Fr. James Martin, SJ, called for greater mutual respect between the institutional church and LGBT communities during a major address he presented yesterday.
Titled “A Two-Way Bridge,” the address was framed around the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s exhortation that lesbian and gay people be treated with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”
Fr. Martin offered his remarks after receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award, which recognized his ministry of communication and the ways it has expanded dialogue on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church
In the address, Fr. Martin asked what living this exhortation out might mean for church leaders and ministers, but also for LGBT people as they relate to the institutional church. Today’s post features highlights from the address, and you can find the full text by clicking here. (The text of the talk can also be found on America magazine’s website.)
For the institutional church to respect LGBT communities would mean, at least, the acknowledgment that such persons exist, Fr. Martin said. In addition, the needs to offer pastoral responses through welcoming Masses, outreach groups, and efforts to make LGBT people known they are part of the church. Fr. Martin continued:
“Second, respect means calling a group what it asks to be called. . .Because it is respectful to call people by the name they choose. Everyone has the right to tell you their name. . .
“Names are important. . .people have a right to name themselves. Using those names is part of respect. And if Pope Francis can use the word gay, so can the rest of the church.”
Commenting on the firings of LGBT church workers, of which more than 60 have become public since 2008, Fr. Martin said:
“The problem is that this authority is applied in a highly selective way. Almost all the firings in recent years have focused on L.G.B.T. matters. Specifically, these firings have most often related to those employees who have entered into same-sex marriages, which is against church teaching, and where one or another partner has a public role in the church. . .
“Moreover, requiring church employees to adhere to church teachings means, at a more fundamental level, adhering to the Gospel. To be consistent, we should fire people for not helping the poor, for not being forgiving and for not being loving. That may sound odd, but why should it? Jesus’s teachings are the most essential ‘church teachings.’ “
When it comes to LGBT people showing respect to the institutional church, Fr. Martin said Catholics must practice ecclesial respect for church leaders and simple human respect for these leaders who are our siblings. He stated:
“This may be hard to hear for people who feel beaten down by the church. But being respectful of people with whom you disagree is not only the Christian way. Even from a human point of view, it’s good strategy. If you sincerely want to influence the church’s perspective on L.G.B.T. matters, it helps to earn the trust of the hierarchy. And one way to do that is by respecting them. So both the Christian approach and simple wisdom would say: Respect them.”
Fr. Martin also explored what it would mean for the institutional church to be compassionate towards LGBT people. He highlighted twice that compassion means “to experience with, or suffer with.” Being compassionate includes listening, expressing solidarity including through episcopal statements, and celebrating joyfully. He noted:
“The first and most essential requirement is listening. It is nearly impossible to experience a person’s life, or to be compassionate, if you do not listen to the person, or if you do not ask questions. Questions that Catholic leaders might ask their L.G.B.T. brothers and sisters are: What is your life like? What was it like growing up as a gay boy or lesbian girl or transgender person? How have you suffered? What are your joys? And: What is your experience of God? What is your experience of the church? What do you hope for, long for, pray for? For the church to exercise compassion, we need to listen.”
LGBT people showing compassion to the institutional church and its leaders would include seeing bishops “in their humanity, in their complexity and amid the great burdens of their ministries.” Fr. Martin wondered if LGBT communities could give the institutional church the “gift of time,” that is time to make sense of diverse experiences of gender and sexuality:
“Challenging as it may be to hear, and without setting aside the suffering that many L.G.B.T. people have experienced in the church, I wonder if the L.G.B.T. community could give the institutional church the gift of time. Time to get to know you. In a very real way, an open and public L.G.B.T. community is new, even in my lifetime. In a very real way the world is just getting to know you. So is the church. I know it’s a burden, but it’s perhaps not surprising. It takes time to get to know people. So perhaps the L.G.B.T. community can give the institutional church the gift of patience.”
Finally, Fr. Martin called for LGBT people and the institutional church to show greater sensitivity towards each other. For the church, this last point means responding to Pope Francis’ call for encounter and accompaniment, and Martin said one reason church leaders struggled to show sensitivity is they knew very few LGBT people:
“That lack of familiarity and friendship means it is more difficult to be sensitive. How can you be sensitive to a person’s situation if you don’t know them? So one invitation is for the hierarchy to come to know them as friends. . .
“In this, as in all things, Jesus is our model. When Jesus encountered people on the margins, he saw not a category but a person. To be clear, I am not saying that the L.G.B.T. community should be, or should feel, marginalized. Rather, I am saying that within the church many of them do find themselves marginalized. They are seen as ‘other.’ But for Jesus there was no ‘other.’ “
If sensitivity is based on”encounter, accompaniment, and friendship,” then it must be enacted by seeking to not offend. Using language like “objectively disordered” is not sensitive, Fr. Martin said, and further:
“Saying that one of the deepest parts of a person—the part that gives and receives love—is ‘disordered’ in itself is needlessly cruel. . .Part of sensitivity is understanding that.”
For LGBT people to show sensitivity to the institutional church, Fr. Martin said they should be aware of “who is speaking and how they are speaking.” This sensitivity means acknowledging the hierarchy of authoritative teaching, and what weight each teaching has, noting that not all statements, figures, and documents are not of equal weight. Authority is also possessed by holy people, and Fr. Martin continued:
“Moreover, there is an invitation to be sensitive to the fact that when someone in the Vatican speaks—whether the pope or a Vatican congregation—they are speaking to the whole world, not just the West, and certainly not just the United States. Something that seems tepid in the United States might be shocking in Latin America or Africa. . .
“Well, perhaps in the West those words seemed insufficient. But the pope is writing not simply for the West, much less simply for the United States. Imagine reading that in a country where violence against L.G.B.T. people is rampant and the church has remained silent. What is bland in the United States is incendiary in other parts of the world. What might be obvious to a bishop in one country is a clear, forceful, even threatening, challenge to another bishop. What seems arid to L.G.B.T. people in one country may be, in another country, water in a barren desert.”
Fr. Martin concluded his address by inviting the institutional church and the LGBT community to “step onto a bridge of mutual ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity,” and said:
“Some of this may be hard to hear for the L.G.B.T. community. It is hard to step onto that bridge. And some of this may be challenging for bishops to hear. Because neither lane on that bridge is smooth. On this bridge, as in life, there are tolls. It costs when you live a life of respect, compassion and sensitivity. But to trust in that bridge is to trust that eventually people will be able to cross back and forth easily, and that the hierarchy and the L.G.B.T. community will be able to encounter one another, accompany one another and love one another. It is to trust that God desires unity.
“We are all on the bridge together. Because, of course, the bridge is the church. And, ultimately, on the other side of the bridge for each group is welcome, community and love.”
In a special appeal to LGBT Catholics, who struggle with the church and are hurt by its ministers, Martin stated:
“The Holy Spirit is supporting the church and is supporting you. . .For you are beloved children of God who, by virtue of your baptism, have as much right to be in the church as the pope, your local bishop or me. . .In short, you are not alone. Millions of your Catholic brothers and sisters accompany you, as do your bishops, as we journey imperfectly together on this bridge. More important, we are accompanied by God, the reconciler of all men and women of good will, as well as the architect, the builder and the foundation of that bridge.”
To read the full text of Fr. Martin’s address, “A Two-Way Bridge,” click here. Further information about the Bridge Building Award ceremony, including a video of the address and comments made by one of the attendees, Yayo Grassi, a gay man and former student of Pope Francis, will be posted later this week.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 31, 2016