Bishop Tobin on Inactive Catholics

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, has written a Christmas letter to inactive Catholics. According to him, I am one–and so are you, if you were ever Catholic. He doesn’t acknowledge the existence of “former Catholics.”

I decided against “fallen-away Catholic” for it suggests someone falling off a fence or out of a tree. The image isn’t helpful.

And there’s really no such thing as a “former Catholic.” If you were baptized a Catholic, you’re a Catholic for life – even if you haven’t been to Mass for years, even if you’ve renounced the title and joined another Church. Your baptism infused your soul with Catholic DNA – it defines who and what you are.

Thus, I’ve chosen the title, “inactive Catholic,” because even though you haven’t been “active” in the Catholic community for awhile, especially by attending Sunday Mass, receiving the sacraments and otherwise participating in the life of the Church, you’re still a Catholic. Sorry . . . you’re stuck with us!

That’s a very good, pastoral start to the letter.

But, alas, he says, “f you left the Church because you disagree with the fundamental teachings of the Church I’m afraid there’s not much I can do to help you.” By that he means he can’t change the teachings of the church–but he hopes that you’ll restudy the issues to see if you understood things correctly.

But there is some arrogance in the rest of the letter. He assumes that others who left wanted the mass to be about them, or were focused on humans, or were spiritually lazy.

So, a nice start … but as a whole … falls flat.

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