CAFOD Not Truthful about Why It Cancelled Lecture, Claims Fr. James Martin

News that several organizations cancelled lectures by Fr. James Martin, SJ, has sparked an intense conversation this last week. The lecture cancellations, which you can read about here and here, occurred because of Martin’s new book on LGBT issues in the church, Building a Bridge. The online attacks against the priest which led to the cancellations have come from right wing Catholic groups, which are now being given increased attention as the church grapples with how to respond to them, though at least one U.S. bishop has chastised them.

MartinInclusionCAFOD Statements Not Truthful

Fr. Martin explained that he had to “correct the record” about the reasons why CAFOD, the English bishops’ international humanitarian aid agency, cancelled a lecture by the priest scheduled for this October. Martin offered his account of events on his Facebook page.

Chris Bain, CAFOD’s director, told The Tablet that the organization “did not withdraw the invitation for Fr Martin to speak at our refugees and migration event, which was postponed, but our correspondence was not clear.” Martin would be welcome to speak at the rescheduled event next spring. Martin has said this description of events is “not entirely accurate.” He explained:

“‘There was some vague talk of ‘perhaps some time in the future. . .but it was very clear that the 2017 talk was cancelled. And it was clear why: concerns and fears over negative publicity surrounding my LGBT book. . .In the case of the Cafod lecture in London, it was not a response to any campaign but fear that my presence itself would garner negative attention, after the group had recently faced other similar problems.'”

CAFOD has claimed their decision to reconsider inviting Martin was necessary as the organization “had a duty to consider how to proceed in the best interests of Cafod’s work.”

Martin Offers Support for Institutions

In another Facebook post, Fr. Martin offered his support for the institutions and organizations which have cancelled scheduled lectures. He said CAFOD, Theological College, and the Order of the Holy Sepulchre are “fine Catholic institutions” and were “victims of those terrible websites” that have attacked Martin. The priest encouraged Catholics to keep supporting their ministries, and wrote:

“The situations were so terrifically fraught with fear for these organizations: fear of protests, fear of violence, fear of bad publicity, fear of angry donors, fear of lost donations, fear of offending, and on and on. When two of the organizers called me, I could hear the anguish in their voices.”

Responding to Internet Trolls

Both Martin, in a Facebook post, and the editors of America, in an editorial, have commented on how Catholics might respond to the right wing websites which have launched attacks against the priest. The editorial in America said, at one point:

“It is likewise a mistake to ignore or dismiss those whose so-called evangelization takes the form of online attacks, and whose goal seems to be a purge of Catholic voices who do not meet their standards of purity. Those who lead such efforts are claiming a kind of parallel magisterium, substituting their own outrage for the judgement of those who occupy the church’s legitimate teaching office.

“They must be confronted, and church leaders—especially those whose viewpoints may differ from those of the persons under attack—should speak up strongly and clearly against these attacks and attempts at intimidation. The communion of the church needs to be defended—not from the peril of theological discussion but rather from that of being monitored and policed by the loudest and least loving voices among us.”

Gehring on the “Real Scandal”

John Gehring of Faith and Public Life wrote an essay in Commonweal about the real scandal happening when it comes to right wing attacks in the church. He said:

“When a group of zealots who show no sense of Christian decency and consistently target faithful people have more sway over a seminary than the cardinals and bishops who endorsed Martin’s book, it raises serious questions we can’t dismiss.”

Gehring referenced Martin’s popularity with younger Catholics who, rather than clinging to the culture wars, are focused on social justice. Lecture cancellations based on nasty attacks mean “[t]he already-thin thread barely connecting these young Catholics to the institutional church just got thinner.” Gehring added, “Self-inflicted wounds are hard to heal.”

Gehring also commented specifically on the Theological College controversy, which had the odd twist that The Catholic University of America, which oversees the seminary, claimed in a statement that the school for future priests somehow had independent authority. Noting the University would host right wing businessperson Charles Koch for a business school conference this month, Gehring concluded:

“A seminary at the only Vatican-chartered university in the country tells a priest who espouses orthodox views that he can’t speak, but the business school at the same university rolls out the red carpet for a wealthy patron of a political network that fights against a Catholic vision for the common good? It makes you wonder what the real scandal is.”

Paulist Fathers Offer Support

Calling Martin a “friend and neighbor of the Paulist Fathers,” the order said its members “were shocked and disappointed” by Theological College’s decision. The statement continued:

“Moreover, this incident exposes the ugliness and intolerance in our Church and society that is in desperate need of reconciliation and healing. . .[Theological College leaders] have sent a dangerous message to the future priests they train that encouraging dialogue and accompaniment with those on the periphery is unacceptable.”

This incident though bad could “prompt desperately needed charitable conversation and dialogue among the faithful on sexuality and spirituality.” You can read the Paulists’ full statement here.

Thankfully in these present controversies, support has poured in for Martin. But right wing attacks are nothing new for LGBT Catholics and their allies who have endured them for years. Going forward, we hope there will be a new solidarity against all those who seek to divide the church, especially those people and groups who target LGBT people and their families.

For continued updates on the Fr. Martin controversy and other Catholic LGBT news, subscribe to Bondings 2.0 in the upper right hand corner of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 21, 2017

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Bishop McElroy: Right Wing Attacks on LGBT Issues a “Wake-Up Call” for Catholics

Right wing attacks on Jesuit  Fr. James Martin’s views on LGBT issues should be a “wake-up call” for Catholics, said San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy in a new essay.

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Bishop Robert McElroy

McElroy’s essay in America identified a “cancer of vilification seeping into the institutional life of the church,” namely the judgmentalism now on display against Fr. Martin. Last week, news broke that Theological College in Washington, D.C. along with a couple other institutions, had cancelled lectures by Martin because of his new book on LGBT issues in the church, Building a Bridge. For more information on these incidents, click here. To read New Ways Ministry’s statement on this incident, click here.

Praising Building a Bridge, McElroy admitted there is “legitimate and substantive criticism” which Martin has received. Yet recent attacks from the right go beyond acceptable discourse and should be a “wake up call” for Catholics, the bishop wrote. He continued:

“This campaign of distortion must be challenged and exposed for what it is—not primarily for Father Martin’s sake but because this cancer of vilification is seeping into the institutional life of the church. Already, several major institutions have canceled Father Martin as a speaker. Faced with intense external pressures, these institutions have bought peace, but in doing so they have acceded to and reinforced a tactic and objectives that are deeply injurious to Catholic culture in the United States and to the church’s pastoral care for members of the L.G.B.T. communities. . .

“The concerted attack on Father Martin’s work has been driven by three impulses: homophobia, a distortion of fundamental Catholic moral theology and a veiled attack on Pope Francis and his campaign against judgmentalism in the church.”

The right wing groups have sought to “vilify” Martin by distorting his work and assassinating his character, said McElroy. Expanding his reflection beyond just the Martin incidents, the bishop explored the homophobic impulse. He said the attacks “tap into long-standing bigotry within the church and U.S. culture,” adding:

“The persons launching these attacks portray the reconciliation of the church and the L.G.B.T. community not as a worthy goal but as a grave cultural, religious and familial threat. Gay sexual activity is seen not as one sin among others but as uniquely debased to the point that L.G.B.T. persons are to be effectively excluded from the family of the church. Pejorative language and labels are deployed regularly and strategically. The complex issues of sexual orientation and its discernment in the life of the individual are dismissed and ridiculed. . .

“The coordinated attack on Building a Bridge must be a wake-up call for the Catholic community to look inward and purge itself of bigotry against the L.G.B.T. community. If we do not, we will build a gulf between the church and L.G.B.T. men and women and their families. Even more important, we will build an increasing gulf between the church and our God.”

McElroy also identified another dimension associated with these attacks: the right wing’s “distortion of Catholic moral theology.” The bishop said what is central to Christian life is not chastity, but love. He explained:

“Many times, our discussions in the life of the church suggest that chastity has a singularly powerful role in determining our moral character or our relationship with God. It does not. . .Those who emphasize the incompatibility of gay men or lesbian women living meaningfully within the church are ignoring the multidimensional nature of the Christian life of virtue or the sinfulness of us all or both.”

McElroy also pointed out how the attacks on Martin’s book echo conservatives’ rejection of Pope Francis’ pastoral approach to LGBT issues. McElroy wrote:

“Regarding the issue of homosexuality, in particular, many of those attacking Father Martin simply cannot forgive the Holy Father for uttering that historic phrase on the plane: ‘Who am I to judge?’ The controversy over Building a Bridge is really a debate about whether we are willing to banish judgmentalism from the life of the church.”

McElroy’s essay ends on a disappointing note. In his concluding paragraph, he wrote that it is “judgmentalism on both sides” which has created the divide between LGBT people and the institutional church, rhetoric similar to the “on all sides” phrasing so sharply criticized in recent secular conversations on race . Martin has been criticized for likewise saying both sides are to blame without acknowledging the power differential between marginalized LGBT people and the powerful church leaders who allow or even enact such marginalization.

McElroy’s essay, which you can read in full by clicking here, is a strong defense of Fr. Martin and a welcome acknowledgement of the prejudice and abuse that LGBT people in the church face. The dialogue over LGBT issues in the church must also address power dynamics at work in the discussion.  If church leaders claim that there is “judgmentalism on both sides,” the extremely necessary “wake-up call” to expel the “cancer of vilification”that McElroy calls for won’t happen.

For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of Building a Bridge, reviews about it, and the conversation around it, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 20, 2017

 

Support Pours in for Fr. Martin After Lecture Cancellations

Support for Fr. James Martin, SJ, has been strong after lectures by him were cancelled due to pressure from right-wing websites that criticize Martin for his new book on LGBT issues in the church.

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Fr. James Martin, SJ

Last Friday, Martin posted on his Facebook page that Theological College in Washington, D.C. had cancelled a scheduled talk by him. He also reported that two other talks in October, one for the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in New York City and one for CAFOD, the English bishops’ humanitarian aid program were canceled. All of these talks were about encountering Jesus and not LGBT issues.  For New Ways Ministry’s statement on the cancellation at Theological College, click here.

Martin said the cancellations were “a result of anger or fear over my book ‘Building a Bridge,’ about LGBT Catholics.” He continued:

“In the case of Theological College, the fears were of angry protesters disrupting their Alumni Day. In the case of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre Dinner, it was anger from some members over the topic of LGBT Catholics. In the case of Cafod lecture in London, it was not a response to any campaign but fear that my presence itself would garner negative attention, after the group had recently faced other similar problems. In none of these cases was the local ordinary–in each a cardinal–in any way advocating for the cancellation of the talk. The impetus was purely from those social media sites.

“I have asked each organization to be honest about the reasons for these cancellations. That is, I told them I did not want to lie and say, “I withdrew” or “I declined” or “I was afraid to come.”

“So I share with you as much as I can in the interests of transparency, which we need in our church. And to show you the outsize influence of social media sites motivated by fear, hatred and homophobia.”

Rightwing websites instigated the attacks on Martin, referring to him as “homosexualist” and “sodomy-promoting,” according to the National Catholic Reporter. Theological College’s rector, Fr. Gerald McBrearity, cited the “increasing negative feedback from various social media sites” because of Building a Bridge as the reason why cancellation was “in the best interest of all parties,” reported Crux.

Interestingly, The Catholic University of America’s president, John Garvey, distanced the school from Theological College’s decision. The seminary is “under the auspices” of the university, but acted apart from direct oversight in deciding to cancel the lecture, according to a statement.

Martin’s supporters rose quickly to his defense, including an outpouring of such support on social media. Jesuits Fr. John Cecero, S.J. and Fr. Timothy Kesicki, Martin’s superiors, along with the editor-in-chief of America, where Martin works, all released supportive statements. Despite the cancellations and with such support, Martin is undeterred, saying of the rightwing websites:

“[They] traffic in hatred and they foment fear. . .Perfect love drives out fear, as we learn in the New Testament. . .But perfect fear drives out love. But I’m not deterred or even disturbed.”

To ask Theological College to reverse its decision disinviting Fr. Martin, write to:

Reverend Gerald McBrearity, Rector

Theological College

401 Michigan Avenue, NE

Washington, DC 20017

Phone:  202-756-4907

Email:  olkiewicz@cua.edu

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 19, 2017

Related Articles

New York Times, Jesuit Priest Stands Up for Gay Catholics, Faces Backlash

America, Jesuit writer James Martin disinvited from talk at a prestigious seminary

Washington Post, “Popular priest disinvited from Catholic University’s seminary after protests over his LGBT book

 

Students Resist Catholic School’s Anti-Marriage Equality Program

Students and parents at an Australian Catholic school have resisted administrators’ decision to host a program where the presenters advocated that people vote against marriage equality in the nation’s non-binding plebiscite on that issue, which is now underway.

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Pro-marriage equality signs posted by students

Officials at St. Brigid’s College, Lesmurdie, a high school in Western Australia, invited a Christian group called “Loving for Life” to lead a sexual education program for 11th and 12th graders. Students claim the presenters urged the registered voters among them to vote “No” in the plebiscite.  Students have responded by posting pro-marriage equality signs around the school.

A St. Brigid’s parent told WA News that “kids came out of the program saying it seemed they were urged to vote no, and they were obviously pretty upset.” The parent added:

“‘They said they were told about how marriage should be between a man and a woman and why that’s the case, and of course there’s a few girls in the class who are gay, and they said they just felt completely unsupported by their school. . .Why would they come out to the school the week the postal vote was sent out? I don’t believe [it was a coincidence] for a second.'”

A student said presenters framed the program as an “open discussion,” but “any time that one of us had our own opinions. . .we were shut down, ignored and told we were wrong.” Parents were also upset that no consent form had been sent to them, as is standard for sexual education.

Both Loving for Life and St. Brigid’s administrators are denying the program’s content deviated from the normal presentation to include anything on marriage equality. Dr. Amelia Toffoli, the principal, said:

“‘The College has no intention of influencing individual family decisions in relation to the Marriage Equality postal survey, nor does it endorse programs that are intended to politicise important social matters affecting its community’. . .

“‘St Brigid’s College seeks to provide a learning environment that supports students to develop as critical thinkers, who are able to consider and respect diverse viewpoints and contribute meaningfully to their communities whilst understanding Catholic teaching on important issues, such as the Church’s teaching on marriage.'”

Whether administrators intended to influence students’ views on marriage equality or not, hosting an LGBT-negative program at this moment was an insensitive decision. The plebiscite now underway has prompted a heated and sometimes nasty debate, including the public posting of neo-Nazi literature targeting LGBT parents. This moment is therefore one in which Catholic schools should be especially supportive of LGBT and questioning students.

If St. Brigid’s administrators need a model for how to provide this support, they can look to other Catholic schools in Australia. For example, rectors at Xavier College in Melbourne and Saint Ignatius’ College in Sydney called on their school communities to discern carefully about how they will vote in the plebiscite. In addition, Trinity Catholic College in New South Wales recently welcomed two transgender students and provided them necessary accommodations.

Beyond officials’ actions, however, are students’ actions to be inclusive. Faced with programming that was not inclusive and may have created an unsafe environment, St. Brigid’s students affirmed clearly the goodness of LGBT people and their relationships. In their resistance, we can all find hope for the future.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 15, 2017

Fr. James Martin Responds to Vile Attacks with Integrity and Solidarity

Fr. James Martin, SJ, has received a variety of different responses to his recent book on LGBT issues in the Catholic church (Building A Bridge). One recent exchange on social media revealed just how harsh and childish some critics can be, and how well Martin is choosing to respond.

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Fr. James Martin, SJ

Austin Ruse, who writes for the alt-right website Breitbart and is president of a right-wing organization (which used to be identified as Catholic but has since become secular) that opposes LGBT equality, attacked Martin on Twitter recently. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Ruse used harsh anti-gay slurs, and said the priest was leading lesbian and gay people to hell.

Ruse’s comments were a response to another Twitter controversy during which the conservative website CatholicVote.org had tweeted, “And then this Dominican showed up and started beating @JamesMartinSJ like a rented mule. The crowd went wild.”

But against such vile language and even the implicit threat of violence, Fr. Martin has responded with integrity and solidarity. He explained his decision to respond on Facebook:

“I almost never engage with hateful social media comments. But this time was different. For me, it represented, in the first place, the crossing of a line by a prominent Catholic website (the encouragement of violence even in a joking way is beyond the pale); and in the second, a teachable moment brought about by a slur (‘pansy’), about homophobia in our church, even in high echelons.”

In another Facebook post, Martin acknowledged that LGBT people face “hatred and contempt” every day and he hoped that through the support of community he would try to”make them feel like beloved children of God.”

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter defended Martin as a “gifted spiritual writer” and “gentle soul,” while calling Ruse a white nationalist “fire-eater.” He stated:

“To most American Catholics, Martin is one of the sons in whom we take the most pride, a churchman who helps others grow in their relationship with the church and with its head, Jesus, a priest who makes ancient traditions accessible to modern readers. And, to those of us who have known him as a colleague, the private Fr. Martin shines with the same wit and holiness and pastoral solicitude as the readers encounter in his writing. He is a treasure and his works will be read long after the fire-eaters have been forgotten.”

MartinInclusion.jpgWinters’ defense of Martin is especially important since the columnist disagreed with parts of the priest’s book.  Winters said Building a Bridge was “not my favorite book” on homosexuality, and like other reviewers quibbled with Martin’s decision to forgo any discussion of sexual ethics. Winters also said he thinks there are theological hurdles to the LGBT discussion and “some of those hurdles may prove insurmountable.”

 

A wide spectrum of reviewers have critiqued Building a Bridge, from Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. But despite these critiques, Martin’s book is having an impact on the church. He has used it to breathe new life into the conversation on LGBT issues in the church, and has likely opened the eyes (and possibly hearts) of Catholics who might be less affirming of LGBT people. If nothing else, he is using his high profile platform to help eradicate in the church the kind of hate speech used by Ruse and those faithful like him. For his efforts, Winters is right: Martin will surely be remembered long after his vile critics are forgotten.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 14, 2017

Transgender Woman’s Ministry Continued Long After She Left Priesthood

If you have not heard of Nancy Ledins, who passed away in July at age 84, her story is very much worth reading if you are concerned with Catholic LGBT issues.

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Nancy Ledins leading worship

Ledins, then presenting as a man, was an ordained Roman Catholic priest for ten years. A member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, she left the priesthood in 1969 to get married to a former woman religious. Eventually the couple divorced around the time that Ledins transitioned in 1979.

In news accounts and profiles of Ledins after her transition, the perennial question of whether she was still a Catholic priest arose. Reporter John Dart of the Los Angeles Times explored this question in 1980. He wrote at the time, as reported by the Charlotte Observer this year:

“‘[Ledins] might be the first woman priest in Roman Catholic history in a technical sense. . .since she never sought to be returned officially to lay status, has never been summarily notified of such by the church and, by the usual understanding of church law, is still a priest – though not a legally functioning one.'”

The National Catholic Reporter’s (NCR) coverage agreed with this assessment, saying the first woman priest came about not through a bishop but through a surgeon. Incidentally, Ledins’ had her gender-confirming surgery on Holy Thursday when the church celebrates the institution of the priesthood.

Church officials never formally responded to Ledin’s situation, and Ledins has never challenged that silence. She told NCR that though technically ordained, “there is probably a canon somewhere that spells my demise as a priest” if she tried to celebrate the sacraments. Still, on the 55th anniversary of her ordination, Ledins prayed:

“‘Lord Father, my special thanks for the gift of ordination and ministry over the years. . .And thank you for letting me be here. Amen and amen. Alleluia.'”

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1980 Los Angeles Times piece on Ledins

Beyond any canonical questions, the spiritual testimony Ledins offered about her journey is what is most impactful. She knew in childhood that she wanted to be like her sister, saying, “I didn’t know what to call it, but I felt it.” The stress led to depression for many years. The Observer reported that after Ledins’ transition, she “was shot at, had her car bombed and was sent dead animals in the mail.”

Nonetheless, she powerfully affirmed the decision to transition. In a 1978 letter to her parents, Ledins wrote:

“‘For the first time in my life, I am running into and not from. What a healthy feeling!. . .I am now very very glad to be alive. . .My bucket of tears (and there were many) are over. The sunshine is real.'”

Years later, Ledins finally returned to pastoral ministry leadership, serving at a North Carolina church that is affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ. Half of the congregation’s members are LGBT people. Ledins’ passing in July led many people to share the pastoral experiences they had with her. Rev. Marsha Tegard said of Ledins:

“‘She was just so welcoming and just kind of embraced me as someone just starting out on my journey. . .She told me, “It’s OK to be you. God loves you. You have a place in the Kingdom.”. . .I believe Nancy blazed the trail for people like me.'”

Another member of the congregation, Maddison Wood, said hope was found “in the lines of Nancy’s face” because “she had lived – not just survived, but lived – to old age.”

Regardless of Nancy Ledins’ canonical status in the Roman Catholic church, she was a Christian minister leading people to God until her death. Judging from her fellow congregants’ accounts, it was precisely Ledins’ courage and authenticity that made her such an impactful minister. The comment she made about her transition is a true Resurrection message: “I am now very very glad to be alive. . .The sunshine is real.”

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 12, 2017

 

QUOTE TO NOTE: Multiplying Mercy

The National Catholic Reporter recently carried an extended quotation from Pope Francis, which he spoke at a jubilee for priests on June 2, 2016.  Though not about LGBT issues, I thought it had an important lesson for people involved in Catholic LGBT ministry and advocacy.  Pope Francis said:

“Mercy makes us pass from the recognition that we have received mercy to a desire to show mercy to others. We can feel within us a healthy tension between sorrow for our sins and the dignity that the Lord has bestowed on us. Without further ado, we can pass from estrangement to embrace, as in the parable of the prodigal son, and see how God uses our own sinfulness as the vessel of His mercy. Mercy impels us to pass from personal to the communal. We see this in the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, a miracle born of Jesus’ compassion for His people and for others. Something similar happens when we act mercifully: the bread of mercy multiplies as it is shared.”

When I read this quotation,  I couldn’t help but thinking about all the amazing people I have met (and continue to meet) in my work with the Catholic LGBT community.  The story of almost every single one of them begins in fear or shame as they discovered their orientation or identity, or came to terms with accepting and affirming the orientation or identity of a loved one.

But that is not where the story ends.  God sent mercy into the life of these people and their lives were transformed forever.

But the story doesn’t even end there.   Having experienced God’s mercy, these people have felt compelled to share it with others.  And so they have made outreach to other LGBT people or loved ones of LGBT people a ministry of mercy.

They have moved, as Pope Francis eloquently puts it “from estrangement to embrace.”  They have developed from “personal to communal.”   Their outreach multiplies God’s mercy, just as Jesus in the Gospel multiplied bread and fish.

Another lesson for Catholic LGBT people and allies can be found in this quotation.  This statement can remind us that if we want change, we must be the change (as the old saying goes). It reminds us that renewing or reforming the Church is not done only by changing policies and theology (though that is important work) but by acting mercifully toward one another.  If we sometimes think our actions are futile, this quotation can remind us that what is important is not what we accomplish, but how much we treasure and share God’s mercy.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry September 10, 2017