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Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J., center, talks with Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, N.J., left, and U.S. Archbishop James P. Green, in Rome in June 2017. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J., center, talks with Bishop James F. Checchio of Metuchen, N.J., left, and U.S. Archbishop James P. Green, in Rome in June 2017. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) 

Attempts to make the church smaller and more pure will only achieve one of the two—and it is probably not the latter.

That was the message from Cardinal Joseph Tobin in a talk at Villanova University on April 12, during which he urged Catholics to resist allowing “the individualism that permeates our culture” to infect the church.

“Even from ancient times, there have been individuals and movements who have tried to define and delimit what is means to be a Catholic Christian,” the Newark archbishop said. “Nevertheless, the universal church has always repudiated such attempts. It is only the Lord who ultimately judges who belongs or does not belong.”

Cardinal Tobin: “It is only the Lord who ultimately judges who belongs or does not belong” to the Catholic Church

The cardinal’s comments were part of a conference at the Pennsylvania university exploring the impact of Pope Francis on the church.

The notion of a smaller church based on faithfulness and obedience to church teaching has become more popular over the past couple of years.

In 2016, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput said in a speech delivered at the University of Notre Dame that the church should “do everything we can to bring tepid Catholics back to active life in the church.” But, he continued, “we should never be afraid of a smaller, lighter church if her members are also more faithful, more zealous, more missionary and more committed to holiness.”

And before he was elected pope, Benedict XVI suggested in an interview that as the role of Catholic culture diminishes in the wider culture, the church itself may grow smaller. But Cardinal Tobin said a closer examination of the former pope’s theological works goes against the notion that the former pope would welcome this development.

“No circling of wagons here,” the cardinal said of Benedict’s theology.

Cardinal Tobin said that engagement with the world is a Christian principle that dates back to the earliest followers of Jesus.

More recently, Rod Dreher, an editor at The American Conservative, wrote a popular book called The Benedict Option, in which he argues that civil society has become overly hostile to Christian belief, requiring believers to separate themselves from the dominant secular culture.

Cardinal Tobin seemingly condemned this approach to faith, characterizing it as an effort to form “small enclaves” of believers who will somehow “safeguard the treasure of the Christian tradition in its purest form from the corrosive intrusion of a corrupt society.” He said instead that engagement with the world is a Christian principle that dates back to the earliest followers of Jesus.

Cardinal Tobin said that the church is still learning how to live out the missionary call laid out by the Second Vatican Council, and he said both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI offered examples of how to invite believers and nonbelievers alike to engage with Catholic teaching.

Reading his remarks from an electronic tablet, the cardinal said Catholics must not be afraid of engaging with the world.

“The church has no other option but to turn outward,” he said. “This turning outward extends to the human condition in its heights and depths.”

Some of that engagement may be difficult, he conceded.

During a question-and-answer session following the talk, the cardinal, who made headlines when he welcomed a group of gay and lesbian Catholics on pilgrimage to the Newark cathedral, addressed the firing of L.G.B.T. people from Catholic institutions. He said that the place of L.G.B.T. people in the church is not an easy topic for some church leaders, but they must grapple with it.

“The church has no other option but to turn outward. This turning outward extends to the human condition in its heights and depths.”

“I think it’s a very difficult question,” he said of the termination of such church employees, often after elements of their private lives are made public. 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.”

He said another form of engagement involves partnering with groups on shared priorities, even if there are differences in other areas. Pope Francis’ teaching on the environment and the partnerships between the church and secular partners it has generated, he said, serves as an example of the kind of engagement envisioned by Vatican II—even when partners hold disagreements about other issues.

“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,” Cardinal Tobin said. “This, too, is a step in the trajectory that leads back to Vatican II.”

During his talk, the cardinal also appeared to give a signal of support to backers of Pope Francis who say his teaching on family life, “Amoris Laetitia,” represents another “paradigm shift” in the church’s pastoral ministry. The phrase became a shorthand method to signal support for the pope back in January, when Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, said Pope Francis had initiated a “paradigm shift” in the church. Critics took issue with the line, saying the true church does not change with the times.

Cardinal Tobin appeared to refute that claim, employing the phrase not only with respect to “Amoris Laetitia” but also calling the Second Vatican Council “one of the many paradigm shifts” in the history of Catholicism. (His comments echoed those of another American archbishop, Cardinal Blase Cupich, who in a February speech spoke favorably of a “paradigm shift” in the church.) “As with all paradigm shifts, especially after some ecumenical councils, it provoked controversy,” Cardinal Tobin said of “Amoris Laetitia.”

Wrapping up his talk, the cardinal said the church may indeed become “smaller.”

“But there will also be the adventurers,” he said, “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.”

In that way, he concluded, “the church might indeed become purer.”

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Annette Magjuka
6 years ago

I am now 62, a lifelong Catholic. My young adult years were spent on social justice issues and the church seemed to partner in these important pursuits. That is why it is so heartbreaking that the church still lags so far behind on the full inclusion of women and on LGBTQ rights and inclusion. I have long thought that the church is missing the boat on its teaching around the issues of sexuality. It is not just "the act" that we should consider. People--old people, young people, all people--are desperate for true intimacy and love. This is important for single people, married people, and all people. Humans long to know and be known. Catholic doctrine sets believers on a lifelong path of commitment to God and to those we love. Sometimes, true believers cannot love in the same way as the majority population. They are still children of God, our brothers and sisters in Christ. To take a punitive and judgmental stand signals to all Catholics that our religion is a set of "do not" rules, and that if you are different, you are OUT. This is the opposite of what Jesus taught us. Our young people are desperate for support in learning how to love one another in committed, mutually respectful relationships. Guess what? Some of our 30+ year old single kids are having sex. This does not make them bad people, and it certainly should not make them outcasts. Some of these issues are intertwined with women's rights. Women have important work outside of the home now. We are not available to tidy things up or quietly and obediently serve men. The church must serve its faithful. The insistence on marginalizing LGBTQ Catholics is despicable. It is wrong, any way you look at it. I pray that the Holy Spirit will prevail. Because the wisdom of the Holy Spirit has informed many Catholics of conscience that all inequality and injustice is wrong.

Arnoldo Miranda
6 years ago

Nobody is being marginalized. All, meaning all sinners including myself, are welcomed and invited to live the Gospel and all that it implies. If you fall, you pick yourself up again and continue.

Tim Donovan
6 years ago

I agree with Cardinal Tobin that ultimately only Jesus can decide who belongs in or out of the Church. However, Jesus in Scripture, said to Peter, that he was the rock on which He would build the church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18). So as a faithful though very imperfect Catholic (more on that in a moment) I believe that Jesus gave Peter, as the first Pope, the authority to lead our Church. Certainly, Peter made serious mistakes (he denied Christ three times) and many Pipes throughout history have engaged in very sinful behavior. That's understandable, because each Pope is human, and all of us sign. However, I think it's clear that there are some Church teachings which are fundamental. These include among others, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the resurrection of Jesus who suffered and died to bring us new life, the authority of the Pope, and the sacraments which as Catholics we believe we instituted by Christ. The Church has always had difficulties, even scandals, for 2,000 years; most recently, the sexual abuse of children/minors by some priests has been the most prominent example of scandal. But Jesus assured the Church that it and it's mission of teaching and serving people both in and outside the Church would always survive. Will the Church became smaller in terms of members? Perhaps. This would be unfortunate, but I agree with Archbishop Chaput that ultimately it is more important that the Church has members who believe in the authentic teachings of the Church, including "hard sayings." I certainly sympathize with gay people, since I'm gay, and was often taunted as being a faggot when I was growing up in the 1970's as an adolescent. (This was before I had told people I was gay, but many people correctly assumed my orientation). It's certainly painful not being a heterosexual, and I do have a gay friend who I worked with some years ago. My desire to belong and have companionship led me some years ago to have sex with men. Hosever, I'm realized that my behavior was immoral, and received forgiveness and consolation through the Sacrament of Reconciliation with my compassionate pastor. I continue to win in terms of sometimes viewing pornography, having lustful feelings, being uncharitable or inpatient with some of my friends and other residents of the quality nursing home /rehabilitation center where I live (I'm "only" 56, but I have a chronic health problem. I'm not asking for sympathy, since many people I live with are severely disabled or very elderly. However, I do go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation once a month with my fantastic pastor, and confess the aforementioned sins as well as others that I commit. I then receive the Eucharist, and do my best to reform my life. As with most people, I find it to be an ongoing process. Although I certainly believe as the Church teaches that people who aren't straight should be treated with compassion, respect, and in a dignified manner, I believe as Jesus taught that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. I sympathize with people in difficult marriages. My brother-in-law who is a very loving husband and father is divorced from his first wife. However, he received an annulment, and he and my sister who's a loving mother and wife were married in the Church.

Gay Timothy O'Dreary
6 years ago

You have told us. You have told us many times that you are a homosexual, that you have struggled, that you were a porn star, addict, adopted the lie of sexual promiscuity, etc. Some have tried to post responses on your blog but you have blocked them. Yet you come to these pages to post your missives all the while demonstrating how broken you are (like all of us) and how you have transferred your addiction of sexual appetite to the addiction of self-stimulation, i,e. attention seeking behavior.

We get it. You are gay. You are hurting. You need Christ. Join the club. Act with humility, adopt an attitude of rejecting the OTHER cardinal sins you never address, e.g. Pride, Wrath, Gluttony, Sloth., et al.
.. all veritable appetites that destroy life. These are Traditional Catholic Truths. Address those too. Stop picking and choosing what gratifies your appetite.

Go in peace and act holy in all things but particularly online. Put the club away. You keep bludgeoning readers with your other appetites and mortal sins, e.g. pride. The great mystical Saints never sought attention (e.g. the Little Flower!). Do likewise.


Carol Cox
6 years ago

These comments were so uncharitable! It is no surprise to me that Tim chose to block you and your acolytes from his blog! Why are you seeking to cast wicked words towards Tim, who admits to being a troubled soul and who is obviously in pain? "Go in peace and act holy in all things but particularly online." What gives you the right to sit in such seething, scolding judgement of Tim? You chided Tim for having blocked you and your acolytes from his blog! Good for Tim! Who would welcome such vitriole? Tim has found comfort and peace in his relationship with his confessor and in our Church. And, you are the one(s) who have taken to wielding a bat heavily laden with anger and judgement. How shameful

Mike Theman
6 years ago

Thanks for your comment, Tim. It's important for you to post your story for others who may be struggling as you have and are; some of them may be rare visitors here and do not see all of your comments. I, personally, welcome your comments.

Anne Danielson
6 years ago

Tim, you are first and foremost, a beloved child of God. God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Has not ordered His Beloved Children according to sexual desire/inclination/orientation, because to do so sexually objectifies the human person, and is a violation of God's Own Commandment, regarding lust and the sin of adultery. As long as you continue to identify yourself or others according to sexual desire/inclination/orientation, this will continue to be a "stumbling block" for you. Do not fear the transformitive nature of Salvational Love, God's Gift of Grace and Mercy.

Carol Sobeck
6 years ago

"Mercy rather than judgment. Sympathy rather than apathy. To see as God sees--always consider the person." Pope Francis on gay persons

Kevin Murphy
6 years ago

I've never been denied mercy in my 58 years as a Catholic. Francis didn't invent mercy. He invented a false version, ie forgiveness without penance, without the promise to try and change one's behaviour. Mercy implies that you've done something wrong. Francis says keep on doing what you're doing.

Lisa Weber
6 years ago

Those who want to make the church "purer" are generally Pharisees who imagine that others are unfit for their company. Jesus had little good to say about scribes and Pharisees.

Michael Barberi
6 years ago

Amen. The leadership of our Catholic Church (e.g, all the bishops inclusive of the Pope) are slow-walking the LGBTQ issue and the role of women in the Church, not to minimize other importance issues. One of the problems facing the Church is its exaggerated fear of changing doctrines and teachings that need reform and development. It also resists a rethinking of pastoral application of doctrines and moral teachings in complex circumstances (e.g., Amoris Laetitia).

For the past 40 plus years, the Church has caused a division in the worldwide Church by polarizing the conversation and perhaps unintentionally placing people into categories. On one side are those who believe in every moral teaching of the magisterium. The are the faithful and embrace the truth. Everyone else are the misguided, ignorant and are being lead away from the truth by individualism, relativism, consumerism and liberalism. Hence, we live in a divided Church and in a crisis in truth.

The good news is that Pope Francis has started to change the Church from a top-down authoritative monarchy to one from the bottom-up where all the faithful have a voice in the governance of the Church and in its teachings. Pope Francis wants everyone to go out to the peripheries of our neighborhoods and societies and invite them in. For those born with a same-sex orientation it means treating them with respect, compassion and sensitivity, and implementing Amoris Laetitia opening a pathway to Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried. Lastly, it is about time that the Church figured out how to ordain women and give them significant responsibilities and authorities in the governance of our Church.

What we need is a large, welcoming and compassionate Holy Church, not a small and so-called purer Church.

Kevin Murphy
6 years ago

In the end, whether Tobin wants to admit it or not, you cannot have things both ways. As the saying goes, you can't be a little bit pregnant. Some things, according to the Church, are black and white. Tobin and his ilk avoid this fact by endless calls for "dialogue" and "inclusion.". They're just biding their time until they can gut Church teachings. He's not fooling anyone.

Carol Cox
6 years ago

Cardinal Tobin seems to me to be a man and a priest capable of shepherding his flock - all of his flock! As we witness the unchallenged rise of anti-Semitism throughout the world and the left-leaning technology/technologists trying to surpress Catholicism (re:the recent revelations by Mark Zuckerburg of Facebook during his Congressional testimony), this is no time to split hairs and turn on one another! As Catholics, we must stand up for those who are under attack. Social justice is far more encompassing than most of us think. Inclusion means that we embrace all who come to us and seek acceptance. When we speak of Social Justice, we are talking about equality, fair and just treatment for every human being, reaching out into the world to put into practice The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy and extending our open arms to welcome ALL people into our Church with no judgements about who they are, where they came from, how they live, why they have come to us for comfort or what contributions they can make to our parish. We will learn all of these things from new Church members as time unfolds and friendships are born. Would Jesus have turned these folks away? I think not. I am a "straight" woman. No one has ever questioned me about "how" I have sex. I have loved many gay men and stood by them and with them in their fight against succumbing to AIDS/HIV. All of them died and my life was left much sadder and lonelier by their demises. They were asked all of the time about "how" they had sex by "straight" men. Why would you ask such a question of another human being? What business it is of yours? What ends would such knowledge serve you? When one of my friends who died of AIDS/HIV was being waked, the funeral director refused to allow his workers to touch the casket! My son was about 9 years old at the time and he walked up to the casket, unlocked the wheels and started to move it himself. Within seconds, other friends and family members stepped forward to help, At the grave site, the funeral home, once again, refused to "touch" the casket and my son and other men in our family carried it themselves. This was in a Catholic cemetery.
I will be teaching a CCD class on Sunday and I will be including a discussion of the Holocaust with the children. I am focusing on Anne Frank who is someone the children can relate. There are no pictures of a graphic nature. There are photos of churches and synogogues being burned, Jews and Catholics being marched through the streets of Poland wearing yellow stars to signify that they were "less than" other citizens, "No Jews Allowed" signs dispersed throughout the country and inside of The Anne Frank house in Amsterdam which is still intact so that the children might get a more true sense of what The Holocaust was and that nearly 9,000,000 people died. I will also read this poem to them at the end of class and I think that it appropriate to this conversation. It was written by a German Pastor, Martin Niemoller.

FIRST THEY CAME by Martin Niemoller

First they came for the Communists
-but I was not a communists so I did not
speak out.
Then they came for the Socialists and the
Trade Unionists.
-but I was neither, so I did not speak out.
And when they came for me, there was no
one left to speak out for me.

Carol Cox

Robert Lewis
6 years ago

Rod Dreher attempts to rebut Cardinal Tobin: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/christianity-in-negative-world/#post-comments

Anne Danielson
6 years ago

All of us have disordered desires/inclinations of various types and degree, some more difficult to overcome than others. God desires that we desire to overcome our disordered inclinations, and become transformed through Salvational Love, God's Gift of Grace and Mercy.
God desires that in all our relationships, we experience authentic Love, that Love that enables us to desire only that which is Good for ourselves and our beloved.

God does not discriminate against any person, but desires that all persons come to know The Way, The Truth, and The Life (Light) of Perfect Love, Our Savior, Jesus The Christ.

We have nothing to fear from Salvational Love, God's Gift of Grace and Mercy. Why then are we so afraid to tell those men and woman, who have developed a same-sex sexual attraction the truth? It is because we Love you, and respect your Dignity as a beloved son or daughter, that we cannot condone the engaging in or affirmation of any act, including any sexual act that demeans your inherent Dignity as a beloved son or daughter. The desire to engage in a demeaning act of any nature, does not change the nature of the act. We Love you, and because we Love you, we desire that you will always be treated with, and will always treat others with Dignity and respect in private as well as in public. We will not tolerate the engaging in or condoning of sexual behavior that does not reflect the upmost respect for the human person, because we Love you.

" 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

Anne Danielson
6 years ago

To recognize that one is a sinner and desire to overcome our disordered inclinations towards sin through our acceptance of Salvational Love, God's Gift of Grace and Mercy is not the same as denying that our disordered inclinations towards sin, will lead us into temptation and sin.
It is that difference that makes all the difference.

If it were true that it is Loving and Merciful to desire that we remain in our sin and not overcome our disordered desire/inclination toward sin, we would not need Our Savior, Jesus The Christ, Who, in meeting persons where they are, even if they be at the margins, always desires that they overcome their disordered inclinations, so that they not be lead into temptation and sin, but "Go, and sin no more."

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