) weighed in with their responses and the LGBTQ community throughout Rhode Island organized a protest.
Rev. Stall characterized those responses as the Bishop being “beaten up.” He said the backlash was “disrespectful and even hateful,” then reminds readers that there was a loud protest.
I am writing as a member of the LGBTQ community to say that Bishop Tobin IS welcome to say whatever he wants — this is America and we have the First Amendment.
But I also want to remind Bishop Tobin and Rev. Stall that Freedom of Speech works both ways and peaceful protest is not “disrespectful” or “hateful.”
Twitter is a major online forum where anyone can make statements and anyone can respond. The large amount of passionate responses were because this is a hot-button issue and the conservative Catholic view (which does not encompass the opinion of all Catholics) is becoming less socially acceptable as a result of our rapidly evolving culture.
Bishop Tobin was not, in any way, shape or form, being treated unfairly. Rev. Stall is not being treated unfairly. Other religious leaders who continue to preach institutionalized homophobia are not being treated unfairly when they are called out.
They are being treated the same way any person would be treated if they made statements that were increasingly becoming outdated.
It is not disrespectful to point out that Bishop Tobin’s tweet was homophobic.
It is not disrespectful to say that relying on ancient texts to encourage prejudice is wrong.
It is not disrespectful to protest peacefully.
Many of the opinions on Twitter referenced the Catholic Church’s long history of sexual abuse cases. They point out that a grand jury in Pennsylvania, where Bishop Tobin previously worked, had thousands of cases of sexual abuse recently uncovered and that his response was lackluster. (According to several news outlets, Tobin knew about incidents of sexual abuse but did not report them because it wasn’t his job.)
Perhaps these points came up repeatedly because they are fair and difficult to dismiss.
I’m using my First Amendment rights to assert that I believe it is everyone’s job to report and prevent the sexual abuse of children. I’m also using it to say Bishop Tobin’s homophobic tweet went viral for a reason and the response was valid. I’m applauding the peaceful protest that took place and thanking anyone who challenged his harmful words. And I’m calling out Rev. Stall for claiming that a peaceful protest was in any way hateful or disrespectful.
I don’t expect every response to my opinion to be positive — that’s how the First Amendment works. But I will certainly not paint myself as a victim if people respond to me passionately.