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

 

 

 

On New Catholic LGBT Book, Jamie Manson and Archbishop Chaput Find Common Ground

Fr. James Martin, S.J. seeks to build bridges with his new book on Catholic LGBT issues. While it may not be a bridge, in two new reviews, he has certainly brought together two very different Catholics: lesbian Catholic advocate Jamie Manson and Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput.

J Manson 8x10
Jamie Manson

Manson reviewed the book, Building a Bridge, in her column at National Catholic Reporter. She opened by describing the book as a “storybook” which looks inviting but, she added, for LGBT activists it “may also read like fiction.” In the review, she criticized Martin for his more positive portrayal of the hierarchy:

“Martin is hardly the first Catholic, nor the first Jesuit, to write about the LGBT experience in the church. But he may be the first to write about the topic from such a privileged position inside the institutional church. . .His remarkable access to church leaders prompts him to make one of the boldest claims in the book:

‘Many in the institutional church want to reach out to [the LGBT] community, but seem somewhat confused about how to do so. Yes, I know it seems that there are some who don’t seem to want to reach out, but all the bishops I know are sincere in their desire for true pastoral outreach.’

“There are a lot of ‘seems’ in those two sentences, and they seem to suggest that LGBT Catholics, in their lack of access to the power center of the church, are simply ignorant of what’s really going on in the hearts of these men.”

Manson noted evidence to the contrary, including bishops’ silence after the Pulse Nightclub massacre which Martin said in part prompted him to accept New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building award which led to the book’s publication.

Manson also queried Martin’s treatment of homosexuality in the priesthood and religious life. The author sets up what Manson described as a “catch-22” in which he claims both that many priests and bishops are themselves gay, but also that this same group of clergy do not know LGBT people. Manson commented:

“Martin should be applauded for speaking so forthrightly about the prevalence of gay men among the clergy, but he doesn’t really reckon with the fact that it is precisely the clerical closet that makes the hierarchy’s oppression of LGBT people so outrageous and intolerable. So many bishops and priests lie about their own sexualities, some even carry on same-sex relationships, while sitting in judgment over LGBT people who are trying to live their lives honestly.”

She then addressed Martin’s encouragement for LGBT people to improve relations with clergy by  showing church leaders respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Manson responded that church leaders’ actions are too often “an abuse of power” by which, despite LGBT Catholics and their families good faith efforts, bishops have frequently dismissed Catholics’ concerns. She continued:

“More than 40 years of struggle should have taught us by now that compassion, respect and sensitivity are not enough to bring about a truly just relationship between bishops and LGBT Catholics. Even with these three virtues in play, bishops still have the power to judge and negatively impact the lives of LGBT Catholics, while operating in secrecy and lying about their own sexualities. And LGBT Catholics are expected to bear their souls to their religious leaders and beg to be heard, while also, ultimately, remaining voiceless and officially condemned by their church.”

Manson was not hopeful about the proposed bridge because she believes that even though it was most likely unintended to do so, Martin’s book shows “just how radical the lack of mutuality is between LGBT Catholics and the bishops.” She concluded:

“[F]or reconciliation to take place, it would require not simply compassion, respect and sensitivity, but a mutuality of vulnerability, self-disclosure, honesty and authenticity. . .As long as that imbalance persists, it’s hard to imagine how these roads can ever truly meet and how the bridge can possibly hold.”

RNS PHILLY CHAPUT
Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Chaput is also critical of Building a Bridge. Though his appraisal is not the same as Manson’s, he likewise questions the text for not dealing more substantively with the what he understands to be the real issues involving homosexuality and the church.

Writing at CatholicPhilly.com, Chaput said the book is “written with skill and good will,” and that Martin’s exhortation for both sides to be respectful “makes obvious sense.” He then explained:

“But what the text regrettably lacks is an engagement with the substance of what divides faithful Christians from those who see no sin in active same-sex relationships.  The Church is not simply about unity – as valuable as that is – but about unity in God’s love rooted in truth.

“If the Letter to the Romans is true, then persons in unchaste relationships (whether homosexual or heterosexual) need conversion, not merely affirmation.  If the Letter to the Romans is false, then Christian teaching is not only wrong but a wicked lie.  Dealing with this frankly is the only way an honest discussion can be had.”

It is safe to say that Jamie Manson and Charles Chaput almost always find themselves on opposite ends of the ecclesial spectrum. What is interesting in these reviews is their agreement that the book has some good points, but also that the book failed to address key substantive issues, thereby weakening any attempt to build bridges.

The similarity between these reviewers raises two questions: Does attempting to build a bridge mean that both opposing camps will be dissatisfied?  How do you build a bridge that makes opposing camps both feel that their concerns are addressed fairly?

Bondings 2.0 will continue to provide more reviews of the book as they appear.

y450-293If you have reading Building a Bridge, what do you think? Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section below. You can read our coverage of previous reviews in the following posts:

Fr. James Martin Responds to Critics of New Book on LGBT Issues

David Cloutier, a theologian, on “The Ignatian Option”

Lesbian Catholic Eve Tushnet’s review in The Washington Post

New Catholic LGBT Book is Praised by High Church Leaders

To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage about Fr. James Martin’s involvement on LGBT issues, click here.

You can order Fr. Martin’s book by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 16, 2017

Fr. James Martin Responds to Critics of New Book on LGBT Issues

Amid the flurry of reviews and interviews surrounding his new book, Building a Bridge, Fr. James Martin, S.J. has responded to critics as a way to create greater dialogue. Today’s post features one review along with Martin’s responses. To read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of previous reviews by David Cloutier and Eve Tushnet, click here and here respectively.

y450-293Martin responded to Cloutier’s review in America by addressing the three problems which Cloutier believed makes the proposed bridge “shaky.”

First, Martin argues against Cloutier’s critique that LGBT people are problematically lumped together as a singular group in the book. Cloutier claimed that, in reality, there is tremendous difference among LGBT persons. He also stated that LGBT people differ from other groups in the church because their identities directly challenge church teaching. Martin replied:

“[M]y point was not that L.G.B.T. Catholics are all the same (or that that label is comprehensive) but that many have faced similar problems in the church: prejudice and exclusion based on sexual orientation and identity. . .

“We have an unfortunate tendency to view L.G.B.T. issues purely through the prism of only one of the Catechism’s teachings on homosexuality—its prohibition on sexual expression—rather than through the experiences of L.G.B.T. people as human beings. We tend to view them as a category of people who present a theological problem rather than as individuals with a graced history. I know that Prof. Cloutier does not wish to negate their pain, but it is important to see them as not inherently presenting a ‘problem.'”

Second, against Cloutier’s claim that the book seems more fitting for the LGBT conversation of the 1990s than the 21st century discussion, Martin said what has changed in the church is the number of LGBT Catholics who have come out:

“As more Catholics are affected, more parishes will be. As more parishes are, more priests will be. As more priests are, more bishops will be. And so on. I believe the explosion of L.G.B.T. Catholics ‘coming out’ and claiming their identities will lead to a growing desire among the entire People of God for welcome, and for what Pope Francis calls ‘encounter.'”

Encounter, Martin explained, is the work of the Holy Spirit and has no expiration date. Widespread social acceptance of LGBT persons “has been drive largely by encounter,” and within the church coming out “would still be quite novel, even radical in some circles.”

Third, Martin tackles Cloutier’s critique that the book never addresses sexual ethics. Martin said the omission was “intentional” because church teaching is already quite clear, but:

“At the same time, the L.G.B.T. community’s stance on the matter is clear: Same-sex relations are part and parcel of their lives. (I am leaving out the relatively small portion of the L.G.B.T. community that thinks otherwise.) Theologically speaking, you could say that this teaching has not been ‘received’ by the L.G.B.T. community, to whom it was directed.

“So I intentionally decided not to discuss that question, since it was an area on which the two sides are too far apart.”

Another review came from Sally Kohn, a lesbian essayist writing in The Washington Post, who offered an outsider perspective on the book. A secular Jew, Kohn said the book was “a lovely glimpse at church-community relations buttressed by an enlightening collection of uplifting scripture.” But, she continued:

“The problem is that Martin doesn’t adequately address the deep ecclesiastical and theological roots of the Catholic Church’s anti-gay antagonism. And so his book reads like a solution to a problem he fundamentally misunderstands.”

Kohn also questioned whether the question of homophobia in the Catholic Church could be adequately dealt with if not also addressing misogyny in the church. She added:

“Beyond the most superficial gestures and rhetoric of respect, compassion and sensitivity, Martin doesn’t address the sorts of lives he envisions for LGBT Catholics. Should they be celibate? Not marry? Exactly how welcome does Martin think they should be? Absent these details, Martin risks promising merely the illusion of equal dignity. LGBT Catholics don’t just want the lip service of respect, they want actual equal treatment.”

Martin responded to Kohn on the America website, saying her review “downplays [LGBT Catholics’] religious convictions and the mystical nature of the church.” He continued:

“To be sure, the onus is on the institutional church to reach out, to take risks and to take the first steps along the bridge of reconciliation. Why? Because it is members of the hierarchy who have marginalized the L.G.B.T. community, not the other way around. . .

“Moreover, the question of dialogue between L.G.B.T. Catholics and the institutional church cannot be seen strictly in ‘political’ terms, as Ms. Kohn seems to do in her piece. Granted, our ‘intrachurch’ discussion has ramifications beyond the Catholic world, but the discussion cannot be separated from questions of faith in God, companionship with Jesus Christ and trust in the Holy Spirit. A critique that does not work within this framework is going to come up short.”

Martin has a bigger message beyond answering the specific objections of this first round of reviewers:

“I hope the book shows how much in our Catholic tradition, particularly the Gospels, points us forward to a culture of radical welcome. The central assertion of the book—that for Jesus is there is no us and them, there is only us—does not need approval.

“My overall goal was not to win an argument but to help start a conversation and create a space for church officials who want to reach out to L.G.B.T. people, and for L.G.B.T. Catholics who want to know that they have a place in the church.”

Given the book’s high profile, and how contentious LGBT issues in the church can be, the conversation over Fr. Martin’s work will  surely continue, just as he intended.

Have you read Building a Bridge? What did you think? Leave your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below. To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage about Fr. James Martin’s involvement on LGBT issues, click here. You can order Fr. Martin’s book by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 12, 2017

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Reviewing Fr. James Martin’s “Building a Bridge,” Part I

Fr. James Martin’s new book on LGBT issues, Building a Bridge, has created quite a buzz in the Catholic Church.  It is currently the #1 bestseller in the category of Gender & Sexuality in Religious Studies category on Amazon.com.  The book is based on an address Martin gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award last fall. With the current buzz has come many reviews, three of which Bondings 2.0 will feature this week.

Today’s post engages theologian David Cloutier’s review in Commonweal. His piece is titled “The Ignatian Option,” a reference to Rod Dreher’s “Benedict Option” that proposed opponents of LGBT equality begin to remove themselves from the secular world as equal rights expand.

Cloutier applauded Martin as someone who has “consistently sought to convey the riches of Catholic Christianity in both a style and a language that is as accessible as possible in a pluralist, post-Christian culture.” In doing so, Martin “does not sacrifice sophistication in aiming at accessibility.” About Building a Bridge specifically, Cloutier commented:

“Lest this approach be taken as a mere plea for more civility, Martin insists that the greater end is that each group will actually get to know the other. ‘You can’t be sensitive to the LGBT community if you only issue documents about them, preach about them, or tweet about them, without knowing them,’ he writes. Similarly, Martin insists on prayer from the LGBT community for the bishops. His book is not meant to outline where the conversation might go but to set the necessary conditions for a conversation. This seems a reasonable initial goal of ‘accompaniment,’ allowing for an ecclesial practice that is faithful to the church’s basic claim that gays and lesbians are ‘always our children’—and always children of God.”

David Cloutier

Cloutier also named three ways by which, in his words, the bridge was “shaky.” First, he disagrees with “Martin’s initial characterization of the LGBT community as a ‘group,'” given the problems which arise in generalizing discussions and the differing issues facing transgender people. Cloutier continued:

“This overly tidy solution about naming leads to the second concern, which is whether this book is written for a socio-political context that no longer exists. At times, I imagined myself reading Building a Bridge in the early 1990s, when as a young Catholic at a very secular liberal arts college, I was learning to negotiate (hopefully with respect, compassion, and sensitivity!) LGBT issues for the first time. But on this issue, the early 1990s seem like ancient history. The idea of generous bridge-building is more difficult when anti-discrimination lawsuits lurk in the wings. Moreover, Catholics have observed decades of church-dividing strife among Protestant churches unable to make this sort of a bridge work, and Martin never hints at why Catholic bridge-building won’t end up in the same place.”

Finally, Cloutier criticized Martin for not forthrightly addressing sexual ethics, writing:

“[H]e elides the fact that the issue at the core of the LGBT community is the challenge to church teaching. I presume this omission of the question of sex is intentional, but there is a sense of ‘let’s pretend’ that seems bothersome. . .Proponents of both sides might point out that the core problem is not how to bring together a marginalized group and an awkward church leadership. It’s really about two clashing views on the fundamental truths of justice and love. Each side has core beliefs about what these claims should mean, and we need to confront why those claims are at odds.”

Cloutier, who trends conservative, called for a conversation on the bridge that would involve chastity and involuntary celibacy, to “come to discern it as a potential gift, rather than an obvious curse.” Interestingly, he wondered whether church leaders should ‘come out,’ but do so only towards the end of “communicating the possibilities of holiness in following the path of Christ” because of their celibate state. He concluded:

“Again, [the clash between Catholics] is no different from what Catholics should expect from tough conversations on issues like economics and the environment: there is a clash of fundamental moral visions that must be engaged. If we’re going to have a conversation, we might not start with that clash. But any bridge is going to have to cross these troubled waters at some point. And perhaps then we’ll see if we need a new St. Ignatius or a new St. Benedict.”

You can read coverage of lesbian Catholic author Eve Tushnet’s review by clicking here. To read Bondings 2.0’s full coverage about Fr. James Martin’s involvement on LGBT issues, click here.   You can order Fr. Martin’s book by clicking here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 3, 2017

Related Articles

Publisher’s Weekly, In New Book, Priest Urges Church to Welcome LGBTQ Catholics

Religion News Service, “The necessity of LGBT bridge-building

New Catholic LGBT Book Is Praised by High Church Leaders

A new Catholic book on LGBT issues, whose main text is based on a talk given at a New Ways Ministry event, has been praised by the Vatican official in charge of family life, a U.S. cardinal who is close to Pope Francis, and a bishop who is leading the call for greater pastoral care for LGBT people.  Their dust jacket blurbs join one by Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, New Ways Ministry’s co-founder

Rev. James Martin, SJ, and the cover of his new book.

Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, by Rev. James Martin, SJ, will be published June 13, 2017, and its dust jacket contains high praise comments from Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery of Laity, Family, and Life; Cardinal Joseph Tobin, picked personally by Pope Francis to lead the embattled Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey; and Bishop Robert McElroy, head of the San Diego Diocese, who has made LGBT inclusion one of his regular themes; and Sister Jeannine.

The main portion of the book is an adaptation of the talk Fr. Martin gave when he received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award at the end of October 2016.   In addition, the book, which is to be published by HarperOne, will also contain prayer aids and other pastoral material.

David Gibson, a veteran Church observer who writes for Religion News Servicebroke the news about this high praise from Church officials for a gay-friendly book.  In the course of the article, Gibson noted that the praise from church officials for a book which had its origins in a New Ways Ministry program, signaled a momentous shift:

“A co-founder of New Ways Ministry is Sister Jeannine Gramick, whose views were considered so far outside the bounds of Catholic teaching that she was barred by the Vatican and her order from speaking about homosexuality. She transferred to another order and has continued to minister and speak and write on the topic. . . . That she is endorsing the same book as senior church leaders is an indication of the sea change under Francis.”

Fr. Martin told Religion News Service that he sees the praise from these high Church officials as signaling greater sensitivity on LGBT issues:

“I was delighted that Cardinal Farrell and Cardinal Tobin found the book helpful. To me, it’s a reminder that many in the hierarchy today support a more compassionate approach to LGBT Catholics.”

The following quotations are from the comments on the book’s dust jacket:

Cardinal Kevin Farrell

Cardinal Kevin Farrell:

“A welcome and much-needed book that will help bishops, priests, pastoral associates, and all church leaders more compassionately minister to the LGBT community. It will also help LGBT Catholics feel more at home in what is, after all, their church.”

Cardinal Joseph Tobin

Cardinal Joseph Tobin:

“In too many parts of our church LGBT people have been made to feel unwelcome, excluded, and even shamed. Father Martin’s brave, prophetic, and inspiring new book marks an essential step in inviting church leaders to minister with more compassion, and in reminding LGBT Catholics that they are as much a part of our church as any other Catholic.”

Bishop Robert McElroy

Bishop Robert McElroy:

“The Gospel demands that LGBT Catholics must be genuinely loved and treasured in the life of the church. They are not. [Fr. Martin] provides us with the language, perspective, and sense of urgency to replace a culture of alienation with a culture of merciful inclusion.”

Sr. Jeannine Gramick

Sister Jeannine Gramick:

Gibson’s reporting summarized the main text of the book concisely:
“In his talk, as in the book, Martin called on church leaders and all Catholics to treat gays and lesbians with greater respect and sensitivity. . . .But he also called on gays and lesbians to be more considerate and respectful of the hierarchy, saying both sides must listen to each other and learn from each other.”
New Ways Ministry presented Fr. Martin with the Bridge Building Award last year because of his past achievements in promoting dialogue between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church.  Yet, with the publication of this book, and the praise for it from church officials, shows his bridge building gifts are continuing to grow.
Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 8, 2018