Is Fr. James Martin the “Scariest Catholic in America”?

Father James Martin SJ

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.”

Frank Bruni

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

6 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    Well I guess if we cause hurricanes and floods, and if our presence in bathrooms is a threat to children, and our marriages can destroy the institution of marriage and lead to the destruction of civilisation, and baking a cake for us can lead to the baker’s eternal damnation – we must be pretty scary.

    It seems to me a lot of the fears about us are really pathological.

  2. Barry Blackburn
    Barry Blackburn says:

    In his address to the Chilean bishops recently Pope Francis cautioned them to beware of the sin of clericalism. The extreme reaction by ultraconservatives against Father Martin strikes me that they are in thrall with an image of the Church that is like an unchanging icon. They see everything about the Church as eternal and unchanging. Father Martin’s prudent approach is perceived by these ultraconservatives as a real threat to their supposed security and defense of the truth. The sin of clericalism puts role, ritual, promotion and power of the Church before pastoral ministry and distorts the meaning of both the Church and the Gospel. Father Martin has his pastoral priorities both clear and correct.

    • Vernon Smith
      Vernon Smith says:

      Wear the title as a badge of honor, James Martin! Wear it proudly.

      In reading Frank Bruni’s article, it was interesting that he picked up on the fact that Martin actually trails American Catholics in his public statements. Bruno cites that 67 percent of American Catholics support same gender civil marriage, while 62 percent of the general public does. Hardly a trailblazer on his public statements, it is amazing that Martin must fight so hard to be so middle of the road, cautious, and respectful. A statement of our times that one must fight to exhibit such civil traits, even as compromising as they may seem to lgbt progressives. But good for him for keeping up the gentle fight. We need that quiet voice amidst the cacophony. Blessed are the meek . . . They are children of God too.

  3. Hope
    Hope says:

    Even while waiting patiently for the magisterium to update its impoverished natural law methodology, still, regarding rash judgments, undue presumptions & uncharitable interpretations, it’s time to flip the unjust evidentiary script re what’s per se manifest or occult. And to reform the unjust pastoral calculus of scandal, removing most disciplines to an internal forum. Please, see:


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *