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.”
He continued: “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.