Cardinal Timothy Dolan and television personality Stephen Colbert engaged in a widely-publicized conversation at Fordham University last week, moderated by Jesuit Fr. James Martin. The New York Times reports on the question and answer period, where one person asked:
“ ‘So many Christian leaders spread hatred, especially of homosexuals. How can you maintain your joy?’ ”
“Cardinal Dolan responded with two meandering anecdotes — one about having met this week with Muslim leaders, and another about encountering demonstrators outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”
“But Mr. Colbert’s response was quick and unequivocal. ‘If someone spreads hate,’ he said, ‘then they’re not your religious leader.’ ”
Fr. James Martin, SJ, is one of Catholicism’s leading spiritual writers and cultural commentators today, as well as one of the most sought-after Catholic conference speakers. Arguably, he has the largest “pulpit” for young people in this country since he is known as “Stephen Colbert’s chaplain,” appearing regularly as a guest on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report.
So when Fr. Martin speaks out on lesbian/gay issues, as he does from time to time, it is an event worth noting. His latest contribution is a posting on America magazine’s blog. Entitled “Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity,” the comprehensive examination muses on the idea that on the topic of lesbian/gay issues, Catholic leaders tend to forget an important half of church teaching. Fr. Martin writes:
“. . . I’d like to turn our attention to another part of the church’s official teaching, something equally as valid. It is contained in the very next line [of the Catechism], and is an important aspect of our tradition that is often overlooked. . . . : ‘The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’
What follows in the post is one of the most thoughtful examinations I have read of the words “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and how these concepts apply to lesbian/gay people. For example, in describing “respect,” Fr. Martin observes:
“One of the hallmarks of respecting a person, for example, is listening to him or her. If a child interrupts an adult, or fails to listen to a teacher, the child may be told, ‘Show some respect.’ You would scarcely say that you respected a person if you showed no real concern for what they said, or, likewise, for their personal experiences. So, to show real respect Catholics need to listen carefully to the experiences of gays and lesbians.”
In terms of “compassion, ” he turns to Jesus as the model:
“To suffer with gays means to be with them, and to stand with them, in solidarity. It means to be, and to be seen to be, on their side, battling “every sign of unjust discrimination.” It means sticking up for them when others mock or belittle them. It means reaching out in ways that might move us beyond our comfort zones. It might mean finding ourselves mocked as a result. It means aligning ourselves with them. That’s what Jesus did, after all. Even more than that, it means showing the kind of love that Jesus shows for those on the margins—a special kind of love.”
And for “sensitivity,” he points out the skewed emphasis on sex that church leaders too often portray:
“Another area of sensitivity is the way that the church’s overall teaching on gays and lesbians (not just about activity but about individuals as well) is presented. Or not presented. Some Catholic leaders lead off with the “thou shalt nots” and never get to the “thou shalts.” If all gays and lesbians hear about is the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage (to the exclusion of anything else about gays and lesbians), then it’s perhaps not surprising that many would report feeling rejected. . . . What a difference it would make if Catholic leaders could speak as often about the great contributions of gays and lesbians in the church, for example. Or about treating gays with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity.’ Or if they raised their collective voices against gay suicide.”
I’ve only offered highlights here. The entire posting is worth a thoughtful read. Too often, we only hear negative messages about LGBT people from church leaders and commentators. It’s refreshing and uplifting to read something positive from one of Catholicism’s most respected writers and commentators. Thank God for Fr. Martin!