Last Thursday, before the bombshell that dropped on Saturday, Fr. James Martin, S.J., gave a much-anticipated (and protested) talk at the Vatican’s World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Ireland. The title of the talk was “How Parishes Can Welcome L.G.B.T. Catholics”. In his talk, Fr. Martin addressed familiar themes to those who have read his 2017 book, Building a Bridge. Whether one agrees with him or not, Fr. Martin’s is an influential voice in the current conversation about how the Church should minister to “LGBT Catholics”.
In his talk, Fr. Martin called for a more pastoral response to those who consider themselves LGBT. He rightly denounced the tragic way LGBT Catholics and their families have at times been treated in the Church. The stories he tells reveal shameful spiritual abuse of God’s children. As the Catechism makes clear:
[Those with deep-seated homosexual tendencies] must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. (par 2358)
We need to ensure that people are treated justly, and with true pastoral charity. Sadly, though, the horror stories Fr. Martin recounts are not the only ones that could be told. Consider, for example, what Joseph Sciambra reported in his recent First Things article. He described conversations he had with priests about his same-sex attraction, beginning when he was sixteen. The first priest he spoke to told him that God had made him gay, and that he should act “responsibly.” A few years later, he went and talked with another one.
He offered the same advice the first priest had, but he added that I needed to settle down with one partner. I tried that, too. But I don’t believe I made any major lifestyle changes on the basis of what these priests told me. For the most part, my mind was already made up: I believed I had been born gay. Whether or not some God had made me that way, I didn’t really care. In one sense, these priests had made my life easier by confirming what I already thought. Yet at sixteen, when I talked to that first priest, I had secretly wanted him to say something else. I had wanted him to be strong—I had wanted him to rescue me from myself.
In his texts and tweets, however, Fr. Martin never seems to acknowledge horror stories of this sort.
Sciambra’s experience is not unique. My brother Dan Mattson, who wrote the 2017 book Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace, told me that a priest to whom he confessed his same-sex sins advised him to “Go find a boyfriend.” Such priests, no doubt, believe they are helping men like Joseph and my brother. But it’s not true. They wanted, and deserved, the truth. Instead they were encouraged to keep on sinning. Sciambra concludes his article with these sobering and accurate words:
. . . imagine the damage Fr. Martin’s words will do to the countless young people who earnestly attend the World Meeting of Families. If the Church wants to show true respect, compassion, and sensitivity to homosexual persons, it must offer them the words of Christ—not Fr. Martin’s false comfort.
The major theme of Fr. Martin’s talks, tweets, and articles is a celebration of all things LGBT (including even Gay Pride events). His efforts seem focused on helping the Church “get with the times” regarding matters LGBT, with a heavy emphasis on avoiding any potential hurt feelings among those who don’t believe the Church’s teaching. He is even on record asking priests to “come out as celibate gay priests,” to normalize “being gay”.
Given what he has written and said, I don’t doubt that Fr. Martin would have responded much the same way that these priests responded to Joseph and my brother. Take, for example, the advice he gave in his WMOF talk. The second “fundamental insight” he offers is “They do not choose their orientation.” I suspect he would recommend that Joseph and Dan acknowledge that God made them gay. But Joseph and Dan don’t believe that.
Given the ideological circles in which Fr. Martin runs and the ministries he supports, it is easy to infer how he would answer almost any question about sexual morality. That’s because what Fr. Martin writes and says seems guided more by GLAAD than by God, and is more aligned to the thinking of the World than the Word.
Fr. Martin has, simply put, adopted and “baptized” the talking points of LGBT activists. He’s foisting on the Church recommendations that the world has developed in reaction to the Church’s age-old teaching about human sexuality. That’s why I would half-expect Fr. Martin to claim, as many others have, that Joseph and Dan must surely suffer from “internalized homophobia” simply because they are unwilling to describe themselves as “gay” and are unwilling to believe that God made them that way.
Dan recently experienced a host of such comments in response to his First Things article, in which he argued that the Church shouldn’t ordain men like him (i.e., those who are same-sex attracted). Several commenters spewed venom, while others offered him hope that he might someday come to love himself. They seemed not to have sufficient imagination, and perhaps Fr. Martin lacks it too, to believe that Catholics like Joseph and my brother might actually find the Church’s perennial teaching on human sexuality Good News.
This week I find myself wondering again whether Fr. Martin has read Dan’s book. I suspect not. But he should. In the Church today, we are grappling, obviously enough, with grave sins committed by “gay priests” and bishops. Despite his notoriety, Fr. Martin doesn’t help us think deeply about the relevant questions. At all. That’s because he doesn’t talk seriously about chastity, or what it takes to live chaste lives. He focuses instead on feelings.
Dan’s book, on the other hand, engages deeply the Church and the salient questions of our day. His book is not sentimental. It is a hard-hitting treatment of the ideology that drives much of the current debate about matters LGBT. His argument is compelling, and his summary of Church teaching, drawing as it does on Scripture, the Church Fathers, Magisterial Teaching, and the witness of the Saints, is rich and deep. Simply put, his book offers important answers from Scripture and Tradition to the culture’s press for acceptance and celebration of all things LGBT. It also provides an answer to Fr. Martin from the perspective of the Church.
Dan and Joseph, like the Courage/EnCourage International apostolate of which they are members, like the Catechism, like the Scriptures, embrace the beautiful vision of human sexuality offered us by the Lord through the Church. Is it a difficult teaching? Of course it is. But it’s not the only one. As we read last Sunday, Peter, thinking with the Church, got it right. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”
A few months back, when I first heard that Fr. Martin had been invited to gave a talk at the World Meeting of Families, I, like many priests and lay faithful, was disheartened. And angry. That’s because he simply does not think with the Church. I had long-suspected, as many have, that Fr. Martin has been propped up by gay-agenda promoting bishops and cardinals. Archbishop Viganò’s recent allegations help makes sense of why and how that might have happened. (May the truth all come out.)
Prior to the news about McCarrick, Pennsylvania, and the release of Viganò’s “testimony,” the question I found myself repeatedly asking was “What’s next?” I had concerns about the World Meeting of Families, of course, and it seemed clear that the upcoming Synod on Youth could easily be manipulated to make the Church’s teaching more “palatable” to the youth. Sadly, over the past few years, it has often seemed that the “innovators” had the wind at their backs.
Today, however, precisely because of the scandal we are suffering, the winds have changed. Jesus, who told us never to fear, is truly at work, exposing lies, secrets, and actions of shepherds who have “shepherded themselves on their sheep.” My prayer is that the Barque of Peter will, indeed, be righted once again and travel safely in the winds of the Spirit. May all our shepherds, from highest to the lowest, do what every good Jesuit commits himself to do: Think with the Church!