Colbert's Chaplain on "Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity"

Fr. James Martin, SJ

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!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

0 replies
  1. Steve
    Steve says:

    Well, I appreciate this, but unfortunately it is not enough. The statement that “this inclination which is objectively disordered”, needs to be changed. Gay people are gay because God made them that way and there are many different kinds of love. End of discussion. We are all to be accepted and respected for who we are. It’s not enought to say well we need to have compassion for these poor little disordered people. Even the best of comments tend to be slightly insulting and give the wrong message.

  2. wild hair
    wild hair says:

    I agree with Steve. Fr. Martin’s words are kind and enlightened. He does give a generous interpretation to the words of the catechism.

    Unfortunately Fr. Martin cannot and does not move beyond the vatican definition of gay and lesbian people as being defective heterosexuals. While tolerant and kind to individual gay and lesbian persons, Martin does not address the experience of gay and lesbian people who have grown to define their own experience and identity. Certainly he does not address the growing maturity of many gay and lesbian persons who have struggled to understand not only their orientation, but their relationships and even desire for formal recognition of those relationships, marriage.

    His words are welcome. More is still needed from those who have some standing and voice in the mainstream part of the church.

  3. Charles William Wells
    Charles William Wells says:

    Bravo Steve and Wild Hair. The problem for Fr. Martin, and any priest really, is you can’t always tell it like it is and keep your job. Any priest that is caring enough to emphasize the respect, compassion, and sensitivity all christians are encouraged to display in relating to “people with homosexual tendencies”, obviously realizes, perhaps agonizes, over the quandary he himself faces. I admire him as one used to admire
    Veronica who legend had it wiped away the blood from the face of Christ on his via doloroso. She
    couldn’t stop the execution but she could at least make it a little less of an onus.

  4. michael mattioli
    michael mattioli says:

    I sincerely appreciate Fr. Martins work to gain “acceptance” for GLBT persons. Being tolerated may be better than being persecuted…BUT, It is a not Respectful, Compassionate and Sensitive to label me as “objectively disordered” …and to deny me my truth… When will it be time to say “NOT TRUE” anytime anyone makes that erroneous statement. The scientific, medical and psychological professions have said, “NOT TRUE.” While crediting Fr Martin for his good works, I hope the New Ways Ministry will also say a loud resounding “NOT TRUE.” to “objectively disordered.


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