Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Odd Silence of the Catholic Church

John Algernon Domin
The Catholic Diocese of Providence, under the guidance of Bishop Thomas Tobin, is not afraid to voice its opinion about a wide range of topics. The church or the bishop has stated its position on everything from marriage equality and women's reproductive rights to issues as trivial as the holiday/Christmas tree non-controversy and the cross on public land in Woonsocket. The Bishop went on the John DePetro Show to call President Obama's thoughts concerning gay marriage "creepy and disturbing" and to call the entire RI Congressional Delegation "immoral."

Given this record of impassioned moral outrage at issues great and small, why is the church silent on the issue of Domin Avenue in Smithfield, Rhode Island? Domin Avenue, for those new to the story, is named for John Algernon Domin, the Exalted Cyclops of the RI Ku Klux Klan in 1928. Domin was not just some rank and file member of the terrorist organization, he was a leader and spokesman and owned the property where rallies were held and crosses were burned. Under his leadership the Klan attempted to take over 3 armed militias of the National Guard, in expectation of a coming war between Protestants and Catholics.

You see, back then there weren't so many black people living in Rhode Island, so the Klan vented its hatred on Catholics and immigrants (Not that it neglected the few black people it could find. The Klan was held responsible for "torching an African American school in Scituate, Rhode Island.") At this point in history the Irish and the Italians and other immigrants were mostly Catholic and just like today, immigrants bear the brunt of the blame for whatever ills the society faces.

Retired Colonel Roger Schenck, the man responsible for discovering the Domin Ave connection to the KKK, wondered why Bishop Tobin and the Providence Diocese, known for its outspoken opinion on a wide range of subjects, (Tobin recently weighed in on the replacement refs in the NFL, for instance) would remain silent on the issue of a street named for an anti-Catholic terrorist hate monger. He wrote a letter to the Bishop and received a short, non-specific reply from the Diocese Director of Communication Michael K. Guilfoyle:
Thank you for writing to Bishop Tobin relative to the matter before the Town Council in Smithfield, Rhode Island. As you know, this particular issue has received a great deal of attention before Smithfield residents and the Town Council. I understand that those on both sides of the matter relative to changing the name of the street in question have stated their concerns before the Council.
Puzzled by the non-response response he received, Schenck wrote:
Thanks for your email. I assume by your answer that the Diocese does not intend to take a stand to support changing the name of a street memorializing John Algernon Domin who headed an evil organization that focused much of its hate against Catholics. The Diocese should be leading the charge to change the name but instead has chosen to remain neutral. I wonder who the Diocese is trying not to offend.
If possible the response from Guilfoyle was even more curt:
Mr. Schenck – Thank you for your reply.  Please know that the diocese does not condone the actions of such organizations.  We are monitoring the matter.
Colonel Schenck's final email to the Providence Diocese reveals frustration and puzzlement. I will let the Colonel have the last word on the matter:
I don't get it.  The Catholic Church takes a firm stance on many issues, some of which are very controversial, including abortion, contraception, homosexuality, gay marriage, euthanasia, and the death penalty, but the diocese will not take a stance against the name of a street memorializing Ku Klux Klan Grand Cyclops John Algernon Domin who led an evil organization that focused much of its hatred against Rhode Island's Catholics.  The Diocese may not condone the actions of such organizations, but remaining silent in this instance, as the Diocese has chosen to do, says the diocese is ambivalent, complacent or just does not care if the Domin Avenue name changes or remains.  You say you are monitoring the matter.  That may sound good to some people, but what good will it do?  It will not matter how many people you have monitoring the matter as it works its way to the town council meeting, if, at that meeting, the council votes to retain the Domin Avenue name.  It will be too late at that point to do anything, but I suppose Rhode Island Catholics will have some consolation in knowing that the diocese monitored the matter.

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