Seminary Cancels Fr. Martin’s Talk Due to Criticism of His LGBT Book

The following is a statement by Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry, in response to the decision by a national Catholic seminary to disinvite Fr. James Martin, SJ, due to criticism of his new book on LGBT issues.

Theological College, a national seminary in Washington, D.C., has delivered a devastating blow to the Catholic Church, academic freedom, and pastoral outreach to LGBT people by canceling the speaking engagement of Jesuit Father James Martin because some social media sites have criticized his book, Building a Bridge, which encourages dialogue between the institutional church and the LGBT community.

The decision is an impotent one in which the seminary’s leaders reveal that they are powerless to stand up to commentators whose views are beyond the mainstream of Catholic thought. It reveals cowardice on the part of the seminary’s administrators who do not have integrity to withstand pressure from outside forces, and instead opt for censorship instead of discussion.

Fr. James Martin, SJ

Unless it reverses its decision, Theological College’s renown as an academic institution is irreparably damaged.  Worse yet, the decision does great damage to the tenuous relationship between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community which Fr. Martin’s book has already been strengthening. Scores of Catholic parishes and colleges have welcomed Fr. Martin to speak since the publication of Building a Bridge.

It is astonishing that the seminary leaders did not side with the two cardinals and a bishop who praised Fr. Martin’s book as it was being published.  One of those cardinals, Kevin Farrell, is the head of Congregation for Laity, Family, and Life at the Vatican.  Indeed, Fr. Martin himself is a Vatican consultor on communications.  What could possibly motivate the seminary rector, Fr. Gerald McBrearity, to feel that he could not let a speaker with the impressive credentials and Vatican approval that Fr. Martin has to speak in an academic setting?

This decision is ludicrous for two other reasons.  First,  Fr. Martin was not scheduled to speak on the book in question or on the area of LGBT issues. He, instead, was speaking on his book about the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith. Second, by his own acknowledgement, and the reviews of many scholars, Building a Bridge is a mild book, whose most strong claim is that Church leaders should treat LGBT people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity”–ideals which are demanded by Catholic doctrine in the Catechism.

Theological College’s statement said that Fr. McBrearity made the decision “in the interest of avoiding distraction and controversy.”  Based on those criteria, the decision is an epic failure as, in fact, it will attract more controversy than Fr. Martin’s speaking appearance would ever have done. It tarnishes the reputation of the school and of the Catholic Church in the U.S.  It makes Catholic leaders look censorious and small-minded.  Indeed, almost everyone in the Catholic Church has been discussing LGBT issues over the past decade.  Why should a book whose aim is reconciliation on this topic be cause for barring a celebrated author from speaking?

Since its publication early this summer, Fr. Martin’s Building a Bridge was reaching a wide audience of church leaders, including many bishops.  In my travels to several Catholic professional and ecclesial conferences these past few months, everyone said they had read, were reading, or intended to read the book.  All who had read it spoke of its great value. Instead of being a danger to the church, all saw it as a great gift. Despite this setback, the conversation on LGBT issues in the church to which Building a Bridge has given new life will still continue.

Fr. Martin is experiencing the rejection of many who speak out prophetically.  It is the same rejection experienced by millions of Jesus’ followers and, indeed, by Jesus Himself. For the sake of Fr. Martin, for Catholic academics, and for LGBT Catholics, we pray this sorry and shameful action by Theological College will soon be reversed.

To ask Theological College to reverse its decision disinviting Fr. Martin, write to:

Reverend Gerald McBrearity, Rector

Theological College

401 Michigan Avenue, NE

Washington, DC 20017

Phone:  202-756-4907

Email:  [email protected]

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, September 16, 2017


19 replies
  1. Terence Weldon
    Terence Weldon says:

    A completely absurd decision: one of the marks of Pope Francis’ papacy, has been his active encouragement of open discussion – for example, before the family synod. During his time in office, even the CDF, previously conspicuous for its reining in of what were deemed “dissenting” theologians, have issued no similar reprimands to anyone.
    Yet Fr Martin is not in any way “dissenting”, but simply reminding Catholics of the Catechism requirement of “respect, sensitivity and compassion” towards gay and lesbian Catholics – and asking LGBT Catholics to show the same courtesy to our bishops.
    With this decision to bow down to those who by objecting so strongly to Fr Martin’s book, are in fact demonstrating their own dissent from established Catholic teaching, the seminary is itself flouting that important teaching.

  2. Friends
    Friends says:

    Suggestion to our readers: check out the photos of Fr. McBrearity in the first few rows of the following Google URL link:

    I know what kind of “vibe” I’m receiving from his rather fey facial images. “Methinks he doth protest too much” — and for a rather predictable reason. But feel free to draw your own conclusion about why faithfully-bonded same-sex relationships seem to provoke him so existentially.

  3. Tim MacGeorge
    Tim MacGeorge says:

    “(A)voiding distraction and controversy.” Where would we be if Jesus had opted to a oid distraction and controver? What a pitiful, shameful reason for any decision, let alone one for an action such as this.

  4. Don Zirkel
    Don Zirkel says:

    Frank, I have been remiss in not telling you how well written your statements have been. Except “almost everyone in the Catholic Church has been discussing LGBT issues.” I wish it was true.

  5. Bob Burns
    Bob Burns says:

    May I suggest the following additional action/response? I suggest that you publish the names and addresses/contact information of bishops and religious superiors who have seminarians studying at the Theological College. The action described in this post is not only, or even so much, an injustice to Fr. Martin, but more so to the seminarians, to the people they will one day serve, and to the church.

  6. Vernon Smith
    Vernon Smith says:

    Well said, Frank. Ludicrous and shameful, indeed, for the reasons you cited. May this ridiculous action backfire and bring even more positive attention to Father Martin’s important, although very mild, book on building bridges.

  7. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    Sad but not surprising. Trying to build bridges with LGBT people is just too much of a stretch for some institutions. I do think this rector is delusional if he thinks he was tamping down controversy by catering to noisy reactionaries. He has disturbed a hornets nest.

  8. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    It never fails to amaze me that the leaders of of the Roman Catholic hierarchy and academic institutions have so little faith in their teachings and the intelligence of their students that they can not let them even be in the presence of individuals who wish to expand the faith. As noted above by Tim MacGeorge who was Christ other than one who spoke truth the powers that be who could only fearfully present tricks to try to confound him and failed. Fr. Martin has a fine mind and is a faithful member of the Church who is exactly the kind speaker any Catholic college should yearn to present to its students. Catholic beliefs are not some fragile egg to never be touched, but a bulwark against evil to be regularly tested and not found wanting as I recall. I feel sorry for any seminarian who is not exposed to his thoughts.

  9. Joan Hunter
    Joan Hunter says:

    You have done a great disservice to so many good Catholic LBGT and their families. I am an 85 year old cradle Catholic, but your decision makes me want to leave the church. It is no wonder that our churches are empty today.

  10. gcswiderskigmailcom
    gcswiderskigmailcom says:

    I remain grateful that Frank and others continue the challenging message especially when institutions of higher education refuse to continue the Catholic experience of critical thinking.
    Is there anyway to sustain this criticism so the rector will not let this blow over?
    How about letters to any board members?
    Who appointed this man rector?

  11. btakac
    btakac says:

    Are we the church that excludes and condemns others because they are not like us, or are we the church that includes and welcomes everyone, even those whom we have pre-judged.

    I believe that Christ intended the latter.

    What kind of church do we want to be and what example do we want to set for the world? The seminarians will be the ones making this happen.

    I want to be a part of Father Martin’s parish.


  12. Bill Freeman
    Bill Freeman says:

    There is an enormous backstory here that is vitally important​.

    I know Fr. Gerry McBrearity, the current rector at TC, from my seminary days at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore. Theological College (TC) at CUA is a Sulpician seminary. Just last year and due to the overreach of San Francisco Archbishop Sal Cordileone, the Sulpicians were discharged from St. Patrick’s Seminary & University at Menlo Park, CA after leading the seminary for 118 years. They officially left at the end of the May 2017 academic year. Cordileone ran them out. See the related NCR article:

    I am certain that McBrearity, TC, and the Sulpicians did not want the same thing to happen at CUA. They caved.

    In the age of Francis, this is so tragic. The more things change, the more they stay the same. I don’t see how the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. and Europe is not on a collision course.

    Gerry, is the Sulpician prophetic voice? How you modeling Pope Francis’ call to accompany the marginalized?


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] sparked an intense conversation this last week. The lecture cancellations, which you can read about here and here, occurred because of Martin’s new book on LGBT issues in the church, Building a […]

  2. […] McElroy’s essay in America identified a “cancer of vilification seeping into the institutional life of the church,” namely the judgmentalism now on display against Fr. Martin. Last week, news broke that Theological College in Washington, D.C. along with a couple other institutions, had cancelled lectures by Martin because of his new book on LGBT issues in the church, Building a Bridge. For more information on these incidents, click here. To read New Ways Ministry’s statement on this incident, click here. […]

  3. […] Last Friday, Martin posted on his Facebook page that Theological College in Washington, D.C. had cancelled a scheduled talk by him. He also reported that two other talks in October, one for the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in New York City and one for CAFOD, the English bishops’ humanitarian aid program. All of these talks were about encountering Jesus and not LGBT issues.  For New Ways Ministry’s statement on the cancellation at Theological College, click here. […]

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