Tobin’s “Independent” Institute: Heresy On Tap
By Mary Ann Kreitzer
In May 2005 when former priest Bill Tobin began visiting pastors to solicit support for a new teaching institute in Arlington, he carried a letter from St. Anthony pastor Fr. Tuck Grinnell promoting the project. Tobin, who organized the Lenten Grinnell Lecture Series at St. Anthony’s, had a history of promoting dissent. Now he had a new and bigger plan. Fr. Grinnell described it as a “regional approach to adult faith formation.” Tobin asked the pastors for seed money and a commitment to let his Continuing Christian Development Institute (CCDI), meet in their parishes. Fr. Grinnell’s letter included a list of initial and future speakers, many of whom publicly dissent from Church teaching.
Not all priests approached were happy at the prospect of the potential scandal. Some apparently voiced their objections to Fr. Paul deLadurantaye, Director of Catechetics. He sent out a “Dear Father” letter on June 28th stating the diocese’s position. He wrote: “Recently, Mr. William J. Tobin presented me with a proposed adult formation program… aimed at setting up evening courses for adults, eventually leading to the granting of a certificate in adult faith formation….[I]n his discussions with our pastors, he mentions to them that I have given a ‘nihil obstat’ for his project….I have not….In fact, I decline to do so…. Furthermore, I have consulted with Bishop Loverde.… I am now writing to you in the bishop’s name to let you know that Mr. Tobin’s project is simply a private initiative on his part. Mr. Tobin does not have the endorsement or sponsorship of the Diocese of Arlington…and any promotional literature he might generate is not to carry the words, ‘Sponsored by parish communities of the Diocese of Arlington.’ Additionally, Bishop Loverde does not give permission for Mr. Tobin to approach pastors for solicitation of parish funds, and he wanted me to let you know that parish funds are not to be used for Mr. Tobin’s proposed initiative.”
This welcome letter seemed to indicate that the diocese would not support CCDI or give any impression that they would do so. Unfortunately, within a few weeks the group was advertising their fall offerings in the Arlington Herald and, except for the Dominican Retreat House, all classes were scheduled to meet on diocesan property.
From the very beginning Les Femmes was concerned that Catholics would be misled into believing the diocese supported the Institute and its dissenters. In a telephone conversation with Fr. deLadurantaye on July 12, 2005 I expressed my alarm over CCDI advertising in the diocesan paper and using parish facilities. “Don’t you think,” I asked Father, “the average person in the pew who sees this taking place in a parish and being advertised in the Arlington Herald will believe it is supported by the bishop?” He agreed that was “probably true.”
And there was good reason for concern. Dr. Anthony Tambasco, a regular CCDI instructor, holds numerous heretical positions which he’s never recanted. Heresy is the “obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2089) For Tambasco the denial is broad and deep. According to eminent Catholic scholar James Likoudis, Tambasco’s book, What Are They Saying about Mary (Paulist Press), and his video course, In the Time of Jesus, are filled with heresies. These include: 1) The Gospels are not historically accurate; 2) The historicity of the virginal conception of Jesus is “an open question”; 3) Mary’s perpetual virginity may be only a “theological symbol”; 4) The Evangelists fabricated Jesus’ miracles; 5) The “Church community” invented Jesus’ prophecies after he died; 6) The Cruci-fixion was unnecessary; 7) Jesus did not know He was God until after His death and resurrection; 8) Peter never acknowledged Jesus as God; 9) The resurrection was probably not a physical one; and 10) Thomas never put his hand into Jesus’ side. Tambasco also writes, “It would not destroy my faith, if a theologian proved that [Jesus’] body rotted in the grave.” So much for St. Paul’s admonition: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is void of content and your faith is empty too.” (1 Cor. 15: 14) For Tambasco to teach Catholics about the faith is like the KKK teaching about respect and tolerance. If Anthony Tambasco is the most blatant among CCDI professors, he isn’t the only problem. Fr. Berard Marthaler, one of the original dissenters from Humanae Vitae, is another. A primary architect of the “New Catechetics,” Marthaler helped destroy the faith of two generations of Catholics. New Catechetics downplayed doctrine, debunked memorization, threw out catechisms, and emphasized experiential learning and the horizontal aspects of faith, i.e., relationship with the community. An example of this flawed method was to teach children about the Eucharist by baking bread, teaching Baptism by embroidering the white garment, and teaching Confir-mation by pasting up collages of faith in action. Teaching doctrine was ridiculed as book learning and the vertical aspects of faith stressing the individual’s relationship to God were ignored. It was the modernist Catholic’s version of “It takes a village to raise a child.” Results were predictably disastrous. Survey after survey showed young Catholics didn’t know even the basics of the faith and older Catholics no longer knew what they must believe.
In 1997 the bishops released a report on the state of catechesis. The committee, headed by Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, OSB, reported ten areas the bishops found “appallingly” deficient in all textbooks being used in schools and catechetical programs. They included teachings on the Trinity, grace, original sin, sin in general, the sacraments, the divinity of Christ and his centrality in salvation history, etc. The bishops also criticized a corresponding over-emphasis on human action, exactly what the New Catechetics stressed.
Marthaler, who edited the bishops’ catechetical journal Living Light for over thirty years can take major credit for the devastation. Villanova Professor Fayette Veverka describes him as the “single most influential religious educator shaping ‘official’ religious education policies and practices in the post Vatican II Church.” In view of the collapse of belief that’s a strong indictment.
That Marthaler has no regrets about his part in destroying the faith is clear from his attempt to prevent the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Msgr. Michael Wrenn and Kenneth Whitehead discuss this in their book, Flawed Expectations. Among other things, they discuss Marthaler’s contribution to the Universal Catechism Reader, a work they describe as an “open and savage assault” on the draft Catechism. Marthaler did everything he could to prevent publication of the Catechism and, failing that, attempted to undermine its acceptance. Wrenn and Whitehead also discuss Marthaler’s role as editor of Living Light, saying “acceptance of dissent and dissenters in the Church as natural and normal…seems to be standard fare in this ‘official’ catechetical journal,” (p. 245) which happily ceased publication in 2004.
Another CCDI professor, Dr. Joseph Jensen, also lectures for Education in Parish Service (EPS), a program to prepare laity to work in the Church. Jensen’s class on the Old Testament was instrumental in driving one orthodox student out of EPS. Kimberly Hartke, a convert to Catholicism, first contacted me after leaving EPS in 2002. Hartke says she wasn’t the only one who left because of “unorthodox ideas being promoted under the guise of equipping adults for parish service.” At the time, Dr. Tobin was Program Director for the Virginia branch of EPS which met at St. Thomas a Becket in Reston.
In a recent heartfelt e-mail Hartke wrote, “At the opening session [of EPS] Dr. Tobin boasted about being told that he had ‘destroyed religious education in America,’ as though it were a compliment….. Biblical Scholar Joe Jensen deconstructed the Genesis account of Adam and Eve's creation, calling it mythology, and then proceeded to re-cast it into an egalitarian, feminist version, where God created humans first, which somehow morphed into male and female later. It sounded to me a lot less like Biblical Scholarship and a lot more like he was parroting the party line he was taught by a radical feminist. A liturgy expert taught that the spirit of God was found in our fellow parishioners, deemphasizing Catholic belief in the Real Presence in the Eucharist.”
Hartke took action. “At the time of my decision to leave, I confronted Dr. Tobin. I told him I did not believe his teachers were faithful to the magisterium, and asked him point blank if his instructors were dissenters from Humanae Vitae, to which he responded, ‘I don't know.’ Is it not irresponsible for an organization training religious educators and church volunteers, not to vet the instructors? I suspect he did indeed know. Two years later, I find Tobin has one of the leaders of the dissent against Humanae Vitae, Dr. Berard Marthaler, scheduled for an eight-week course in my parish.”
In summary Hartke concluded, “My overall impression of Dr. Tobin is that he is making a pretense of instructing Catholics in the faith. But it is easy to detect his activist agenda, I believe he knows full well he is trying to ‘reform the church’ by promoting dissent from within. By casting doubt and error on the fundamentals of the faith, and encouraging his students to volunteer for parish service after being schooled in such a manner, I fear he hopes to undermine the traditional understanding of our faith.
Please warn your readers about these programs and ask them to contact the Bishop and their parish priests.” In view of Dr. Tobin’s continuous support of dissenters, it’s hard to argue with Hartke’s assessment of the situation. Under Canon Law, the bishop as chief “pastor of souls” for his diocese has a “proper and serious duty…to provide for the catechesis of the Christian people… through formation in doctrine.” (Can. 773) Pope
John Paul II in his Pastoral Exhortation Catechesis in our Time called for “integrity of content” in catechetics, say-ing a “disciple of Christ has the right to receive ‘the word of faith’ not in mutilated, falsified or diminished form but whole and entire.” The pope went on to say that “unfaith-fulness” in protecting the “integrity of the message” would cause a “dangerous weakening” of catechesis.
Recognizing the seriousness of these issues and respecting the bishop’s primacy in defending the faith, Les Femmes began regular correspondence with the chancery about CCDI beginning in August of 2005. In December we provided the bishop documentation on Anthony Tambasco which the chancellor forwarded to Dr. Tobin. asking him “to reply directly” to us with a copy to the chancellor. We received nothing. Three more letters and replies from the chancellor in February, June and July made it perfectly clear that the diocese had washed its hands of responsibility because CCDI was a “private initiative.” Meanwhile, this “private initiative” was advertising its courses claiming they were all “approved by the Diocese of Arlington for in-service requirements.” (April 2006) This language changed slightly over the months and now reads “CCDI courses may be submitted towards Diocesan Catechist Certificate requirements.” In a telephone conversation with Fr. deLadurantaye on October 31 I asked how the Office of Catechetics screens submissions. Is there a list of approved/dispproved courses? “No.” How would a course be disapproved? “Some things would raise red flags.” Would the Office of Catechetics approve courses by Dr. Tambasco? “Knowing something of his history I’d be disinclined to count that toward certification. [The course] would have to be reviewed very carefully before being accepted.” As for the ads and articles in The Herald, editor Mike Flach says they are all screened by Mark Herrmann, the chancellor.
So, will Dr. Tambasco’s courses be accepted? Who can say? When I was applying for my master catechist certificate, I submitted a three-page summary of courses, retreats, in-services, etc. for certification. Think of hundreds of catechists doing the same. The Office of Catechics doesn’t have the staff to review what’s being submitted. In reality, they are more probably a rubber stamp for the parish. This is not an insurmountable problem if the diocese is serious about defending against heresy. There are two ways to handle it – one at the diocesan level, the other at the parish level. A number of years ago, the Office of Catechetics under Fr. deLadurantaye instructed parish directors of religious education (DREs) that attendance at the East Coast Religious Ed Conference could not be used for certification. It was too filled with dissent. Obviously, every speaker was not a dissenter, but the Conference could not be trusted. The diocese could do the same thing with CCDI. That would protect catechesis at the diocesan level. A second way would be for local pastors and DREs to instruct their teachers that CCDI courses will not be considered for certification.
Les Femmes recommends both approaches. We have begged the bishop for protection, but have also written to pastors whose parishes were hosting CCDI. One deserves special commendation. In July we provided background information to the pastors hosting Anthony Tambasco and Berard Marthaler. St. Timothy pastor Fr. Gerald Weymes took immediate action informing Dr. Tobin that, “Judging from his published work, Dr. Anthony Tambasco does not meet the criteria of remaining true to the teachings of the Magisterium of our Catholic Church. I will not allow him to present his class at St. Timothy Parish. I would be accepting of a change in classes or instructors….Please be aware there will be a $100 charge per night to cover the expenses for the facilities utilized.” Fr. Weymes’ action shows a true shepherd protecting the faith of his flock and we publicly thank him.
A final issue deserves elaboration. When a man leaves the priesthood, as Dr. Tobin did, he receives a rescript of laicization. The general rescript (a standard document) forbids a former priest from serving in a seminary or any institutions of higher studies “which are in any way whatever dependent upon ecclesiastical authority.” Even in institutions that are not under such authority “he may not teach any discipline which is properly theological or closely connected with the same.” One can argue, I suppose, that CCDI is not an “institution of higher studies” even though the teachers are mostly college professors. However, even if the letter of the law is not being broken here, the spirit certainly is. An institute directed by a former priest who features heretics and dissenters from the faith has no legitimate role in forming the faith of catechists and other adult Catholics. It is unfortunate that the diocese, after eighteen months, has failed to defend us from this pernicious program.
Fighting heresy is a noble Catholic tradition that goes back to the early Church. Well-known preacher, Fr. John Corapi, tells a story “from the annals of the Post Resurrection Church” about St. John the Evangelist, the beloved disciple. “They say that St. John was within the public baths of Ephesus and a heretic came in from the other end…. Word of his presence got to the other side to St. John. Now this is the Apostle that preached Love, right? St. John, the one who said God is Love. In his old age, the only thing St. John could say was ‘Love God….’ He got word that a heretic had just come in the building, he leaped up, grabbed his clothes and ran out of the building yelling ‘run for your lives, the heretic 'so-and-so' just came in the house.’ That was his attitude.”
Should it not be our attitude as well?