Beliefs Culture Ethics

Bishop’s rant on summer church slobs: ‘Sacred space or airport terminal?’

A girl wearing casual summer clothes.
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, R.I., greets Sydney Khoury outside the rectory of St. Philip Church in Greenville on May 31, 2011. Photo by Rick Snizek, the Rhode Island Catholic, courtesy of Catholic News Service

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin of Providence, R.I., greets Sydney Khoury outside the rectory of St. Philip Church in Greenville on May 31, 2011. Photo by Rick Snizek, the Rhode Island Catholic, courtesy of Catholic News Service

(RNS) So are you by chance a hairy, manspreading slob? Or a woman who dresses way too young for her actual age? Or one of those “hyperactive gum-chewing kids with messy hair and dirty hands, checking their iPhones and annoying everyone within earshot or eyesight”?

Then you may want to reconsider your summertime churchgoing shtick.

Or at least check to see who is celebrating Mass if you are heading to a parish in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.

In an instantly quotable column published last week, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island took on one of the clergy’s long-standing laments and launched an impressive broadside against “the sloppy and even offensive way people dress while attending Mass” in the summertime.

It’s a memorable rhetorical outburst, even for the outspoken Tobin, and it’s one that may alternately irk, or shame, Mass-goers — as well as finding more than a few pastors nodding in agreement.

“You know what I’m talking about; you’ve seen it too,” Tobin wrote.

Warming to his task, he then went on a tear:

“Hirsute flabmeisters spreading out in the pew, wearing wrinkled, very-short shorts and garish, unbuttoned shirts; mature women with skimpy clothes that reveal way too much, slogging up the aisle accompanied by the flap-flap-flap of their flip-flops; hyperactive gum-chewing kids with messy hair and dirty hands, checking their iPhones and annoying everyone within earshot or eyesight.

“C’mon — even in the summer, a church is a church, not a beach or a pool deck,” the bishop wrote.

Freely admitting to a bit of venting, Tobin went on to wonder about all the people he has seen “coming to Mass carrying their water bottles and coffee mugs? Do they really need to be hydrated or caffeinated during that hour they’re in church? Is it a sacred space or an airport terminal?”

The bishop’s verbal facepalm continued with a disquisition on what he said was the widespread ignorance of how to properly receive Communion, including a primer on doing so reverently.

Tobin does enjoy a reputation as a conservative hard-liner in the hierarchy — he has said he is “a little disappointed” in Pope Francis for not speaking out more against abortion — and his latest column was cheered by bloggers on the right, such as the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf.

Yet Tobin admitted that he doesn’t have strong views on the usual third-rail liturgical arguments, such as whether to receive Communion in the hand or on the tongue, or kneeling or standing.

But Tobin does want a good deal more decorum from the faithful when they come to Mass this summer.

Whether that will cause any of them to become a bit self-conscious and cover up, or whether they will simply ignore Tobin and continue on as always, it’s likely that more than a few priests are saying “amen” — albeit under their breath.

LM/MG END GIBSON

About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.

51 Comments

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  • You’d better dress to show proper respect to the vast display of sanctimony, power and money of our church. It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a poorly dressed person to enter the kingdom of heaven.

  • Bishop Thomas Tobin wears a low friction thong under his robes along with a matching minimalist manbra.

  • It is always a great experience to have a priest admonish his Parishioners on the way they conduct and dress themselves for Mass. Not a soul thinks its themselves, they all nod their heads in general agreement. But it is appalling how some adults dress for Church. Most people dress better getting the paper off their lawn.
    Teens with Grateful Dead shirts or bustiers on, sports uniforms, and adults parading around just like the Bishop states. It’s sad and hysterical that people need to be told how to dress.K Mart shoppers look like fashionistas by comparison. Love this Bishop…….

  • That bit about “hirsute” men is kind of an odd detail, isn’t it?. Is chest-waxing generally recognized as a Biblical value, or is it one of those particularly Catholic things? Does the good Bishop prefer a full Brazilian?

  • I realise that some people do not dress as neatly as they could when they attend Mass, or go to any number of other venues such as good restaurants looking as though they should be rooting through the bins in back rather than eating in the front. However, it is a wonderful thing that these people, as slobby as they might be, STILL are in the pews and worshiping God. Clergy should have a good think about how they catechise people about attire at Eucharist. Otherwise, they’ll end up with a smaller congregation of those dressed for the wedding feast, while everyone else is in the outer darkness partying, rather than weeping and gnashing their teeth.

  • I agree, weakly, with you as to what constitutes proper attire at Church. If people show up in tattered, worn clothes due to their financial situation……well, that should be overlooked for perhaps they are wearing their “best”. Others, though, seriously believe that the Church should be grateful that they came……no matter what they throw on Sunday morning. Most Americans have decent clothes to attend Church…. they are just thoughtless.

  • Why would a god need people to worship it at all, or need anything else?

    Going to church at all is just foolish. The hierarchy should mandate exposed belly piercings with rings at church for both sexes. Some idiots would probably just do it.

  • I don’t disagree with that idea, Fran. I disagree with the exclusiveness of the bishop’s message, and the idea that how you dress is more important than the status of your soul.

  • Why would a god need people to worship it at all, or need anything else?

    Going to church at all is just foolish. The hierarchy should mandate visible belly piercings with rings at church for both sexes. Some Christian sheep would probably just do it.

  • Yup. Scary. And those same folk think Jeebus is gonna come save them from their fat and squalor.

  • The Bishop asks, “Is it a sacred space or an airport terminal?”

    BUT Nothing is sacred. Nothing ever was!
    ‘SACRED’ is an undeserved description handed out by A SELF-PROCLAIMED AUTHORITY.

    “SACRED” implies that some things are more important than other things simply because someone in authority said so. Importance should never be determined simply by authorities.

    “SACRED” means – “This is super special because I said so!”
    No wonder people have no respect for such claims any more.

  • The eye of the needle was the old gate entering into Jerusalem, where a camel had to be unloaded, and brought down low to its knees so to pass through. Then the camel would be re-loaded, and continue its journey. That is the parable of our Lord, in Matt 19:24, in which the rich will need to unload their earthly possessions, bend their knees and worship Christ before entering into the heavenly Jerusalem, which we call heaven, where “a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb.’ And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen!” (Rev 7). So take off those trashy clothes, and worship our Lord.

  • yeah, because that’s what Jesus said to all the poor, hungry and downtrodden. “you look like crap and I won’t minister or feed you until you get something decent on!”

  • What a low-class comment from a low-class bishop. Maybe he should try to see the heart rather than the wardrobe. It’s all about the show for these conservatives.

  • Max, you certainly have a talent for cutting to the core of the religious nonsense. (I was going to say “god-given” talent, but…well…you get it. ;^} )

  • It’s the bible itself that’s trashy, with all its stories about Christian god killing masses of people.

    Trash the bible, not what people choose to wear. A real god would not need adulation and would know what was under the clothes anyway.

    Trash that sick and violent bible. Just do it.

  • Remember that when guests show up at a wedding, funeral, or work wearing shorts over their bathing suits or see through net shirts. The bishop is speaking the truth…..dress properly. Most first graders will understand it. This is not really a religious matter….it’s a civilization matter.

  • Ditto, Ben. What is inside an individual, or their inner personality, is more important than what is on the outside! But there are also times and places for showing respect with clothing when out in the public.

  • I fully agree with the Bishop. If people would only look at themselves wherever they go. Respect for God and neighbor is reflected in your dress, speech, manners, everything you present to the world. What do you want to present to us? People used to take pride (not the wrong type!) in their appearance. Those in the military still do. And all of you commenters who are against the Bishop on this issue know perfectly well that what he is saying is true.
    And ladies: Do you know that however tall or short you are, you look more beautiful in a skirt or dress below the knees? Look at some old movies and see what the actresses are wearing. A grown woman should dress like one! And men, too!

  • A simple comment about honoring God would have been enough without his person pet peeves. I’d like to tell the old ladies to stop wearing fur coats and putrid perfume to church but we need to allow for personal difference. The bishops repel people with their haughty attitudes.

  • I hope you are just as critical of the abortionists in this country. God has the right to give life, and to take it away, as he created it (Job 1:21).

  • Yes, if students can dress up for a prom as well as they do, then they can do at least half as well for worshiping the Trinity.

  • Greg1, loved that prom picture of you in the slinky dress with your mate John! The kiss wasn’t exactly ecumenical though!

  • They also repel people such as me with their ongoing promotion of their god scam, something that merely lets them keep their otherwise unjustifiable comfy source of income.

  • He’s right that people are way to casual about church, but he’s assuming shorts and flip-flops reflect a state-of-mind. They may, but they may not. They may only be attire.

    He’s also assuming a separateness between sacred and secular. He wrote: “Is it a sacred space or an airport terminal?” He’s saying finding the sacred means avoiding real life. Rather, he should offer a spirituality that illuminates the sacredness of an airport terminal, that the faithful might see the sacred in every space and be transformed – rather than embracing avoidance by associating the sacred with running away from the reality we live in.

  • Boy, the bishops screed would be enough to turn me off of church. I can’t stand dressing up. I knuckled under until getting tenure–when I trashed my pantyhose and after which never wore a skirt again.

    Organized religion is now collapsing. The bish should be delighted that people get to mass at all–not making it harder and more unpleasant for people.

  • WHAT??? “Take off those trashy clothes, and worship our Lord.” I should go to mass naked?

  • No that “eye of the needle” explanation is pure folklore. The point of Jesus’ statement was that it’s impossible–without miraculous grace. The eye of the needle wasn’t in a gate, where it was possible with sufficient effort. It was in a needle–impossible.

  • Actually, no. There was no such reference to any gate. This is an old wives tale offered in many sermons without any historical and archeological support.

  • People don’t seem to have a problem dressing up for a black tie event. Yet there is usually no reason to dress up for them, other than someone saying that it is a black tie event. The bishop in this article, however, is referring to the Catholic Mass. That is a little different. During the Mass, heaven and earth unite during the consecration where Christ becomes physically Present (1Cor 10:16), and we all bow down and worship the Lamb of God, Jesus (Rev 5:8,14). So certainly we should be dressed up for that. If not then why not wear gym shorts and a sweat shirt to your next funeral??

  • “Mass” is just Christians doing what other blood cults of the past did previously. Just more hocus pocus, no merit to the whole ceremony at all.

    Definitely wear shorts and a sweat shirt to mass or a funeral, or wear even less. I can just picture it now, a whole congregation at church neked. If the priest said to do it, the Christian flock actually is dumb enough to do it, in fact naked mass has already happened.

  • A god scam ? No organization could possibly maintain any kind of scam for 2,000 years. What you think you have uncovered, and profess so pompously, is really a juvenile conclusion based on nothing but your hatred.

  • A blood cult? Really? How so?
    No blood of any kind is shed during a Catholic Mass. We do not worship blood or use it as an offering to God.
    During the Consecration of the wine, the wine miraculously becomes the Blood of Christ but retains the form of wine.
    So where’s the blood you’re talking about?
    Stop aping sound bytes when you post……you know nothing.

  • JR, you just admitted the blood metaphor, and you have the sacrifice scam story going on too just like the older blood cults

    So Perry’s right. Yours is a blood cult. Nothing more, and all fiction for gullible fools such as you.

    So you are the sub-ape now, speaking of aping. Bend over and take it.

  • No, actually, your 2000 year old scam is just that. It has been refined, but all it is is a successfully propagating meme. No substance to its claims at all.

    Now go get on that goat.

  • JR,

    “No organization could possibly maintain any kind of scam for 2,000 years.”

    So God Zoroaster was not a scam? According to your assertion 6000 years of believers must have proved that Zoroaster was real.

    And what about OSIRIS and ISIS? 5000 years of belief in Egyptian Gods must have been real too!

    And what about Palm Reading? It must be real too, since its origins are so ancient!

    2000 years of Jesus is just the latest myth.
    It is all nonsense. By your own admission.

  • To receive the Eucharist, is to receive the Resurrected Christ. Our souls are spiritually nourished by the Eucharist. Our bodies needs food to live, and so do our souls. If you could see the state of your soul in this life, you’d be running to the Seven Sacraments for divine help. Jesus comes to us principally in the Sacraments; that is how has chosen to communicate his Presence in this life (within the confines of his Church).

  • Greg1 your Jesus of your wicked Christian tales hasn’t done a dam thing for >2000 years and has completely rotted away by now. Your murderous, abusive, bigoted “god” of those same tales similarly has done nothing in the same time period, and actually never has existed.

  • Yes, it was a rock formation called the eye of the needle. I just added my own twist to it.

  • You know, Ahren, I went to a golf course with a tee shirt on, and they told me if I didn’t wear a collared shirt, then I could not play on their course. I said, hey, we are outside, who cares? They said we care. So I put on a collard shirt. Silly dress codes. Next thing you know they will be making you dress up for meeting Jesus. Whew!

  • I still want to know just where the blood is in the Catholic Mass….and you cannot include he consecrated wine.

  • Oh Max, Christianity’s 2000 years have been attacked by the self-anointed best minds up to the present, and no lie or scam has been exposed as to its foundation and veracity. You just say “its a lie” and assume that statement suffices as some kind of proof. The goofy examples you offer in your post are not analogous to Christianity for they are primitive cults that fall completely flat with any intelligent examination. Jesus was real, and from Him, Christianity bloomed and changed world history forever.

  • Christianity is an awful weed that chokes out reason, creativity, and freedom. It is time to weed it out.

  • Max and Terry nailed you, JR. Max especially. Christianity, including Catholicism, is just a blood cult, and a derivative of older ones.

    Zoroaster was the perfect case to cite to blow away your “argument”. Your Christian scam was not the first scam that lasted a long time. Fortunately yours is being revealed as total fraud and is finally on its way out. The Christian emperor simply has no clothes.

    You fell hard for the Christian scam. That’s your problem.

  • @JR,

    “A blood cult? Really? How so?
    No blood of any kind is shed during a Catholic Mass. We do not worship blood or use it as an offering to God.”

    WRONG!

    THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNION IS A BLOOD SACRIFICE
    “This is the cup of my Blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant; it will be shed for you and for all, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me”
    – JESUS

    Jesus is, by all accounts, a fictional character written into a book full of fictional legends – BLOOD SACRIFICE IS THE WHOLE POINT!

    “I AM THE LAMB OF GOD (BLOOD SACRIFICE) WHOSE BLOOD WILL BE SHED FOR MANY” – JESUS

    Incoherent, dangerous, primitive hogwash.

  • “They are dogs” – JESUS
    “They are swine” – JESUS

    Fortunately, it appears Jesus was likely invented as a fictional character invented to express rage at the loss of Jerusalem to the Romans.

    He raged with racist and tribal hatreds for all gentiles and most of all for those Jews of the diaspora who left Jerusalem in its hour of need. He hated the reform Jews who sought practical solutions – much as Islamic fundamentalists today are raging against modernism.

    Religion is racist, tribalist nonsense.

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