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Fr. James Martin, S.J., and accusations of heresy

Fr. Martin’s rebuff of heresy accusations suggests that either he does not know or does not wish to acknowledge that “heresy” is not limited to the actual contradiction of revealed truths.

Fr. James Martin, S.J., author of "Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity", will be giving a keynote address at the upcoming World Meeting of Families in Dublin. (Image: YouTube)

Two important essays, one by Janet Smith at Catholic World Report (29 sep 2017) and the other by Dan Hitchens at First Things (2 oct 2017), along with their links to and quotes from Fr James Martin’s own words (and sometimes, as Smith and Hitchens note, to Martin’s refusal to say certain words), occasion these comments on Martin’s recent complaints (21 sep 2017) that he has “been accused of heresy, ridiculously, by some critics (I’m not contradicting any revealed truths).” There are several issues to sort out here.

First, yes, I am very sure that some of the accusations of heresy made against Martin are, indeed, ridiculous. As are some of Martin’s accusations that, for example, among his critics: “Heresy” is a word they use as frequently as “and” and “the.” Apparently there is plenty of ridiculousness floating around out there. All purveyors of the ridiculous should cease spouting it.

To my canonical observations.

Martin’s rebuff of heresy accusations above (“I’m not contradicting any revealed truths”) suggests that either he does not know or does not wish to acknowledge that “heresy” is not limited to the actual contradiction of revealed truths. Canon 751 defines heresy as “the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt” of certain truths (my emphasis). Thus one’s “obstinate doubt” concerning revealed truths, and not just one’s outright contradiction of such truths, can, upon proof, result in a finding of heresy.

Next, when speaking to a male questioner recently, Martin expressed the “hope [that] in 10 years you will be able to kiss your partner or, you know, soon to be your husband”. Any reasonable listener will conclude that Martin not only hopes that a man may someday marry a man with the Church’s blessing, but that Martin believes “same-sex marriage” to be radically possible under Church teaching and that it is a matter of regret that such Church recognition is not yet available.

Here, I suggest, Martin effectively denies infallible Church doctrine that marriage can exist only between a man and a woman. I see only two canonical issues in the wake of his statement:

(A) Whether the infallible Church teaching on the absolute impossibility of marriage between two persons of the same sex is itself a “revealed truth” (in which case the issue is indeed one of heresy) or whether it is a “proposition … to be held definitely” (in which case the issue is opposition to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, but not heresy strictly speaking), with the weight of scholarly opinion, however, favoring the view that Church teaching on the male-female aspect of marriage is divinely revealed, meaning that one’s “obstinate denial or obstinate doubt” concerning that teaching would be heresy; and,

(B) Whether Martin’s comment, coming as it did during a public Q-and-A session, accurately reflects his actual position on marriage—an important point because both heresy (per cc. 7511364, etc.) and opposition to definitive Church teaching (per c. 1371, etc.) require a demonstration of one’s deliberateness in so holding before any penal consequences could be levied.

Either way, Martin’s shocking (as coming from a priest) comment, uttered against the backdrop of his frequent refusal to state his own positions directly (as opposed to his practice of characterizing his positions as sound, etc.) make the pursuit of clarity here very important.

Scholion on Pio-Benedictine law and the Eastern Code:

Martin’s frequent, often seemingly studied, ambiguities regarding Church teaching on various doctrinal and moral issues would have been more directly cognizable under the Pio-Benedictine Code of 1917 than they are under the Johanno-Pauline Code of 1983, notwithstanding 1983 CIC 209. The old Code squarely stated: “The faithful of Christ are bound to profess their faith whenever their silence, evasiveness, or manner of acting encompasses an implied denial of the faith, contempt for religion, injury to God, or scandal for a neighbor.” 1917 CIC 1325 § 1. Of course, giving scandal (CCC 2284-2287) to one’s neighbor, even if not directly scored in the new Code, is still a grave evil against which all should be on guard. Similarly, Canon 10 of the Code of Canon Law of the Eastern Churches (1990) makes ‘adherence to the authentic living magisterium of the Church’ and the ‘open profession of the Faith’ matters of law. Interesting, eh?

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About Edward N. Peters 120 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.


  1. Father James Martin says a lot of vague and strange things, but I don’t think this bit about kissing in church can be taken as some sort of approval of gay marriage , for the following reasons.

    The discussion he was having with his interviewer had to do with the Sign of Peace during the Mass. The interviewer said that he went to mass with his soon to be (civil) husband. And that he would like to kiss his partner during the Sign of Peace, just like all the other husbands and wives do. (I have no idea what goes on in his church, and although husbands and wives do sometimes kiss, it seems rare to me). Anyway, he wants to kiss his gay partner during the sign of peace.

    So this bit about being able to do it in ten years does not indicate that Martin is talking about gay marriage being approved of by the church. He seems to be saying that the church will somehow become more accepting of gays in general, so that if a gay couple kisses during the sign of peace, it will not be such a big deal. I don’t think you can extrapolate from that, that he holds the position that gay marriage will someday be allowed in the church. I think that is just too big an assumption to make, given the evidence.

    Now, he may long for the day when the church changes its position on many things that progressives want, but I don’t think that arises to heresy. He has made other statements that indicates he thinks being against gay marriage means someone is homophobic, etc, and that might lead you to believe he believes NOT believing in gay marriage is objectionable But certainly the statement about kissing during the sign of peace is not enough to rise to heresy.

    • But what is a kiss between members of a “gay couple” if not a sign of physical union, saying: “We are wedded, we are one in the flesh”? Fr. Martin is most CERTAINLY suggesting that the Church will change Her position on homosexual “marriage.” There is no other rational way to interpret his reaction to the comment.

    • Oh, brother..

      Parse the situation and Fr. Martin’s statements and actions to the point of nothingness and therefore “heresy”, of course, is not possible.

      And the meaning of “is”….is???

      • No, it is called being fair and accurate. He was talking about doing a kiss during the Sign of Peace. That does not equate to endorsing gay marriage.

          • Exactly. Think of this way: Say Fr. Martin had written a book about building bridges between the Church and the white supremacist movement. And say he would regularly encouraged a two-way dialogue and say that white supremacists have not yet “received” the Church’s teaching on racism, etc. And say he granted interviews with white supremacist groups, and spoke positively about a future time when his interviewer would be able to attend an all-white parish without fear of there being non-whites there. Would there be any doubt about where he stood, or about his sympathies? The fact that most people will recoil against this comparison is because most people have accepted to one degree or another the notion that “gay” is normal, healthy, wonderful, and all about “love”. The fact is, Fr. Martin is simply going with the flow, and it’s pretty obvious to those of us who have followed his work over the years that he is “all in when it comes to pushing for full acceptance of homosexuality as normal and good. Or, as he has put, as “differently ordered.”

          • Yes, and in this context he was referring to the fact that his interviewer had informed Martin that he would be civilly gay married. Because Martin said “and your husband” could be simply applying his own rule of politeness, that he should call things by what the other person wants to them to be called. It does not necessarily prove that he holds the opinion that gay marriage is fine under Catholic teaching.

            One could draw that conclusion, but just when you want to convict someone of being a heretic, the person needs to actually indicate something clearly, not just be cute and vague. We have already been through this with Pope Francis, and almost all serious commentators agree he has not crossed over the line – yet.

            Now, can Martin be accused of not adhering to church teaching, to slyly avoiding teaching anything that goes against church teaching? Sure. And he should be reprimanded for it, the Vatican should denounce what he is doing, and he should be prohibited from giving talks on homosexuality until such time as he is prepared to adhere fully to church teaching.

            But declaring someone a heretic is another matter altogether, especially on vague statements. There is more than enough info out there to have Martin removed from his duties, and any sane prelate would do so. However, the jump to heretic is doo far, in my judgment.

          • Sam: there’s no being polite based on what other people want to be called. Charity is in truth. Calling one man another man’s husbands signals to that person consent. If one doesn’t consent then he or she is being a phony. Christ commanded us to be frank and honest in speech “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no”.

            Martin also avoids the “Courage” apostolate (which actually encourages and helps people with living chastely)in favor of groups condemned by the Church which agitate for SSM, commanding the Church to accept it.

            You know a man by the company he keeps. Martin could work with a group that upholds Church teaching. Instead he accepting lauds from heretics and schismatics who oppose the Church.

            You’re only fooling yourself, Sam.

    • Martin does NOT need to advocate acceptance of gay marriage BY THE CHURCH in order to be a heretic. It is sufficient to advocate “civil” gay marriage.

      Martin was explicit: He approves of the impending “civil marriage” of the interviewer and his partner in sodomy.

      To enter into a “civil gay marriage” is itself intrinsically evil. It IS heretical for any Catholic to express approval of “civil gay marriage.” And Martin has done so on many occasions.

      • This article and this comment are interesting in the light of Pope Francis having expressed support for same sex civil unions.

    • Oh yes, Father James Martin “does want LGBT unions” as in “marriage” approved in the Catholic church. He makes every suggestion of wanting this heresy when he speaks in his seminars. He never refers to Romans chapter 1: verses 21 to 35. Instead this unholy priest quotes old testament to confuse and captivate his audience. Look at Romans chapter 1 verses 21 on, and you will see that this man is heretical to the core.

    • After working for a short time at SFO Airport, I saw males kiss each other. It always caused a vomit reaction. Be real.

  2. Is anyone really “shocked” a Jesuit would suggest approval of things gay? The slide has been on now for how many years? Even as we congratulate ourselves on not being Episcopalians. There’s a picture making rounds online that’s priceless, showing Fr. Martin in his office with a rainbow bottle of Absolute his shelf. Couldn’t see any pictures there of Colbert, but am imaging there’s one of those too. “Bartender, another round as we’re soon off to the peripheries!”

  3. Dan Hitchens and Janet Smith do not determine what is or is not heresy regarding Christ’s teaching. Nor does the pope. That is determined by a collegial consideration of the issue by bishops and cardinals and then with the purpose of upholding the teachings of Jesus.

    • Well, you are partly right. However, when he speaks ex cathedra on a question of faith or morals, the pope does not have to consult any cardinal or bishop. If he were to declare a position heretical, the discussion is over. When St. Augustine declared, he was “Roma locuta, causa finita est,” he was specifically clarifying that councils do NOT have authority superior to that of the pope.

      • The election of a man to the papacy, who prior to his election had denied that which a Catholic must believe with Divine and Catholic Faith, and thus does not keep, hold, and teach The Catholic Faith, cannot possibly be valid.

        Every Faithful Catholic recognizes this statement made by Jorge Bergoglio, in his book, “In Heaven And On Earth”, which condones certain same-sex sexual relationships of a “private nature”, when they are not called marriage, and children are not involved, denying The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, and thus the fact that God, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, Is The Author Of Love Of Life, And Of Marriage, while condoning sexual sin, simultaneously, is heresy spoken by a heretic, and blasphemy:

        “If there is a union of a private nature, there is neither a third party, nor is society affected.” – Jorge Bergoglio

        CCC 1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is a failure in genuine Love for God and neighbor…”

        Anyone who claims that condoning sexual sin is not heresy, is a liar from the start.
        A Clericalism that condones sexual immorality, denies both the Sanctity of human life from the moment of conception, and the Sanctity of the marital act within The Sacrament Of Holy Matrimony.

        “It is not possible to have Sacramental Communion without Ecclesial Communion”, due to The Unity Of The Holy Ghost.

  4. Does it really matter? Does anyone think he even cares if he is a heretic or not? Would he lose any of his influence with in the church if he were declared to be an heretic?

    • “No” to all of the above. You have zeroed in on the problem. Even Rome does not believe in heresy any longer.

  5. I’ll say because it needs to be heard. When I entered the seminary in the late Sixties the kiss of peace at Mass was very kissy kissy and prolonged hugging, whispers. I knew something was dreadfully wrong. I as a boy in Brooklyn thought that were the abomination of homosexual behavior were universally accepted, especially by the Church it would signal End Times. In those days a homosexual was disdained. Today a coming out of the closet is deemed heroic. As the Apostle says in Rm 1 [the Church since Vat II has removed that segment of Rm 1 that describes and condemns homosexuality] they rejected belief in God and were abandoned by Him to follow their own evil devises, men having relations with men and women with women, receiving from their shameful acts their just reward. Bishops back then ordained these deviates knowing full well. The rector warned a bishop of one character, a vile predator and the bishop ordained him nevertheless. The Church has reaped the whirlwind for that sin. All of us will need to give account before Christ at the Final Tribunal. Woe to those bishops. Woe to bishops and cardinals today and priests who promote was is a completely grievous affront to the goodness and purity of the Divinity.

    • Ok. I agree wholeheartedly with this article and the idea that Fr. Martin is projecting heretical thoughts through skillful manipulation of true Bible verses and theology. My question, given Fr. Morello’s comment, is how the Catholic church can effectively live up to its mission of safeguarding the Truth and shepherding Jesus’ flock when many obstinate heretics are let into the clergy. It’s a classic example of letting the wolf in to guard the sheep. In essence then, the more the Vatican lets heretics like Fr. Martin into prominent positions like Secretariat for Communication and beyond, the less likely it seems the Catholic church can honestly hold itself up to be the rightful purveyor of truth in the apostolic succession from St. Peter. I mean, the natural progression of having heretical clergy is an eventual schism between those who wish to protect the faith and those who wish to ignore, modify or otherwise rationalize sinful behaviour into pastoral practice. What am I, as a layperson, to do in the face of this trend? And if Pope Francis can tolerate Fr. Martin in such an influential position despite his heresies, then what’s to stop Fr. Martin’s type of thinking from influencing a future Pope’s directives?

      • Troubled in Canada. Pope Francis hasn’t changed Apostolic Church doctrine, nor will any pontiff. Christ safeguards the Church’s doctrinal integrity. What changes are occurring that conflict with doctrine are spread by suggestion, offhand remarks, by furtive deception. Homosexuality, when permitted by clergy, many now openly promoting what is in defiance of natural law and Catholic doctrine is error, and serious sin. As to heresy, in a canonical context one has to hold to an error adamantly and persistently.
        The Chair of Peter, the papacy instituted by Christ is protected by Our Lord. Simply put, God will not permit it. That is the rationale why Pope Francis, knowledgeable of this, applies other means to promote his agendas that apparently conflict with official doctrine. While there may be widespread error, as occurred during the Arian heresy fought by Saint Athanasius of Alexandria during the 4th century, a heresy virtually held by all bishops, today’s errors are greater. Errors disseminated during this pontificate stem primarily from mistaken premises in Amoris Laetitia, the false notions of individual conscience as the rule rather than Christ’s revelation, the exaggeration of mitigating circumstances and absence of reference to grace. Error today is almost as widespread as the Arian heresy though more devious because it affects all doctrine both moral and theological.
        Nevertheless, a faithful body will remain that professes the correct understanding of the Gospels and the true faith conveyed by the Apostles. While homosexual clergy continue to plague the Church living in sin, many like Fr James Martin proposing errors by suggestion, others promoting those errors openly, faithful belief and practice will remain among the elect. Hold fast to your faith and pray for the conversion of the self deceived living in error.

  6. I think that the most important thing is that we should see Fr.Martin as a heretic is because he is rejecting the inerrancy of Scripture. The Church teaches that the Scriptures are without error, and they clearly reprobate homosexual acts. (Gen. 19; Lev. 18: 22; 20: 13; 1 Cor. 6: 9; Rom. 1: 18-32; 1 Timothy 1: 10; Jude 7). “The inspired books teach the truth. “Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.” (CCC 107). “But nothing unclean shall inherit it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21: 27). The Scriptures are inerrant in faith and morals, and this Priest is turning people into a lifestyle that they clearly reprobate morally.

    • I am so glad I came to this page by accident, I have been reading James Martin’s article in the “Give us this day” subscription that I have. So far I have not detected any controversial subjects. But after reading this page about the gay couples. I would have from now on to stay away from his writings. Gay marriage is wrong, from the beginning of times. I respect gay people, I treat them as anybody else, I have compassion for their problem, I accept them as they are, but I do not think marriage or sexual relations with the same sex is right. So sorry. I pray that the Holy Spirit guide me to make the right choice.

      • “Gay”, is not a people; it refers to a disordered sexual desire/ inclination to engage in disordered sexual acts that demean the inherent Dignity of all beloved sons and daughters, and thus are not and can never be, acts of Love, including if such disordered and demeaning sexual desires exists between a man and woman, united in marriage as husband and wife.

  7. It is not necessary to accuse Fr. James Martin of heresy, we know that his final aim is a total integration of openly gay people in the normal life of the parish, receiving the sacraments and get married with the blessing of the Church. Right now he does not openly attack any teaching of the Church in this regard, but creates sympathy for those who are by nature “wired differently,” telling about their struggles and emotional pain for being different which they did not choose and for which they are rejected by their fellow Catholics. I am certain that at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin he will also try to create sympathy for homosexual couples who want to adopt children and have loving families. I have no sympathy with gay people who march half-naked in the annual Gay Pride parades, but I am sorry for those who keep quiet about their affliction. Medical science should find the cause and hopefully a cure for this condition.

    • The cure is accepting Christ’s teaching in regards to sexual morality, and thus accepting Salvational, Life-affirming and Life-sustaining Love, which is always rightly ordered to the inherent personal and relational Dignity of the persons existing in a relationship of Love, and devoid of lust.

  8. “Father” James Martin has a clear and consistent goal. Infuse into society a belief that teaching your boys and girls to grow up and seek a male/female marriage that is recognized as the model for Christians, is wrong and must be stopped. He spends a great deal of his time preaching to young people. And a great deal of time and energy fighting to stop any Catholic organization from removing influential teachers and church leaders that still cling to what he considers a myth, that marriage is only possible between a man and a woman. Anal sex, which is the only physical choice for gay men is serves a purpose of pleasure for the individuals but does nothing to advance the family of God. No wonder along with fighting against parents trying to protect their children from the homosexual agenda, he also spends zero time teaching that abortion is wrong. To do that he would be supporting those Catholics that feel sex with no purpose other than personal pleasure, and thus support for aborting any baby made that was not sought, is wrong. Father Martin should not be a Priest. He labors long and hard to teach that life’s purpose here on earth is primarily to feel good about everything and everyone. And anyone that gets his head out of the clouds and looks past the clouds to a heaven is in his eyes misled.

  9. I think a big issue today is creating a god in our own image. One to be tolerated! One who would never offend our interpretations or sensibilities! One who would not give consequences for sin because it couldn’t be sin because that would be unfair!
    Who is like unto God? Holy Spirit, increase our courage and confidence in Truth and help us stand in the gap bringing your Light everywhere.

  10. Heretic is a valid label for someone who is trying to slide the gay agenda into the Church under the guise of “understanding”.

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