Fr. James Martin, SJ, recently met with officials from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education, which released an anti-LGBTQ document earlier this summer. Martin shared three letters from people writing about their transgender-related experiences.
On Facebook, Martin posted about his meeting with the Congregation’s prefect Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi and undersecretary Fr. Friedrich Bechina to discuss the LGBTQ-negative document on gender they published earlier this summer, Male and Female He Created Them. Martin reported:
“During our meeting, which lasted roughly 40 minutes, I read aloud letters from a Sister who ministers to transgender individuals, from a family with LGBT children, and a transgender person himself.
“Again, with their permission, I can share that they spoke about the context and purpose of their document, which was focused on Catholic schools. His Eminence expressed sorrow if people thought the Congregation was accusing people of being ideologically distorted, and they wish to share their care for transgender people and want to continue dialogue to reflect on their experiences.
“As I said, they gave me permission to share this with you, but the rest of the meeting will be kept private. I was happy to bring LGBT voices to this warm meeting and very grateful for their openness to dialogue.”
Hearing from trans people themselves, as well as their family members and pastoral ministers, is important feedback to bring to the Congregation’s officials. Male and Female He Created Them was roundly criticized by theologians, canonists, educators, and pastoral workers alike, in part for failing to incorporate the perspectives of LGBTQ people (For Bondings 2.0’s full coverage of the document’s contents and analyses of it, click here.). Soon after releasing the document, Cardinal Versaldi himself acknowledged the its failings in this regard, saying the Congregation “could have done better” in listening directly to the people most affected by the document.
News of Martin’s meeting with Vatican education officials follows news of his private audience with Pope Francis on the topic of LGBT pastoral care reported on Monday. The priest described the audience to Crux as “almost a miracle for me” and “a real sign for his pastoral care and concern for LGBT Catholics and LGBT people worldwide.” He shared further:
” ‘[Francis] was an incredibly attentive listener, and from the questions he asked, you could tell that he cares for these people. To me, it felt like a very easy conversation, like you might have with your favorite pastor. I never had such an extensive conversation with any pope before, yet he put me at ease and I felt completely comfortable . . .
” ‘I would say that what struck me today was that before me, there was an entire bishops’ conference, and after me was a dicastery. So to give this topic 30 minutes of his schedule in the middle of an incredibly busy day and right before a synod is a sign of his commitment to LGBT people.’ “
According to Religion News Service, the audience happened at Pope Francis’ invitation after the two met briefly during a meeting of the Dicastery for Communication. The audience is indeed a sign of the pope’s concern for LGBTQ people and his support for Martin’s work. America reported via a Vatican source that Francis has read Martin’s book on LGBT issues in the church, Building a Bridge, which is based on a lecture Martin gave upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award in 2016.
America also reported that Pope Francis is aware of the conservative pushback Martin has received in the U.S., including from some bishops. Just last week,Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput assailed the priest’s ministry for supposed ambiguities. Though Chaput’s analysis was wrong on nearly every count, Bishops Thomas Paprocki of Springfield and Richard Stika of Knoxville endorsed Chaput’s criticism. By meeting with Martin, Pope Francis is signaling that his fellow Jesuit priest has papal support for continuing the LGBT work. Fellow Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese, writing for Religion News Service, said the two are “simply imitating Jesus” in teaching about God’s abundant compassion.
This week has been quite positive for priests doing LGBTQ ministry. In addition to the Martin developments, Bondings 2.0 reported Sunday about a phone call made by Pope Francis to gay priest and theologian James Alison, in which the pope restored Alison to active ministry. But while the sharing of letters by Martin and the restoration of Alison to ministry are helpful correctives, they must only be starting points for Pope Francis and Vatican officials to listen directly to the faithful and to encourage publicly those who do LGBTQ accompaniment.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 2, 2019