Cardinal Tobin and Pope Francis on LGBTQ Issues: Half-Empty or Half-Full?

In a recent interview with the Crux website, Newark’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin elaborated on his decision to welcome a recent LGBTQ pilgrimage to his archdiocese’s cathedral.  His explanation aligns very clearly, for better or worse, with many of Pope Francis’ messages about LGBT issues.

The interviewers elicited from Tobin a statement of welcome to LGBTQ people, a statement about LGBT lives, and a statement of fidelity to church teaching about sexual morality.

Cardinal Tobin and Pope Francis

First, the welcome.  Tobin stated:

My intention was to welcome. I would justify that with the words of somebody like Benedict XVI, who would frequently say: ‘If we proclaim the Gospel first and foremost as a moral code, then we’ve destroyed the Gospel, it becomes something else.’ It doesn’t mean that our moral choices aren’t important, but they’re a response to the previous announcement of good news, the encounter.

Then, concerning LGBT lives, the cardinal said:

I don’t presume that every person who identifies him or herself as LGBTQ is sexually active. If they’re attempting to live a chaste life, then they certainly need the support of the believing community, a chance to pray, and to know that they’re welcomed within the body of Christ.

And he also acknowledged his support of church teaching:

If anybody asks me, I preach what the Church preaches, and teach what the Church teaches, and believe it with great serenity. But I also feel that it’s my job to welcome people. When I received the crozier in St. Peter’s in Rome, what I did was say a prayer that says, ‘You’re to be attentive to the hearts of the people entrusted to you.’ I feel these people were entrusted to me too.

Tobin’s remarks are a complex series of statements.  Like Pope Francis,  he emphasizes welcome. What is good is that he prioritizes welcome over morality.  The “announcement of good news, the encounter” is what is important to both men.  Though they don’t ignore morality, they don’t see it as primary in terms of initiating pastoral outreach.

This tension between morality and welcome is evidenced in the third section of his comments where he professes his support for church teaching.  He places that support, however, within the context of welcome once again.  He sees that LGBT people are part of the people “entrusted” to him.  He has a responsibility toward them.  He can’t ignore them.

His middle comment about LGBTQ lives is a bit more ambiguous than his other comments.  On the one hand, he acknowledges that he doesn’t see sexual or gender minorities primarily in terms of being sexually active.  That is a good step.  It means that he recognizes that there is more to being an LGBTQ person than sexual activity.  LGBTQ people have whole lives, and, often because of their sometimes stigmatized identities, those lives often experience an undue amount of oppression and discrimination. At the same time, their lives also evidence an amazing amount of courage and honesty.  All of these shadings are lost when church leaders think of LGBTQ people on in terms of sexuality.

Tobin goes on in that section seemingly to place a greater value on LGBTQ people who live chaste lives.  He identifies only them as needing “the support of the believing community.”  That is wrong.   ALL LGBTQ people need the support of the believing community. Without exception.

The cardinal’s comments seem to encapsulate the identical tension that is so often present in Pope Francis’ discourse about LGBTQ people.  Pope Francis emphasizes welcome and encounter. Pope Francis places welcome above morality.  Pope Francis certainly supports church teaching about sexual morality, sometimes going so far as to speak out passionately against marriage equality initiatives around the globe.

So, in assessing both Cardinal Tobin and Pope Francis, the question comes down to:  Do we see their efforts in regard to LGBTQ people as a glass half-empty or a glass-half full?  I admit that I tend to see the latter choice.  Neither the cardinal nor the pope are expressing positions of full equality of LGBTQ people.  But they are certainly steps ahead of where their predecessors have been.

So what do you think:  half-empty or half-full?   Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section of this post.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 10, 2017


19 replies
  1. Chris
    Chris says:

    I suggest that it would be more accurate to see a glass in the process of being filled. Each of us has a role to play in making that happen and it is wonderful to see it happening.

    Many Blessings

  2. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    Well, I measured the distance between the top of the glass and the water, and the bottom of the glass and the water, and it does look like the distance in the bottom half is greater than the distance in the top half. So it is possible that the volume of the water is the same. So it may well be half and half.
    Which brings me to the comparison that Judge Ginsburg made about marriage: there’s “the full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage.” So can we say there’s this sort of full glass LGBT people, and this half glass sort of LGBT people? Or perhaps comparing the Christian churches that fully accept LGBT people to the Catholic Church, as a sort of full glass acceptance vs. a half glass acceptance?

  3. Jeanne Kenny
    Jeanne Kenny says:

    Yes, Joe Tobin is filling the glass beyond half full; his refreshing drink is called INCLUSIVITY! Cheers!

  4. Dennis McNally
    Dennis McNally says:

    Half empty or half full, now at least there is a glass! Please God, the events that follow the welcoming will include the ability of the uninitiated on both sides of the sexuality question to
    learn from the other. Please Lord Jesus, remind us all of the woman at the well and how You,
    in Your ability and will to love another as Yourself, saw a deeper person than the one whose
    base beliefs included differences from Your own.

  5. Jan Schwegmann
    Jan Schwegmann says:

    I see it as half full. When the LGBT community is welcomed, the church will get to know these wonderful people. And when the church gets to know them, who knows what’s next? I think it’s a step in the right direction.

  6. Joseph Gentilini
    Joseph Gentilini says:

    While I hope that someday the pope will affirm LGBTQ lives, including sexual intimacy, I realize that the universal church is not ‘here’ yet; it will come. So, in the meantime, I live my life with my husband of 36 years, living a relationship with God and with him within the institutional church. This is my vocation.

  7. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    When I was supervising a staff in the federal government they asked me to approve their holding a betting pool on the NCAA finals competition. I stated the rule which forbids betting in the federal workplace and my personal aversion to betting as a waste of money. I also said what I don’t know, I don’t know. They still asked me for approval. I repeated my statement. I suspect the pool occurred, but again what I don’t know I don’t know. Since the hierarchy has decided not to revise (at least temporarily) the Inquisition, the LGBT community should face the fact that they must rely on their own well formed conscience about how active they have decided to live out their lives. Why ask a question for which you know the answer?. If you want to participate in the life of the Church do so. If asked by the hierarchy about what they do between sheets say that is between them and God who is the judge of us all. The Church may promote an ideal, but that doesn’t mean it is the only way to salvation. We are all sinners in many ways, but that doesn’t or shouldn’t stop us from participating in the life of a Church that hardly can claim to not have its owning feet of clay.

  8. Thomas Smith
    Thomas Smith says:

    We’ve been “thirsty” for so long, I see the glass as containing the quenching acknowledgment of our spiritual birthright that we crave. Half-full, half-empty? Why let’s look a gift horse in the mouth?

  9. Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf says:

    What if the Church teachings about LGBT persons are not in full agreement with Gospel teachings? Just saying …

  10. Barbara
    Barbara says:

    I read the words “morality” often in this discussion. I think they skirt the issue of what they believe or think of as sexual activity more than the person. I’ve seen far less “morality” in my heterosexual straight aquaintences than in the LGBT people I have had the pleasure of knowing.
    Making assumptions about what goes on behind closed doors of the bedroom is wrong and not Christian like behavior. Love, faith and honesty go a long way.

  11. Ned Flaherty
    Ned Flaherty says:

    Prostitutes, criminals, and dictators are all welcomed without any discussion or debate whatsoever.

    Only LGBT people are subjected to these never-ending microscopic inspections about their ideas, motives, caloric intake, and which shoelaces they tie first.

    The “glass-half-empty, glass-half-full” analogy is not the correct analogy because it implies that everything is on just one thermometer, and the only question is, “What’s the temperature?” In reality, there are two thermometers (acceptance vs. rejection), and the church must choose one of them.

    What these latest (and very political) remarks reveal is that this church cannot stand much longer against itself. This intense debate about precisely how half-heartedly and reservedly LGBT people get accepted is nonsense. The church will either return to full rejection of LGBT people, or else it will fully embrace them.

    In the courts, when a legal matter is set aside until further notice, the ruling is either “with prejudice” (the matter can be resurrected, but with restrictions) or else “without prejudice” (no restrictions on resurrecting the matter in the future). Both stances — accepting LGBT people “with prejudice,” and accepting them “without prejudice” — are just as untenable as fully rejecting LGBT people.

    Only after the official doctrine is formally revised into a cohesive, coherent text can this untenable stance be resolved. Until then, LGBT people will continue to be treated as more suspect than prostitutes, criminals, and dictators.

  12. John Raab
    John Raab says:

    The full glass of official Church teaching always includes the primacy of conscience in moral maters.


  13. Jerry Betz
    Jerry Betz says:

    The glass is not capable of being full. It is cracked.

    Despite the fact that there are, literally, millions of homosexual persons living in the world today (not to mention the billions who have gone before us), virtually all of whom will tell you that they were born homosexual — i.e., God included the gift of homosexuality when God made us — the Magisterium refuses to accept that fact. The Holy Spirit is doing all she can. The bishops do not see it. Until they are humble enough to recognize that they have put God in a very small box, the entire Church will continue to suffer.

    Meanwhile, we live in God’s love.

  14. Jacobs Karyn
    Jacobs Karyn says:

    I choose “half full” because I am a positive person and also because I remember the overwhelming negativity of the past.

  15. Michelle Scheidt
    Michelle Scheidt says:

    Church leaders’ thinking is starting to shift in the right direction. The glass is still half empty, but at least now there is a glass.

    I suggest reconsideration of using the word “chaste” in this discussion, as it does not carry the same meaning as “celibate.” LGBTQI sexual lives can be holy and pure (“chaste”) without celibacy. We need to continue witnessing to and talking about the sacred integration of our sexuality and spirituality to help church leaders learn about our lived experience and continue to shift their thinking.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] and St. Joseph parish in Hoboken, New Jersey, cited as good news both Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s welcomeof LGBT pilgrims to the Newark Cathedral and Fr. James Martin, SJ’s new book on LGBT issues. […]

  2. […] and St. Joseph parish in Hoboken, New Jersey, cited as good news both Cardinal Joseph Tobin’s welcome of LGBT pilgrims to the Newark Cathedral and Fr. James Martin, SJ’s new book on LGBT issues. […]

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