Bishop in final act before stepping down, deletes Twitter account

Bishop Richard G. Henning succeeds Thomas Tobin as the 9th Bishop of Providence

By: - May 1, 2023 12:45 pm

Left, The Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, officially retired as the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Providence this morning. At right is his successor, The Most Rev. Richard G. Henning. (Photos courtesy of Diocese of Providence)

PROVIDENCE — Bishop Thomas Tobin pulled a few punches on Twitter during the 18 years he led the Diocese of Providence. His last hit before his retirement became official Monday morning was the delete button.   

“With my retirement from office, I will be leaving Twitter now,” he tweeted as he bid goodbye to his 17,200 followers.

Tobin, 75, is succeeded by Bishop Richard G. Henning, who had been appointed by Pope Francis as coadjutor bishop of Providence this past November. Henning, 58,  is now the ninth bishop in the 151-year history of the diocese. Henning had previously been auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in New York.

Henning, unlike his predecessor, does not have an active social media presence and has no intentions to join the platform any time soon, said Diocese spokesperson Michael Kieloch.

“I guess we’ll see how he continues to reach people,” he said. “It could be through the diocese on social media or through other developments.”

Diocesan bishops are required to submit a letter of resignation upon reaching the age of 75 but can stay in office at the discretion of Pope Francis. Tobin presented his letter of resignation after turning 75 on April 1.

It was actually the second time Tobin quit the social media platform. In 2018, he deleted his account, calling it a “major distraction” and an “occasion of sin” for himself after some tweets of a political nature caused a stir. He returned to Twitter with a new account the following January.

With my retirement from office, I will be leaving Twitter now.

– Retired Bishop Thomas Tobin, Diocese of Providence

Mostly, Tobin’s posts have been messages of hope and inspiration or calls for calm and prayers after distressing events or solemn observances. 

“Very distressed and sorry to hear of the terrible school shooting in Nashville,” he tweeted after a mass shooting in the Tennessee capital city on March 27. “May God grant eternal peace to those who have died, and gentle consolation to all who mourn their loss. And may our Nation find a way to end this plague of violence.” 

On Feb. 19, Tobin observed the 20th anniversary of Station Nightclub fire: “Today I stopped to visit the Station Fire Memorial Park, where 20 years ago 100 lives were lost in a tragic fire. I thought of and prayed for those who died, those who were injured, and their families and friends who co

But his unapologetic stance opposing abortion and same-sex marriage generated outrage on several occasions.

Last year, Tobin took to Twitter to criticize North Kingstown-based Allie’s Donuts over its collection of donations to Planned Parenthood, something the bishop called “an unfortunate decision.”

“Catholics, and others concerned about protecting human life, might want to buy their donuts elsewhere,” he wrote.

In 2019, he tweeted that Catholics should not support or attend Pride Month events because they “promote a culture and encourage activities that are contrary to Catholic faith and morals” and are “especially harmful to children.” 

Most recently, on April 17, Tobin tweeted that Gov. Dan McKee’s support of women having bodily autonomy was “irrational” and “completely eviscerates his commitment to gun control.”

“Either you respect and protect human life or you don’t,” he said. “And the life of a child in the womb is just as important as any other life.”

Other social media notables

A growing number of bishops have also taken their messages to social media in recent years, said Greg Erlandson, the former head of the Catholic News Service, an international wire service that was based in Washington, D.C. 

He cited Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, whose Twitter handle is Amigo di Frodo, who comments on a wide range of topics in English and Spanish; and Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester in Southern Minnesota whose YouTube channel has 631,000 subscribers.

“In general, many of the accounts I see tend toward the spiritual and inspirational,” Erlandson said. “There is not necessarily an engagement with followers, nor are they overly political.”

But Erlandson said Tobin is not alone in his outspoken views. Three Texas Catholic leaders — Bishop Joseph E. Strickland of Tyler, Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, and Archbishop Gustavo Garcia-Siller of San Antonio — all are known for their political posts. Strickland is known as a conservative voice while Seitz has been a strong liberal voice on border and immigrant issues and the liberal Garcia-Siller has been outspoken both on migration and on gun violence.

In his retirement statement, Tobin apologized for “when some individuals were offended by my words and deeds.”

“It can be very difficult to preach the Gospel of Christ, and to carry on the mission of the church in the world today, but that’s what we are called to do,” he said.


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Christopher Shea
Christopher Shea

Christopher Shea covers politics, the criminal justice system and transportation for the Rhode Island Current.