Archbishop Stands By Fr. James Martin and LGBT-Friendly Pastor Against Conservative Protestors

Archbishop Wilton Gregory

Georgia’s top bishop has reaffirmed his support for Fr. James Martin, SJ, and a local pastor at an LGBT-friendly parish after protestors spread misinformation about Martin’s talk and sought to have the pastor removed.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta made a public statement in support of Martin, author of Building a Bridge about LGBT issues in the Catholic Church. Gregory had personally invited Martin to speak on LGBT ministry, similar to remarks the priest offered during last month’s World Meeting of Families in Ireland. The Georgia Bulletin quoted the archbishop:

“‘Several weeks ago I was asked by one of our pastors to invite Father Martin to share his perspective on ministry to the LGBTQ community as part of a larger, local parish conversation. I did not hesitate to support that pastor in extending the invitation. A second parish then asked to host Father Martin during the same visit. . .

“‘Conscious of the considerable misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding Father Martin’s message as it relates to the church’s teaching, I renew my confidence in both the pastors and the presenter. I ask that you please join me in a spirit of respect for the dignity of every person of God as we welcome Father James Martin to the Archdiocese of Atlanta.'”

Martin expressed his gratitude for Gregory’s confidence and invitation in a post on Facebook. Martin is scheduled to speak at St. Thomas More Church in Decatur, Georgia on Saturday, October 20th at 7 p.m. and at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Atlanta, Georgia on Sunday, October 21 at 9:30 a.m. More details can be found here.

Similarly, Gregory has expressed his support for Monsignor Henry Gracz, pastor of the LGBT-friendly Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. A petition from conservative Catholics asked Gregory to remove Gracz as one of the archdiocese’s three spiritual advisors for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Protestors object to Gracz in that position, which he has been in since 2011, because of the priest’s involvement in LGBT ministry. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported about the incident:

“In a statement, Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory called Gracz one of the ‘most compassionate and understanding priests who does not hesitate to respond to anyone in need of help.’ . . .

“The statement from Gregory said, ‘there are no plans’ to remove Gracz from the adviser role at this time. ‘… Msgr. Gracz is following the admonition of Pope Francis to accompany people on the periphery of society. His priestly heart is not closed to those who find themselves misunderstood or rejected.'”

Gracz said that being attacked for doing good in God’s name has been “painful” for him. He said protestors’ actions now arise from their problematic conflation of clergy sexual abuse and homosexuality, telling the Journal-Constitution, “When there’s great pain and there’s hurt, people are always looking for someone to blame, and the gay person could be the scapegoat.”

Atlanta Catholics can be grateful that Gregory has not only remained supportive of priests doing LGBT ministry, but even proactively invited Martin to help bolster welcoming parishes in the archdiocese.

Outside the archdiocese, Gregory’s actions are a further sign that some U.S. bishops will not cede to right-wing pressure and will not tolerate anti-LGBT actions and statements. In recent weeks, Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich removed a priest who burned a rainbow flag, and a Swiss diocese condemned a bishop’s negative conflation of homosexuality and sexual abuse. Several bishops in recent weeks, including the conservative Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, have rejected claims that homosexuality is a cause of sexual abuse.

The challenge for lay Catholics is not only to question bishops who do not understand LGBT issues, but to affirm those bishops who get it right so they will continue to reject anti-gay attacks and instead, promote LGBT inclusion.

Looking to contact your local bishops about an LGBT-related issue? New Ways Ministry maintains a database of contact information, electronic and postal, for the ordinary bishop of each U.S. diocese. You can find it here. Happy writing!

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 27, 2018

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