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.”


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

8 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    LGBT people have been making the first move for far too long, to little avail.

    Church leaders must make the first move from this point on. And the first move must be to just listen without any judgment to the experiences of LGBT people.

    Furthermore, a great deal of research has been done and information learned about sexual orientation and gender identity over the last seventy years. Church leaders must do their own study and reading in order to better understand topics about which they understand so little. Continuing to pontificate about things about which they are ignorant, will convince no one.

    They must also go beyond the words of a few Biblical texts that were written in other languages in other societies millennia ago. There are many Biblical scholars who know the intent and context of the texts better than the leaders do. Furthermore, just as the leaders no longer take literally the justification of slavery in Scripture, they must see beyond the texts. Condemning behavior as intrinsically evil when the lives and behavior of LGBT people belie such an interpretation, is simply not acceptable in this day and age.To continue to condemn the relationships of LGBT people as unloving, is to be blind to the presence of God in the concrete love expressed in so many LGBT relationships.

    It is clear that the majority of Catholic laity have passed the leaders by. The majority of laity have seen that what the leaders say about themselves, their children, extended family members, friends, coworkers and neighbors is just plain false.

  2. Kevin Welbes Godin
    Kevin Welbes Godin says:

    Manson is part of the community, and Chaput…well, I don’t know if we’ll ever know. I’m troubled too, that Shine didn’t point out the disparity in power and privilege between these two.

  3. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    I am actually encouraged and surprised by Chaput’s comment about getting to the substance of the matter. He’s absolutely right. The substance is discussing the scientific and relational reality of homosexuality which we recognize as natural, that is, intended by God. I know Chaput’s reference to substantive is the “sin of” but the language of substantive is a legitimate starting point.
    Manson’s comments are dead on. She may not have said everything that needed to be said, but what she did say is significant in that it too is a good place to, dare I say, continue the conversation?
    The fact that Chaput and Paprocki* are acknowledging and responding to Martin’s book is in itself a small but notable difference in the “conversation”.
    *Based on an article he printed in his diocesan paper

  4. Lillian
    Lillian says:

    Chaput says: ” If the Letter to the Romans is false, then Christian teaching is not only wrong but a wicked lie.” It may be necessary to realize that the Bible was written for one era and thus is a guide , not something that is un-upgradeable. We have learned much over the centuries and should listen carefully to this era’s understanding of God, and should live in the present. The Now. Maybe our present- day teachings, etched in stone, are a wicked lie.

    • Fr. Michael Nicosia
      Fr. Michael Nicosia says:

      St. Paul was wrong about a lot, having an implicit bias against all things “of the flesh.” Wrong, too, is the Archbishop’s failing to see that and using such texts to justify his explicit bias.

  5. Steven
    Steven says:

    Bishop Chaput’s comments get to the heart of the matter. As long as same sex relationships are seen as sin, any welcoming of gay catholics by the church will remain hollow. It’s great to call for increased dialogue and mutual respect, but the reaction to Martin’s book by Chaput and the recent endorsement by Cardinal Dolan of a book entitled “Why I don’t call myself gay” (see the front page of today’s New York Times regarding Cardinals Tobin and Dolan) reveal that nothing will change.

    Frankly, I am tired of waiting. I am 62. I led the life prescribed by the Church until I was nearly 54. At that time, I decided only loneliness and social isolation awaited me if I did not finally come to terms with my sexuality. I am now in a wonderful relationship with my partner. And I am welcomed and supported by my church community……St. Luke’s Episcopal Church.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] book, it’s important to note that not all of them have been positive.  Reviewers from both progressive and conservative Catholic camps have faulted him for not writing about sexual ethics.  While the first group hoped he would be […]

  2. […] whic Tobin and Dolan chose to endorse. Tobin described Fr. James Martin, S.J.’s new book, Building a Bridge, as “brave, prophetic and inspiring.” For Dolan, the book to read was Why I […]

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