Roman Catholic Bishop says LGBT church worker firings need to be "rectified;" Pro-LGBT ministry responds

A pro-LGBT Catholic ministry hopes to hear a member of the church hierarchy speak positivity about the LGBT community. But, aside from Pope Francis' "Who am I to judge" comment last summer, that had never happened as bluntly as it did last Thursday.

Bob Shine is a Catholic student at Boston College who writes for the New Ways Ministry, a pro-LGBT ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics.

"I am Catholic and my relationship with Jesus impels me to institute in this world structures that are just and inclusive," Shine told GLAAD.

Last Thursday, Shine attended a panel of journalists and academics on September 11th discussing the papacy of Pope Francis at the launch event for Crux, the Boston Globe's new Catholic-focused website. Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston was one of the panelists.

“Pope Francis challenges us to overcome our indifference in our own lives,” O'Malley said.

Shine wanted to ask O'Malley about the recent firings within the church community where, in 2014 alone, over twenty teachers, deans, music directors, etc. have been fired due to their sexual orientation or connection with an LGBT issue.

O'Malley had been saying in the panel that the church is about caring and empathy. His statement was tested when he answered Shine's question:

 "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?"

O'Malley responded saying, “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.”

O'Malley seemed to dodge Shine's specific question, but Shine was satisfied with the answer.

"It's not that often that you get someone of his prominence in the church, in the official church structure, saying such a forcefully inclusive statement," Shine said.

Shine went up to O'Malley after the panel to thank him for his comment. The cardinal told Shine that convincing people that they are loved is more important than talking about the Ten Commandments. Shine questioned him about this. He said it's been difficult to convince LGBT Catholics and their allies of this love when so many church workers have had LGBT-related employment disputes and firings within Catholic schools and parishes.

Bluntly, the cardinal replied that this firing trend "needs to be rectified."

Shine was surprised by the cardinal's blunt statement but did not press him any further.

"I am not going to speculate on what the cardinal means. At a base level, I think it's simply an admission that firing church workers because of their sexual orientation or marital status or gender identity is problematic," Shine said. "It seems like the first time we know of that a bishop, never mind one who is a close papal advisor, has come out and said there's a problem here with these firings. Previous instances of episcopal involvement in these employment disputes has been either affirming the firings, some level of saying I don't have the power to get involved or remaining silent and deflecting the issue. So, this is, even if it was not fleshed out, this is a really important statement to have on the record."

Shine said the cardinal's statement should not, however, represent the overall tone of the church hierarchy toward LGBT people.

"I think O'Malley's comments are quite indicative of the change of tone coming from Pope Francis and those in the Vatican who are working with him to reach out to margins including the LGBT community with his "Who am I to judge?" statement and several other positive statements or actions. In terms of the American hierarchy, I don't think it indicates a change of tone, and I think Cardinal O'Malley is hopefully a trend setter for the rest of the bishops in the US," Shine said.

Shine mentioned New Orleans' Archbishop Gregory Aymond's support for ministry for LGBT people when a federal judge upheld the state’s definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman at the beginning of this September.

Shine hopes to represent the Catholic's support for LGBT equality with New Ways Ministry and he is overall happy with O'Malley's comments at the panel. He said, though, that this is just one step of many that needs to occur.

"Overall there's still a feeling in the American hierarchy of resistance to what Pope Francis is doing," Shine said.