Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley: LGBT Church Worker Firings “Need to be Rectified”

Cardinal Sean O’Malley seated among other panelists at Crux event. (photo credit: The Boston Globe)

In a one-to-one conversation following a public speaking engagement, Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley said that the firing of church workers because of LGBT issues is a situation that “needs to be rectified,” becoming the first prelate to speak against this trend.

Earlier in the evening, the cardinal publicly spoke positively of the need to include and minister to the LGBT community in light of Pope Francis’ new vision for the church.

O’Malley’s public appearance on Thursday, September 11th, was at a launch event for Crux, the Boston Globe’s new website for “all things Catholic.” The program was held at the Jesuit-run Boston College. O’Malley was part of a panel of experts discussing the papacy of Pope Francis.

At the end of the event, after the crowd had dissipated, I had the opportunity to thank Cardinal O’Malley one-on-one for his compassionate remarks earlier in the evening about the LGBT community.

As we spoke, the cardinal told me that we must first convince people we love them before talking about the Ten Commandments. I pointed out that it has been hard to convince LGBT Catholics and their allies of this love when so many church workers have had LGBT-related employ-ment disputes with Catholic schools and parishes. Responding to my comment, Cardinal O’Malley said this trend was a situation that “needs to be rectified.”

O’Malley also indicated that not all church positions require a Catholic marriage.  Most of the employment disputes involved same-sex couples legally marrying, announcing an intention to marry, or publicly acknowledging a long-term committed relationship.

Earlier, in a period when panelists answered audience questions, Cardinal O’Malley answered a question which I had submitted:

Given Pope Francis’ emphasis on mercy and welcome, can we expect improved pastoral care and inclusion for those who are LGBT, especially when almost 20 US church workers have been fired in 2014 for their sexual orientation, gender, or marital status?

The cardinal’s answer is in full below, and you can also watch it at Crux by clicking here and starting the video at 1:29:00:

“I think the Holy Father’s notion of mercy and inclusion is going to make a big difference in the way that the church responds to and ministers to people of homosexual orientation. The Holy Father is talking about reaching out to the periphery and very often this is a group that is on the periphery. It is not necessarily that the church is going to change doctrine, but, as somebody said, the Holy Father hasn’t changed the lyrics, but he’s changed the melody. I think the context of love and mercy and community is the context in which all of the church’s teachings must be presented, including the more difficult ones. The same could be said about abortion and so many others. It is only when people realize that we love them that they will be open to hear the truth we want to share with them.”

You can read a full account of the event from Michael O’Loughlin of Crux found by clicking here. Other panelists that evening were Hosffman Espino of Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, John Allen, Jr. of Crux, Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard University, and Robert Christian of Millennial.

Cardinal O’Malley’s inclusive statements are typical of his merciful leadership style in Boston, leadership which led Pope Francis to appoint him to to a unique papal advisory council of eight cardinals, positioning him as the American prelate closest to the pope. O’Malley himself was considered to be a papal candidate before Francis’ election, and one resigned Catholic priest listed Boston’s cardinal as the most gay-friendly of the candidates.

What struck me most last Thursday was the cardinal’s willing admission that terminating church workers due to their sexual orientation or marital status is indeed problematic.  Catholic prelates have, at best, remained silent, and, at worst, supported discriminatory actions, in the more than forty public instances where a church employee left over LGBT issues. Cardinal O’Malley’s statement that these firings “need to be rectified” is an episcopal echo of the tens of thousands of Catholics and people of faith who have long stood by mistreated LGBT and ally church workers. Regular readers of Bondings 2.0 will recognize that even as the resignations and firings increase, so too do the rallies, petitions, and online outreach in solidarity with fired teachers like Barb Webb, Olivia Reichert and Christina Gambaro.

I hope Cardinal O’Malley will use his prominent position to help end situations where LGBT and ally church workers face discrimination and exclusion. It could be a major step in incarnating a church where all are truly welcome. As it is, the cardinal’s kind words and frank admission are a wonderful start — and for them, I am most grateful.

Cardinal O’Malley is the first bishop to acknowledge that these employment actions are a problem.  Let’s hope and pray that he will not be the last.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


29 thoughts on “Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley: LGBT Church Worker Firings “Need to be Rectified”

  1. pjnugent September 15, 2014 / 3:46 am

    “One small step..;”. Praise God.

  2. Kathleen Fallon September 15, 2014 / 8:50 am

    What does cardinal o’malley mean… “It is only when people realize that we love them that they will be open to hear the truth we want to share with them.”? So, how does this work? Welcome everyone in and then, bam! let em have it with the catholic church version of the truth? I guess i’d rather be left out in the storm than be tormented inside a church whose “truths” will hurt my soul.

    • Bob September 15, 2014 / 12:40 pm

      Kathleen I am also concerned about “hear the truth we want to share with them”. Seems like a kinder/gentler message then as you say “bam”. If it’s about dialogue and discernment of the spirits that lead to truth, I can say yes. If it’s a different prologue to the same old message, no thank you.

      • Kathleen Fallon September 15, 2014 / 4:30 pm

        Me too Bob. I hope for dialogue and growth but am afraid to get lured back in like a trusting child only to be hurt again from church teachings on natural law and sinful natures.

  3. Rich Heide September 15, 2014 / 11:29 am

    I like to be optimistic…and would like to see this as a positive small step forward. Yes, I would like it if the RCC was as forward as the Episcopal Church…..but as we should take people in our lives for where they are at (not where we want them to be), maybe we should take the church for where it is at with hopes of moving forward.

  4. Joe Sacerdos September 15, 2014 / 2:02 pm

    O’Malley is considered to be one of the more right wing leaning bishops. That having been said, this is almost unbelievable and a huge symbolic step forward.

    • Friends September 15, 2014 / 10:05 pm

      I honestly don’t think it’s fair to consider him as “one of the more right wing leaning bishops” — especially when you compare him to the likes of Paprocki and George! As the Cardinal Primate of the entire New England region, he’s shown himself to be very thoughtful, pastoral and collegial. He actually made the trip from Boston to celebrate Mass at the UMass-Amherst Cardinal Newman Catholic Center — a Mass which I attended a year or so ago. He impressed everybody with his great warmth and his enthusiasm toward the students at the university. I suspect that, should he ever become Pope, he would be much more like Francis than like Benedict. At the very least, he would absolutely NOT roll back the reforms that Francis has initiated. Trust the Holy Spirit to work some “Divine Magic” here — especially when working through a man who has both genuine humility, and a genuine love for the young people who ARE the future of the Catholic Church.

  5. freecatholic808 September 15, 2014 / 3:39 pm

    Reblogged this on Dawn Morais and commented:
    This good news paves the way for much needed change on this issue. We look forward to seeing the Honolulu diocese withdraw its recently amended teacher employment contracts. Surely we don’t want to add to the list of problems that “need to be rectified” by Pope Francis.

  6. John Hilgeman September 15, 2014 / 7:34 pm

    They can solve the problem right away. Just stop firing LGBT people who marry civilly. They can also drop their campaign opposing marriage equality, if they want to give the message that they love us. And they can start supporting civil rights for LGBT people instead of consistently opposing them in the name of church “doctrine.”

    • Kathleen Fallon September 16, 2014 / 12:09 am

      I agree with you John.

  7. Sharon September 16, 2014 / 12:43 pm

    “…minister to the LGBT community in light of Pope Francis’ new vision for the church.”

    “…we must first convince people we love them.”

    So, these kind thoughts never occurred to him before????

  8. Discarded in D.C. September 16, 2014 / 12:45 pm

    As one of the fired (from a national organization because a “few” members were concerned I’d been married in Canada 9 years ago), I’m not sure how to take this. What does “rectified” mean? I get my job back? Do I want it back? I loved my job. But the fact that I was that easily discarded has forever broken my relationship with the church…

  9. David September 27, 2014 / 3:31 pm

    Great job, Bob. We miss you stuffing envelopes. All the best.

  10. Paula Mattras May 23, 2017 / 11:37 am

    The idea that LGBT folks who are married can be fired for that reason is not just “problematic.” It is wrong. We should not fear using words that fit best.

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