Is Fr. James Martin, SJ, the “scariest Catholic in America”? Frank Bruni, a columnist for The New York Times, took up this question after right-wing attacks forced one New Jersey parish to cancelled a scheduled lecture by Martin.
In his column, Bruni wondered why right-wing groups had become so obsessed with Martin through their vile internet comments and their threats of protests against his public appearances.
The answer he found was simply Martin’s call for LGBT people to be respected compassionately and sensitively in the Church, a call made public in his book, Building a Bridge. Bruni commented:
“That’s all. That’s it. He doesn’t say that the church should bless gay marriage or gay adoption. He doesn’t explicitly reject church teaching, which prescribes chastity for gay men and lesbians, though he questions the language — ‘intrinsically disordered’ — with which it describes homosexuality.
“But that hasn’t stopped his detractors from casting him as a terrifying enemy of the faith. . And the vitriol to which he has been subjected is breathtaking, a reminder not just of how much homophobia is still out there but also of how presumptuous, overwrought, cruel and destructive discourse in this digital age can be.”
Bruni asked San Diego’s Bishop Robert McElroy about the attacks on Fr. Martin, the latest defense of the Jesuit by the bishop who previously said the right-wing attacks should be a “wake-up call” for Catholics about the need to root out judgmentalism in the Church. McElroy now said such extreme methods are “incompatible with what we hope to be as a church.” He continued:
“‘We have to face the fact that there is a group of people across all religious views that are particularly antagonistic to L.G.B.T. people. . .That comes from deep within the human soul, and it’s really corrosive and repugnant.'”
Bruni offered his own admiration for Martin’s balanced and respectful tone, set against the “scorched-earth tactics of ultraconservatives.” He added:
“I have known Father Martin for many years and have long been struck by the painstakingly careful balance that he maintains. Is he telling his fellow Catholics to judge L.G.B.T. people less harshly, whether they’re chaste or not? Absolutely. When he and I talked a few days ago, he repeated a recommendation in ‘Building a Bridge’ that Catholic institutions stop firing gay people, which has happened repeatedly. . .
“From listening to Father Martin, it’s certainly possible to conclude that, or at least wonder if, he has qualms with church teaching about homosexuality. But he’s so restrained and respectful that the president of the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States officially approved ‘Building a Bridge,’ which has also been endorsed by an array of prominent cardinalsand bishops.”
Speaking to Bruni, Martin explained:
“‘I’m at total peace. . .I really am. An ocean of hate online is really wiped out by just a few tears from an L.G.B.T. person.'”
Those are hardly the words of scariest Catholic in America. To read Frank Bruni’s full column, click here.
Martin will release a revised and expanded version of Building a Bridge this spring. For the latest updates on the book and the controversies surrounding it, as well as many other Catholic LGBT news, opinion, and spirituality pieces, subscribe to Bondings 2.0 using the box in the upper right-hand corner of this page.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, February 7, 2018