Fr. James Martin to Youth Synod: Use “LGBT” Language, Affirm Lesbian/Gay Couples as Family

Father James Martin SJ

Reports from the Synod on Youth indicate that LGBT issues are being raised in at least two ways: whether to use the term “LGBT” in a church document and whether to refer to same-gender couples and their children as “families.”

Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of Building a Bridge on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church, offered his assessment of these two questions in America. To the first question, he proposed three reasons for affirming the use of “LGBT” in church documents. The first reason was simply respecting people by using the name they have chosen for themselves so that dialogue can occur:

“Furthermore, if the church uses terms that are dated, unknown, overly clinical or considered disrespectful or even offensive (as ‘same-sex attracted’ is with most L.G.B.T. people), the church risks preventing real dialogue with the group. And if the church cannot engage in dialogue, then it cannot do theology properly—a path contrary to the Second Vatican Council’s invitation to be a church in the modern world (“Gaudium et Spes”). Thus, acknowledging this common term, especially for young L.G.B.T. people, is both respectful and helpful theologically.”

Second, Martin argued that using “LGBT” in church discussions acknowledges that LGBT people are in the church rather than, as some conservatives have argued, claiming that they don’t exist as a cateogry. Using “LGBT Catholics” is like referring to Italian Catholics:  it “simply identifies them as constitutive members of the Body of Christ and reminds us of the rich diversity in the church (1 Cor 12:20).”

Third,Martin rejected claims that using “LGBT” endorses a certain ideology:

“When people describe themselves as L.G.B.T. it does not mean that they consider their sexuality or identity the dominant trait of their personhood, any more than people who refer to themselves as “Italian Catholics” or “elderly Catholics” consider this the dominant trait. Using the term does not mean that being L.G.B.T. is the most important part of who they are. Overall, using an adjective is not equivalent to defining a person or group in terms of one characteristic.”

Martin then addressed whether the synod can “acknowledge that gay couples can form a ‘family’?” by offering three reasons for why it can do so without undermining church teaching against marriage equality. First, Martin argued the term “family” already means many things to many people:

“Given the vast cultural difference in the world, there are many types of families, in addition to the nuclear family of the mother, father and children. And, historically, there have also been different kinds of families—in the Bible, for example, families came in many shapes and sizes. . .The church may not approve of some of these situations, but it nonetheless refers to them as families. It uses the term and has used the term in the synod, widely and colloquially. Perhaps even some synod delegates hail from non-traditional families, but they most likely refer to their own ‘family.’ Pastors, too, recognize that families are far more complex than we can imagine. In these same ways, gay couples can form families and are deserving of the term.”

Second, Martin suggests that same-gender partners are indeed family in “both the legal and emotional sense”:

“The church is opposed to same-sex marriage. But increasingly, gay couples are recognized by civil authorities as families. Civil courts in many countries regard same-sex couples as legally families and in other countries as having affinitas (kinship). Thus, they are families in the legal sense.

“These families are also a place where love resides—in care for one another, care for children, care for aging parents, care for the larger community—just as love resides in traditional families. Many gay couples also heroically adopt the most disadvantaged and marginalized children. Such families provide a measure of social stability in the world and add to the flourishing of society as they support others in community and contribute to the common good.”

Martin’s final reason for why the Synod should recognize LGBT families is that the children of same-gender couples deserve pastoral care. He wrote:

“Even in situations where L.G.B.T. Catholics have felt wounded by the church, many still want to raise their children in the faith—an unmistakable sign of God’s grace. This is a powerful source of life for the Body of Christ, and it is important for the church to recognize and affirm this. Children of these couples also naturally see themselves as part of a family. To argue otherwise risks making these children and young people feel excluded from their church.”

At the Synod on Youth’s outset, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput used his synod speech to argue that “LGBT” people should be erased as a category in the church. His comments prompted conversation and commentary. Support for his idea came from Synod delegate Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, South Africa .  Martin expressed his opposition to Chaput’s idea on Twitter. Overall, there have been repeated acknowledgements that discussing youth and young adults must inherently include conversations about sexuality, but with little LGBT-specific focus in this conversations so far. (In a related, I argued this week that newly-canonized St. Oscar Romero, who was canonized during the synod, would answer “yes” to both of the questions Martin addressed.)

In concluding his article, Martin offered perhaps the best reasons for recognizing LGBT people and their families, namely “they are a locus of love.” Let us hope the Synod delegates are listening to the voices of so many young Catholics who recognize this truth and ask the institutional church to do likewise.

Throughout October, Bondings 2.0 will provide coverage direct from Rome, where the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment is taking place.  To read our full coverage, click here. To receive daily updates, subscribe to the blog entering your email address in the “Subscribe” box at the top of the right-hand column of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 18, 2018

7 replies
  1. Clyde Christofferson
    Clyde Christofferson says:

    Fr. Martin spoke very well, so as to prompt a change of heart among those who think there is something wrong with “gays”. In the end, though, the underlying problem will have to be faced. What God actually created is much richer and more diverse than the simple “male and female” idealization. To maintain this human idealization as the work of God is simply idolatry. To move forward as a fully human family all of us need to take reality as it is, not as it is idealized to be. It’s that reality — God’s reality — that is worthy of our love.

  2. Mary Jo
    Mary Jo says:

    If one does wish to include “LGBT” persons and respectfully use this reference in discussing us, one should begin by using the entire reference: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual. Without first using the full descriptive words, the letters are nearly meaningless. Over a long period of time, those who were/are anti-LGBTQ use the letters so they don’t have to say/form the actual words. I learned this long ago, say the words before you use the letters. Otherwise the use of the letters alone can be viewed as glib and dismissive.

  3. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    This article which reflects on how leaders think about their followers has made me think how what people wear reflects on how they think. Print media photographic coverage of recent Vatican actions and those of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia have called attention to the characteristic of both hierarchies to wear long flowing costumes that were relevant hundreds of years ago – even more than a thousand years ago. Is it any wonder that these coincidentally all male groups have trouble understanding the thoughts/values of their contemporaries let alone their paired gender? They need to live, not as mannequins, but as real men of the world. If the Vatican contingent wants to live as Christ, they shouldn’t wear what he did, but do as he did.

  4. Friends
    Friends says:

    Could we start a petition to have Fr. James Martin raised to the rank of Cardinal? For the record, it is NOT necessary to be a bishop or archbishop before being raised to the rank of Cardinal. The stellar example is Cardinal John Henry Newman — the eminent 19th Century British scholar and theologian, who received the dignification “honoris causa”, without previously having served as a bishop or an archbishop. Fr. Martin is entirely worthy of the same recognition and appreciation.


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