As I've written frequently, the U.S. Catholic bishops are becoming increasingly overt in their embrace of the Republican Party. For example, in the run-up to last year's presidential election, bishops in Green Bay, Wisconsin; Springfield, Illinois; and Peoria, Illinois all issued messages to Catholics in their respective dioceses that, for all intents and purposes, told them they had better vote Republican or else they'd be risking their eternal salvation. And New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan agreed to bless the Republican National Convention (although later, in an effort to appear marginally less partisan, he agreed to bless the Democratic convention as well).
But the latest example of the unholy alliance between the U.S. Catholic bishops and the GOP comes from Rhode Island, where the state's only Catholic bishop publicly announced at a recent event that disagreements over social issues like marriage equality and abortion prompted him to become a registered Republican.
Thomas Tobin, the Bishop of Providence, revealed the change in an address last week to the Rhody Young Republicans, a partisan political group. Local CBS affiliate WPRI reports:
"The a-ha moment for me was the 2012 Democratic National Convention. It was just awful," Tobin, 65, told the Rhody Young Republicans during an event at the Holy Rosary Band Society Hall in Providence. The leader of Rhode Island's roughly 621,000 Catholics said he had been a registered Democrat since 1969.
"I just said I can't be associated structurally with that group, in terms of abortion and NARAL [Pro-Choice America] and Planned Parenthood and [the] same-sex marriage agenda and cultural destruction I saw going on," Tobin said. "I just couldn't do it anymore."
And then Tobin went even further:
[Tobin] made the disclosure about his affiliation by holding up two pieces of paper - his letter from the East Providence Board of Canvassers confirming his Republican affiliation, and his baptismal certificate.
"My thesis tonight is that the two of these are related, and can be related very comfortably, and frankly if I had to choose between the two - between my party affiliation and my baptismal record - this is the one that will bring me to eternal life," Tobin said, pointing to his certificate of baptism.
Of course, the bishop quickly threw in a token "but Jesus wouldn't necessarily be partisan" type of statement, but his message was abundantly clear: in his view, the only Catholics who are living up to their baptismal promises -- and the only ones who can be sure their votes will bring them closer to "eternal life" -- are the ones who back the GOP.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that Bishop Tobin isn't entitled to his own personal political views, nor am I saying he shouldn't be free to register with the party of his choosing. But what I am saying is that Tobin's remarks are just the latest example of an alarming upsurge in blatantly partisan rhetoric coming from American Catholic leaders, who all but endorse the Republican Party despite the IRS's prohibition on political campaigning by tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations such as churches.
Mercifully, though, the bishops' partisan pleas seem to be increasingly falling on deaf ears. More Catholics identify as Democrats than as Republicans, and clear majorities disagree with the prelates' positions on marriage equality, the morality of contraception, and birth control coverage for employees of religiously-affiliated hospitals and colleges.
Still, it's important to keep calling out the bishops' partisan hackery until they either cease and desist or the IRS finds its backbone and forces churches to choose between promoting political parties or preserving their tax exemptions.
I wish I could say I thought either of those possibilities were likely to happen anytime soon.