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Alumni of the seminary which disinvited Fr. James Martin, SJ, from speaking are the latest voices in support of the priest, whose book on LGBT issues in the church has created quite a stir in recent weeks. And the cardinal-archbishop of Chicago also made an invitation seen as a sign of support for the priest.
Theological College (on the campus of Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.) had planned to host Martin for its Alumni Days celebration in October, where he planned to speak on the theme of encountering Jesus. When far-right Catholic website protested his appearance, the school acquiesced and disinvited the Jesuit author.
Fr. Martin Peter, class of 1967, said he was “very unhappy about the decision.” The National Catholic Reporter explained:
“Peter said that he and about a dozen classmates began planning a year ago to attend Alumni Days, a small affair that typically draws around 30-50 alumni, to celebrate together their golden anniversary as priests. Some planned to attend specifically because of Martin, Peter added. He was among those excited that the talk was to center on Martin’s 2014 book Jesus: A Pilgrimage, which he read with his parish book club in Columbus, Indiana.
“‘I don’t think we should allow ourselves to be blackmailed and pressured by groups … If we respond and cancel things like this, it just emboldens them to continue to oppose the whole spirit that I see in Pope Francis, who tells us to be reaching out to the margins, and telling us to be nonjudgmental and to be open.’”
Other alumni weighed in through emails to the rector, including those alumni who would no longer be attending the October event as a result of the Martin cancellation. NCR collected some of the alumni responses:
“‘This was an opportunity to be courageous and allow dialogue to happen. Sad to think my alma mater is caving in to pressure and perhaps financial concerns instead of the right to hear all sides — even, if not especially, on controversial topics,’ wrote one priest.
“‘I guess the opportunity to ‘Encounter Jesus’ is in abeyance at Theological College,’ Fr. John Cahill, a 1973 alumnus and a priest in the Covington, Kentucky, diocese. . .
“[Jerry] Filteau said he was ‘very disappointed that Theological College would cave into those kinds of forces in the church. When you let the shouters win, it doesn’t help the church any.’”
In addition to the support of alumni, other church figures, and religious communities, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago invited Martin to give Lenten reflections next spring at the city’s Holy Name Cathedral. Martin said he was “grateful” from the invitation from “an open, thoughtful and compassionate bishop.”
Two other bishops, Robert McElroy of San Diego and Charles Chaput of Philadelphia, have made supportive statements in defense of Martin. Other statements have come from the group Catholic Women Speak and from Liturgical Press.
The present controversy began when Martin announced that Theological College, along with the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and CAFOD, had all cancelled lectures by the author. You can read about those incidents here and here. Each cancellation was related to Martin’s new book on LGBT issues in the church, Building a Bridge. The trend of right-wing Catholic groups’ attacks against this priest and many others they disagree with is now being given increased attention as the church grapples with how to respond to them.
James Martin, Washington Post, “I called for Christians to love gay people. Now the Catholic alt-right is taking revenge.”