Firing of LGBT Church Workers a “Very Difficult Question,” Says Cardinal

Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark

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

10 replies
  1. Don E Siegal
    Don E Siegal says:

    Firing of LGBT Church Workers a Very Difficult Question

    Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark has said the firing of LGBT church workers is a very difficult question. “I think it’s a very difficult question…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.’”

    “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 has twice commented on the choices LGBT people make in their lives. I find it encouraging that he is asking questions. His concept of dialogue is certainly in line with Fr. James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge.

    What we in the LGBT community need is to respond respectfully to the cardinal’s question. In part, my response would be in the words of Justice Kennedy in his majority opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges. (I would change the quote to the first person to indicate my personally held sincere beliefs.)

    “Were [my] intent to demean the revered idea and reality of marriage, [my] claims would be of a different order. But that is neither [my] purpose nor [my] submission. To the contrary, it is the enduring importance of marriage that underlies [my choices]. This…is [my] whole point. Far from seeking to devalue marriage, [I] seek it for [myself] because of [my] respect—and need—for its privileges and responsibilities. And [my] immutable nature dictates that same-sex marriage is [my] only real path to this profound commitment.”

    Reply
  2. George Klawitter
    George Klawitter says:

    For the man who led the other four bishops in Indiana in the fight against same-sex marriage in our state, I suppose is this is some kind of progress.

    Reply
  3. George Klawitter
    George Klawitter says:

    For the cardinal who led the other four Indiana bishops in the fight against same-sex marriage I suppose this is some kind of progress.

    Reply
  4. Patrick Riley
    Patrick Riley says:

    Question: “Do you find any sort of dissonance within yourself teaching faithfully what the church teaches and the choices you make in your life?” More than one priest who are members of Dignity/Washington have told me that they could not do what Fr. Greiten did and remain active diocesan priests “teaching faithfully what the church teaches.” Although not a priest, I don’t think I could either. The next question, not (yet) asked by Cardinal Tobin, is the example to other Catholics of “the choices you make in your life,” specifically married to someone of the same gender, reflective of the church’s teachings or because of your profile as a Catholic teacher cause confusion if not scandal? You could argue that this is a teachable moment but isn’t it too nuanced, subject to specific personal facts? One interesting development seems to be that being gay no longer disqualifies one from being a Catholic teacher, now that the focus is on gay marriage.

    Reply
  5. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    The problem with firing same sex married teachers, etc. is that however one is joined to a spouse doesn’t change how one teaches math, history, writing, or any other topic, except for a course in Church teachings/catechism possibly. If a teacher has only two children are we not to assume one or the other partner has using some form of birth control? Shouldn’t they be fired too? Isn’t the quality of the teaching the important thing?

    A teacher is supposed to be able to share their subject expertise not every dot and titl of their life. When my mother began teaching in the 1940s the moral’s clause in her public school contract noted that smoking cigarettes anywhere was a fire-able offense and when she became pregnant with me she had to stop teaching immediately. The ironic thing is that she taught home economics where proper health and diet were primary focus points. I remember being told that sacred art was created only by artists whose souls were in the state of grace; anyone who knows art history knows that would be hard to confirm. The examples of this kind of double standard are infinite. Cardinals should not support a smaller unchanging church, but one where members can come to to find mercy and grace to solve real moral dilemmas.

    Cardinal Tobin is wrong to say being LGBT and being Catholic is a difficult question. Christ didn’t teach that His Father’s creation was an error He welcomed us all.

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  6. Patricia Vasilj
    Patricia Vasilj says:

    I just saw the word “choice” and shook my head. As the Church plods on, I can only think about those left by the wayside. I just hope the LGBTQ community realizes that the actions of the Church are not representative of the actions of their Father in heaven who created and loves all His children. Give up on the Church if you must but never doubt His love for you. (Mothers know these things.)

    Reply
  7. Deacon Thomas Smith
    Deacon Thomas Smith says:

    So encouraged by our local Shepherd! I am “teaching” him (reaching him) every time I can. Last week, after our NJ Catholic DeaFest, I leaned in quietly on his shoulder and informed him that Deaf people are like GLBT people, in that they are often “ignored, patronized and misunderstood” by both Church and society, because of the way God made them. He stepped back, took a moment to look me in the eye, and said, as he has before, ‘Thank you, Tom.” He totally got that embracing one’s total identity, regardless of messages about our supposed brokenness, is our common mission in both Deaf and Gay Ministries. I believe he is sincerely grateful for any opportunity to learn from us and create the “culture of encounter” our Francis calls for.

    Reply

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