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.
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