Fr. James Martin, SJ, has issued a response to a recent column by Philadelphia’s archbishop that criticized Martin for alleged ambiguities in his LGBTQ ministry.
Following Martin’s address at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote a column for Catholic Philly that criticized the Jesuit priest. Chaput acknowledged the good Martin has done, saying many of his efforts “have been laudable.” But the archbishop continued:
“At the same time, a pattern of ambiguity in his teachings tends to undermine his stated aims, alienating people from the very support they need for authentic human flourishing. Due to the confusion caused by his statements and activities regarding same-sex related (LGBT) issues, I find it necessary to emphasize that Father Martin does not speak with authority on behalf of the Church, and to caution the faithful about some of his claims.”
[For an analysis of Archbishop Chaput’s criticism, click here.]
Much of Chaput’s criticism is standard, such as a dislike of the term “LGBT” or a defense of church teaching’s language about a homosexual orientation being “intrinsically disordered.” He repeatedly cites the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s 1986 letter on pastoral care for homosexual persons. Chaput also criticizes Martin for partnering with groups like New Ways Ministry, which gave Martin its Bridge Building Award in 2016, leading to Martin’s book Building a Bridge on LGBT issues in the church. The archbishop concluded:
“Supporters of Father Martin’s efforts will note, correctly, that several Church leaders have endorsed his work. Those Churchmen are responsible for their words — as I am for mine, as pastor of the Church in Philadelphia. And specifically in that role as pastor, I want to extend the CDF’s caution to all the faithful of the Church in Philadelphia, regarding the ambiguity about same-sex related issues found throughout the statements and activities of Father James Martin.”
Martin, to whom Chaput sent an advance copy of his column, posted a response on Facebook, saying he was “sorry that you felt the need to publish it.” Martin explained that the lecture at St. Joseph’s was the same Vatican-approved talk he gave during the 2018 World Meeting of Families:
“I think my main response is that it’s difficult to respond to critiques that I am “implying” things, when I am assiduous in my writings and talks about not challenging church teaching. . .
“What I am trying to do instead is encourage Catholics to see LGBT people as more than just sexual beings, to see them in their totality, much as Jesus saw people on the margins, people who were also seen as ‘other’ in his time.
“I remain grateful for your asking people not to engage in ad hominem attacks, and I appreciate the careful tone of your letter and have always appreciated your kind communications with me.”
Writing in defense of Chaput was Springfield’s Bishop Thomas Paprocki, who published a statement also accusing Marting of creating confusion and disrupting church unity. Paprocki commented:
“Archbishop Chaput has provided a helpful caution to Catholics about Father James Martin. On the one hand, Father Martin correctly expresses God’s love for all people, while on the other, he either encourages or fails to correct behavior that separates a person from that very love. This is deeply scandalous in the sense of leading people to believe that wrongful behavior is not sinful.?
This time is not Archbishop Chaput’s first in criticizing Fr. Martin. When Building a Bridge was first released in 2017, Chaput wrote a column faulting the book for not seriously addressing sexual ethics and for not calling people in “unchaste relationships” to conversion. More broadly, he has been among the most LGBTQ-negative bishops in the United States. In the past, he has said there is “no such thing” as an LGBTQ Catholic “as if our sexual appetites defined who we are,” and therefore the term “LGBT” should not be used in church documents. In 2017, he applauded the Trump administration’s removal of Department of Education guidelines aimed at protecting transgender and gender non-conforming students. He has issued pastoral guidelines barring several categories of people from public ministry, including those in same-gender marriages. He was a detractor of the Synod on the Family, and ejected LGBT groups from holding workshops on Catholic property during the 2015 World Meeting of Families. He has ejectied children with same-gender parents access from Catholic school.
The dialogue between Fr. Martin and Archbishop Chaput takes place in an interesting context for LGBTQ issues in the church. The Jesuit priest’s ministry continues to grow with the support of his religious superiors and a number of bishops. Meanwhile, the archbishop’s 75th birthday and therefore letter of resignation to Pope Francis are just days away. We hope Pope Francis will soon appoint a new leader for the Philadelphia church who welcomes the model of accompaniment and mercy so stressed by the pope and lived out by Fr. Martin.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 20, 2019