DUBLIN — Jesuit Fr. James Martin addressed Thursday more than 1,000 people at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin.
His Aug. 23 talk, “Showing Welcome and Respect in our Parishes for ‘LGBT’ People and their Families,” encouraged Catholics to “welcome LGBT persons and their families,” into parish life.
The priest said those with “homophobic” pastors, “either silently or overtly,” are “out of luck.”
Parishes, he said, should strive to listen to LGBT parishioners — “trust that the Holy Spirit will guide them in their formation as Christians and Catholics,” rather than “simply repeating Church teaching without considering their lived experience.”
Martin’s speech warned: “Don’t reduce LGBT people to the call to chastity we all share.”
“LGBT people are more than their sexual lives,” he said, “and if you talk about chastity with LGBT people, do it as much with straight people.”
Martin is the author of Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. The book drew praise from Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, and organizer of the World Meeting of Families.
However, critics say the book does not directly address Catholic teaching on celibacy and chastity or engage with Catholics who identify as LGBT while observing the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. The book was criticized by Cardinal Robert Sarah, Archbishop Charles Chaput, and other Church leaders.
New Ways Ministry, a dissenting Catholic group that has been the subject of warnings from the U.S. bishops and the Vatican for confusing Catholic teaching, awarded Fr. Martin in 2016 for having “helped to expand the dialogue on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church.”
Martin’s Dublin talk outlined six “fundamental insights” that he believes parishes should consider in order to better serve those Catholics who experience same-sex attraction.
He said that such Catholics are “as much as part of the Church as Pope Francis, the local bishop or the pastor;” that they did not choose their sexual orientation; that many have been treated as “lepers” by the Church and have high rates of suicide attempts and homelessness.
He added that “LGBT people bring special gifts to the Church, like any group,” saying that those with same-sex attraction have compassion for those who are marginalized, because they have experienced marginalization.
He last noted that Catholics who experience same-sex attraction long to know God; and that they are loved by God.
In light of those points, Martin suggested that Catholics examine their own attitudes toward LGBT people and their families to determine whether they harbor underlying feelings of discrimination.
He also said that parishes should acknowledge the LGBT community as part of a parish by mentioning them in homilies or in other presentations; and apologize to them if they have experienced harm from the church.
“You can apologize. It doesn’t solve everything, but it’s a start,” he said.
Martin challenged parishes to advocate for those with same-sex attraction, and to foster a culture of inclusivity.
“By excluding LGBT people, you are breaking up God’s family; you are tearing apart the Body of Christ,” he added.
“This is part of what it means to be a Christian: standing up for the marginalized, the persecuted, the beaten down. It’s shocking how little the Catholic Church has done this.”
The priest’s presence at the World Meeting of Families caused considerable controversy before he took the stage. Ahead of the talk, more than 16,000 people signed a petition calling for the Jesuit priest to be disinvited from the event.
There were also protests by LGBT groups outside of the complex where the World Meeting of Families is being held. Shortly after Martin spoke, about a dozen members of an LGBT group called the “Rainbow Choir” performed two songs — "Something Inside So Strong" and "We Are Family” — outside of the facility.
Jessica Webbley-O’Gorman, who was with the Rainbow Choir, told CNA that the choir decided to perform after LGBT groups were not permitted to participate in the World Meeting of Families.
Ursula Halligan, an Irish journalist who was one of the organizers of the protest, also questioned the absence of LGBT families from the event. Initially, promotional material for the World Meeting of Families included images of a same-sex couple. These images were later removed.
Prior to the event, the Irish government exerted pressure on the World Meeting of Families, with one government minister warning it should not express “intolerance” of LBGT groups or same-sex couples.
“There should be a welcome for all. And never again should public statements or remarks which seek to isolate certain families be tolerated,” said Katherine Zappone, the Irish Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, according to the Irish Times.
Cardinal Farrell responded by saying that the event would revitalize family life and would not exclude anyone.
“This encounter… is to promote the Christian concept of marriage, and the Catholic concept of marriage, and will focus on that. All people are invited; we don’t exclude anybody,” the cardinal said.