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

 

Cardinal’s Welcome to LGBT Catholics ‘Felt Like a Miracle’

Last month, Newark, New Jersey’s Cardinal Joseph Tobin welcomed a pilgrimage of LGBT Catholics to the archdiocese’s Cathedral of the Sacred Heart–a gesture that is being hailed as a major step forward in the pastoral care of LGBT people here in the U.S.  — one participant going so far as calling it “a miracle.”

New York Times article entitled “As Church Shifts, a Cardinal Welcomes Gays; They Embrace a ‘Miracle’ “ captured not only the spirit of the May 21st event but also the reactions to it of some Catholic leaders who address LGBT issues.

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Cardinal Tobin welcomes people to the cathedral.

For example, one New York gay Catholic leader described what the action meant to him personally:

” ‘It felt like a miracle,’ Ed Poliandro, a member of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Manhattan and a clinical social worker. ‘It was a miracle to have church leaders say, ‘You are welcome; you belong.’ And I felt, after a lifetime of struggle, that we are home.’ “

Similarly, a New Jersey gay deacon spoke of the power of this symbolic gesture:

” ‘He brought [Pope] Francis to us,’ said Thomas M. Smith, 66, a deacon who serves the deaf community at the Newark cathedral. ‘I’ve been waiting 25 years for this. I’m a deacon in the church and I’ve had to be careful. And afraid.’

“He teared up, remembering how his parents had died thinking he would go to hell if he found someone to love. ‘This is amazing to me,’ he said.”

New Ways Ministry’s director also commented on the significance of this event:

” ‘It’s the beginning of a dialogue,” said Francis DeBernardo, the executive director New Ways Ministry, a group that ministers to and is an advocate for gay Catholics. ‘The church leadership, for the past 40 years, has just been so silent, and unwilling to dialogue, and unwilling to pray with L.G.B.T. Catholics that, even though this isn’t the ultimate step, it’s a first step,’ he said of Cardinal Tobin’s welcome.”

The Times story also noted the very personal and scriptural way in which Cardinal Tobin welcomed the LGBT pilgrims:

” ‘I am Joseph, your brother,’ Cardinal Tobin told the group, which included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics from around New York and the five dioceses in New Jersey. ‘I am your brother, as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother, as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.’

“The welcoming of a group of openly gay people to Mass by a leader of Cardinal Tobin’s standing in the Roman Catholic Church in this country would have been unthinkable even five years ago. But Cardinal Tobin, whom Pope Francis appointed to Newark last year, is among a small but growing group of bishops changing how the American church relates to its gay members. They are seeking to be more inclusive and signaling to subordinate priests that they should do the same.”

While in the Cathedral, the pilgrims participated at a Mass celebrated by Fr. Francis Gargani, CSsR, who was one of the organizers of the pilgrimage.  Auxiliary Bishop Manuel Cruz, the cathedral’s rector, was also on the altar at the Mass and added his welcome to the pilgrims.

DeBernardo noted that this event was in line with a changing attitude toward LGBT people in the U.S. Catholic church, offering the following examples:

“The diocese of Jefferson City, Mo., for example, last month said it would permit transgender students in its Catholic schools. In October, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego held a diocesan synod on the family that called for improved ministry toward gay and lesbian Catholics. At a New Ways Ministry national conference in April, Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Ky., said he admired and respected lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who remained steadfast to the church even though the church had not always been as welcoming.”

[Editor’s note:  More on the Jefferson City diocesan policy in a post later this week.]

Perhaps the most significant detail about the event is the following observation made by the Times reporter:

“But Cardinal Tobin’s welcome to Mass on May 21 has been the most significant of such recent gestures, because of the symbolism of a cardinal welcoming a group of gay Catholics, some of whom were married to same-sex spouses, to participate in the Sacrament of Holy Communion at the center of a cathedral, no questions asked.”

Fr.  James Martin, SJ, whose new book, “Building a Bridge,” about Catholic LGBT issues is being positively received, and Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics, were also quoted in the Times story.

Cardinal Tobin’s action was a simple one, yet a very profound one.  It is definitely one that can be replicated by bishops across the U.S.   If bishops would first open their hearts and minds to LGBT people, they will find it much easier to open their cathedral doors to them, as Cardinal Tobin has done.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 14, 2017

Related articles:

Gay Star News:  “Catholic Cardinal welcomes ‘LGBT Pilgrimage’ to his Cathedral”

LGBT Interparish Collaboraive:  “LGBT Pilgrimage to the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ on May 21, 2017″

Newark’s Cardinal Will Welcome Catholic LGBT Pilgrimage

A pilgrimage of LGBT Catholics will be welcomed by Cardinal Joseph Tobin at the Archdiocese of Newark’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart when they arrive there on Sunday, May 21, 2017.

Sacred Heart Parish, South Plainfield, Church of the Precious Blood, Monmouth Beach are organizing the event, which seems to have had a serendipitous origin.

Rev. Alexander Santora, a Hoboken, N.J. priest, described in an NJ.com essay how the pilgrimage idea grew:

“David Harvie was at a regional meeting in Brooklyn of the Interparish Collaborative [a group of about 15 Catholic parishes in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut region that have LGBT ministries]. . . . He was seated next to Redemptorist Father Francis Gargani and talked about how there are so many beautiful church edifices that deserve to be seen.

” ‘I am a church architecture geek,’ Harvie said, mentioning, for example, the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark.

“Gargani, who resides at the Redemptorist Provincial House in Brooklyn, said he would bring it up to the new Archbishop of Newark, Joseph Cardinal Tobin, also a Redemptorist, who was coming to dinner the next evening.”

And the rest is (or will soon be) history.  Cardinal Tobin, newly appointed by Pope Francis, responded by email to Gargani’s request:

“I am delighted that you and the LGBTQ brothers and sisters plan to visit our beautiful cathedral. You will be very welcome!”

The mass will take place in Our Lady Chapel of the Cathedral, at 3:30 p.m., followed by a tour of the building.

It has been a long time since a bishop has welcomed a group of LGBT people to the local cathedral.  Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen welcomed the DignityUSA convention to the Seattle cathedral in 1983 (though his welcome message was delivered by audio recording because he had been summoned to Rome).  When Rochester, N.Y.’s Bishop Matthew Clark held a mass for the gay and lesbian community in his cathedral in 1997, 1300 people showed up for the space which could hold only 900, so the remaining spilled out onto the sidewalks.   A year later Richmond, Virginia’s Bishop Walter Sullivan followed suit with a similar mass in his diocesan cathedral, telling participants, “You are welcome here. It’s about time someone told you that.”  In 2015, a group of LGBT pilgrims led by New Ways Ministry was given VIP seating at the papal audience in St. Peter’s Square in Rome on Ash Wednesday.

The organizer of the event reflected on how far the LGBT community and the Catholic Church have come in his lifetime:

Harvie recalled first marching in the annual Gay Rights Parade in Manhattan at a time when a wall of police would separate the marchers from entering St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue.

“We could not get anywhere near our Catholic church,” Harvie recalled, contrasting that experience with the gesture of Cardinal Tobin. “No one can believe it.”

Harvie expects an overflow crowd in the chapel, which can only hold 40 to 50 people. But that would be a wonderful problem to have, he said.

Harvie is the facilitator of the LGBT ministry in Sacred Heart parish, South Plainfield, N.J.

It is so good to see that a cardinal is eager to extend a welcome to a group of LGBT Catholics.  Indeed, his example should be emulated by others.  If bishops want to make Pope Francis’ message of welcome tangible to LGBT people, more instances like this need to take place.  God will surely bless this beautiful initiative!

For more information on the pilgrimage, click here or e-mail sacredheartigi@gmail.com. You can contact David Harvie at Church of the Sacred Heart, 200 Randolph Ave., South Plainfield, NJ 07080; phone: 908-822-5895.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 9, 2017

 

New Catholic LGBT Book Is Praised by High Church Leaders

A new Catholic book on LGBT issues, whose main text is based on a talk given at a New Ways Ministry event, has been praised by the Vatican official in charge of family life, a U.S. cardinal who is close to Pope Francis, and a bishop who is leading the call for greater pastoral care for LGBT people.  Their dust jacket blurbs join one by Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder

Rev. James Martin, SJ, and the cover of his new book.

Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, by Rev. James Martin, SJ, will be published June 13, 2017, and its dust jacket contains high praise comments from Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery of Laity, Family, and Life; Cardinal Joseph Tobin, picked personally by Pope Francis to lead the embattled Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey; and Bishop Robert McElroy, head of the San Diego Diocese, who has made LGBT inclusion one of his regular themes; and Sister Jeannine.

The main portion of the book is an adaptation of the talk Fr. Martin gave when he received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award at the end of October 2016.   In addition, the book, which is to be published by HarperOne, will also contain prayer aids and other pastoral material.

David Gibson, a veteran Church observer who writes for Religion News Servicebroke the news about this high praise from Church officials for a gay-friendly book.  In the course of the article, Gibson noted that the praise from church officials for a book which had its origins in a New Ways Ministry program, signaled a momentous shift:

“A co-founder of New Ways Ministry is Sister Jeannine Gramick, whose views were considered so far outside the bounds of Catholic teaching that she was barred by the Vatican and her order from speaking about homosexuality. She transferred to another order and has continued to minister and speak and write on the topic. . . . That she is endorsing the same book as senior church leaders is an indication of the sea change under Francis.”

Fr. Martin told Religion News Service that he sees the praise from these high Church officials as signaling greater sensitivity on LGBT issues:

“I was delighted that Cardinal Farrell and Cardinal Tobin found the book helpful. To me, it’s a reminder that many in the hierarchy today support a more compassionate approach to LGBT Catholics.”

The following quotations are from the comments on the book’s dust jacket:

Cardinal Kevin Farrell

Cardinal Kevin Farrell:

“A welcome and much-needed book that will help bishops, priests, pastoral associates, and all church leaders more compassionately minister to the LGBT community. It will also help LGBT Catholics feel more at home in what is, after all, their church.”

Cardinal Joseph Tobin

Cardinal Joseph Tobin:

“In too many parts of our church LGBT people have been made to feel unwelcome, excluded, and even shamed. Father Martin’s brave, prophetic, and inspiring new book marks an essential step in inviting church leaders to minister with more compassion, and in reminding LGBT Catholics that they are as much a part of our church as any other Catholic.”

Bishop Robert McElroy

Bishop Robert McElroy:

“The Gospel demands that LGBT Catholics must be genuinely loved and treasured in the life of the church. They are not. [Fr. Martin] provides us with the language, perspective, and sense of urgency to replace a culture of alienation with a culture of merciful inclusion.”

Sr. Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick:

Gibson’s reporting summarized the main text of the book concisely:
“In his talk, as in the book, Martin called on church leaders and all Catholics to treat gays and lesbians with greater respect and sensitivity. . . .But he also called on gays and lesbians to be more considerate and respectful of the hierarchy, saying both sides must listen to each other and learn from each other.”
New Ways Ministry presented Fr. Martin with the Bridge Building Award last year because of his past achievements in promoting dialogue between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church.  Yet, with the publication of this book, and the praise for it from church officials, shows his bridge building gifts are continuing to grow.
Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 8, 2018

Warren Hall Explains Why He Won’t Seek Reinstatement to Priesthood

Ever since it was announced that Cardinal Joseph Tobin would replace Archbishop John Myers as the leader of the Church in Newark, New Jersey,  many people have asked me if I thought that meant that Fr. Warren Hall would be reinstated as a priest there.

Some of you may recall that Hall was suspended from priestly ministry by Myers at the end of last summer.  The Archdiocese of Newark said that the suspension was because of Hall’s support of LGBT organizations, though Hall saw his outreach to LGBT people and groups as part of his ministry.   The archdiocese’s disagreements with Hall began in 2015 when they removed him as chaplain at Seton Hall University because of his support of the “NOH8” campaign and re-assigned him to the Hoboken parish of Sts. Peter and Paul.  Soon after that re-assignment, Fr. Hall came out as gay in a journalistic interview.

Warren Hall

Since Hall’s suspension of priestly faculties came well after Myers had submitted his resignation, many people, including me, thought that a new archbishop might reinstate him.

However, Hall, in an op-ed he penned for Religion News Service, recently announced that the possibility of reinstatement is not something that he would like to pursue.  Hall explains how he came to the decision, first tracing the history of how things have transpired:

It has now been a year and a half since this whole saga began, when Archbishop Myers removed me from my job as chaplain at Seton Hall University in May 2015. He did this due to suspicions that a “NOH8” posting I made on Facebook standing against attacks on the LGBT community, plus my subsequent coming out as a gay man, reflected a “hidden agenda” that he claimed undermined Catholic teaching.

It has also been five months since Myers suspended me from all priestly ministry for my “disobedience” in continuing to be involved with that same work against LGBT discrimination.

Hall said he has spent the intervening months discerning whether he should request reinstatement, something that his family, friends, and parishioners were encouraging him to do.  But then another incident happened which decided his position:

“. . . [A]s I was contemplating it all the decision was effectively made for me, on Dec. 7. That’s when the Vatican issued a document reaffirming a 2005 instruction that gay men should not be admitted to the priesthood. Apparently, Pope Francis approved of the policy.

How he could assert this is as confusing as his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment when asked about gay men in the priesthood.

In describing his ministry to LGBT people, Hall emphasizes a point that all who minister with LGBT people encounter:  engaging in ministry means encountering people who do not always agree with church doctrine:

The activity for which I was suspended last August was related to my speaking publicly to LGBT Catholics and encouraging them to stay in the Catholic Church. Yes, I said stay IN the church!

And yes, I met with groups that do not necessarily agree with our teaching. But those are the places Jesus went. I believe that today is comparable to many other times in the church’s history when the tenets of its teachings came face to face with developments in society, and things became “messy.”

Hall acknowledges that the church’s language of “objectively disordered” and “intrinsically evil” are offensive, but he believes that in the future these terms will change.   Unfortunately, though the current language prevents him from seeking reinstatement:

I can’t [seek reinstatement], simply because I could not in good conscience take the Oath of Fidelity that all priests take upon ordination and when assuming a pastorate, namely, that I “accept and hold everything that is proposed by the hierarchy” and that I “adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings.”

He recognizes that the teaching on sexuality is not the most important one, and he wishes church leadership would focus on more primary concerns:

I think the average Catholic wants the church to get back to the basics: feeding the hungry; clothing the naked; proclaiming the message of love, forgiveness and inclusion that Jesus taught his followers.

It’s a message the people are not hearing enough, and because of that their church is failing them and because of that many are abandoning their church, in droves!

Hall also asserts another important idea that seems to have played a role in his decision:

I don’t think the church knows yet how to deal with openly gay men in active ministry, even those of us who observe our vows of chastity. I don’t think the church knows how to minister to its LGBT brothers and sisters, and it’s not yet trying to learn.

I’ve excerpted what I consider the highlights of Hall’s essay,  If you are interested in LGBT pastoral ministry or the issue of gay priests, I recommend that you read the entire essay by clicking here.

The Catholic Church is diminished by the loss of Warren Hall from the priesthood.  Having met him personally, I know that he is a faith-filled person who responds to others with love, compassion, and justice.  Obviously, the decision not to seek reinstatement was a difficult one for him, but he has done so with integrity.  I was happy to read at the end of his essay that he plans to continue his ministry as a Catholic lay person:

I will work now in the secular world with that same sense of mission that was mine since I was a youth group teen and which I committed myself to on the day of my ordination.

In doing so, I’ll continue to live by the final command of the liturgy that we all celebrate: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”

Hall will be leading a focus session on “Gay Men in the Priesthood and Religious Life” at New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” We had invited him before his suspension, and now we think his words will be even more prescient. For more information about the symposium, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, click here.

 

Newly-Named Cardinal Comments on LGBT Church Worker Firings

A U.S. bishop who will be made a cardinal in late November has spoken publicly about the pattern in recent years of LGBT church workers firings.

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Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis was interviewed by Michael O’Loughlin of America after being named last week as one of thirteen new cardinals. Asked how the church should respond to LGBT church workers, especially those employees in same-gender marriages, Tobin was skeptical that any national employment policy could be developed. He advocated dealing with church workers on a case-by-case basis:

” ‘If I have someone who is a teacher, I think that’s a little different than someone who is a [chief financial officer]. . .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?” ‘ “

Archbishop Tobin commented, too, on his episcopal colleagues and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which will vote on new leadership and priorities at their fall plenary in November. The archbishop said bishops in the U.S. need to communicate better and follow the pope in valuing “discernment in a synodal way,” continuing:

“[We should] develop a spirit of discernment among us, reading the signs of the times and places in the light of the faith, and being able to talk about that and asking ourselves, what is God’s will? Where is God opening a door?”

For three years, the USCCB has defied the pastoral agenda of Pope Francis with little attention to the signs of the times on LGBT rights and many other issues. But Tobin affirmed the pope, with whom he is acquainted from the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist, and said Francis is calling in Amoris Laetitia for the church to elevate “a way of thinking of what it means to follow or lead a life of discipleship today.”

Two other notable points came up in the America interview.

First, the archbishop said today’s church officials in Rome had a deeper “appreciation and gratitude” for women religious in the U.S.  Tobin had been secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life when dual interventions–one a doctrinal investigation of  the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and one an apostolic visitation of U.S. women’s religious communities–began in 2012.

Tobin defended the sisters, and he was promoted horizontally out of Rome to Indianapolis. The questions these investigations provoked, however, meant the church “understood in a more profound way, just what an important, critical role sisters play.”

Second, Tobin affirmed the need for ministry at the margins when speaking about his own religious identity. Ordained a Redemptorist priest, and later elected superior general, Tobin said the community’s mission is “always like to look on the other side of the tracks and care for people that maybe the church isn’t able to care for.” He said further:

“Our founder spoke of the most abandoned poor and that can take different form in different areas. The way I hear it, and the way I would speak of it when I was superior general, was basically we must go where the church isn’t able to go.”

By all accounts, Archbishop Tobin seems to practice the pastorally-oriented leadership so desired by Pope Francis. His recognition that the church must be present at the margins, and his affirmation of women religious, who have been present there, could indicate a more pastoral approach on LGBT issues.

That is why his comments on LGBT church workers are puzzling to me. While he affirms the need to interact with every employee in a charitable way, including a conversation, the case-by-case solution he proposes does not actually protect LGBT church workers and their families from discrimination.

When it comes to employment, such provisional solutions are almost never adequate. For every Archbishop Tobin in Indianapolis who is pastorally shepherding God’s people, there is a Bishop Tobin in Providence whose firing of a gay music director has forced many more parishioners to question their relationship to the church. . Lacking explicit non-discrimination policies and demonstrated support programs, church institutions remain dangerous workplaces when one’s livelihood depends on the bishop’s whim.

For Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of this story, and other LGBT-related church worker disputes, click the ‘Employment Issues’ category to the right or here. You can click here to find a full listing of the more than 60 incidents since 2007 where church workers have lost their jobs over LGBT identity, same-sex marriages, or public support for equality.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 20, 2016