LGBTQ people and allies are well-acquainted by now with statistics that detail the injustices this community faces–higher levels of suicidality, homelessness, family rejection, poverty to name but a few. Many Catholics, however, may not realize these realities.
To help better inform the church, Fr. James Martin, SJ, compiled some statistics in an article for America that touch on both issues in and outside the church. Such data can be painful. In one question, 72% of LGBTQ people surveyed said they had been made to feel uncomfortable or discriminated against in a Catholic space.
But for Martin, these realities made clear in statistics are a call to act, not surrender. He concluded the survey of data with these words:
“These facts can shock Catholics. But they should not overwhelm us or cause us to despair. Because despair is not coming from God.
“In that case, how do we respond to what we feel when we hear those terrible statistics? As ever, looking at the example of Jesus—who always took the side of those who were rejected, marginalized, isolated, mocked, beaten or abused—can help us move ahead.
“These statistics should make us want to approach our L.G.B.T.Q. brothers, sisters and siblings with the same ‘closeness, compassion and tenderness,’ to use Pope Francis’ words, with which God approaches them.”
Fr. Martin’s ministry with LGBTQ people has made headlines in recent months with the release of a new documentary about it, titled Building a Bridge. One reviewer in The Daily Beast picked up on the mixed emotions of this work:
“There’s an inspiring, feel-good element to the Building a Bridge documentary. Strangely, that may be why you can’t help but emerge from it feeling a bit dejected.
“How do you make both fit: the optimism and desire for change with the cynicism of the church’s reality? Especially after the Vatican’s decree against homosexuality in March, it can feel impossible. But what is faith, if not certitude—maybe even hope—in the face of such impossibility?”
Other reviews were published in The Washington Post, The Playlist, and America. Rolling Stone featured an interview with filmmakers Evan Mascagni and Shannon Post, which you can read here. For the National Catholic Reporter, Martin did an interview in which he explained a bit about how he got involved with the work:
“Before 2016, I had written about LGBTQ people and advocated for them from time to time in America magazine. But I had never really done anything formally. I had never been part of an LGBTQ outreach group or ministry.
“The tepid response from many church leaders in the wake of the Pulse nightclub massacre just made me think that even in death, these people are invisible to the church. And so that led to a talk at New Ways Ministry, which led to a book, which led to this ministry, which I do with lots of other people. It invited me to be a little more public about advocating for the community.”
Overall, the film received positive reviews, though some expressed skepticism about what is truly possible for change on LGBTQ issues in the church. But as Fr. Martin commented above, the answer is not despair, but hope expressed in pastoral work. May the bridge building continue.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 6, 2021