With the scandals concerning Cardinal McCarrick’s homosexual liaisons and the Pennsylvania report on homosexual priests and their episcopal enablers in the forefront of every Catholic’s mind, two major public events are occurring or about to occur: this week’s World Meeting of Families in post-Catholic Ireland and in October Pope Francis’ latest synod, the Synod on Youth, which will take place in Rome.
What effect might these two events have on how homosexuality is viewed and understood in the Church? That question is especially important as various influential writers and commentators are advocating for change. Foremost among them is the Jesuit author Fr. James Martin, S.J., who has over a quarter million followers on Twitter and is a regular guest on major television networks.
In his 2017 book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the L.G.B.T Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity, Fr. Martin says of homosexuality that “some bishops have already called for the church to set aside the phrase ‘objectively disordered’” in the Catechism. To label “the deepest parts of a person – the part that gives and receives love” as “disordered” is “needlessly hurtful,” says Fr. Martin. It is “needlessly cruel.” The National Catholic Reporter thanked Fr. Martin for his book and fully endorsed changing moral doctrine: “Without a change in the church’s teaching on sex and sexuality, can LGBT people ever hope to be treated with equality and justice by the hierarchy?”
In receiving the annual award of a LGBT organization, Martin stated that “God made” LGBT people “who they are.” At a speech at Villanova University he expressed his hope that gay men “in ten years” would be able “to kiss your partner” at the kiss of peace at Mass. He has said that “some saints were probably gay or lesbian.
Since publication of his book, Fr. Martin has traveled across the United States promoting his message. His campaign has been specifically endorsed by key Pope Francis appointees in the Church in the U.S. All three American cardinals appointed by Pope Francis—Cupich, Farrell, and Tobin—have strongly endorsed Fr. Martin’s book and his work. (In addition to Fr. Martin, all three cardinals are scheduled to moderate panels at the meeting in Ireland.) However, substantial opposition to Martin by laymen and women has occurred across the country. As a response to numerous articles about clerical homosexuality in the McCarrick scandal and the report about the Pennsylvania dioceses, Fr. Martin just took to the New York Times on August 15 to defend his agenda: “Lately, I have also been angry with the Catholic commentators who have been using these revelations to advance their own agendas, so that the suffering of children becomes an opportunity to stir up hatred, for example, of all gay priests, or L.G.B.T. people in general.”
Immediately after the publication of Building a Bridge, Martin was promoted by Pope Francis in April 2017 to be a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications. Now, he has been chosen by Francis-appointee Cardinal Kevin Ferrell, who, as the Vatican’s Prefect of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life, is the organizer of the World Meeting of Families, to give a keynote presentation at the event. “The organizers,” says Martin, “have asked me to speak about how parishes can welcome L.G.B.T. Catholics, as well as their parents and families. So I hope to share ‘best practices’ from parishes that have successfully reached out to the L.G.B.T. Catholic community.” Martin has entitled his talk at the Meeting next week: “Showing welcome and respect in our Parishes for ‘LGBT’ people and their Families.” According to Catholic journalist Sandro Magister, “Martin will be among the speakers and guests, together with homosexual couples from all over the world.”
To what degree, then, does the campaign of American Jesuit and Pope Francis insider Fr. James Martin become the agenda for parishes in the Catholic Church throughout the world?
With his famous “Who am I to judge?” and “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods,” Francis established a change in the Church’s attitude towards homosexuality early in his pontificate. Indeed, in Amoris Laetitia, some of the most prominent and debated passages are not by their terms limited to the subjects of divorce, remarriage, and reception of Holy Communion. In Amoris, Francis says that “I am not speaking only of the divorced and remarried but of everyone, in whatever situation they find themselves.” (297). He then continues: “it can no longer simply be said that all those in any ‘irregular’ situation are living in a state of mortal sin and deprived of sanctifying grace.” (301). Of co-habitation, he says that “respect can also be shown for those signs of love which in some way reflect God’s own love” (294).
The subject of homosexuality occurs in all the documents of the synods of Pope Francis. In the first week of the first session, the Extraordinary Session in 2014, of the Synod on the Family, an interim report (relatio post disceptationem) was released which caused an uproar—as described by veteran Catholic journalist Phil Lawler in his book Lost Shepherd—and accusations that the report was a false account of the content and substance of the discussions of homosexuality by the attending bishops. Written by Francis’ appointed officials who controlled the organizational and procedural aspect of the synod, it said that “Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community.” Far from criticizing homosexual marriage, it stated merely that “unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman.”
The protests of the bishops led to a substantial paring down in the Relatio Synodi, the final report of the first session of the Synod of the Family. That document said that there were “no grounds” to compare homosexual unions to marriage, but also added that “men and women with a homosexual tendency ought to be received with respect and sensitivity. ‘Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’,” a statement that was repeated in the final report of the second, the Ordinary, session of the Family Synod in 2015.
On issues of sexual morality, including homosexuality, the Vatican’s pre-synodal document, Instrumentum Laboris, released in March in preparation for this year’s October meeting of the Synod on Youth goes well beyond Amoris Laetitia and any of the documents of the Family Synod. It is said in that document that some young people “do not agree . . . but still want to be part of the Church anyhow” with the “controversial issues” of “contraception, abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation, and marriage.” (And this is an edited version of the original March 29 document which called the issues “polemical” and about which the Church may want to “change her teachings.” See my March 29th article “The Youth Synod: The next step in the Francis papacy”.)
Before the final session of the Synod on the Family, Pope Francis unilaterally promulgated a major change in the procedures governing annulments. Two weeks ago, Francis unilaterally changed the text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on the death penalty and said that it was now “inadmissible”. On homosexuality, some groundwork, as described above, has apparently already been prepared. By November of this year, what could Fr. Martin’s “sensitivity” mean in practice for the world-wide Church?