Fr. James Martin, SJ, has responded to a high-ranking Vatican official’s critique of his new book, Building a Bridge. Their exchange is another step in the conversation on LGBT issues in the church into which Martin has helped breathe new life.
Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation on Divine Worship, sharply criticized Martin’s book in an essay for the Wall Street Journal. Sarah said Martin was “one of the most outspoken critics of the church’s message with regard to sexuality,” followed by the cardinal’s vigorous defense of Magisterium’s teachings on homosexuality.
The cardinal suggested that celibate lesbian and gay Catholics as the real witnesses to how the church should approach homosexuality. He wrote:
“It is my prayer that the world will finally heed the voices of Christians who experience same-sex attractions and who have discovered peace and joy by living the truth of the Gospel. I have been blessed by my encounters with them, and their witness moves me deeply. . .Their example deserves respect and attention, because they have much to teach all of us about how to better welcome and accompany our brothers and sisters in authentic pastoral charity.”
Sarah has a strong LGBT-negative record, and has frequently condemned what he describes as “gender ideology.” Last year at the U.S. National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, the cardinal said transgender rights are “demonic” and marriage equality is a “poison.” During the 2015 Synod on the Family, Sarah said the LGBT rights movement had “demonic origins” and compared it to Nazism and fascism. Bondings 2.0‘s Francis DeBernardo, who was part of the press corps at the meeting in Rome, deemed Sarah’s comments the Synod’s “most homophobic remark”.
Martin offered his reply to Cardinal Sarah in America magzine (which summarized the cardinal’s column, as well). He pushed back against Sarah’s claim that the book challenges church teaching. Martin said Building a Bridge, which is based on an address he gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge-Building Award last fall, is “not a book of moral theology. . .It is an invitation to dialogue and to prayer. . .” America reported further:
“Father Martin called Cardinal Sarah’s column ‘a step forward,’ noting that the cardinal used the term ‘L.G.B.T.,’ which a few traditionalist Catholics reject.’ . . .But, Father Martin said, the essay ‘misses a few important points,’ including a failure to acknowledge ‘the immense suffering that L.G.B.T. Catholics have felt at the hands of their church.’
Building a Bridge has been well received by many church officials, including counterparts of Cardinal Sarah who endorsed the book. Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Discastery for Laity, Family, and Life, called the book “welcome and much-needed.” Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark said it was “brave, prophetic, and inspiring.” Other figures on the book’s dust jacket include Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, and theologian James Alison.
Martin’s book and the conversation it has sparked are already having an impact, which Bondings 2.0 has covered here. Some Catholics have been critical of Building a Bridge, including such diverse voices as lesbian writer Jamie Manson, theologian David Cloutier, and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia.
Martin has thoughtfully responded to these critics and others through his social media channels and an interview with America. He has continued to be outspoken on LGBT equality as well, offering his own set of propositions which affirm LGBT people when Evangelical leaders released their LGBT-negative “Nashville Statement” recently.
Interestingly, Sarah has not received much approval from Pope Francis. The pontiff targeted Sarah specifically in recent comments when he said, “with magisterial authority,” that Vatican II’s liturgical reforms were “irreversible,” a response critiquing the cardinal who is a liturgical traditionalist.
Where once Sarah’s views might have been backed by the Vatican through publication in L’Osservatore Romano, he now shares his opinion in a secular news outlet. And where once Martin’s book would have been, at best, denied an imprimatur and, at worst, led to an investigation against him, Vatican officials are now publicly endorsing the need for dialogue on LGBT issues in the church. Subtle though this change may be, it is still quite significant for LGBT Catholics and allies to remember in our ongoing work for full equality.
Bondings 2.0 will continue to follow the conversation around Building a Bridge. You can subscribe for daily updates on Catholic LGBT issues by using the box in the upper righthand corner of this page. If you have read Martin’s book, what do you think of it? Leave your thoughts or even a brief review in the ‘Comments’ section below.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 7, 2017