A leading U.S. cardinal has said the firing of LGBT church workers is “a very difficult question.”
Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark spoke at a Villanova University conference last week. During a question-and-answer period the cardinal was asked about the many church workers who have lost their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes. America Magazine reported his answer:
“‘I think it’s a very difficult question,’ . . .He added that ‘the church is moving on the question of same-sex couples,’ albeit not as quickly as some people would like. Dialogue, he said, is key.
“‘What I say to people in same-sex relationships and want to teach, I say, “How do you do it?” Help me understand. How do you communicate the fullness of the Catholic position on the moral question and justify…the choices you’ve made with your life? Just help me understand that,’ he said. ‘Sometimes people do.'”
Tobin’s talk rejected the idea of a smaller, purer Church. He told conference attendees, “It is only the Lord who ultimately judges who belongs or does not belong.” The cardinal also acknowledged that the Church has faced many critics over its perceived focus on sexuality:
“‘The church in recent decades has been somewhat marginalized by many for what they see as a preoccupation with sexual ethics. The church cannot reverse itself on its sexual ethics, but Pope Francis has shown that there are other issues on which the church and world can work together. . .This, too, is a step in the trajectory that leads back to Vatican II.'”
Tobin admitted that the Church today may shrink as people leave Catholicism or stop practicing regularly, but he concluded on a hopeful note:
“‘But there will also be the adventurers. . .as there have been since the beginning, who perhaps timidly at first but then boldly, driven by the Gospel and their conscience, will go to the margins—maybe close by, maybe far away—and engage themselves in the struggle for justice, for equality, for the recognition of the infinite dignity of every human being, and for peace.'”
Cardinal Tobin’s most recent comment on the firing of LGBT church workers largely mirrors a comment he made right after being appointed to the College of Cardinals by Pope Francis in 2016. After differentiating between the roles of a teacher and a chief financial officer, the cardinal then continued:
“‘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?”‘”
Cardinal Tobin’s record on LGBT issues is fairly positive. Last year, he welcomed a group of LGBT pilgrims to Newark’s cathedral, a moment one participant said “felt like a miracle.” Bondings 2.0 readers voted that welcome as the second best Catholic LGBT news story of 2017. Tobin later explained his decision to provide such a welcome, saying LGBT people were entrusted to his pastoral care just like anyone else. He has also endorsed Fr. James Martin, S.J.’s, book, Building a Bridge, saying it was “brave, prophetic, and inspiring.”
As an archbishop in Indianapolis during a statewide referendum to ban same-gender marriage Tobin’s response , offered through a spokesperson, was that Catholics “have the right to make their own decisions on these issues.” Tobin also defended U.S. women religious when the Vatican launched its investigations against them, in part for their support of LGBT equality.
It is a positive step that Cardinal Tobin has twice engaged the abuses against LGBT and ally church workers. Silence has been the norm among U.S. church officials despite more than 70 church workers losing their jobs in LGBT-related employment disputes since 2007. (You can find a full listing here.) Even better, Tobin’s willingness to speak out is balanced by his desire to listen attentively. He seems genuinely open to learning how LGBT church workers navigate their employment alongside their personal beliefs and life choices. Holding meetings where that dialogue occurs would be a good next step in moving the issue from a “very difficult question” towards a just, Gospel-based solution.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 17, 2018