Newly-Named Cardinal Comments on LGBT Church Worker Firings

A U.S. bishop who will be made a cardinal in late November has spoken publicly about the pattern in recent years of LGBT church workers firings.


Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis was interviewed by Michael O’Loughlin of America after being named last week as one of thirteen new cardinals. Asked how the church should respond to LGBT church workers, especially those employees in same-gender marriages, Tobin was skeptical that any national employment policy could be developed. He advocated dealing with church workers on a case-by-case basis:

” ‘If I have someone who is a teacher, I think that’s a little different than someone who is a [chief financial officer]. . .I would want to speak with the person about it, and ask, “Do you find any sort of dissonance within yourself teaching faithfully what the church teaches and the choices you make in your life?” ‘ “

Archbishop Tobin commented, too, on his episcopal colleagues and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which will vote on new leadership and priorities at their fall plenary in November. The archbishop said bishops in the U.S. need to communicate better and follow the pope in valuing “discernment in a synodal way,” continuing:

“[We should] develop a spirit of discernment among us, reading the signs of the times and places in the light of the faith, and being able to talk about that and asking ourselves, what is God’s will? Where is God opening a door?”

For three years, the USCCB has defied the pastoral agenda of Pope Francis with little attention to the signs of the times on LGBT rights and many other issues. But Tobin affirmed the pope, with whom he is acquainted from the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist, and said Francis is calling in Amoris Laetitia for the church to elevate “a way of thinking of what it means to follow or lead a life of discipleship today.”

Two other notable points came up in the America interview.

First, the archbishop said today’s church officials in Rome had a deeper “appreciation and gratitude” for women religious in the U.S.  Tobin had been secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life when dual interventions–one a doctrinal investigation of  the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and one an apostolic visitation of U.S. women’s religious communities–began in 2012.

Tobin defended the sisters, and he was promoted horizontally out of Rome to Indianapolis. The questions these investigations provoked, however, meant the church “understood in a more profound way, just what an important, critical role sisters play.”

Second, Tobin affirmed the need for ministry at the margins when speaking about his own religious identity. Ordained a Redemptorist priest, and later elected superior general, Tobin said the community’s mission is “always like to look on the other side of the tracks and care for people that maybe the church isn’t able to care for.” He said further:

“Our founder spoke of the most abandoned poor and that can take different form in different areas. The way I hear it, and the way I would speak of it when I was superior general, was basically we must go where the church isn’t able to go.”

By all accounts, Archbishop Tobin seems to practice the pastorally-oriented leadership so desired by Pope Francis. His recognition that the church must be present at the margins, and his affirmation of women religious, who have been present there, could indicate a more pastoral approach on LGBT issues.

That is why his comments on LGBT church workers are puzzling to me. While he affirms the need to interact with every employee in a charitable way, including a conversation, the case-by-case solution he proposes does not actually protect LGBT church workers and their families from discrimination.

When it comes to employment, such provisional solutions are almost never adequate. For every Archbishop Tobin in Indianapolis who is pastorally shepherding God’s people, there is a Bishop Tobin in Providence whose firing of a gay music director has forced many more parishioners to question their relationship to the church. . Lacking explicit non-discrimination policies and demonstrated support programs, church institutions remain dangerous workplaces when one’s livelihood depends on the bishop’s whim.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues’ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 60 incidents since 2007 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 20, 2016

8 replies
  1. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    Archbishop Tobin’s Redemptorist view is laudable in seeking out the poor that perhaps the Church does not reach. On the matter of firings of gay employees in various dioceses, he fell into the “choices you make in life” pit. When are they going to understand that choice is not involved ?

  2. Albertus
    Albertus says:

    ”Lacking explicit non-discrimination policies and demonstrated support programs, church institutions remain dangerous workplaces when one’s livelihood depends on the bishop’s whim”. Precisely the point! I hope that both Bishop Tobins read this last line. Bishop Tobin of Indianapolis basically gave the answer, that things are not going to change for the better for gay people under him in his diocese, though he said it in a roundabout way. I do not live in the USA, but given the ecclesiastical situation there, it would seem prudent for gay people not to take on any employment whatsoever in a Catholic institution, and for those already involved in Church-related emplyment, to discreetly seek work elsewhere, if they are not too old to do so. If i were younger, that is what i would do, for institutional discrimination does not change quickly, esp. within the Church.

  3. Wilhelm Wonka
    Wilhelm Wonka says:

    “We should develop a spirit of discernment among us, reading the signs of the times…in the light of the faith.” So what have Tobin and the rest been doing all these years, then? NOT discerning? NOT reading the signs of the times?

    Given Tobin’s negative record towards LGBT people on the one hand and their growing public support on the other, I’d say that a distinct lack of discernment and an inability to read the signs of the times are what most mark the deliberations of the USCCB.

    Pope Francis’ emphasis on synodal discernment will not amount to much unless synods include lay people. In fact, synods are not truly representative of the Church (and the Holy Spirit ) unless they do. No wonder Tobin and the rest are having such a hard time discerning and a hard time reading the signs of the age.

  4. Annette Magjuka
    Annette Magjuka says:

    Policy should not be capricious. Dignity and work are inexorably linked. So to treat everyone with dignity, firing should be seldom and deeply considered. Is the person’s sexuality a part of doing the job? In most cases it has nothing to do with the job. Notre Dame’s campaign, “If you can…you can” is perfect: If you can teach, you can teach. If you can sing, you can sing. If you can cantor, you can cantor….etc etc. It is bigotry to hold that dignity is bestowed by a particular bishop rather than being an innate right for all.

  5. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    Maybe I’m just in a mood, but I found his comments condescending. For example, that Church officials had a “deeper appreciation and gratitude of women religious”. Really? Is that supposed to mean or change anything?

    • Wilhelm Wonka
      Wilhelm Wonka says:

      No, Loretta, you are not in a mood. But you have expressed perfectly the mood of Catholic prelates on those matters: one of arrant condescension.


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  1. […] 2016, asked about the spate of LGBT-related church worker firings, Tobin said employment concerns should be charitably dealt with on a case-by-case basis. While not ideal, his willingness to even […]

  2. […] newly named to become a cardinal in November, who advocated a case-by-case approach in a recent interview with America. There are complex questions of formation and support, too, and the editors […]

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