Fr. James Martin Responds to Critics’ Charge of Atheism and Doctrinal Rejection

Bishop Joseph Strickland

Fr. James Martin, SJ, has offered a “friendly response” to two prelates who recently criticized LGBT ministry as rejecting church doctrine and promoting atheism.

Martin posted his response to Cardinal Gerhard Müller, former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, on Facebook over the weekend.

Strickland indirectly critiqued Martin’s LGBT ministry during remarks at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ assembly last week (where homophobia appeared several times). The bishop claimed that “a priest” is traveling the country suggesting he does not believe in church doctrine against same-gender marriage, and asked fellow bishops whether such a priest should be allowed in their dioceses. These words were interpreted by many observers to be aimed directly at Martin.

Martin objected to Strickland’s characterization that he was rejecting church doctrine, saying such attacks are “inferring what I am not implying.” Citing the many approvals his book, Building a Bridge, has received from church leaders, Martin went “even deeper”:

“His Excellency mentions the ‘doctrine of the church,’ which, again, I do not challenge. ‘Church doctrine,’ however, on LGBT people and homosexuality goes deeper than the few lines devoted to it in the Catechism. It is now a commonplace to hear the words ‘church doctrine’ or ‘church teaching’ regarding LGBT people used as if this handful of lines in the Catechism represent the sum of church teaching.

“But they do not. Church teaching is, more fundamentally, the Gospels. Church teaching, more basically, is Jesus’s words and deeds. Church teaching is not a book, it is a person: Jesus Christ. . .

“So church teaching is not simply about ‘intrinsic disorders’ or same-sex marriage, but about making those who feel excluded to feel included. Church teaching is love for all people, and that doesn’t mean a love that simply repeats a few lines in the Catechism over and over. We don’t treat other groups without considering their lived experiences. Neither did Jesus.”

Cardinal Gerhard Müller

In short, Martin wrote, church teaching should not be “reduced to a few lines in a book with no recourse to Jesus’s ministry.” He then proceeded to respond to Cardinal Müller.

Interviewed by the right-wing LifeSite News, the cardinal was asked a question conflating clergy sexual abuse, a “gay lobby,” and Martin’s World Meeting of Families address on parish ministry last August. Müller answered:

“The LGBT ideology is based upon a false anthropology which denies God as the Creator. Since it is in principle atheistic or perhaps has only to do with a Christian concept of God at the margins, it has no place in Church documents. This is an example of the creeping influence of atheism in the Church, which has been responsible for the crisis of the Church for half a century. Unfortunately, it does not stop working in the minds of some shepherds who, in their naive belief of being modern, do not realize the poison that they day by day drink in, and that they then offer for others to drink.”

The Advocate reported that Müller additionaly said the term LGBT was among “propaganda phrases of the homosexual lobby.” It is worth noting that the cardinal also linked clergy sexual abuse of minors to “the moral depravity of homosexual acts among adults.”

Martin said referring to LGBT people as “ideology” is a “convenient way to dismiss the varied experiences of LGBT people” who are in reality quite diverse. The question of LGBT people is about identity, not ideology. To the charge of atheism, Martin wrote:

“Neither the LGBT experience nor the use of the term is not ‘in principle atheistic.’ How do we know this? Because of the experience of many LGBT Catholics for whom God is the center of their lives. Language like Cardinal Mueller’s also denies the outreach of the many Catholic ministries to LGBT people leaders whose work was praised in the ‘Final Document’ of the Synod on Young People. More basically, it denies these fundamental facts: Many LGBT people are believers. Many LGBT people are Christians. Many LGBT people are Catholics. They are not atheists, nor is their use of the term ‘LGBT.’

“To label them or the term ‘LBGT’ as atheistic is a destructive way of speaking about LGBT people who try to live out their faith lives, who often work in ministerial roles in the church, and who, more basically, care for one another, love their communities and love God.”

Father James Martin SJ

Martin warned Müller and other church leaders against using stigmatizing language about LGBT people because it has “serious consequences” and is “borderline abusive,” as these words can be used by others “as an excuse to vilify LGBT people.”  However, hd di see some potentially positive insights in Müller’s use of the phrase “God at the margins.” Martin wrote:

“His Excellency probably meant that people who identify as LGBT have only a marginal relationship with God, but I would invite Cardinal Mueller to come to know LGBT brothers and sisters and listen to them talk about their faith. In my experience, these people have had to put up with more rejection than any other group in the church.

“In these ways, they are indeed “at the margins” with God, but when people look they find individuals with great faith. Cardinal Mueller’s experience in listening may be like mine when I see people who have been treated like dirt by the church’s ministers, whose sexual lives have been placed under a moral microscope in ways that others’ lives simply are not and who are repeatedly labeled as sinners, return over and over to Mass, strive to center their lives on the Eucharist and serve others in the church that they both love and forgive.”

Martin concluded his Facebook post with the hope that Strickland and Müller would one day end their false criticisms and instead join the priest in saying of LGBT people, “Great is their faith!” Thankfully, Catholics do not have to wait on these two prelates and other resistors like them to find church leaders and ministers already willing to affirm the goodness of LGBT people and the heartiness of their faith.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 26, 2018

6 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    Typo note: in the headline, the words “change of atheism” probably should have said “charge of atheism”. The larger problem is Cardinal Muller’s hallucinations about the “gay boogeymen” who (in his view) are in the process of destroying the Roman Catholic Church. Don’t these octogenarian prelates have a mandatory (and prudential) retirement age? His attack on Fr. Martin is quite literally demented, in every relevant sense.

  2. Dana Carr
    Dana Carr says:

    I consistently notice the peace, joy and Christlike expression in Father Martin’s face juxtaposed against the tension, tightness and constipation of his critics. Without even reading the article he seems like someone I would be inclined to follow.

  3. Ryan Sattler
    Ryan Sattler says:

    Blessings Fr Martin for your conviction and strength to speak love, truth and justice to the hierarchy of our church. May they be open to read your prophetic words.


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