Pope Francis’ Meeting with Fr. James Martin Rebukes Culture War Bishops, Raises Questions on Inclusion

Fr. James Martin meeting with Pope Francis at the Vatican

The private audience between Pope Francis and Fr. James Martin, SJ, reverberated through all sides of the LGBTQ equality debate in the Catholic Church. But beyond a papal affirmation of the latter’s LGBTQ ministry, what significance is there to the meeting? Today’s post features two commentaries on this question.

John Gehring, the Catholic Program Director at Faith in Public Life, wrote in The New York Times about that meeting which was an “endorsement from the most authoritative of church offices” of Martin’s book, Building a Bridge, based on his 2016 lecture upon receiving New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award.. But Gehring expounded on the significance beyond just this one priest, too:

“The pope’s meeting with Father Martin did more than serve as a signal of support for the priest’s advocacy on behalf of L.G.B.T. people. It was also emblematic of the Francis papacy, which has been a consistent rebuke to a style of culture-war Christianity that since the ascendance of the religious right in the United States during the 1980s has often been the default setting for American Christianity in politics.

“Since his election six years ago, Pope Francis has modeled a different brand of moral leadership: engaging and persuading, reframing contentious issues away from narrow ideologies and expanding moral imaginations . . . Culture warriors in the United States have done enough damage to our collective political and moral imagination. More intoxicated with power than faithful to the gospel, these religious leaders demonize L.G.B.T. people, turn their back on migrants fleeing danger and ignore the cries of the poor while claiming to defend Christian values. A humble but persistent pastor in Rome reminds us there is a different path for those of us who still believe in a faith that seeks justice.”

The editors of the National Catholic Reporter agreed that Francis intended to send the “very clear message” about Martin’s ministry that “This priest is okay, so stop messing with him.” The event was, NCR noted, a positive one per Martin’s own tweets and one welcomed “most enthusiastically by New Ways Ministry.” But the editors suggested this meeting raises “as many questions as answers” when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion in the church:

“[I]f the pope is signaling a new attitude in the church regarding the LGBTQ community, what, exactly, does it mean? Further, is it even fair to expect exactitude in an area that for so long has been deeply fraught with contention that can extend to hatred? . . .

“We don’t want to spoil the moment, but we feel compelled to say big as it was, it was but a moment. This pope has certainly extended a more welcoming hand to the LGBTQ community than any previous. We certainly take hope from the string of increments extending that welcome that in this papacy have mixed with the teachings and attitudes that have caused LGBTQ Catholics to remain on the margins.

“We’ll rejoice in the increments, but only with the sober understanding that as long as LGBTQ Catholics are on the margins, and as long as popes can change while church teaching on sexuality in so many areas remains unchanged, there’s a lot more work to be done.”

Part of that work is defending Fr. Martin’s ministry against the right wing attacks he has endured for two years now. In the wake of both the papal meeting and Archbishop Charles Chaput’s open attacks on Martin, Faithful America launched a petition in support of him that has gained nearly 14,000 signatures, all to say:

“We stand with Father James Martin, SJ, and his work to make the church more inclusive for God’s LGBTQ children. Thank you, Fr. Jim!”

To add your name in support of Fr. Martin and his efforts to building bridges of inclusion in the church, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 18, 2019

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