Fr. James Martin’s weak and wobbly bridge

Fr. Martin is correct: a bridge must be built between the Catholic Church and those struggling with same-sex and trans-gender issues. But it cannot be built of tissue paper of “suggestions” based on rhetorical questions and sophistry.

( Florin Rosu)

The need for better “rapport” between the Catholic Church and those who experience same-sex attraction, their friends and family, and the public at large is undeniable. Fr. James Martin, S.J. in his book Building A Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity (HarperOne, 2017) attempts to offer some ways in which better relationships can be built.

The new normal

Since the 1990s it has been clear there is a new cultural and social atmosphere concerning “same-sex” and “trans” issues and, therefore, we need to do a lot of retooling to find a suitable terminology to explain Church teaching. This retooling has become necessary for many reasons. Foremost among them is the fact that the teaching of the Church is expressed in terms that are rooted in a philosophy—a teleological view of nature – a view that the body is good and we need to act in accord with the design of the body. Moreover many of those who identify as gay (or bisexual or trans or questioning) are “out and proud”, no longer discreet and no longer trying to “fly under the radar”. My generation (the “boomers”) generally didn’t realize or recognize that we knew gay people until we were in our twenties. But young people now have family members and friends who are attracted to members of the same-sex, who have been “out” since middle school or so, and find it unexceptional and “normal”.

This “new normal” has some upsides. We no longer “freak out” when we learn that someone we love identifies as gay. Few Catholics are tempted to ostracize gay people as being unfit for polite society. Rather, even those of us committed to the Church’s teaching that homosexual acts are radically at odds with God’s plan for sexuality, do not find it difficult to love, accept, and remain in relationship with those who are same-sex attracted. Undoubtedly we still have lots to learn but progress is being made. We remain somewhat confused about how to reconcile our love for them with our conviction that some of their choices are seriously sinful and a threat to their eternal salvation, not to mention a threat to their current physical and psychological health. But we face the same dilemma in respect to our loved ones who, for instance, have had abortions, who are cohabiting, or who are divorced and remarried without benefit of an annulment.

One of Martin’s initial points is valid and important. He speaks with frustration of how more bishops did not make public statements condemning the June 12, 2016 killing of 31 people at the PULSE club in Orlando, known to be a “gay” club. That horrific slaughter was the act of an individual who hated homosexuals, apparently because of his extreme Muslim beliefs. I agree with Martin on the point that too few Church leaders expressed their horror at the hatred that lead to such slaughter. Perhaps they were afraid their action would foment hatred of Muslims (all of whom, it should not be necessary to say, do not hate gays) and to cause more inter-religious strife, but this is the time for speaking the truth even in face of unwelcome consequences.

Furthermore, it is very welcome that Martin sees that bridges go two ways and appeals to the LGBTQ community to extend respect, compassion, and sensitivity to the Church. He offers some stern words about forms of disrespect that have issued from some members of the LGBTQ community and asks them to be sensitive to how demanding the lives of Church leaders are. Still, although he urges the LGBTQ community to listen carefully to Church authority, he never calls members of the LGBTQ community to fidelity to Church teaching. His remarks about priests and members of religious communities who are living lives of chaste celibacy were also welcome but should have provided an opportunity to call others to such faithful witness to the truths of the Gospel.

Missed opportunity

Yet, Martin’s book, sadly, is a missed opportunity for building true bridges.

Indeed, it stands to do more harm than good in the enterprise of building bridges.

One major missed opportunity is that Martin doesn’t acknowledge that many Catholics have been working for some time to build bridges with others in respect to same-sex issues, precisely because there are those we love with whom we want to stay in relationship—but to whom we also want to speak the truth. The work of such groups as Courage, Encourage, and Living Waters is not even mentioned. He says nothing about those brave souls who are managing to live lives of radical commitment to the Lord as they embrace the demands of chastity. The work of Andrew Comiskey, Daniel Mattson, Ron Belgau, Eve Tushnet, Robert Lopez, Joe Sciambra, Walter Heyer, among others, have opened new pathways for talking about the quest for holiness by those who have experienced same sex desires or the desire to “be” the opposite sex. (Mattson, Tushnet and Sciambra have responded to Martin’s book.)

Those individuals disagree on some important matters, but all agree that chastity is possible and all speak from their own experience. It is not that there is not much more to be done, but to fail to mention this ground-breaking work is to misrepresent the current state of affairs. (While there is much excellent bridge-building material available, a fairly comprehensive publication is the book I edited with Fr. Paul Check, Living the Truth in Love: Pastoral Approaches to Same-Sex Issues [Ignatius, 2015]).

At the outset, let me apologize for the length of this response to a book that is quite short (as it is essentially an expanded talk). Such a response is necessary, however, due to the many flaws and errors in Fr. Martin’s book. Since my colleague Eduardo Echeverria has ably treated Martin’s complete neglect of Church teaching about homosexuality in his CWR review “Father James Martin, ‘bridges’ and the triumph of the therapeutic mentality” (June 16, 2017), I do not address that egregious flaw. Along with that serious omission is the lack of any attempt by Martin to do some of the work needed to show how respectful, compassionate, and sensitive the Church’s teaching in regard to all sexual morality really is. Many good critiques of Martin’s book have been done, among them articles by Fr. Gerald Murray and Fr. Paul Mankowksi, and undoubtedly more will be written.

I want to look most closely at two of Martin’s major points that are misleading too many people. Martin’s insistence that we should call people by their preferred terms is more problematic than he allows, as is his claim that the Church treats members of the LGBTQ community differently from others who violate its teachings.

Using the preferred name

It is easy to agree with Martin’s—somewhat facile—claim that it is important to address people as they wish to be addressed.

But that claim is only sometimes true and is difficult to apply when the individuals being described belong to a group for whom some “anomaly” or “special need” seems to define their existence and whatever terms we use seem to need frequent “updating.” We keep changing the terms by which we refer to the mentally, emotionally and physically “disabled” or “challenged.” We have spoken in the past of the “retarded”, “lunatics”, “cripples”, etc. but who would use those terms now, except as insults? I suspect that these terms at one time were not meant to be offensive and not received as offensive but as time wore on they became so. Sometimes terms switch in the opposite direction: when I was young, to speak of homosexuals as “queers” was considered maximally offensive, but now it is a term used in the academy for “queer studies” and is proudly embraced by some, perhaps most, homosexuals.

Moreover, sometimes using the preferred terminology of the group one is engaging prejudices the conversation. To speak of a legal arrangement between those of the same sex who pledge to a lifetime relationship that involves sex as “marriage” is to concede what is in dispute.

Fr. Harvey, the founder of Courage, early on spoke of “homosexuals” but later spoke of “homosexual persons” because he did not want to label people by their sexual desires. Then he spoke of “persons with homosexual desires” in order to emphasize that one’s personhood should always be seen to be of foremost importance. He was trying to find terms that recognized the dignity of all individuals, and of their indelible status as beloved sons and daughters beloved by God. Justice requires acknowledging this effort to show respect, compassion, and sensitivity.

In recent years Courage has adopted the somewhat clunky phrase, “persons who experience same-sex attraction”. For the most part, those who wish to speak of SSA persons (persons who experience same sex-attraction) are reluctant to use the word “gay” since it carries connotations not true of all who experience SSA, such as advocacy for same-sex “rights” to marriage or adoption of children. Yet, not everyone who identifies as “gay” nor all those who use the word “gay” mean the same thing by the word. Some chaste, devout Christians, speak of themselves as “gay” to convey only that they have sexual attractions to members of the same sex, not that they are sexually active or that they promote “gay” causes.

Martin adopts a practice that rivals the phrase “persons with SSA” for its awkwardness: he speaks of “LGBTQ people”. I doubt that anyone has ever introduced himself/herself/whatever self as an “LGBTQ person” or spoken of “LGBTQ” friends. Women call themselves “lesbians” or “gay” and men call themselves “gay”, and others speak of themselves as “bi-sexual” or “trans”—but never “LGBTQ”.

It is not unproblematic to speak of “LGBTQ” people, but those difficulties are never addressed by Martin. He refers to some uncontroversial instances that show it is right to use the “name” preferred by people and seems to think that settles the issue. But the examples Martin gives to support his claim that we should address people as they chose to be addressed show a flair exhibited throughout the book—a flair for sophistry. He speaks of the change of names from Abram to Abraham and Simon to Peter (a change dictated by change in “mission” or “role”) or of “Negro” to “African-American” (a change dictated by cultural accretions to the term “Negro). But those instances bear virtually no resemblance to the use of “LGBTQ” to refer individuals who are, to put it delicately, are not entirely comfortable with their biological personhood and the ethical demands that flow from it. Certainly, the leaders of the Church, Church documents and Catholics in general should not use terms that are perceived to be highly offensive to any group. I, for one, would like to see the term “sodomy” (although Biblical and traditional) retired. In the past, it was more of a technical term, but those who generally use it today intend to be disrespectful.

Yet, to insist that leaders of the Church and Catholic apologists “respectfully” refer to people by the terms that conflict with Christian anthropology amounts, in my view, to asking them to violate their consciences. To speak of a person as “lesbian,” “gay,” “bisexual”, “trans” or “questioning”, is, in the eyes of the Church, to put the person in a “box”; a “box” that threatens to define people in terms of a tendency to sinful behavior or in fact a commitment to sinful behavior.

The Church, as it has made abundantly clear, does not understand a sexual attraction to a person of the same sex or the desire to “be” another sex to be, in itself, a sin. Those desires, frequent or infrequent, latent or dominant, perceived to be inherent or acquired, when not welcome and when resisted, are not sins. They are in the same category as adulterous thoughts, racist thoughts, and greedy thoughts that are not welcome and are resisted. It is inconsistent with Christian anthropology to label people by their sins or their desires that could lead to sin. Yes, we speak of “adulterers,” “racists, and “active homosexuals”, as individuals involved in sinful behavior, but in no way do we intend to reduce them to these aspects of their being. The term “LGBTQ” community does just that.

So what are we to do? Currently achieving the goal of a mutually agreeable term seems nigh impossible. The person who comes up with one might well deserve the title of “genius diplomat” of the age. At the moment, the best I can come up with, for the purposes of this discussion, is to refer to “those that Fr. Martin includes in the LGBTQ community.” That is altogether pathetic but perhaps it serves the function of not forcing me to use terms I can’t accept and but also of building a bridge with Fr. Martin by using terms that he thinks are acceptable to those he includes in the LGBTQ community. For the purposes of efficiency I will use the imperfect acronym, FMLGBTQC to refer to “those that Fr. Martin includes in the LGBTQ community.”

Selective termination?

Another central point of Fr. Martin’s book is his claim that the Church treats FMLGBTQC differently from those who engage in other kinds of sinful behavior. (Note this amounts to a back-handed way of acknowledging that homosexual sex is sinful but I am not sure that Martin is aware of that implication). One response to the claim that a group is being singled out for treatment not directed towards other groups is to lobby that the other groups receive the same treatment as the group that has been singled out. But Martin is not lobbying here for the Church to become stricter in its terms of employment in respect to all sinners; he is complaining about the treatment of FMLGBTQC.

Martin acknowledges that “church organizations have the authority to require their employees to follow church teaching.” He insists, though, that “this authority is applied in a highly selective way.” He claims that “almost all firings in recent years have focused on LGBT matters.” I have no idea what his source is for such a claim. Rarely do we know with any certainty why “firings” and separations happen. That information must almost always come from the aggrieved party because it is illegal for employers to disclose private information. Certainly it is not hard to get the impression that the FMLGBTQC are being singled out for firings but that appearance can be explained by several factors. Sadly some homosexuals try deliberately to get fired since they want to challenge Catholic institutions in such as way as to “shame” the institutions into violating their principles to avoid a public backlash. Those who do get fired, intentionally or not, are often quick to go to the media.

Martin’s “method” for arguing that the Church is wrong to treat the FMLGBTQC as it does is not to develop a rationale for that position but to raise a series of questions—quite obviously rhetorical questions—which suggest that for church organizations to be “consistent,” they should refuse employment to all sinners and also anyone who does not fully embrace the teachings of the Church. He asks, “Do we fire a straight man or woman who gets divorced and then remarries without an annulment?” … “Do we fire women who bear children out of wedlock?”…“Do we give pink slips to those who practice birth control?” He also questions whether the Church is inconsistent in hiring non-Catholics since they do not “fully embrace the teaching of the church”.

Let me respond to his rhetorical questions with one of my own: “Does he seriously think this is a good argument?” Does he seriously think the Church fires homosexuals – and, in his view, homosexuals only – because they “do not accept Church teaching”? Or is the matter more complicated than that? (I am making the technique of rhetorical questions my own!)

Let me ask Martin a non-rhetorical question: does he hold that Church organizations would never be justified in exercising their legitimate authority to fire some employees whose behavior is gravely immoral or who publicly advocate for practices and policies against Church teaching? He gives no instance of such. Still, I doubt Martin would object to firing the principal for having an affair with a faculty members, or firing a janitor who fills his closet with pornographic centerfolds. I can’t know his position, because he doesn’t state it, but I think it safe to speculate here.

What Martin fails to do is to engage what principles there may be behind the “selective” exercise by church organizations of their legitimate authority to fire employees whose behavior is not consistent with Church teaching. He also fails to ask why Church organizations might believe it their duty to fire some employees for their immoral behavior and not others, to fire some for their beliefs and not others.

Martin would have done well to have noted that Catholic institutions often give robust explanations for the need to have faithful Catholics employed at such Catholic institutions as Catholic schools. The primary reason is that the faculty (and other employees) are to be role models for students. How can they be effective educators of Church teaching if they reject that teaching? More and more institutions are requiring prospective employees to sign a statement of agreement that they will support and abide by Church teaching. Thus, those who are fired are being fired primarily for violating an agreement they made, one very consistent with the nature of their employment.

But we should note, that in spite of the fact that many of those employed at Catholic institutions are clearly not living in accord with Church teaching, very few are fired. Why is that?

Generally Catholic organizations don’t dig into the private affairs of people’s lives; they do so only when an action becomes public and with certain proof. Often the firing is done with some considerable sensitivity—the sinner is asked to repent and sometimes is even offered recommendations for employment at a place where such behavior does not conflict with the goals of the organization.

Still, it must be acknowledged that there is a “selectivity” concerning who gets fired. The “selectivity”, however, is not determined by the “kind” of sin, but on the public nature of the sin and the ability of the authorities to substantiate the immoral behavior.

While I have no reason to believe Martin’s claim that most of the firings in recent years have involved LGBT matters, I suspect it is true that those firings are the ones that most often make it into the public eye. As intimated above, others don’t always or even usually make it into the public eye, because those who are fired for misbehavior don’t care to make their sinful deeds made public. I know of a man, a “devout” father of eight, at a prominent Catholic university, who was having an affair with an undergraduate, the daughter of another professor. They were seen daily at Mass together. They were also caught by campus police having sex behind a bush. He was given notice immediately. He did not go around telling people why he no longer taught there, but we all knew.

A very important point here is that many of us knew of the affair. His colleagues and students were scandalized. But how could we “out” him? Had we gone to the president with our “suspicions” what could the president have done? The reason most fornicators, adulterers, cohabiters, etc. are not fired by Catholic organizations is that their sins are not public. And even when they are well known, the organization usually prefers to look the other way, again, because of lack of certain proof but also because often these people are able and popular teachers and to fire them would make a mess; the reasoning, not always implausible, is that more harm than good would be done by firing them.

It is important to note that same-sex couples have often and perhaps usually received the same “neglect”; both because if they didn’t make their relationship public, most people didn’t know, and those who did know couldn’t really provide proof, as sharing the same domicile is not proof. There was such a case a few years ago at a Catholic girls’ high school where a popular teacher, who was in a lesbian relationship, got pregnant through IVF. That she lived with her same-sex partner was well known, and known even by the principal, but when she asked for maternity leave and told the principal she had used IVF, she was fired – because her use of IVF and continued defense of her decision. She was the one who decided to make the issue known. Now, it is not unlikely that there were other individuals teaching at that same school who used IVF to get pregnant, and it is even possible that that fact was well-known, but was not known to the authorities in such a way that they were provoked or able to act upon their knowledge.

Let me note that it is wrong to fire an individual simply because that individual experiences same-sex attraction, just as it is wrong to fire someone simply for being tempted to engage in adultery. It is impossible to address every nuance in hypothetical situations that might necessitate different responses, but let me try not to step into too many potholes by first noting that unless a person reveals his temptations to us, it is nearly impossible for us to know what they are. But sometimes a person self-reports what is going on within them. Suppose diaries of a person tempted to homosexual attraction or to adultery came into the possession of an employer (here only a temptation is recorded, not an intent to act upon the temptation). The information alone would not justify firing a person but some descriptions of the temptations might make it prudent for an employer to carefully consider what responsibilities could be assigned to the individuals. Males known to have a nearly irresistible temptation to adultery, for instance, should not be given the task of chaperoning female high school students on over-night trips. And, indeed, his employment may be terminated if that responsibility is an important part of his job, a responsibility that could be delegated to no one else.

Getting caught is a good thing

Martin is adamant that it is unjust to fire homosexuals for their sinful behavior and not to fire others who sin, such as fornicators. Inconsistent application of policy is certainly wrong. But Martin seems unaware of a truth that is important to those seeking holiness: if one is a wrong-doer, it is good to be caught and good to face consequences for one’s action. Indeed, the wrong-doer who is not caught and does not suffer consequences should be seen to experience greater harm. No one likes to get fired; no one likes one’s wrongdoing to be made public. But the person to whom such happens is much more likely to reform his or her ways than the person who is not caught.

This point needs to be made: the “firing” of such individuals is not so much to punish them for their wrongdoing; rather its chief purposes are to protect the innocent from being harmed by them, to teach those under the Church’s care that such behavior is incompatible with Christian discipleship, and to prompt the wrong-doers to change their ways: the Church is all about helping people achieve holiness.

A similar kind of reasoning governed the decision by Bishop Paprocki to announce that canon law prohibits a funeral mass for those who have contracted a same-sex marriage.” (For an excellent analysis of that announcement see “Bp Paprocki’s norms on ‘same-sex marriage’” by my colleague Edward Peters.) Martin, rather than “building a bridge” by explaining Church teaching, instead called “foul” and used this as an instance of more selective enforcement of Church authority. What he should have done was to have explained that canon law 1184 (and 1185) prohibits ecclesiastical funerals for several classes of sinners, among them “manifest sinners” for whom an ecclesiastical funeral would cause scandal to the faithful.” Note that the reason given for denying an ecclesiastical funeral is not to punish wrong doers, but that providing an ecclesiastical funeral would “cause scandal” to the faithful.

What does this mean? Clearly the prohibition is not intended as a penalty for the deceased since they are now beyond the reach of canon law. The prohibition is meant to help the living, to help them recognize the wrongness of same-sex “marriages.” To give the respect embedded in ecclesiastical funerals to unrepentant public sinners is wrong and misleading. Note that this prohibition does not apply to homosexuals per se, but to those unrepentantly publicly involved in a sinful situation, which same-sex marriage surely is. And not, of course, just to them but to all unrepentant public sinners. Paprocki spoke to this particular sin because our culture is currently obsessed with same-sex issues and is getting most everything wrong about them. For a culture to embrace same-sex “marriage” is a frontal assault on Scripture and natural law.

Paprocki’s announcement was undertaken to help Catholics realize the incompatibility of same-sex marriages with God’s plan for sexuality. Martin could help build bridges by explaining this to those likely to misinterpret Paprocki and the Church. Both are concerned with the salvation of souls and Martin should use the platform he has been given to demonstrate how bridge-building can best be executed.

Again, Eduardo Echeverria has demonstrated how Martin completely neglected to present Church teaching in his book. That failure makes for very wobbly bridges, since for true dialogue to take place, honest discussion must take place. The Church cannot and should not fail to teach the truth entrusted to it, to avoid offending people. Yes, respect, compassion and sensitivity are key Christian values, but so is truth.

A challenge to Martin: radical bridge-building

I would like to challenge Martin to do some of the bridge-building he advocates—some of the most radical bridge-building that needs to be done. I have never been to a gay parade or bar or a gay bash on the beach but the few pictures I have seen and descriptions I have read make it clear that they are disgusting, orgiastic bacchanalias. (I have always been impressed with the recommendation of one psychologist to parents of adult children who have adopted the “gay” lifestyle, that they go with their adult offspring to the parades and bars and sex fairs so their offspring experience how their choices and experiences look through their parents’ eyes.)

Few people are willing to attend vile gay events, but those few people—well, really, the one person, Joe Sciambra—an ex-gay porn star—and the few intrepid individuals he enlists to join him, who dare to enter those dens of iniquity, do so to take the love of the Gospel into places where it is desperately needed, though generally viciously rejected. Sciambra and others go there to convey Christ’s love to those who hate themselves so much that they submit themselves to such degradation. Yes, they are not representative of the whole of the FMLGBTQC but they are souls—souls in need of the Good News that they are loved and that Jesus died for them.

Yes, Fr. Martin is correct: a bridge must be built between the Catholic Church and those struggling with same-sex and trans-gender issues. But it cannot be built of tissue paper of “suggestions” based on rhetorical questions. It must be built of steel and concrete, of a bracing commitment to truth and true love, mingled, of course, with respect, compassion and sensitivity.

(Note: This article was updated on July 14, 2017, with some additional information and links.)

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About Janet E. Smith 7 Articles
Janet E. Smith holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. She has recently edited Why Humanae vitae Is Still Right (Ignatius Press 2018) and Self-Gift, Essays on Humanae vitae and the Thought of John Paul II (Emmaus Press: 2018)


  1. Fellow Catholics see our contemporary world for what it is – a slow return to paganism. Bacchus, Venus, Sapho, Isis, Mammon, Kali, Hecate… Even though they don’t call these gods out by name, their lifestyles and how they label themselves are no different than the pagan worship of these false gods. We as Catholics run the risk of self-destruction by accepting these behaviors as the new Normal, (Matt.24:37-As in the days of Noah). We must call the kettle black; Anything less than identifying LGBT practice as a deep deviance from the Christian norm is NOT within the Way of Jesus Christ. Yes we are all sinners and should acknowldge such, but then we need to repent and sin no more. By not shunning ourselves from the LGBT lifestyle and deeds we run the risk of Catholicism being no more than another meaningless ethnic traditional cultural practice and nothing more. John 14:6 – Jesus came to set the world on Fire! The deep legacy and fallacy of the Baby Boom era is insisting on moral relativism in order to keep the peace. Luke 12:49-53. We must continue to have the courage to speak the truth – even at the risk of Facebook martyrdom!

  2. It is sad to see a man who has so much talent as an author step down to the lowest level to appeal to a relatively small number of people. The Gay Mafia in the Vatican can not be accepted as moral and right for our priests of any status. Have we really and truly lost our way and our souls that we can call this behaviour normal? How far have we fallen to be politically correct? Look at Greece and early Rome. Is this what we hope to become? I don’t understand how so mighty a church has fallen to acknowledge this lesbian and gay lifestyle as normal and acceptable. When I think that the Eucharistic has been so devalued that a priest whose hands are literally dirty are the same hands that lift the host and it is changed from common bread to the Holy Body. And, what response do we get? Let us make certain the Host is not gluten free. Are we kidding? What about the man who is living a life of pretense. That of being a representative of Jesus on earth. What have we become when a Fr.Martin can say it’s okay to have gay priests celibate or not. How can anyone stand before their congregation and say the words of Transubstantiation and live a life of grave sin? Is there no conscious realization of what a perversion this is. We as the children of God receive a communion that is not valid. When and where will Pope Francis speak out on this real problem and stop the throwing out of tidbits of trivial oversights to us as a sop? The time is right for a real house cleaning and get back to a moral compass for the whole church.

  3. Please provide a list of peculiar bridges our church needs crossing? I can imagine a few, but I won’t list them here as I don’t want to encourage any may be easily persuaded to experiment

  4. It would be interesting to know whether Fr. James Martin approves of aberrant homosexual behavior that is in direct contravention of nature and God’s creation of man, woman, marriage, as well as whether he approves of transgenderism and all that goes with it? How about the recent sexual orgy scandal in the Vatican? I would be interested to hear his response.
    This man should never have been allowed to pursue his homosexual “theology” in the Catholic Church – that he has been appointed to a high position very recently, is definitely a sign of the return to paganism.
    Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter – Isaiah 5:20
    Every day I mourn the depths to which the Vatican has sunk.
    How God must weep for his people!

  5. Struggling with a term, how about deceived individuals? Deception covers a lot of territory not limited to LGBQT. Nothing judgmental about that, just a fact.

  6. Once while I was a Catholic elementary school principal, one teacher who was in trouble for publicly known inappropriate behavior, accused another teacher at the school of being a lesbian. This accused teacher was competent and professional and never did anything to draw attention to herself in regard to her personal life, so I ignored the accusation. I think Catholic leaders have no interest in disciplining or firing persons with same-sex attraction unless forced to by something becoming notorious public knowledge, as Dr. Smith, points out.

    • I could cite chapter and verse on a good many cases from over the years here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, but I will cite three here.

      The first of the three is a very recent case in which the music director and director of liturgy for a northwest-suburban Cook County parish (one sarcastically referred to as “the Catholic Willow Creek Church”), a parish which had had a previous run-in with Cardinal George over the then-pastor’s contumacious and obstinate refusal to install kneelers in the pews, was fired when the music director/director of liturgy made quite public his “marriage” to another man. The pastor actually backed the music director/director of liturgy after the faux “marriage” was made public, and had to be ordered by the then-Archbishop, Cardinal Francis George, to terminate him immediately. The ex-employee quite publicly sued the Archdiocese for “wrongful termination”; the civil suit was recently dismissed by a Cook County Circuit Court judge, who found that the Church had a right to terminate him, as his posts could most certainly be described as intrinsically ministerial in the Church’s mission.

      Second case: The principal of one of the Catholic grade schools in my general vicinity (but not one of the ones at which I taught band class) was terminated abruptly over the summer after he and a male “friend” were arrested and charged (indecent exposure and disorderly conduct) by the Cook County Sheriff’s Police for engaging in sexual behavior in one of the forest preserves a few miles from the school. But I wouldn’t bet against his sexual preference being an “open secret” among the school parents and faculty/staff, particularly as he had served as the assistant principal at the school for quite a few years before moving into the top spot.

      Third case: About 20 years ago (maybe 22 or 23), the highly successful and popular head basketball coach of a South-Side all-girls Catholic high school (right next door to a local university run by the same religious order of nuns), was fired after announcing that she was taking maternity leave to have a child (she was apparently single) – and intended to raise it with her “female companion” after giving birth. The basis for the firing was not the IVF-impregnation; rather, it was making her deviate sexual relationship public, thereby creating a public scandal.

  7. I am struck by how easily the arguments advanced by Father Martin fall apart – very quickly – under any sort of scrutiny. This indicates that they are “Fake arguments”. Just as there is “Fake News” there are also Fake arguments.

    Fake arguments are slick, plausible, possible, and sway weak minds. Use of fake arguments is the stock in trade of politics and political campaigns. They are intended to gain political advantage, not reveal eternal truths. But the fake arguments fall apart under any serious analysis. But all too often, the Sophist who is using fake arguments is not relying on ultimately proving the truth of the matter. Instead, he is attempting to give his side ammunition in a political debate. He creates talking points which can be used to obscure the issues and avoid the real questions he should be answering. Such is the case with Father Martin. He is a political actor, not a sage of the church. He is not acting as a Catholic, but as a political force from within the church. The thing about fake arguments is that if you can get a loud enough mob to mouth your fake arguments, then you just might win by mob action rather than deep reflection and reason. Father Martin is simply giving guidance to his mob, nothing more, nothing less. As has been pointed out, he will not even state Church teaching in its entirety. He avoids talking about the obvious answer, the Courage Apostolate. In fact, he avoids talking about the Church’s real approach to homosexuality at all. I am afraid he is nothing more than a carnival barker of a very specific type.

  8. Der Rattenfänger von Hameln Fr James Martin is luring away the many, and unfortunately there are a growing many who have embraced the new gospel of accommodation.

  9. Great article, Prof. Smith. The bridge must go two ways. A good start would be for groups to go away that use Catholic things to mock the Catholic Church (like the so-called Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence).

  10. One of Smith’s arguments is that same-sex couples are more likely to get fired from Catholic institutions because their sin is more public than, say, “fornicators” or other kinds of sin. This is not a persuasive argument at all, for it encourages people to hypocritically hide their sins from others. Basically, Smith’s logic is this: “Want to be a sinner? Don’t get caught!” I don’t endorse same-sex marriage, but that argument is tantamount to hypocrisy and dishonesty.

    • I think it’s different because this relates to HR issues about firing and hiring, some of which touches on civil laws. It requires more distinctions.

    • On the contrary. As my article indicates, I think, along with Plato and Aquinas, that it is better for wrong-doers to get caught — better for them as well as for those they are harming both by their deeds and their examples. Hypocrisy is bad for sinful heterosexuals and sinful homosexuals. Nothing I wrote suggests otherwise.

      • Dr. Smith,

        I enjoyed your article–reading it in context, I think I agree with you on most all of it–but there was a comment you made under the “getting caught is a good thing” section which implied that those whose sins are made public are more likely to reform. I wonder–do you think personal reform in the case of a person’s sins being made public is going to be more likely a genuine sense of shame prompting them to change from within, or, on the other hand, an external change from fear of public reprisal or legal/administrative command? I ask because I had been taught that extreme sensitivity is needed when dealing with the sins of others, especially ones which can ruin their reputations, as it can sometimes give them a bad rationalization to continue their behavior, if they are already “ruined” men/women. I am not in favor of fostering sin–and I sympathize with the need to cast out unrepentant and blatant sin from the community (for the person’s own good as well as that of the community, so they can recognize the truth even if its the hard way) but I was struck by the generalization that being publicly found out is generally better for the person–I wondered if you would give me your thoughts on the subject, if they would nuance at all in certain circumstances–or whether it’s a hard and fast rule, for the persons’s good. Thanks!

  11. Will any Church officials, e.g., Bishops, Cardinals, Jesuit leaders, publicly state that Martin’s book is erroneous and misleading? Will Pope Francis? I will not hold my breath!

  12. So, the Church and the “LGBT community” need to “enter into a relationship of respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” do they? Does Father Martin think that, say the “murderous community” or the “depriving laborers of their just wages community” or even the “incestuous community” or the “larcenous community” and the Church also need to do so? I doubt it, and the reason is simple: Father Martin, I do him the courtesy of believing, thinks that those other sins are wrong; but it seems that he does not think that homosexual behavior or a denial of nature and nature’s God are sins.

    And if those “LGBT” persons were struggling against temptation they wouldn’t be joining a community whose entire function is to support and spread perversion. As individual persons they deserve respect and courtesy and compassion and love. As a community – no.

  13. The elephant in the sanctuary is that, in my humble opinion, Fr. Martin believes homosexual acts to be intrinsically ordered and amoral if not moral.


    Because he praises and recommends New Ways ministry,

    There. It is “out.”

  14. Janet:
    Regarding the use of the word “gay” and labelling: If not from the start at least for decades now there has been widespread Church support for AA. I have never been to an AA meeting but have seen dramatic representations and have friends who benefit from the organization. I understand that one of the rituals of AA is that when you stand to speak you say “Hi, I’m “Joe” and I’m an alcoholic.” This is a blatant identification of the person with the issue of alcoholism. Why is this not condemned? Again the issue is consistency. Labelling seems to be okay in some areas but not in others.
    Always great to read your articles.

    • Alcoholics Anonymous does not stage “Alcoholic Pride” marches in which they publicly exhibit vile behavior connected with alcoholism and demand that it be publicly accepted as normal, healthy, and good. Someone at an AA meeting who says “I am an alcoholic” is confessing that he has a problem and is there to fight the problem, not claiming that alcoholic is his identity and therefore it is good and he should carry on drinking himself into oblivion. Can you seriously
      not see the difference?

  15. Fr. Martin makes a good point that all sex outside of marriage is prohibited but only same sex acts are condemned. Neither he or many other priests will speak against sex outside of marriage. They also do not explain what true love is. Love is a desire not just an emotion. The desire of love for another is the desire for the other to have eternal salvation. If I love another all my actions have to be to lead them to eternal salvation. The most perfect example of true love is Jesus Christ. By his words and deeds(dying on a cross for our sins) he leads us to eternal salvation. If I say I love another but also wish to have sex outside of marriage and lead them into mortal sin it is not love. It is worse than hate.
    When a husband and a wife have sex, God is also present with them. If the act produces life, each of the three has contributed. His DNA, Her DNA and the soul of a new person from God. Anything less than that is satanic.

  16. Its not so much part of the book review, but I would add that if the “world” is cozying up to and celebrating Fr Martins book (see all the appearances on morning talk shows, etc…) then theres probably something missing. When Christ came and preached the gospel, the world ultimately rejected Him and gave HIM a humiliating death. In a world and society that advances perversion, and celebrates sin, a Catholic priest who preaches the gospel shouldn’t be celebrated unless he prompts long lines at the confessional.

  17. i believe that God created each and everyone of us in God’s image and likeness and that Jesus died for each and everyone of us and God loves each and everyone of us.

    • Mary Joan, you have obviously read the Gospels and live by Jesus command to love one another. Thank you for your openness to God’s love for all of us.

    • God DOES love each and every one of us, so of course we love the sinner, but we hate the sin – whatever it is. Out of love for the other, we want what is good for their soul, we want their (and our) salvation. I would not want to be patted on the head on my way to Hell, because someone thought they were “loving” me.

  18. Thank you for helping us to approach Fr. Martin’s book with some thoughtful criticism. Would it be too picky of me to point out spelling and grammar errors in just one of the sentences: “I doubt that Martin would object to firing the principle for having an affair with a faculty members ” (misspelling of “principal” and single/plural problem ) Sloppy copy editing by the journal undermines the work of a major scholar.

  19. The Supreme Pontiff Francis hired James Martin to teach my children immorality. I resent that…and hold men such as these 2 accountable for the spiritual and physical diseases suffered by those who fall prey to their seductive ideology.

    As one dear friend with AIDS etc remarked about Team Francis: “We should not be teaching our children that it is ok to inseminate our intestines.”

    Jez-Kirk is opposed to both Faith and Reason.

  20. James Martin needs to stop his charade and either publicly acknowledge that he is an active homosexual or publicly deny that he is not. Either way that pro-sodomy heretic needs to be dismissed from the clerical state.

  21. “The new normal
    Since the 1990s it has been clear there is a new cultural and social atmosphere concerning “same-sex” and “trans” issues and, therefore, we need to do a lot of retooling to find a suitable terminology to explain Church teaching”
    – Ms Smith are you Catholic ??

  22. Question- Can a guy who is celibate and have same sex attraction become a priest? Would he be allowed to enter the seminary?

  23. May I offer a clarification– though the FBI insists it “has no evidence” that the Pulse nightclub assailant, Omar
    Mateen, was a homosexual, that was a political statement in a highly charged national moment. The local community knew that he was. His former schoolmates and his wife have indicated his struggle to address his religion and his same-sex attraction. That the FBI “has no evicence” isn’t the same as ” there is no evidence.” Mateen frequented Pulse, was known to management. Mateen also considered Disney, recognized that he would not be able to get a weapon through Disney security. The goal was a high profile slaughter for Allah. Pulse presented Mateeen with an easy entry with a weapon, because he was a known patron. This is significant because the fiction that the the murders were a “gay hate crime” needs to be corrected. The target was not “gay people” but innocent Americans. Sadly, the mayor of Orlando has capitalized on the tragedy as an additional tourism venue and hundreds of people.a day visit the site. Thus, for purposes of commercialization, the city fosters the fiction that it was a “gay hate crime”, and the fiction also serves the liberal political goal of advancing policies advantageous to the LGBT agenda.

    For this reason, perhaps it is better that the USCCB did not come out and condemn the slaughter as a crime of religious hatred against homosexual persons. Fr. Martin’s criticism of the bishops in this regard isn’t warranted.

  24. The Truth is almost too simple. Read Genesis and Jesus’s referral in the Gospel, that God created male and female and for this reason a man shall leave his parents and shall cleave unto his wife. God did not create two or more orders od sexuality, just created male and female, complementary to each other. Any ideas, desires, inclinations, misunderstandings, lack of education in the truth, feelings, and perhaps more, are not of God’s creation. So, what to do?? Courageous in the Holy Spirit Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, Priests, take hold of the same Holy Spirit gifts given to the first Pope, Bishops, Priests, and teach the truth and move in God’s power and free those who are held bound in the false beliefs of Lesbianism, Homosexuality, Bisexualism, transexualism, and more. Do your duty. Fulfill your call. Prepare to be held in contempt by well-meaning and hate-filled people, but go in Christ and bring in God’s Harvest!!!!!
    God bless, C-Marie

  25. Anyone who read Father Martin’s book would see that Father Martin does not go against, dogma, doctrine, scripture or Catechism. I see so much hate in these comments that it’s clear that some Catholics seem to think they have a monopoly on the church and only they can decide who is allowed access to the grace of God. It is the thinking behind these comments that are making the church not a place of welcome but a haven for haters.

  26. This is an incredibly irresponsible article that grossly misunderstands the LGBTQ community, racism, and language. I suggest reading more about the reappropriation of language, as this is a gaping hole in the argument that reveals how out of touch this piece is with social realities. I am disheartened by the response, and I hope that the author will find it in her heart to approach future discussions, writings, and people with more grace, humility, and compassion.

  27. Why is this man, Fr James Martin STILL a priest? Who are his superiors? I don’t understand it? He is encouraging others to sin, to live in sin and to violate the natural law! Why is he still being paid by the Catholic Church? I cannot understand it!

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