In the ongoing aftermath of right-wing attacks on Fr. James Martin, SJ, because of his new book on LGBT issues in the church, three more Catholic bishops have made statements in support of the Jesuit.
Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago invited Martin to give Lenten reflections at the archdiocese’s cathedral next spring after Martin had at least three speeches cancelled in recent weeks. The cardinal explained his invitation to the Chicago Sun Times:
“‘I wanted to make sure that I affirmed what he was doing. I think those moments of not inviting, or disinviting him were very unfortunate and I wanted to let him know that I supported him. . .
“‘This is a priest who has given his life for the service of the church. . .He’s been very dedicated, he’s well-respected. The Holy Father appointed him to a commission in Rome. So, I would just say to people: Make up your own decision, your own mind about him, by reading exactly what he wrote.'”
Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, who is notably LGBT-negative, also defended Martin, though said the book’s ideas were a “legitimate” source for criticism. He wrote about the priest for First Things. Chaput said of Martin:
“Some of the recent attacks on Martin, sparked by his book Building a Bridge, have been inexcusably ugly. Fr. Martin is a man of intellect and skill whose work I often admire. Like all of us as fellow Christians, he deserves to be treated with fraternal good will. It’s one thing to criticize respectfully an author’s ideas and their implications. It’s quite another to engage in ad hominem trashing.”
But Chaput also said that “before we prematurely enter another name on our list of Catholic martyrs,” namely Martin, “we should remember that Fr. Martin’s book is not above legitimate, serious criticism that has nothing to do with ad hominem rancor.” Chaput defended critics of Martin’s book who would insist, as the archbishop does, that “clear judgment. . .is an obligation of Catholic discipleship—especially on moral issues.”
Finally, Bishop Patrick Dunn of Auckland, New Zealand wrote a column on Building a Bridge for NZ Catholic. He acknowledged at the outset that, “Like many others, I have friends and family members who are gay. . .For some years I have been troubled by the sense of rejection they often feel with regard to the Church.” Calling Martin’s book “an answer to prayer,” Dunn outlined the books contents before concluding that Martin’s book was “well worth reading.”
These three bishops were preceded by sharp comments from San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy, who said the right-wing attacks against Martin should be a “wake-up call” for U.S. Catholics and that judgementalism in the church must end. Martin’s religious superiors, Theological College alumni, the Paulist Fathers, the group Catholic Women Speak, and Liturgical Press have all offered their support for Martin as well.
Last Saturday, I attended Martin’s talk at Holy Trinity Church, Washington, D.C. The buzz at Holy Trinity lasted through not only Martin’s speech, but the book signing and luncheon, too. People were sharing their stories with one another; there was a real sense of communion.
This book has brought LGBT issues into the mainstream of the church, and is benefiting families and faith communities alike. While I, like many reviewers, would quibble with this or that in Building a Bridge, the positive impact the conversation about the book is having is undeniable. That the book is even opening bishops to this conversation may be the greatest benefit of all.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 4, 2017