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

 

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Seminary Cancels Fr. Martin’s Talk Due to Criticism of His LGBT Book

The following is a statement by Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry, in response to the decision by a national Catholic seminary to disinvite Fr. James Martin, SJ, due to criticism of his new book on LGBT issues.

Theological College, a national seminary in Washington, D.C., has delivered a devastating blow to the Catholic Church, academic freedom, and pastoral outreach to LGBT people by canceling the speaking engagement of Jesuit Father James Martin because some social media sites have criticized his book, Building a Bridge, which encourages dialogue between the institutional church and the LGBT community.

The decision is an impotent one in which the seminary’s leaders reveal that they are powerless to stand up to commentators whose views are beyond the mainstream of Catholic thought. It reveals cowardice on the part of the seminary’s administrators who do not have integrity to withstand pressure from outside forces, and instead opt for censorship instead of discussion.

Fr. James Martin, SJ
Unless it reverses its decision, Theological College’s renown as an academic institution is irreparably damaged.  Worse yet, the decision does great damage to the tenuous relationship between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community which Fr. Martin’s book has already been strengthening. Scores of Catholic parishes and colleges have welcomed Fr. Martin to speak since the publication of Building a Bridge.

It is astonishing that the seminary leaders did not side with the two cardinals and a bishop who praised Fr. Martin’s book as it was being published.  One of those cardinals, Kevin Farrell, is the head of Congregation for Laity, Family, and Life at the Vatican.  Indeed, Fr. Martin himself is a Vatican consultor on communications.  What could possibly motivate the seminary rector, Fr. Gerald McBrearity, to feel that he could not let a speaker with the impressive credentials and Vatican approval that Fr. Martin has to speak in an academic setting?

This decision is ludicrous for two other reasons.  First,  Fr. Martin was not scheduled to speak on the book in question or on the area of LGBT issues. He, instead, was speaking on his book about the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith. Second, by his own acknowledgement, and the reviews of many scholars, Building a Bridge is a mild book, whose most strong claim is that Church leaders should treat LGBT people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity”–ideals which are demanded by Catholic doctrine in the Catechism.

Theological College’s statement said that Fr. McBrearity made the decision “in the interest of avoiding distraction and controversy.”  Based on those criteria, the decision is an epic failure as, in fact, it will attract more controversy than Fr. Martin’s speaking appearance would ever have done. It tarnishes the reputation of the school and of the Catholic Church in the U.S.  It makes Catholic leaders look censorious and small-minded.  Indeed, almost everyone in the Catholic Church has been discussing LGBT issues over the past decade.  Why should a book whose aim is reconciliation on this topic be cause for barring a celebrated author from speaking?

Since its publication early this summer, Fr. Martin’s Building a Bridge was reaching a wide audience of church leaders, including many bishops.  In my travels to several Catholic professional and ecclesial conferences these past few months, everyone said they had read, were reading, or intended to read the book.  All who had read it spoke of its great value. Instead of being a danger to the church, all saw it as a great gift. Despite this setback, the conversation on LGBT issues in the church to which Building a Bridge has given new life will still continue.

Fr. Martin is experiencing the rejection of many who speak out prophetically.  It is the same rejection experienced by millions of Jesus’ followers and, indeed, by Jesus Himself. For the sake of Fr. Martin, for Catholic academics, and for LGBT Catholics, we pray this sorry and shameful action by Theological College will soon be reversed.

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

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, September 16, 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

Fr. James Martin Responds to Vatican Official’s Critique of New Book on LGBT Issues

Fr. James Martin, SJ, has responded to a high-ranking Vatican official’s critique of his new book, Building a Bridge. Their exchange is another step in the conversation on LGBT issues in the church into which Martin has helped breathe new life.

y648Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation on Divine Worship, sharply criticized Martin’s book in an essay for the Wall Street Journal. Sarah said Martin was “one of the most outspoken critics of the church’s message with regard to sexuality,” followed by the cardinal’s vigorous defense of Magisterium’s teachings on homosexuality.

The cardinal suggested that celibate lesbian and gay Catholics as the real witnesses to how the church should approach homosexuality. He wrote:

“It is my prayer that the world will finally heed the voices of Christians who experience same-sex attractions and who have discovered peace and joy by living the truth of the Gospel. I have been blessed by my encounters with them, and their witness moves me deeply. . .Their example deserves respect and attention, because they have much to teach all of us about how to better welcome and accompany our brothers and sisters in authentic pastoral charity.”

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Cardinal Robert Sarah

Sarah has a strong LGBT-negative record, and has frequently condemned what he describes as “gender ideology.” Last year at the U.S. National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, the cardinal said transgender rights are “demonic” and marriage equality is a “poison.” During the 2015 Synod on the Family, Sarah said the LGBT rights movement had “demonic origins” and compared it to Nazism and fascism.  Bondings 2.0‘s Francis DeBernardo, who was part of the press corps at the meeting in Rome, deemed Sarah’s comments the Synod’s “most homophobic remark”.

Martin offered his reply to Cardinal Sarah in America magzine (which summarized the cardinal’s column, as well). He pushed back against Sarah’s claim that the book challenges church teaching. Martin said Building a Bridge, which is based on an address he gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge-Building Award last fall, is “not a book of moral theology. . .It is an invitation to dialogue and to prayer. . .” America reported further:

“Father Martin called Cardinal Sarah’s column ‘a step forward,’ noting that the cardinal used the term ‘L.G.B.T.,’ which a few traditionalist Catholics reject.’ . . .But, Father Martin said, the essay ‘misses a few important points,’ including a failure to acknowledge ‘the immense suffering that L.G.B.T. Catholics have felt at the hands of their church.’

Building a Bridge has been well received by many church officials, including counterparts of Cardinal Sarah who endorsed the book. Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Discastery for Laity, Family, and Life, called the book “welcome and much-needed.” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said it was “brave, prophetic, and inspiring.” Other figures on the book’s dust jacket include Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, and theologian James Alison.

Martin’s book and the conversation it has sparked are already having an impact, which Bondings 2.0 has covered here. Some Catholics have been critical of Building a Bridge, including such diverse voices as lesbian writer Jamie Manson, theologian David Cloutier, and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.

Martin has thoughtfully responded to these critics and others through his social media channels and an interview with America. He has continued to be outspoken on LGBT equality as well, offering his own set of  propositions which affirm  LGBT people when Evangelical leaders released their LGBT-negative “Nashville Statement” recently.

Interestingly, Sarah has not received much approval from Pope Francis.  The pontiff targeted Sarah specifically in recent comments when he said, “with magisterial authority,” that Vatican II’s liturgical reforms were “irreversible,” a response critiquing the cardinal who is a liturgical traditionalist.

Where once Sarah’s views might have been backed by the Vatican through publication in L’Osservatore Romano, he now shares his opinion in a secular news outlet. And where once Martin’s book would have been, at best, denied an imprimatur and, at worst, led to an investigation against him, Vatican officials are now publicly endorsing the need for dialogue on LGBT issues in the church. Subtle though this change may be, it is still quite significant for LGBT Catholics and allies to remember in our ongoing work for full equality.

Bondings 2.0 will continue to follow the conversation around Building a Bridge. You can subscribe for daily updates on Catholic LGBT issues by using the box in the upper righthand corner of this page. If you have read Martin’s book, what do you think of it? Leave your thoughts or even a brief review in the ‘Comments’ section below.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 7, 2017

In Interviews In All Kinds of Media, Fr. Martin Offers Insights to His New Book

As I’ve noted before, Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s new book Building a Bridge:  How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity has been the top Catholic LGBT story of the summer.  As bloggers, the Bondings 2.0 team has been challenged to keep up with all the publicity and reviews that the book has generated.

Fr. James Martin, S.J.

We’ve already covered a number of reviews of the articles, as well as posting New Ways Ministry’s analysis, so today we are presenting you a “round-up” post of the many interviews in diverse media outlets that Fr. Martin has given this past summer.  You can click on the link for each interview to read the entire text.

1. In a brief interview for America magazine, “Father James Martin answers 5 common questions about ‘Building a Bridge’ .”     When asked,  “How can you ask the L.G.B.T. Catholics to treat the church with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity’?” Fr. Martin responded:

“I should have been clearer about this in the book. The onus for bridge building is on the institutional church—clergy and church officials, including lay people. Because it is the institutional church that has marginalized the L.G.B.T. community, not the other way around. But we are all called to be respectful of one another, including L.G.B.T. Catholics in the relationship with the hierarchy. Why? Because we are all Christians.”

2. Salon.com‘s Mary Elizabeth Williams spoke with Fr. Martin, and at one point highlighted his point that LGBT people are already part of the Catholic Church.  He responded:

“For Jesus, there is not ‘us’ and ‘them.’ There is only ‘us.’ For Jesus ,there is no one who is ‘other.’ His own ministry is about inclusion and going out to people who feel like or are treated as other and bringing them into the community through healing, through talking to them.

“LGBT people are part of the Church by virtue of their baptism, period. They’re as much a part of the Church as me as their local bishop or as the Pope. I submit that they are sometimes better Catholics because they put up with so many hateful comments, and they still persevere in their faith. That to me is real faith. The people that I know who have persevered in the Church in the face of horrible comments, who have forgiven pastors for insulting them, and who continue to participate in the life of the Church, is extraordinary. Their perseverance and their forgiveness is a real gift.”

3. In an interview with National Public Radio’s Scott Simon, host of the popular “Weekend Edition” show,  Fr. Martin explains that church leaders need to get to know LGBT people on real and deep levels.  At one point, he states:

“I think that the church has spent too much time – by that, I mean the institutional church – speaking at, preaching at, tweeting about, publishing about LGBT people without actually getting to know them and listening to their experiences and asking them questions like – what’s your experience of God like? Who is Jesus for you? What’s your experience of the church like? – because the Holy Spirit resides in LGBT people. And the church really needs to listen and to pay attention to how the Holy Spirit is operating.”

4. Brian Lehrer of WNYC Radio had Fr. Martin as a guest on his talk show.  In the interview, Lehrer asks for an example of how LGBT Catholics feel excluded by the Church, and Martin answers with a terrible tale of a priest who refused to visit a gay man dying in a hospice.

5. In an interview with Crux, Fr. Martin responded to a question about how LGBT issues were treated at the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family with the following statements:

“That these issues came up means that the Holy Spirit is agitating among the faithful and among the bishops, and that these questions are important questions.

“The Pope asked for the bishops to bring to the Synod the sort of questions that are being circulated in their dioceses, and they did. I think people were afraid of some of the issues, and the Holy Spirit can be frightening sometimes, but fear not!”

6. While talking with Religion News Service’s Jonathan Merritt,  Fr. Martin was asked about the Catholic Catechism’s language concerning homosexuality.  He responded:

“I’m no theologian, but I would say that some of the language used in the catechism on that topic needs to be updated, given what we know now about homosexuality. Earlier, for example, the catechism says that the homosexual orientation is itself ‘objectively disordered.’ But, as I say in the book, saying that one of the deepest parts of a person — the part that gives and receives love — is disordered is needlessly hurtful. A few weeks ago, I met an Italian theologian who suggested the phrase ‘differently ordered’ might convey that idea more pastorally.”

7. When asked by The National Catholic Register’s Judy Roberts as to why he focused on “respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” and not sexual ethics, Fr. Martin responded, in part:

“The reason I didn’t talk about chastity in my book is because Church teaching is clear on that matter, and it’s well-known in the “LGBT” community. I don’t think there’s any “LGBT” Catholic alive who doesn’t understand that teaching. By the same token, there seem to be few “LGBT” Catholics who have accepted that teaching. Theologically speaking, you could say the teaching has not been “received” by the “LGBT” community, to whom it was directed. So rather than focusing on a topic where the two groups — the institutional church and the “LGBT” community — are miles and miles apart, I preferred to try to build a bridge over areas that could be places of common ground.”

8. The Jesuit Post, a blog produced by young Jesuits, published a two-part interview with Fr. Martin about the book,  In the first part of the interview, Martin reflects on what the experience of publishing the book has taught him.  In the second part,  he discusses some specific church issues facing LGBT people (such as church employment), as well as explaining the genesis of the oft-neglected spirituality section, which comprises the second half of the book:

“For many years I’ve done–like many Jesuits, priests and religious, and lay pastoral workers–a kind of ‘informal ministry’ with LGBT people.  And I’ve found that some passages from Scripture have consistently been helpful for LGBT people who are struggling with their faith.  Psalm 139 (‘I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made’) is one of them.  It’s such a powerful tool for people, and helps unlock things for them in prayer.

“Likewise, I wanted to include selected passages from the New Testament that I feel can help people gain insight into the ways that Jesus treated people who felt marginalized in his time—like the story of the Roman centurion’s servant, and Jesus’s encounter with Zacchaeus.   In the book, I invite readers to use some of the practices of Ignatian contemplation with these passages.  What might God want to tell us in our prayer?”

9. The Millennial Journal’s  Robert Christian asked Fr. Martin about what church members do to help stave off anti-LGBT violence globally, such as in Chechnya and Uganda, as well as locally in the form of bullying.  He responded:

“First of all, speak up.  The Gospels impel us to stand with those who are being persecuted in any way.  I don’t know how much clearer Jesus could be: he sided with those who were on the margins.  Catholic social teaching urges us to understand the meaning of solidarity. And the Catechism asks us to resist any forms of ‘unjust discrimination’ directed against LGBT people.  So in places where LGBT people are being actively persecuted, the Church should stand with them, publicly.  Other issues can clearly be seen in the light of Church teaching.  What is suicide among gay teens other than a life issue’?

“So we need to make LGBT people feel visible and valuable. We need to let them know that they are beloved children of God who are as much a part of the church as the pope, their local bishop, and me.  We need to listen to them and enter the mystery of their lives.  We need to accompany them.  We need to stick up for them when needed.  We need to be compassionate to them.  And we need to let them evangelize us.  In a word, we need to love them.”

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 11, 2017

The Impact Fr. Martin’s New Book Is Already Having

The Catholic LGBT sensation of the summer has definitely been the publication of Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s book, Buidling a Bridge:  How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.   Even before its publication in mid-June, and continuing up to today, I have been receiving daily emails about the book–reviews, inquiries, suggestions for how to use it–and the pace doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

Why has this book made such a splash, when there have been many other books about Catholic LGBT issues published over the past few decades?  It’s hard to say for sure, but I can think of several possibilities.

First, I think it is important to notice who the author is: a priest.  While there have been numerous books about Catholic LGBT issues written by theologians, advocates, scholars, and people in the pews, it has been a very long time since a priest has authored such a book.

Moreover, while some priests have written about pastoral care or theological subtlety, I can’t think of any who has tackled the thorny issue of the relationship between the institutional church and the LGBT community. I think that the topic of developing a good relationship between these two groups is comparable in intensity to the highly emotional topic of sexual ethics.

Another reason for the book’s popularity is that it has been put out by a major publishing house, HarperOne.  This gives the book more of a mainstream audience than most Catholic LGBT books which are usually published by religious or LGBT presses.

Of course, Fr. Martin’s renown plays a role in the book’s popularity, too.  Already well-known as one of the top contemporary spirituality writers, Fr. Martin is also much sought after by the news media as a commentator on Catholic news topics.  While his fame certainly plays a role in the book’s distribution, it’s also important to remember that Fr. Martin also took a major risk in deciding to address an issue which is fraught by controversy in the Church.

While there have been plenty of reviews of Martin’s book, it’s important to note that not all of them have been positive.  Reviewers from both progressive and conservative Catholic camps have faulted him for not writing about sexual ethics.  While the first group hoped he would be critical of church teaching about sexual relationships, the second group hoped he would have defended it more.

Some of these reviews, however, miss the main point of the book: Fr. Martin is analyzing the relationship between the institutional church and the LGBT community, not the sexual ethics teaching.  The sexual ethics teaching is, of course, important, but it is not the only issue that stands between better relations between the institutional church and the LGBT community. Much healing and reconciliation needs to be accomplished, and Martin is correct that “respect, compassion, and sensitivity”–a quote from the Catechism which are Martin’s three themes of bridge-building–need to form the basis of that healing and reconciliation.

Fr. James Martin

As I have been traveling to various Catholic meetings and speaking with Catholic people who work in the institutional church across the country this summer,  almost every person I meet has told me how inspiring Fr. Martin’s book was to them.  That bit of evidence, unscientific but absolutely true, tells me that the most important audience for this book are church professionals.  That is exactly the group that needs to hear Fr. Martin’s message the most, and my experience tells me that he has been wildly successful in that regard.  The news earlier this week that Cardinal Cupich endorsed Martin’s recommendation that church leaders should use the identifying terms for the LGBT community which its members prefer is evidence that the book is having an impact in the hierarchy.

I’ve also met two groups of pastoral ministers in two different parts of the country who, independent of each other, both had the same idea:  they want to send Martin’s book to diocesan and parish leaders, including their bishops.  I believe that Fr. Martin’s message can soften the hearts of church leaders in a way that others have not been able to do.

You don’t even have to open the book to see the impact that it can have on the hierarchy.  On the back of the dust jacket are blurbs recommending the book from two cardinals (one a Vatican official) and a bishop.  What’s even more intriguing is that they are in the company of two advocates from the Catholic LGBT community–theologian James Alison and New Ways Ministry’s Sister Jeanine Gramick–who also strongly recommend the book.  If anyone needs evidence that this book can build bridges, it’s right there in the fact that this disparate company of folks have been able to find common ground.

Not commented on by mostly all reviewers is the second part of Martin’s book, which is a collection of prayers, guided scripture reflections, and spirituality material.  It’s a shame that this section is not noted by reviewers because it contains some very moving, helpful, and insightful material.  If the first part of the book is the plan for building a bridge, this second part can serve as the material for that work.  It would be wonderful if church leaders sat with LGBT people and reflected with them on some of the topics presented in that second half.

While people may legitimately differ on the details of Martin’s suggestions for how each side of the debate shows “respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” what I think is beyond dispute is that this book is having an immense impact on the discussion of the Catholic LGBT debate.  It has reached influential people in the Church who are in positions to make important decisions about pastoral care programs, local policies, and bridge-building opportunities.

The success of Fr. Martin’s book is the fact that he has gotten the discussion started again, and he has done so at a time when it is ripe for the wider church.  His book may not please all advocates on left and right, but he is reaching two gold-mine audiences: the mainstream of the Catholic Church and its leaders.

At New Ways Ministry, we believe in bridge-building, and have been striving to do this activity for 40 years.  One thing we have learned is that bridge building happens “by little and by little.” Fr. Martin’s book is one more little step in the right direction.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 31, 2017

 

 

How a Vatican Priest Learned to Build Bridges from LGBT Catholics

Of the many different reviews and assessments of Fr. James Martin’s new book, Building a Bridge, this summer, none was more personal than Fr. Thomas Rosica’s, CSB.

Fr. Rosica is the head of Salt and Light Media,  a Catholic Canadian ministry which provides education, information, and inspiration through television, radio, print, and online materials. He also serves as the English language media liaison for special events at the Vatican.  In that former role, he became well-known in U.S. Catholic media during the 2014 and 2015 synods on the family.

Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

In a blog post on Salt and Light Media website, Fr. Rosica introduces his comments on Fr. Martin’s book by telling telling a story about the trepidation he initially experienced a few decades ago as he prepared to deliver a week-long mission at Most Holy Redeemer parish, San Francisco, which by then had already become known as having a mostly gay congregation.  Rosica explained that he thought the parishioners would be dismissive of Catholic ideas, and he also worried if he would have a relevant message to the many parishioners who at the time had HIV/AIDS. As he explains it:

“They knew what it meant to live on the fringes of society. I remember my reticence in accepting the invitation from the then-Archbishop’s office – thinking that no one would really come and listen to a Gospel message of hope and joy in the midst of a devastating epidemic, or that those who would come would have many difficulties with Church teaching. I was uncomfortable with the thought of being protested, dismissed or rejected by what I had believed to be left-wing radicals and Church dissidents in California!”

But Rosica said he experienced a “surprise”:

“What I experienced at Holy Redeemer Parish that week was a very powerful and moving week of prayer, dialogue and openness to the Word of God. If ever I felt to be a bridge-builder and healer, it was that week. . . . .I heard many touching stories from the elderly men and women of various ethnic backgrounds [at the parish] and their gay friends who ministered together to HIV/AIDS patients at home or in hospices, worshipped together, and served the homeless poor together in the neighbourhood. As part of that week-long mission, I spent hours hearing confessions and visiting those who were sick and alienated from the Church for various reasons. I shall never forget the moving celebration of mass and the anointing of the sick that drew hundreds to the Church one summer evening.”

Rosica said he learned a powerful lesson from the experience:

“Many of the gay persons who I met that week revealed a deep spirituality and faith. And most interesting of all, the people I met asked that we, as ministers of the Church, be people of compassion and understanding, and not be afraid to teach the message of the Gospel and the Church with gentleness and clarity even in the midst of ambiguity of lifestyle, devastation, despair and hostility. As a Church and as pastoral ministers, we still have a long journey ahead of us as we welcome strangers into our midst and listen to them.”

What I consider the most important sentence of his reflection is this one:

“Authentic teaching can only begin when we welcome others and listen to their stories.”

That sentence, so filled with true Catholic wisdom, serves as the transition to Rosica’s reflection on Fr. James Martin’s book.  He notes that the book has received many vicious attacks.  I don’t think he was discussing reviews which have had some criticism of specific points in the book, but other screeds whose tone and approach are angry and destructive.  Rosica writes:

“I shook my head in bewilderment several times as I read venom and vitriol in some of the critiques. It is one thing to critique and raise questions. It is another to condemn, disparage and dismiss. I sensed palpable fear and anger in some of the negative commentaries. I made it a point to read the book in one sitting last weekend. I was astounded that what I read in commentaries, blogs, some bishops’ messages, had very little to do with what I considered to be very mild, reflections offered by a well-known Jesuit priest who simply invited people to build bridges with those who are on distant shores. . . . Some of the criticisms reveal more about those writing them, about their own deep fears, confusion, uncertainties, anger and frustration, than they do about those for whom this book is written.”

Rosica focuses in on one of Martin’s major points: the use of proper language to refer to sexual and gender minorities.  In doing so, he notes that Martin’s proposal for more humane language is actually one that bishops around the world have also suggested:

“At the last Synod of Bishops on the Family, I was inside the Synod and watched how some courageous bishops and Cardinals of the Church challenged their brother bishops and Synod delegates to be attentive to our language in speaking about homosexual persons. . . .I am especially grateful to New Zealand Cardinal John Dew who made a fervent plea to examine our ecclesial language of ‘intrinsically disordered’ to describe homosexual persons. Such vocabulary does not invite people into dialogue nor does it build bridges. No matter how well-intentioned scholastic theology tries to describe the human condition, some words miss the mark and end up doing more harm than good. Reality is more important than lofty theological or philosophical ideas.” [Editor:  Link to blog post in this section was added by Bondings 2.0 staff for informational purposes.]

Rosica concludes with a plea for Catholics who criticize other Catholics to do so civilly and constructively.  His powerful words are instructive for all of us:

“To preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ without having a passion to build bridges, enter into dialogue and listen to others is to fail in our mission. To preach the Gospel and claim to be a faithful Catholic while using blogs, videos and messages to disparage, condemn and denigrate attempts at building bridges has nothing to do with Christianity. To use clerical status, episcopal authority, or other forms of leadership to dismiss, disparage or slam the efforts of those who simply want to reach those on the peripheries is not befitting of shepherds, pastors or servants of the Lord. It has nothing to do with the Gospel! It is not who we are!”

Fr. Rosica’s message should be heeded not just in regards to discussions of Fr. Martin’s book, but in all Church discussions about LGBT issues.  As Fr. Rosica noted,  authentic teaching will only develop when we listen to each other’s stories.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, July 24, 2017