Father Martin’s Viral Facebook Post on ‘So Much Hatred From So Many Catholics’

July 1, 2015

Perhaps the biggest Catholic post-Supreme Court decision news is not what Catholic bishops have been saying, but a social media controversy that has focused on Jesuit Father James Martin’s Facebook page.

Father James Martin, SJ

David Gibson, on his blog at Religion News Service, reported on the issue which is causing millions–yes, millions–of people to flock to the Facebook page of the popular Jesuit author and speaker.

The “offending” post which is causing the controversy, was put up by Fr. Martin just before 3:00 pm on June 26th, the day that the U.S. Supreme Court legalized marriage equality nationwide. In the post, Fr. Martin said:

“No issue brings out so much hatred from so many Catholics as homosexuality.”

“Even after over 25 years as a Jesuit, the level of hatred around homosexuality is nearly unbelievable to me, especially when I think of all of the wonderful LGBT friends I have.”

Earlier in the day, Martin had made three posts about the Supreme Court ruling.  The first was a post announcing the decision.  The second was the response to the decision from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).  The third was the response of New Ways Ministry.   For each of the posts, he added the following prefatory guidelines to his followers who would want to comment on them:

“No ad hominem. No uncharitable remarks. No homophobic remarks. Mo more than one or two posts per person. And Catholics who disagree with the Supreme Court decision must treat gays with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,’ as the Catechism asks.”

In both the USCCB post and the New Ways Ministry post, he provided links so that his readers could, if they wanted, easily see both points of view.

Later in the day, probably due to many negative comments he received, Fr. Martin posted the message, quoted above, about how homosexuality brings out an immense amount of hatred.

The statistics for each of these posts tell an interesting story:

  • Announcing court’s decision: 9.603 Likes; 746 Shares; 1,088 Comments
  • USCCB reaction: 1,662 Likes; 215 Shares; 535 Comments
  • New Ways Ministry reaction: 6,635 Likes; 881 Shares; 879 Comments
  • Martin’s 3:00 pm post on negativity: 402,328 Likes; 141,108; Shares; 18,229 Comments

[Facebook statistics are from late in the evening on June 30, 2015]

Gibson reports that the result of all that sharing of the 3:00 pm post, already over 28 million people have viewed it.

The rest of Martin’s 3:00 pm post reads like a sermon:

“The Catholic church must do a much better job of teaching what the Catechism says: that we should treat our LGBT brothers and sisters with ‘respect, sensitivity and compassion.’

“But God wants more. God wants us to love. And not a twisted, crabbed, narrow tolerance, which often comes in the guise of condemnations, instructions and admonitions that try to masquerade as love, but actual love.

“Love means: getting to know LGBT men and women, spending time with them, listening to them, being challenged by them, hoping the best for them, and wanting them to be a part of your lives, every bit as much as straight friends are part of your lives.

“Love first. Everything else later. In fact, everything else is meaningless without love.”

Fr. Martin has taken the venom spewed towards him in stride, it seems.  At about 10:00 pm on the same day, he posted his reaction to the immense negative response he received.  He offered screen shots of three of the attacks on him, and then humorously commented:

“Dear erstwhile ‘friends,’

“If you are currently composing a Facebook message to describe how much you disapprove of me–like these from three separate Catholics–wouldn’t it be better simply to hit the ‘Unfollow’ key? Not that I don’t enjoy such notes, including the frequently amusing misspellings and delightfully creative grammatical mistakes. But it would save us both a lot of time.

“Many thanks!

“Your pal,
James Martin, SJ,
or as one of you styled me,
‘Father’ James Martin, SJ”

Martin, who posts on a wide variety of church, social, and cultural issues, was not daunted by the criticism.  Since this controversy, he has already posted twice more on the Supreme Court decision. Martin is one of the most popular Catholic commentators on Facebook, with over 277,000 followers.

I think there are three lessons in this story.  The first lesson is that this Facebook incident illustrates both how passionate Catholics–on both sides of the issue–are about the Supreme Court’s decision. While the strong majority of U.S. Catholics support marriage equality, there are still many who are equally strongly opposed to it. These groups need to be reconciled to one another.

The second lesson is the need for civil discourse as Catholics continue to discuss this topic.  The Supreme Court decision resolved the legal and political questions of same-gender marriage.  The moral and religious questions will continue.  It will be imperative for both sides of the debate to treat one another respectfully, as a number of U.S. bishops have pointed out in their reaction statements.

The third lesson is that the negative reaction to Father Martin’s post shows how poorly educated Catholics are on the basics of church teaching about accepting gay and lesbian people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”  Connected with this teaching, and equally as poorly taught by bishops and leaders, is honoring the human dignity of gay and lesbian people. Father Martin pointed out the reality of this deficiency in his post.   Much more teaching about how the Catholic social justice tradition applies to gender and sexual minorities is greatly needed.  Now, more than ever.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related post:

Queering The Church: “Catholic Responses to Homosexuality:  Hatred or Simple Disagreement?”


Photos of Kisses Banned from Rome Gallery Due to Vatican Intervention

September 30, 2013
Two men kissing in St. Peter's Basilica, Rome

Two men kissing in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome

Had the Vatican not intervened in getting a photo exhibition removed from a Rome gallery,  few outside the Eternal City would probably have heard of it.  But opposition to the exhibit, which features 16 pictures of same-gender couples kissing in churches, has now catapulted the exhibit to the world of international headlines and internet sensations.

Spanish artist Gonzalo Orquin’s exhibit, which was to open on September 25th in Rome’s Galleria L’Opera, was cancelled when the Vatican’s Vicariate of Rome (the office which oversees the Diocese of Rome) threatened legal action. You can view a slideshow of the photos here, thanks to Huffington Post UK.  According to TheLocal.it:

“ ‘A letter arrived from the Vicariate of Rome, an organization that is part of the Vatican, which said the church is against the exhibition. I spoke to lawyers and for security reasons we decided not to show the photos,’ Orquín told The Local.

“The Vicariate, an organization that helps the Pope carry out his functions as Bishop of Rome, confirmed it had sent the letter threatening legal action and said the photographs ‘could harm the religious sentiment of the faithful.’ “

Italian law, it seems, has a different concept of free expression than United States law:

“Speaking to The Local, Vicariate Spokesman Claudio Tanturri said the photographs are in breach the Italian constitution.

“ ‘Italian constitutional law safeguards an individual’s religious feeling and the function of places of worship.

“ ‘Therefore photos that are not suitable and do not conform to the spirituality of the place offend and infringe upon the advancement of man in the particular place for the expression of faith.’ ”

According to New York’s Daily News, the artist’s position on the exhibit was consonant with religious sentiment:

“ ‘I am a Catholic. I believe in God deeply,’ Orquin told The News in an email. ‘I think if you look closely at my pictures no one can find blasphemy or sacrilege. A kiss is a gesture of love, of tenderness between human beings.’ ”

Flavio Romani, president of Arcigay,Italy’s leading gay rights organization,  agreed with the artist and said that the Vatican’s reaction is a different interpretation than the one he has of the exhibit.  In The Local he stated:

“In the images in which the church has seen provocation, I see an exchange of love, a type of public worship that creates harmony not contrast.”

covered photos

Facebook photo of covered images

In response to the cancellation, the artist has posted a photo on Facebook of the 16 photos covered up, according to Huffington Post UK.   He is hopeful that the exhibit will be displayed elsewhere.  It seems that the notoriety gained by the Vatican’s intervention guarantees that another, perhaps more prominent, venue will be found for the photos.

If the Vatican wants to start living up to the ideals expressed by Pope Francis, interventions such as this one will have to stop.  Such an action doesn’t even serve their own misguided purposes well, as it only brings further exposure and publicity to the exhibit.  Worse yet, it sets up a dichotomy that buildings are more important than people.

The images themselves are not disrespectful.  And like all art, the statement they make probably depends more upon the viewer of them, not the creator of them.  Such images may offend some people, but more likely they will challenge many others, and cause even more people to think about the connections between love and religion.  Art should always get people thinking and discussing.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: Coming Back to Church

September 21, 2013

computer_key_Quotation_MarksKate Childs Graham, the co-president of Call to Action, spoke with MSNBC about Pope Francis’ recent interview. She echoed many of the commentators in welcoming his remarks, but added a new trend she is witnessing: people of all walks returning to the Church. Childs Graham told the television host:

Kate Childs-Graham

Kate Childs-Graham

“I experienced the interview through the Holy Trinity of the New York Times, Facebook, and Twitter…More inspiring than the Pope’s words as progressive as they were was the people on Facebook and Twitter, Catholics, non-Catholics, people who have felt marginalized by the Church, who have left the Church saying: ‘Yes, this is what we have been saying for years and it is finally being reflected by our leaders.’…

That said, Childs Graham ended by asking the question many Catholics have about the bishops in America:

 “The question is now we’ve got this CEO talking the talk, we’ve the worker bees, people in the pews, who’ve been saying this for years. The question really lies in middle management, the bishops. What are they going to do with this information?…Are they going to find this new balance with me, Pope Francis, and progressive Catholics like us?”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Transgender Student Decides to Skip Graduation After Discrimination

May 26, 2013

Damian Garcia protesting outside his high school

Damian Garcia and his supporters hoped St. Pius X High School would let him walk outfitted in graduation robes fitting his male gender during graduation this past week . However, Damian refused to participate in the ceremonies last Wednesday because school administrators insisted that the transgender student wear white female robes.

KOB News out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, reported on Damian’s absence from graduation, noting comments from the boy’s father that Damian chose to hang out with friends rather than participate and cause a scene. The station also captured student reactions, which were supportive of transgender rights as Catholics:

“Amid the tremendous joy of their achievement, some students are a little disappointed in their alma mater.

“‘It’s a little ridiculous that they wouldn’t let him chose what he wanted to wear,’ said graduate Nolan Wain Wright.

“‘We pride ourselves in being a Catholic community and we don’t let him walk because of that, so it’s very sad,’ said graduate Erick Hernandez.”

Jesse Tyler Ferguson, St. Pius X alum & “Modern Family” star

Another voice support Damian was a famous alum of St. Pius X, the star of ABC’s Modern Family Jesse Tyler Ferguson. The Advocate notes Ferguson helped the cause of transgender students, and quotes from the actor’s Facebook profile:

“‘I am writing to ask you to do the right thing and let all your students graduate with dignity…Do not force someone to identify them self as someone they are not! It is as ridiculous as having a priest conduct mass in a nuns habit! Gender identification goes way beyond a check mark on a birth certificate…I know St. Pius X has changed a lot since I graduated in ’94. I[‘m] proud of the changes and strides you have made but this is not a time to hold to a rule book. Continue to grow and accept ALL of your students.’

“As a gay former high school student in a Catholic school, Ferguson can relate to 18-year-old Damien Garcia’s victimization…

“Out actor and Modern Family star Ferguson may have taken the issue to a much higher level, bringing attention to the frequent and persistent harassment and discrimination to which transgender youth are subjected.”

The Albuquerque Journal reports that the University of New Mexico’s LGBTQ Resource Center is holding a graduation for Garcia on May 30th. While this is a wonderful offer by the University, transgender students should not have to agitate in Catholic schools for equal treatment and respect; honoring their dignity should be assumed.

New Ways Ministry congratulates Damian on graduating and sends our blessing for his future endeavors.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Social Media Counteracts U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Trinity Sunday Campaign Against Marriage Equality

May 25, 2013

Equally Blessed, a coalition of four national Catholic organizations which work for LGBT equality and justice in church and society, has launched a social media campaign this weekend to counteract a public relations blitz that the U.S. Catholic bishops have staged to encourage parishioners to oppose marriage equality.

Trinity Sunday Image (1)The Equally Blessed campaign asks Catholics who support marriage equality to voice their concerns about the bishops’ initiatives to their pastors and other parishioners.  To the right is the image which will be circulated on social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter.

The U.S. Catholic bishops have chosen Trinity Sunday to distribute bulletin inserts opposing marriage equality, provide parishes with talking points about how to argue against marriage equality, and offer priests homily suggestions for how to discuss the question of marriage within the context of Trinity Sunday.

Equally Blessed is also asking people to inform them of any action that was taken to counteract the bishops’ materials. You can contact Equally Blessed by clicking here.

The four members of Equally Blessed are Call To Action, DignityUSA, Fortunate Families, and New Ways Ministry.

New Ways Ministry encourages you to share the above image on your Facebook, Twitter, and other social media accounts.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Another Church Musician Is Let Go Because He Is Gay

May 22, 2013

In what seems to be developing into a national trend, another church worker has been forced out of his job when it was learned that he is gay. (A list of recent incidents involving LGBT people being dismissed from church jobs is below my signature at the end of this blog post.)

Nick Johns

Nick Johns

Nick Johns, who was organist at St. Brigid Church, Alpharetta, Georgia, said that the pastor, Fr. Joshua Allen, suspended him after a parishioner made complaints based on items viewed on Johns’ private Facebook page.

The GA Voice reports:

“ ‘One of the parishioners there was trolling on my Facebook and brought in a couple of pictures of me and my fiance and maybe some of the things I was saying in support of marriage equality,’ Johns said.”

In the news story, and on a blog post that Johns put up to let family, friends, and parishioners know what happened, the musician explains that under the former pastor, his orientation was not a problem:

“Johns came out in 2011, while he was working with another church, he said. When he was hired at Saint Brigid, he was determined to be open about his sexual orientation. But his openness may have cost him his job.

“A meeting with the man who hired him, Monsignor David Talley, followed to discuss his personal Facebook page.

“ ‘We had a meeting to talk about it and he was saying he didn’t care that I was gay because one of his childhood best friends turned out to be gay and they’re still best friends. We were talking about making my profile private. I didn’t know it wasn’t private. I made it private and that was the end of it for a long time,’ Johns told GA Voice.”

When Johns appealed the suspension, he had a meeting with the pastor, and he was given a choice to either be fired or to resign.  He resigned, explaining:

“I’m trying to find another organist position and I figured it would be easier if I wasn’t fired from my previous job.”

Since the dismissal, a new pastor has been appointed for the parish:

“Since Johns’ suspension, Saint Brigid has hired a full-time replacement pastor, meaning the man who fired him is no longer in charge. But Johns doesn’t think he would go back, even under the new leadership.”

When I think of all the LGBT people employed by the Catholic Church in the U.S., most of whom minister while keeping their sexual orientations secret, I can’t help but  see this policy of firing pastoral workers as anything but the institution shooting itself in the foot.  Yes,  it is true that these are discriminatory acts against LGBT people.  Because they are discriminatory, such acts are to be condemned.

At the same time, it strikes me as self-defeating for the institutional church to keep damaging itself by firing competent ministers.  The institutional homophobia is clouding good judgement.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Recent stories of LGBT people dismissed from church positions:

April 17, 2012: Lesbian Teacher Fired for Listing Her Partner’s Name in Her Mother’s Obituary

April 4, 2012: Long Island Gay Catholic Expelled from Parish Ministries for Marrying

January 9, 2013: Transgender Teacher Sues Catholic School Over Firing

September 25, 2012: Fired New Zealand Teacher’s Final and Most Powerful Lesson

August 22, 2012: Catholic John Doe Fears for His Church Job Because of Marriage Equality Contribution

June 28, 2012: Fired Minnesota Catholic School Teacher Calls for Dialogue on Marriage Equality

May 5, 2012:  Excluding Lesbian and Gay Church Workers from Employment

April 29, 2012:  “Whodunit” Surrounds Decision to Disinvite Gay Alum from Commencement

March 1, 2012: Is It Possible to Find Hope in This Week’s Painful News?

February 12, 2012:  Church Music Director Fired For Marrying His Partner of 23 Years


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