A Critique of Archbishop Chaput’s Charges Against Fr. James Martin

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia penned a critique of Jesuit Father James Martin’s pastoral outreach to LGBT people. Since 2017, Fr. Martin has been tirelessly lecturing in Catholic parishes, campuses, and retreat centers on pastoral outreach, based on ideas in his well-received book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.

After Father Martin recently gave a lecture at St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, Archbishop Chaput wrote a column in his archdiocesan newspaper chastising the Jesuit on several counts.  Unfortunately, Archbishop Chaput is wrong in almost all of his assertions.  What follows is a point-by-point examination of the archbishop’s main concerns. [For more details on this story, click here.]

Archbishop Charles Chaput

Archbishop Chaput chastises Father Martin for supporting the “use of the phrase ‘LGBT Catholic’ in Church documents and language.  Archbishop Chaput says that “our sexual appetites do not define who we are” and that “If we are primarily defined by our sexual attractions, then, in order to be fulfilled, it would follow that we must identify with and act on our attractions.”

This is at least the second time that Chaput has tried to denigrate the use of the term “LGBT Catholic.” As before, he mistakes this term for being a totalizing or primary descriptor or identity of a person.  In fact, just as with similar descriptions—“young Catholic,” “Hispanic Catholic,” “rich Catholic,” “conservative Catholic,” “married Catholic”—the designation identifies one aspect of a person’s identity and faith, not the total or even the primary form of a person’s identification. When people refer to themselves as LGBT Catholics, they are simply describing one facet of themselves.  Moreover, just as all young Catholics are not alike, neither are all LGBT Catholics. Identifying as LGBT does not mean that they all share the same views about any topic–particularly not religion, sexuality, politics, or identity.

The biggest error of Archbishop Chaput’s latest critique of the term “LGBT Catholics” is that he says “in order, to be fulfilled, it would follow that we must identify with and act on our attractions.” Archbishop Chaput has limited sexuality to acts and attractions. That is a distorted view of how sexuality works in a person’s life. It has no theological basis and no basis in reality.  Normal human beings do not feel a compulsion to identify and act on attractions in order to be fulfilled. While acts and attractions are two parts of sexuality, so are emotions, relationships, affections, fantasies, personal needs, and gifts.  Sexuality is an experience a lot broader and more joyous than Archbishop Chaput describes.

Lastly, it is important to remember that many people who call themselves LGBT Catholics choose to remain celibate.  Many LGBT Catholics come to awareness of their orientations without sexual activity involved.  And those involved in sexual and committed relationships rarely identify so strongly with their attractions, just as heterosexual people don’t.  Why does Archbishop Chaput think LGBT people are so obsessed with sex acts?

Father James Martin SJ

Archbishop Chaput also takes issue with Fr. Martin’s claim that people are born with their LGBT orientation or identity.  The archbishop supports his opinion by saying no firm scientific consensus exists on the cause.  Again, he is wrong. While scientists may disagree about the causes (some say genetics, some say hormones, some say in utero development, among others), most agree there is some sort of biological basis for a person’s LGBT identity.  Even those scientists who disagree with a biological basis will posit that nurture in early childhood may have played a role, still showing that the development of orientation or identity has nothing to do with individual choice. When Fr. Martin says people are born LGBT, he is clearly indicating that individuals have little to no choice in the matter.  I’m surprised that Archbishop Chaput does not realize Fr. Martin’s meaning, or that he would make such a claim about scientific consensus when so much of that consensus has formed around biological causes.

Thirdly, the archbishop charges Fr. Martin with suggesting “that Catholic teaching on same-sex attraction as ‘objectively disordered’ is cruel and should be modified.” He also claims that the Jesuit’s words give people false hope that church teaching on sexuality will change.

Archbishop Chaput seems to be unaware that currently a strong conversation is happening among the church hierarchy and other leaders who are reconsidering the use of the term “objectively disordered” and calling for a revision of church teaching not only on LGBT issues, but on sexuality in general. For instance, we witnessed many bishops making such calls at the Vatican’s global synods in 2014, 2015, and 2017

A number of leading German bishops have called for re-evaluations of the church’s approach to lesbian and gay couples and civil partnerships. Some bishops and one Swiss diocese have gone so far as to call for official blessings of such couples. Indeed, critiques of the term “objectively disordered” have been going on since the term was coined more than 30 years ago.  Theologians and other scholars in the church, as well as hundreds of thousands of lay people, have roundly denounced it.)

Finally, Archbishop Chaput critiques Fr. Martin for partnering with organizations like New Ways Ministry, which Archbishop Chaput opposes. Fr. Martin received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award in 2016 for his work at trying to reconcile the Catholic Church and the LGBT community.  We applauded his efforts, but we have not partnered with him in his ministry which has flowered on its own since the publication of his book and has been praised by several important bishops and cardinals.

Though Archbishop Chaput may oppose New Ways Ministry, many Catholic leaders support our approach to LGBT issues, which is primarily about welcome, education, justice, and dialogue.  In 2015, the Vatican provided a group of New Ways Ministry pilgrims with VIP seats at the Ash Wednesday papal audience.  The Vatican has since provided press credentials to New Ways Ministry for the Synods on the Family (2015) and on Youth (2018), as well as for the summit on clergy sexual abuse in 2019.

Archbishop Chaput’s critique is filled with the rhetoric of authority and control.  It is a style of church leadership which has not been effective at inviting or retaining Catholics.  The pastoral approach that Pope Francis has encouraged and exemplified is nowhere evident in the archbishop’s essay, but is abundant in Fr. Martin’s LGBT ministry.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, September 20. 2019

6 replies
  1. robert BURNS
    robert BURNS says:

    My wife and I belong to New Ways Ministry and also a group in Philadelphia. We have met with Bishop Chaput as a group of parents of LGBT children. At our meeting with the bishop, we explained our feelings for our children. He told us if we support our children we are not welcome in the Catholic church. We left that meeting feeling that we were not welcome in the church of “Bishop Chaput”. As we left we all agreed that he is but one person in the church that as far as we were concerned did not get it. Parents love and support their children no matter their sexual DNA.

  2. Anton
    Anton says:

    Thanks, Robert. Your children are always your children and it would be wonderful if “Holy Mother the Church” would treat us in like manner instead of as a “step-mother” – a so-called ‘mother’ who steps all over her children instead of walking with us. It’s quite obvious that though the archbishop is called “father” (contrary to what Jesus advised his disciples) it would be great if clergy lived up to the titles they assume. It seems more and more clear to me that fathers would act as fathers if they had the assistance of mothers to help them live out their vocations. After all, that’s what “they” insist on for families “in the world” even though facts show us and two daddies and two mommies can do an excellent job at raising children. Orphanages have a mixed reputation. Power ought not be confused with authority. Pax et Bonum!

  3. Kris
    Kris says:

    I don’t think Archbishop Chaput thought through his criticism that Fr Martin, in supporting the use of the phrase ‘LGBT Catholics’, was identifying this group (and, by implication, all others, including heterosexuals) primarily with sexual attraction, and that these attractions would then have to be acted upon to achieve complete personal fulfillment.

    Seriously, Archbishop Chaput? If you are right, then Fr Martin is making a heady admission indeed, both about himself and you, and about every other Roman Catholic cleric, including Pope Francis: frankly, that you all are, or have been, sexually active, and that celibacy is a complete sham.

    Is this, Archbishop Chaput, what you really believe Fr Martin to be saying? Because it is the logical corollary of your criticism.


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