Father James Martin, the well-known Jesuit author and advocate for LGBTQ Catholics, has created a YouTube video entitled the Five Most Common Questions About LGBT Catholic Ministry in which he explores the most frequent questions about LGBT Catholics he receives at his lectures, in his ministry, and in personal conversations:
- Are you challenging church teaching on homosexuality?
- What do you say to LGBT Catholics who don’t feel welcome in church?
- Why don’t you speak more about chastity?
- What did Pope Francis and you discuss during your meeting?
- What are the next steps for LGBT ministry in the church?
Constituents of New Ways Ministry will likely remember that Father Martin received New Ways Ministry’s Bridge Building Award in October 2016. The award “honors individuals who by their scholarship, leadership, or witness have promoted discussion, understanding, and reconciliation between LGBT people and the Catholic Church.”
Key takeaways from Father Martin’s responses to these questions are outlined below.
Question 1: Are you challenging church teaching on homosexuality?
Father Martin responded “no” to this question. He points out that the church’s teaching on homosexuality is more nuanced and expansive than the few lines about sexual expression that are often plucked from the Catechism. He emphasizes that at the center of our Catholic faith is the church teaching of “Jesus, and his message of love, mercy and compassion. And those teachings,” he responded, “I’m also not challenging.” That teaching needs to be applied to the way people in the church treat LGBT people.
Question 2: What do you say to LGBT Catholics who don’t feel welcome in church?
Father Martin acknowledged the personal and spiritual suffering and pain felt by LGBT Catholics due to the exclusionary attitudes embodied by various church leaders. His brief recap of a pastor’s response to a parishioner’s disclosure that she was a lesbian demonstrates this unwelcoming spirit towards LGBT Catholics.The pastor told her:
‘I’ve prayed my whole priesthood that I would never meet a gay person.’
Even though this homophobic perspective exists, Father Martin reminded LGBT Catholics that “they are as much a part of the church as the pope, their local bishop or me” because of the sacrament of baptism. Father Martin also encouraged LGBT Catholics to seek out a welcoming parish community and to not let church officials push them away from their church of which they are an integral part.
Question 3: Why don’t you speak more about chastity?
Father Martin commented that he does in fact discuss chastity in nearly every presentation. He underscored that he is “living chastity” through his Jesuit vows for over 30 years. Father Martin also mentioned that nearly all Catholics, including LGBT Catholics are familiar with the church’s teaching on celibacy and chastity as it relates to homosexuality. In responding to this question, Father Martin described his focus on other areas of ministry that he believes are overlooked such as “how to invite LGBT people to see themselves as loved by God, how to show respect and welcome to LGBT people in Catholic parishes and schools, how we can combat the high incidence of suicide among LGBT youth, and so on.”
Question 4: What did Pope Francis and you discuss during your meeting?
In the fall of 2019, Father Martin was invited to speak with Pope Francis privately after a prior meeting of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication, on which the Jesuit priest serves. During the meeting, Pope Francis asked Father Martin not to share the details of their conversation with the media so that he and Pope Francis could speak freely. However, Pope Francis did permit Father Martin to share their conversation with individuals and groups.
Throughout the conversation, Pope Francis and Father Martin spoke about LGBT people around the world. Father Martin’s reflections powerfully show the impact of this significant meeting:
“…I felt inspired, consoled and, most of all, encouraged to continue this ministry in peace. It’s hard to express how grateful I am for those 30 minutes.”
Question 5: What are the next steps for LGBT ministry in the church?
Father Martin underscored several action items for LGBT ministry in the church: (1) work towards the decriminalization of same-sex conduct in 70 nation-states, and the abolition of the death penalty in six countries for engaging for same-sex conduct; (2) tackle the pervasive problem of anti-LGBT bullying, harassment, and prejudice in furtherance of preventing the tragic consequences of suicide; and (3) stop firing married LGBT persons working in Catholic institutions. The firings are an example of the church discriminating against LGBT people. He emphasized that if Catholic employers fire their LGBT staff for not following church teaching, they would also be obligated to fire other groups of Catholics who do not strictly adhere to church teaching in other areas of their lives
Father Martin’s LGBT ministry provides a theological framework through which we can work to create a harmonious, inclusive, and loving space for LGBTQ persons, combat homophobia, transphobia, and bigotry in all its forms. We can choose to fixate on a few lines in the Catechism or we can choose to listen to the obstacles that frustrate the full participation of LGBT people in their religious communities. And we can celebrate that LGBT teachers, educators, and lay ministers bring valuable gifts, talents, and wisdom to their schools, students, colleagues, and fellow parishioners rather than obsessing over who they decide to marry in a civil ceremony.
Finally, we can strive to respond to the inner workings of God in our lives and in our hearts by, as Father Martin suggests, listening to and embracing LGBT people. In many spiritual communities, that work and ministry has already started, and it’s an incredible step towards more fully embracing our LGBT siblings.
–Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, February 15, 2020