In Major Address, Fr. James Martin, SJ, Invites LGBT People and the Institutional Church to Mutual Respect

Fr. James Martin, SJ, called for greater mutual respect between the institutional church and LGBT communities during a major address he presented yesterday.

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Fr. James Martin, SJ recieving the Bridge Building Award from New Ways Ministry Executive Director Francis DeBernardo and Co-Founder Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL

Titled “A Two-Way Bridge,” the address was framed around the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s exhortation that lesbian and gay people be treated with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

Fr. Martin offered his remarks after receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award, which recognized his ministry of communication and the ways it has expanded dialogue on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church

In the address, Fr. Martin asked  what living this exhortation out might mean for church leaders and ministers, but also for LGBT people as they relate to the institutional church. Today’s post features highlights from the address, and you can find the full text by clicking here.  (The text of the talk can also be found on America magazine’s website.)

Respect 

For the institutional church to respect LGBT communities would mean, at least, the acknowledgment that such persons exist, Fr. Martin said.  In addition, the needs to offer pastoral responses through welcoming Masses, outreach groups, and efforts to make LGBT people known they are part of the church. Fr. Martin continued:

“Second, respect means calling a group what it asks to be called. . .Because it is respectful to call people by the name they choose. Everyone has the right to tell you their name. . .

“Names are important. . .people have a right to name themselves. Using those names is part of respect. And if Pope Francis can use the word gay, so can the rest of the church.”

Commenting on the firings of LGBT church workers, of which more than 60 have become public since 2008, Fr. Martin said:

“The problem is that this authority is applied in a highly selective way. Almost all the firings in recent years have focused on L.G.B.T. matters. Specifically, these firings have most often related to those employees who have entered into same-sex marriages, which is against church teaching, and where one or another partner has a public role in the church. . .

“Moreover, requiring church employees to adhere to church teachings means, at a more fundamental level, adhering to the Gospel. To be consistent, we should fire people for not helping the poor, for not being forgiving and for not being loving. That may sound odd, but why should it? Jesus’s teachings are the most essential ‘church teachings.’ “

When it comes to LGBT people showing respect to the institutional church, Fr. Martin said Catholics must practice ecclesial respect for church leaders and simple human respect for these leaders who are our siblings. He stated:

“This may be hard to hear for people who feel beaten down by the church. But being respectful of people with whom you disagree is not only the Christian way. Even from a human point of view, it’s good strategy.  If you sincerely want to influence the church’s perspective on L.G.B.T. matters, it helps to earn the trust of the hierarchy. And one way to do that is by respecting them. So both the Christian approach and simple wisdom would say: Respect them.”

Compassion

Fr. Martin also explored what it would mean for the institutional church to be compassionate towards LGBT people. He highlighted twice that compassion means “to experience with, or suffer with.” Being compassionate includes listening, expressing solidarity including through episcopal statements, and celebrating joyfully. He noted:

“The first and most essential requirement is listening. It is nearly impossible to experience a person’s life, or to be compassionate, if you do not listen to the person, or if you do not ask questions. Questions that Catholic leaders might ask their L.G.B.T. brothers and sisters are: What is your life like? What was it like growing up as a gay boy or lesbian girl or transgender person? How have you suffered? What are your joys? And: What is your experience of God? What is your experience of the church? What do you hope for, long for, pray for? For the church to exercise compassion, we need to listen.”

LGBT people showing compassion to the institutional church and its leaders would include seeing bishops “in their humanity, in their complexity and amid the great burdens of their ministries.” Fr. Martin wondered if LGBT communities could give the institutional church the “gift of time,” that is time to make sense of diverse experiences of gender and sexuality:

“Challenging as it may be to hear, and without setting aside the suffering that many L.G.B.T. people have experienced in the church, I wonder if the L.G.B.T. community could give the institutional church the gift of time. Time to get to know you. In a very real way, an open and public L.G.B.T. community is new, even in my lifetime. In a very real way the world is just getting to know you. So is the church. I know it’s a burden, but it’s perhaps not surprising. It takes time to get to know people. So perhaps the L.G.B.T. community can give the institutional church the gift of patience.”

Sensitivity

Finally, Fr. Martin called for LGBT people and the institutional church to show greater sensitivity towards each other. For the church, this last point means responding to Pope Francis’ call for encounter and accompaniment, and Martin said one reason church leaders struggled to show sensitivity is they knew very few LGBT people:

“That lack of familiarity and friendship means it is more difficult to be sensitive. How can you be sensitive to a person’s situation if you don’t know them? So one invitation is for the hierarchy to come to know them as friends. . .

“In this, as in all things, Jesus is our model. When Jesus encountered people on the margins, he saw not a category but a person. To be clear, I am not saying that the L.G.B.T. community should be, or should feel, marginalized. Rather, I am saying that within the church many of them do find themselves marginalized. They are seen as ‘other.’ But for Jesus there was no ‘other.’ “

If sensitivity is based on”encounter, accompaniment, and friendship,” then it must be enacted by seeking to not offend. Using language like “objectively disordered” is not sensitive, Fr. Martin said, and further:

“Saying that one of the deepest parts of a person—the part that gives and receives love—is ‘disordered’ in itself is needlessly cruel. . .Part of sensitivity is understanding that.”

For LGBT people to show sensitivity to the institutional church, Fr. Martin said they should be aware of “who is speaking and how they are speaking.” This sensitivity means acknowledging the hierarchy of authoritative teaching, and what weight each teaching has, noting that not all statements, figures, and documents are not of equal weight. Authority is also possessed by holy people, and Fr. Martin continued:

“Moreover, there is an invitation to be sensitive to the fact that when someone in the Vatican speaks—whether the pope or a Vatican congregation—they are speaking to the whole world, not just the West, and certainly not just the United States. Something that seems tepid in the United States might be shocking in Latin America or Africa. . .

“Well, perhaps in the West those words seemed insufficient. But the pope is writing not simply for the West, much less simply for the United States. Imagine reading that in a country where violence against L.G.B.T. people is rampant and the church has remained silent. What is bland in the United States is incendiary in other parts of the world. What might be obvious to a bishop in one country is a clear, forceful, even threatening, challenge to another bishop. What seems arid to L.G.B.T. people in one country may be, in another country, water in a barren desert.”

Fr. Martin concluded his address by inviting the institutional church and the LGBT community to “step onto a bridge of mutual ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,” and said:

“Some of this may be hard to hear for the L.G.B.T. community. It is hard to step onto that bridge. And some of this may be challenging for bishops to hear. Because neither lane on that bridge is smooth. On this bridge, as in life, there are tolls. It costs when you live a life of respect, compassion and sensitivity. But to trust in that bridge is to trust that eventually people will be able to cross back and forth easily, and that the hierarchy and the L.G.B.T. community will be able to encounter one another, accompany one another and love one another. It is to trust that God desires unity.

“We are all on the bridge together. Because, of course, the bridge is the church. And, ultimately, on the other side of the bridge for each group is welcome, community and love.”

In a special appeal to LGBT Catholics, who struggle with the church and are hurt by its ministers, Martin stated:

“The Holy Spirit is supporting the church and is supporting you. . .For you are beloved children of God who, by virtue of your baptism, have as much right to be in the church as the pope, your local bishop or me. . .In short, you are not alone. Millions of your Catholic brothers and sisters accompany you, as do your bishops, as we journey imperfectly together on this bridge. More important, we are accompanied by God, the reconciler of all men and women of good will, as well as the architect, the builder and the foundation of that bridge.”

To read the full text of Fr. Martin’s address, “A Two-Way Bridge,” click here. Further information about the Bridge Building Award ceremony, including a video of the address and comments made by one of the attendees, Yayo Grassi, a gay man and former student of Pope Francis, will be posted later this week.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 31, 2016

15 thoughts on “In Major Address, Fr. James Martin, SJ, Invites LGBT People and the Institutional Church to Mutual Respect

  1. Chris October 31, 2016 / 1:36 am

    Properly speaking, I do not think entering into a same sex marriage is against Church teaching. The teaching was against legalising same sex unions in such a way as to make them equivalent to heterosexual marriage (Cardinal Ratzinger, SCDF). That is a prudential judgement on a particular proposed law, not a teaching against Catholics choosing to enter into such secular marriage arrangements (for which there may well be strong reasons fully consistent with Catholic faith).

    God Bless

  2. Stephen October 31, 2016 / 3:53 am

    Nice, but out of touch with reality in some ways and I don’t want to say it was offensive because that is not the right way to put it, but it was slightly insulting although I am sure it was not his intent to insult anyone. The Catholic church needs to just stop. We do not need to give it time…it’s been harming and ruining the lives of LGBT people and others for decades and done things I’m sure Jesus finds absolutely despicable. The church has used up it’s patience card. Sorry Father….the LGBT people on the street and in “Real life” are owed by the church because the church put them out to begin with. Also, clergy have a allegiance to the church to say certain things and to abide by certain rules, even at the detriment of others, in this case LGBT people — and they have to play the game to stay in their sometimes comfy positions of power. It’s EXACTLY what Jesus preached against and it’s really an atrocity. LGBT people do not owe anything to the church…the church owes us…..do black people owe white supremacists the courtesy of patience? No it’s intolerable today. It’s enough. They have suffered enough. We have suffered enough. There should be a zero tolerance policy against discrimination in the church. zero.

    He uses nice words and I’m sure he has well meaning intentions but it’s like telling the abused to run back to the abuser. Nope. The abuser is the one that must reform and change and offer sorrow for their behavior before reconciliation can begin. Any good psychologist will tell you that is harmful and bad advice.You don’t stand on a bridge with people who want to throw you off of it.

  3. Wilhelm Wonka October 31, 2016 / 7:39 am

    Fr Martin made some very good, conciliatory points. But my overall impression of the man is that he was acting as a kind of referee between two equally opposing sides. That was wrong of him. He must know that he was not addressing such a well-balanced situation, but one in which the powerful (the institutional Roman Catholic Church ) was oppressing a minority (the LGBT community).

    Jesus always showed special concern for those on the margins, whatever their state in life. He sided with them, in other words, and wasn’t afraid of the consequences of doing so. Fr Martin, on the other hand, played it relatively safe by occupying the less controversial middle ground (hence my impression of him as a referee).

    Fr Martin, you are meant to champion the poor, not to act as a conciliator between them and those who oppress them.

    • eckhart67 October 31, 2016 / 12:05 pm

      Agreed Wilhelm… Martin’s point that he has heard LGBT people “make fun” of the hierarchy was such a false equivalence. The hierarchy’s hurtful words have all been in public forums and meant to be punitive. There is absolutely no official LGBT organization I know of that have made a public statement making “fun” of the hierarchy,

      • Wilhelm Wonka October 31, 2016 / 5:23 pm

        My impression is that Fr Martin was suggesting the institutional Catholic Church AND LGBT people are equally responsible for the rift between them. This simply isn’t true.

        Fr Martin should have known better.

  4. Susan October 31, 2016 / 7:40 am

    The clergy needs time to get to know gay people? Maybe if all the gay priests came out of the shadows instead of living lives of complete hypocrisy, that wouldn’t be an issue.

  5. Peter Beacham October 31, 2016 / 7:56 am

    It is not a two-way bridge.

    There would be no problem if the Church’s catechism did not denigrate LGBT people by referring to them as intrinsically disordered and if Catholic churches and schools did not fire LGBT people for being who they are or for following the law of the land and marrying other LGBT people.

    This is not the first time that the Catholic Church has refused to acknowledge the findings of science and preferred to abuse LGBT people. Remember the persecution of Galileo for his audacious notion that the earth was not the center of the known universe and instead the earth and the other planet revolved around the sun.

    True, the Church no longer burns gay people alive although it does allow its African prelates to fan the flames of hatred of gay people and by doing so endanger their lives.

    No of the above is disrespect. It is factual.

    LGBT people are fighting for their lives and self-respect by leaving the Church in large numbers and by successfully pursuing political change in the laws impacting the LGBT population.

    Again, not necessarily with disrespect toward the Church and its prelates but often with disappointment and questions about the resilience of ignorance in the Church.

    The Catechism has been changed many times before. Now is the time to change it again before it is too late for Catholicism.

    Related to the homophobia of the Church and many of its prelates is the ingrained misogyny of the Church and many of its prelates. The Church cannot solve one of these problems without solving both of them.

    Yes, it is understandable that prelates who have been indoctrinated thoroughly are resistant to change but change is necessary for all avenues of life.

    Again, none of the above is disrespectful and all of it is factual.

    Condescending respect by the Catholic Church toward LGBT people because of their intrinsically disordered condition is not respect.

  6. Tom Bower October 31, 2016 / 8:47 am

    If Christ could have been less assertive, He could have died of old age as a respected minor Jewish scholar. The world would eventually be better if He had just learned to not challenge the status quo. Being divine He surely knew that in 16-19 centuries slavery might be abolished whether he condemned it or not. An eye for an eye method of justice had worked for thousands of years so why think the concept of mercy would be better? The powers that be are set in their way so why bother them by suggesting they share their riches with the poor? That these social changes took so long to happen is more of a failure to humans to hear the words of God than any will of God for those harmed to be patient.

    Would the oligarchs, dictators, and powerful conservative hierarchy in South America be challenged at the suggestion that LGBT people should be treated as loved children of God? It is ok for their same gender loving children to come to the US to study and vacation and do as they please as long as they don’t do it at home and have an appropriate straight cover marriage when needed. Would the African strong men and restrictive clergy who object so rabidly to any tolerance toward LGBT people object any less if they were asked to give up their tribal related prejudices? If the obligation to be Christian asks that LGBT peoples in Europe, Canada and the US can be asked to wait for decades/centuries to be treated as equals in Christ’s church, perhaps it isn’t too much for Pope to ask those who hide behind the colonial defense to be a scandal in their own eyes and speak honestly about Christ’s love for all humans regardless of who they love. Christ came to make us uncomfortable and the more powerful one is the more challenging is the task to find comfort and it is our job to make them uncomfortable..

  7. Friends October 31, 2016 / 5:25 pm

    Wow! Scorching comments from our responders — and just about all of them significantly, rationally and spiritually justified by the facts on the ground, especially concerning the way GLBT Catholics are viewed and treated within their own Church. We all appreciate your honest attempt to be a diplomatic and centrist mediator on these issues, Francis — by staging such a press event with Fr. Martin. But our people are righteously angry about the thinly-veiled contempt and condescension that they constantly receive from the high honchos in the Church’s red-hatted hierarchy. The condescension of the red-hats toward GLBT Catholics is the prime issue that needs to be targeted and rectified. How does Fr. Martin propose to fix this dysfunction — through any concrete and practical initiative?

  8. A great and wise image–“A Two-Way Bridge.” And wonderful as well as challenging to hear the tow sides given clues to how we might move toward each other. Thank you, Bob. Thank youFrancis. Most of all, thank you Fr. Jim.

  9. Larry October 31, 2016 / 11:45 pm

    What Fr. Martin says the Church should be doing is something that they should know themselves without being told if they look at who Christ was and who he calls all Catholics to be. Isn’t that how they are supposed to be living – as an example of Christ to us. Fr. Martin suggests that we wait for them to catch up to treat us as they should have been treating us all along? In America at least, we will have to wait for them to be retired or dead. And if they are replaced by like-mined prelates, we wait again? As one other commentator rightly noted, the Church owes us – we do not owe them.

    But it seems clear, with some exceptions, that the hierarchy in America is entrenched and more concerned with denigrating the LGBT community both religiously and civilly than they are in being examples of Christ to the world. Cardinal Dolan is a prime example. A jolly man in the PR sense which masks his massive efforts to stop the State of NY from extending the Statute of Limitations for sex abuse victims and then coming up with a “too little too late” compensation scheme to make himself seem generous as he once again takes advantage of vulnerable people. These prelates are corporate executives in religious garb.

    I have seen Fr. Martin in person and his actions at that event made me suspicious that underneath it all, he has a long way to go as a vibrant LGBT advocate. He speaks well and most of his remarks are spot on and need to be said loudly and often but he needs to more forcefully turn his attention to the hierarchy. The Church must go first in a meaningful way to show us honestly that the gay community is fully accepted in the Church. Delay is not the answer anymore.

  10. Teresa Yip November 1, 2016 / 11:49 pm

    I appreciate his good heart and intention. However, to harmonize the spiritual abuse and the concomitant stigmatization and further violations and simplify the whole reconciliation into mutual respect will not help. The huge difference in power allows abuse to breed easily. The stubborn homophobia and deep-rooted bias make the leadership blind to the suffering of LGBTQ people unless the strategic uses of parodies regarding Catholic leaders and figures.

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