US Catholic Faith in Real Life

How would U.S. bishops fare under a papal performance review?

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Anyone who has ever held a job has probably had to endure some type of employee evaluation. You know the drill—the boss goes over your progress, lists your flaws, tells you what you need to improve upon. Most workplaces today have some sort of formal review process, and some of us even have the fun of not only being reviewed but reviewing other employees as well.

Reading a column in today’s Boston Globe by Kevin Cullen got me thinking about how some U.S. bishops would do if they had to sit down with Pope Francis for an annual performance evaluation. Specifically, Cullen writes about Providence, Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin, who continues to make abortion and gay marriage the primary focus of the church despite Francis’ call for the church to embrace the fullness of its teaching rather than to focus only on a few issues. As Cullen puts it:

“Tobin’s obsession with judging people narrowly, almost exclusively on whom they fall in love with and whether they support abortion rights, is exactly what the pope has been trying to get away from. The pope hasn’t and won’t change Catholic teaching on these matters…The pope knows his church is a lot bigger than a couple of hot-button issues, that compassion goes a lot farther than condemnation.”

Cullen also takes Tobin to task for asking a judge to show mercy on Joe Caramadre, who was convicted for his role in a $46 million investment fraud that preyed upon the terminally ill—a scam that Caramadre furthered through his ads in the local diocesan newspaper. Surely Tobin’s act of compassion in this particular case has nothing to do with Caramadre being a big church donor, and he'd show the same compassion to the poor who can't make major financial contributions to the diocese. (If he wants to get high marks from Francis, he'd do even more for the poor than he would for a wealthy donor--that's clearly one of the primary categories on Francis' review questionnaire.)

Tobin has gotten some critical press before, for things like his association with the Young Republicans and his outright criticism of Pope Francis for not speaking enough about abortion. Granted, I do not live in his diocese and I don’t know him personally, and I don’t intend to suggest that he wouldn’t have areas on his evaluation that would receive high marks. But at least in the press, Tobin seems to have garnered the same negative reputation that many American lay Catholics have attributed to their bishops—being more partisan than pastoral, and being too narrow in their vision of how we can live out the gospel.

If those bishops had to sit down for a review with their boss, I wonder what Pope Francis would have to say.