After Lecture Cancelled, Fr. James Martin Reflects on How Church Can Respond to Bullying

Father James Martin SJ

Yet another lecture by Fr. James Martin, SJ, has been interrupted due to right-wing pressure, which led Martin to reflect on how the Church can oppose such hostility and bullying.

Martin, who wrote Building a Bridge about LGBT issues in the Church, announced on Facebook that a lecture by him had been cancelled and then re-scheduled at a different location. The lecture on Lenten spirituality was set for February 15th at Our Lady of Lourdes parish, Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, in the Diocese of Metuchen. But a right-wing group started an online petition against his appearance.  Martin explained:

“Shortly afterwards, I received an email from a woman on the lay council of the deanery who told me, with sadness, that the parish felt forced to move the talk elsewhere, out of fear of protests. Another parish offered to welcome the talk, but there was not enough space in the church. Another parish was approached, but also feared protests. The chancery suggested to Our Lady of Lourdes that the talk continue, but with a different speaker. In the end, the deanery decided to move the lecture off church grounds entirely, to a local conference center. Then they contacted me and told me of their decision.”

Martin described the parish, the deanery which had scheduled the lecture in the first place, and the diocese as “victims of this campaign of personal vilification and online bullying.”

Fr. Len Rusay, pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes, wrote to parishioners explaining the decision to cancel, words Martin included as a comment on his original Facebook post. The priest cited multiple recent tragedies, including the murder of his predecessor, and asked, “Do we need to go through this once again?” Rusay said it was his conscience and not right-wing pressures that caused him to cancel.

The incident left Martin reflecting on the question, “What does the church do in the face of hate-mongering and online bullying?” He offered five points.

The first was to not cave in to bullies. Secondly, Martin reminded pastors that far more harm is done by cancelling programs than by the presence of small groups who may protest an event. Third, Martin said it should be local ordinaries and religious superiors who decided if a speaker is “in good standing,” as the right-wing groups have no authority. He continued:

“Fourth, we need to admit how much of these online petitions are driven by pure hatred and, more often, virulent homophobia. All one has to do is spend five seconds on these websites to see what motivates them: hate. And if the church starts allowing groups that use doctrine as a cover for hatred to replace true church authority, we will end up with a church run by hate.

“Finally, we need to understand how much of this is driven by abject fear. Most times when a lecture is cancelled it is not because the organizing institution has a problem with the speaker or the topic (because if they did, they wouldn’t have invited the speaker to begin with), but because they fear protests. Fear has a insidious way of overtaking reason. As St. Paul says, perfect love drives out fear. But perfect fear drives out love. We cannot let fear win.”

Marting concluded with an appeal for church leaders to stand against the hostility and bullying that disrupts the Church’s life, writing:

“So it’s finally time for bishops, priests and lay leaders finally to stand up to the hate-mongering of online groups with no standing whatsoever in the church, who seek to substitute their spurious authority for legitimate church authority, and who seek to run the church by fear and hatred. . .Otherwise, what are we doing as a church?”

Right-wing pressure has caused several Catholic organizations to cancel lectures by Martin since the publication of Building a Bridge. Martin announced in September that Theological College, a seminary at The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC, had cancelled a proposed lecture about the life and ministry of Jesus. He also announced cancellations by the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre and CAFOD, the English bishops’ international humanitarian aid agency. You can read about those incidents here and here.

But in addition to the cancellations, new attention has been given to the negative influence right-wing groups have on the U.S. church. A number of bishops have made public statements in support of Martin, including most recently Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, along with Martin’s religious superiors and other Catholic communities. Bishop Robert McElroy said such attacks should be a “wake-up call” for U.S. Catholics, and that judgmentalism is a “cancer of vilification seeping into the institutional life of the church” that needs to be rooted out.

The next time right-wing groups try to attack Fr. Martin or other pro-LGBT speakers, let us pray church leaders will stand up to bullies and press on with the events regardless of petitions and protests.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 1, 2018

11 replies
  1. Patrick Riley
    Patrick Riley says:

    Fr. Rusay cited multiple recent tragedies including the murder of his predecessor. However, the former pastor was killed in a hospital by a nurse, a serial killer, 14 years ago — hardly qualifying as recently and unrelated to any Church or theological issue.

  2. Kris
    Kris says:

    There is, in my experience, only one way to deal with bullying: stand up to it.

    Whenever I hear Catholics speak of fear, or of being driven by fear, I know that they have not as much faith in Christ as they’d probably like to believe.

    Those Cathoilc parishes and institutions that cancelled Fr Martin’s lecture ought to be ashamed of themselves. How can they hope to witness to the presence of Jesus when they are filled with so much fear. Remember the Holy Spirit is not a spirit of timidity.

    • Deacon Tom Smith
      Deacon Tom Smith says:

      Shaming the parish for being fearful is really off point. Those really “filled with fear” are those anonymous bullies who caused the fear in the first place.

  3. Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM
    Rosa G. Manriquez, IHM says:

    I was a pilgrim to Philadelphia during Pope Francis’ visit. My companions and I went as the presence of LGBTQ families that were not being represented. A Catholic church offered us hospitality and the opportunity to give a presentation on sexuality. The archdiocese pressured that parish to disinvite us. The Arch Street Methodist Church kindly housed us. We don’t have to look as far as outside influences to find hostility. Bullying can be found within our own institution. And fear is an epidemic. In Matthew 16: 21-23, Jesus is quoted as telling Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” Jesus has recognized that fear has taken possession of Peter. It is this fear that has become empowered to make us abandon our mission as followers of the Christ that Jesus addresses. It is important that we exorcise that fear or we may lose our souls.

    • Bishop Carlos Florido, osf
      Bishop Carlos Florido, osf says:

      Thank you! We need more Catholics that stand for the rights of the LGBT persons.

      BTW, in my opinion, and that of other Scripture scholars, a more accurate translation is: “Get away from me Satan”. Please pardon my suggestion. I assume that you used the NIV, which is good. I am sure that others’s opinions vary.

  4. Deacon Tom Smith
    Deacon Tom Smith says:

    Did Cardinal Tobin know about this unholy threat in NJ? I can’t believe he who welcomed openly gay people into the sanctuary of the cathedral last May would advise any pastor or parish in NJ to cave in to bullying.

  5. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    This is deeply troubling that these priests cave to such unholy fear. These are supposed to be leaders in the Church? Cowards. Have they no faith? The story of Jesus calming the sea while the apostles shake in fear comes to mind. Martin’s suggestions are good. Where are those who will pick up the mantle?

  6. Paula Modaff, S.P.
    Paula Modaff, S.P. says:

    It would seem to me that time still remains for the community of Our Lady of Lourdes to go ahead with Fr. Martin’s presentation. What a witness to courage and a commitment to the Reality of Jesus that action would be. I pray for whatever is most needed by all concerned.


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