Fr. James Martin Responds to Vile Attacks with Integrity and Solidarity

Fr. James Martin, SJ, has received a variety of different responses to his recent book on LGBT issues in the Catholic church (Building A Bridge). One recent exchange on social media revealed just how harsh and childish some critics can be, and how well Martin is choosing to respond.

James Martin cropped

Fr. James Martin, SJ

Austin Ruse, who writes for the alt-right website Breitbart and is president of a right-wing organization (which used to be identified as Catholic but has since become secular) that opposes LGBT equality, attacked Martin on Twitter recently. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Ruse used harsh anti-gay slurs, and said the priest was leading lesbian and gay people to hell.

Ruse’s comments were a response to another Twitter controversy during which the conservative website had tweeted, “And then this Dominican showed up and started beating @JamesMartinSJ like a rented mule. The crowd went wild.”

But against such vile language and even the implicit threat of violence, Fr. Martin has responded with integrity and solidarity. He explained his decision to respond on Facebook:

“I almost never engage with hateful social media comments. But this time was different. For me, it represented, in the first place, the crossing of a line by a prominent Catholic website (the encouragement of violence even in a joking way is beyond the pale); and in the second, a teachable moment brought about by a slur (‘pansy’), about homophobia in our church, even in high echelons.”

In another Facebook post, Martin acknowledged that LGBT people face “hatred and contempt” every day and he hoped that through the support of community he would try to”make them feel like beloved children of God.”

Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter defended Martin as a “gifted spiritual writer” and “gentle soul,” while calling Ruse a white nationalist “fire-eater.” He stated:

“To most American Catholics, Martin is one of the sons in whom we take the most pride, a churchman who helps others grow in their relationship with the church and with its head, Jesus, a priest who makes ancient traditions accessible to modern readers. And, to those of us who have known him as a colleague, the private Fr. Martin shines with the same wit and holiness and pastoral solicitude as the readers encounter in his writing. He is a treasure and his works will be read long after the fire-eaters have been forgotten.”

MartinInclusion.jpgWinters’ defense of Martin is especially important since the columnist disagreed with parts of the priest’s book.  Winters said Building a Bridge was “not my favorite book” on homosexuality, and like other reviewers quibbled with Martin’s decision to forgo any discussion of sexual ethics. Winters also said he thinks there are theological hurdles to the LGBT discussion and “some of those hurdles may prove insurmountable.”


A wide spectrum of reviewers have critiqued Building a Bridge, from Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. But despite these critiques, Martin’s book is having an impact on the church. He has used it to breathe new life into the conversation on LGBT issues in the church, and has likely opened the eyes (and possibly hearts) of Catholics who might be less affirming of LGBT people. If nothing else, he is using his high profile platform to help eradicate in the church the kind of hate speech used by Ruse and those faithful like him. For his efforts, Winters is right: Martin will surely be remembered long after his vile critics are forgotten.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 14, 2017

6 replies
  1. Clyde Christofferson
    Clyde Christofferson says:

    Regarding Archbishop Chaput’s article, his quote from Paul is in need of St. Augustine’s wisdom: it is a mistake to interpret God’s Book of Scripture so that it contradicts God’s Book of Nature. As a recent issue of Scientific American on gender makes clear, God did not create us “only male and female”. As St. Augustine would have understood, for the teaching church to persist with a binary understanding of gender, when God’s Book of Nature teaches otherwise, holds the church up to ridicule.

    What is needed is a better understanding of why Paul was mistaken in some of what he said. We know Paul was right when he spoke about the passions and lust for impurity, because we experience it ourselves. But Paul did not know the teachings of God’s Book of Nature regarding gender, nor did the culture of his time. They had no understanding of genetics or DNA. Why should we hold Paul and his time to knowledge they had no way of knowing?

    Because he knew no better, Paul presumed that sexual relations between two men or between two women were the result of unnatural lust. Surely Paul understood that lust can cloud the love between a man and a women. He had no way of understanding that two men or two women could have a loving sexual relationship. Had he “encountered and accompanied” those in such relationships? Or did he pass judgment without attempting such a dialogue? We can in turn judge Paul in retrospect, but that would be unkind.

    The Spirit did not abandon Paul because he was ignorant of the teachings of God’s Book of Nature. Nor does the Spirit abandon us — in our own time — when we are similarly ignorant. But in our time the Spirit calls us to be open to learning the truth of God’s Book of Nature regarding gender.

    The Church has gone through this before, with Galileo. In 1615 Cardinal Bellarmine and Galileo both understood the wisdom of St. Augustine, and Bellarmine cautioned Galileo that the evidence might not yet be ripe for discerning God’s Book of Nature regarding whether the earth or the sun was at the center. Yet, over time, a better discernment has come to pass about the structure of the cosmos. And the same will happen with homosexuality. It should not surprise us that these things take time. We are just human beings.

  2. Joe
    Joe says:

    Mr. Shine, just an idea; please stop referring to publications like Breitbart as “alt-right” and just call them what they are; a white-nationalist publication

  3. Fr. Anthony
    Fr. Anthony says:

    I believe that Christ gave us the commandments to love God and our neighbor. He calls us to fidelity and commitment. Love is for everyone and sexuality is a natural process. Nature makes mistakes. Wrong sex, change it. Marriage is based on love and commitment. When the love is not there, change. Until now people did not live long lives. They had a chance to find a new partner. Bravo to those who love each other for years. You are the exception. Gay relations are normal. Sex is given for intimacy, not making babies, but out of this intimacy children may come. Sometimes it is medically necessary to rid oneself of sexual fluids. The teachings of the Church needs to be updated and are based on what we think God wants. Hell is there in the mercy of God for those who reject Love of God and Neighbor .

  4. Jim & Will
    Jim & Will says:

    Dear Robert Shine, Thank you for posting your article on Fr. Martin. I would find Fr. Martin far more sincere and believeable if he would come out of the closet — like his predacessor, Fr. John McNeil did (see, The Church and the Homosexual). Priests who claim to understand homosexuality and the complicated relationship between Gay People and the Catholic Church — and yet themselves remain closeted — seem disingenuous and cowardly. Frankly, by NOT coming out of the closet, these priests make things worse for Gay Catholics and the relationship between the Catholic Church and Gay People. Thanks again for your interesting article. James E. D’Eramo, Ph.D.


  5. Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf
    Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf says:

    Fr Martin is a follower of the Christ and represents the best of the teachings of Christian love. Those who speak against Martin’s words have forgotten their Christian roots.

  6. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    A classy response by Father James Martin to vile responses.

    I can understand Father Martin’s refusal to address the moral issue of sexual behavior and relationships in his book. As I recall, that was the approach Jeannine Gramick and Bob Nugent took. They consistently avoided writing and talking about the morality of sexual behavior, and instead stressed the Church teaching against discrimination toward LGBT people. This was in contrast to the approach of many Church leaders, who stressed the teaching against sexual behavior, while ignoring the teaching about discrimination. Jeannine and Bob’s approach didn’t go over well with some in authority.

    Bob and Jeannine also published books that included entire official Church documents on the subject, as well as responses, without indicating their own positions on negative Church teachings. Those books were helpful, in that they were the only place in which the original documents could readily be found in their entirety.

    The comments from Andrew Sullivan in yesterday’s Bondings, however, clearly point out the crisis for churches whose documents condemn all same gender sexual behavior and relationships. Such condemnations are seen increasingly by youths and others in the churches as being out of touch and in conflict with reality. Despite their colorful robes and authoritative statements referencing old writings, many church leaders have shown themselves to have no authenticity or real authority on sexual matters. And the repetition of teachings disconnected from reality is having the effect of alienating, rather than convincing, people they are trying to rein in.

    It is long past time for Church officials and theologians to be able to freely discuss sexual morality and gender variations without being subject to condemnation or discipline or loss of jobs. It is long past time for LGBT church workers to be able to be openly honest about their lives, without fear of being fired.

    And indeed, the whole boiling pot of spicy gender and sexual issues needs to be uncovered. It is a pot of stew including a mixture of sexual and gender identities and behaviors, and gender and sexual roles.


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