By Gerald D. Coleman, P.S.S.
Adjunct professor, Graduate Department of Pastoral Ministries, Santa Clara University
James Martin is a Jesuit priest, a distinguished author, and editor-at-large for the Jesuit magazine America. He recently published a serious book, fully in line with Catholic teaching, Building A Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into A Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity.
Vicious attacks have been made not only about the book, but Martin himself. His professional and priestly reputation are called into question by ad hominem attacks which name him “the pro-sodomite priest” and a “homosexualist,” a term exhumed from the past to cast a pejorative net over a balanced understanding of homosexuality.
Critics call him “effeminate, a heretic, and pansified,” some dubbing him as “Father Snowflake,” a “perfidious priest” who is “guilty of leading young men to perdition.” Recent campaigns against him have prompted high-profile Catholic groups to disinvite him from speaking engagements. The New York Times observed that his book has “unleashed a torrent of hatred.” Catholic organizations that dropped Martin as a speaker have unfortunately endorsed and lent credence to the distortions of his critics.
In Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral Approaches to Same-Sex Attraction (2015), one author states that “homosexuality is one of the sins that put the nails in Jesus’ hand and feet.” If this is accurate, it is easy to see why critics believe Martin’s and the Church’s call for respect, compassion and sensitivity for homosexual persons is perverse.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes Catholic teaching on homosexuality: its genesis “remains largely unexplained,” “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered… Under no circumstances can they be approved,” “the number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible,” “this inclination is objectively disordered,” “homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” and “homosexual persons are called to chastity… They can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.” (nos. 2357-2358)
Martin never calls into question these teachings. If he had, he would not have received approval for the book by his Jesuit superiors or the Bishops who endorsed it.
Martin’s book takes as its guide the words of Pope Francis in Amoris Laetitia: “We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity.” (no. 250) Martin importantly affirms that supporting homosexual persons is not and should not be a “tacit agreement with everything that anyone in the LGBT community says or does.” It seems that Martin’s critics believe that his call to accompany members of the LGBT community amounts to outright approval of acts which the church teaches are intrinsically disordered. A thoughtful reading of his book shows he is not supporting such an agenda.
Donald Cozzens met similar disparaging responses to his book The Changing Face of the Priesthood (2000). He suggested that there were a number of very fine celibate priests who were gay. Martin makes similar references, e.g., another gift to the church are “celibate priests and brothers who are gay.” They should be “accepted as beloved children of God.” This assertion raises red flags, suggesting that the priesthood is composed predominately by homosexual men. This false perception accounts for some of the malicious attacks against Martin and his book.
Sadly, critics never mention the second half of Martin’s book where he offers helpful biblical passages for reflection and meditation, and a beautiful prayer for persons who feel rejected.
Martin writes nothing in his book that is contrary to church teaching. The book is a pastoral call to compassion and a challenge to build mutual understanding among the church’s pastors, faithful, and LGBT community.