PHILADELPHIA — In the wake of Jesuit Father James Martin’s speaking engagement Tuesday at a Catholic university in Philadelphia, the archbishop of Philadelphia urged caution about the priest’s message, especially regarding the possibility that Catholic teaching on sexuality might change.
“Father Martin has sought in a dedicated way to accompany and support people with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria,” Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote in a Sept. 19 column published on his archdiocesan website. “Many of his efforts have been laudable, and we need to join him in stressing the dignity of persons in such situations.”
“At the same time, a pattern of ambiguity in his teachings tends to undermine his stated aims, alienating people from the very support they need for authentic human flourishing. Due to the confusion caused by his statements and activities regarding same-sex related (LGBT) issues, I find it necessary to emphasize that Father Martin does not speak with authority on behalf of the Church, and to caution the faithful about some of his claims,” Archbishop Chaput added.
Father 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. He speaks frequently on issues pertaining to homosexuality and Catholicism. He spoke Sept. 17 at Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s University.
Archbishop Chaput’s column raised his concern that “Father Martin — no doubt unintentionally — inspires hope that the Church’s teachings on human sexuality can be changed.”
“In his book, Building A Bridge, he writes: ‘For a teaching to be really authoritative it is expected that it will be received by the people of God. ... From what I can tell, in the LGBT community, the teaching that LGBT people must be celibate their entire lives ... has not been received.’ One might easily, and falsely, infer from such language that the Church’s teaching on sexual intimacy lacks binding authority for same-sex attracted Catholics,” Archbishop Chaput wrote.
The archbishop credited Father Martin for the priest’s insistence that he has never directly challenged Catholic teaching.
“But what is implied or omitted often speaks as loudly as what is actually stated, and in the current climate, incomplete truths do, in fact, present a challenge to faithful Catholic belief. When people hear that ‘the Church welcomes gay people’ or needs to be more ‘inclusive and welcoming’ without also hearing the conditions of an authentically Christian life set for all persons by Jesus Christ and his Church — namely, living a life of chastity — they can easily misunderstand the nature of Christian conversion and discipleship,” Archbishop Chaput noted.
“For this reason, Catholic teaching always requires more than polite affirmation or pro forma agreement, particularly from those who comment publicly on matters of doctrine,” the archbishop added. “Faithful Catholics who are same-sex attracted need support and encouragement in the virtue of chastity. They deserve to hear — as all people do — the truth about human sexuality spoken clearly and confidently. Anything less lacks both mercy and justice.”
Archbishop Chaput’s column also addressed other concerns about Father Martin’s work.
Among those concerns is the priest’s collaboration with New Ways Ministry, an advocacy group that has been criticized by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for “ambiguities and errors” in its teaching. The organization gave Martin its 2016 Bridge Building Award.
The archbishop noted that “Father Martin suggests that same-sex attracted people and those with gender dysphoria should be labeled according to their attraction and dysphoria, calling for use of the phrase ‘LGBT Catholic’ in Church documents and language. But while the Church does teach that the body is integral to human identity, our sexual appetites do not define who we are.”
“If we are primarily defined by our sexual attractions, then, in order to be fulfilled, it would follow that we must identify with and act on our attractions. Anything calling for the denial or restraint of our sexual appetites would logically amount to repression and even cruelty. This is the opposite of the Gospel’s clear teaching that our identity is found in Jesus Christ, created in the image and likeness of God and called to be sons and daughters of God,” the archbishop said.
The archbishop also regretted that Father Martin “suggests that Catholic teaching on same-sex attraction as ‘objectively disordered’ (for example, in CCC 2358) is cruel and should be modified.”
That suggestion “misrepresents Catholic belief,” Archbishop Chaput said.
“It’s worth recalling here that the Catechism also describes lust, extra-marital relations, and contracepted sex (2351), masturbation (2352), and even non-sexual sins such as lying and calumny (1753), as intrinsically ‘disordered.’ The suggestion that the wisdom of the Church, rooted in the Word of God and centuries of human experience, is somehow cruel or misguided does grave harm to her mission. Families have been destroyed because of this misperception, and Father Martin regrettably contributes ambiguity to issues that demand a liberating biblical clarity,” the archbishop added.
For his part, Father Martin tweeted a response to Archbishop Chaput’s column Thursday morning. The tweets took the form of a letter to the archbishop.
“I think my main response is that it’s difficult to respond to critiques that I am ‘implying’ things, when I am assiduous in my writings and talks about not challenging church teaching,” he wrote.
Father Martin noted that the lecture he offered at St. Joseph’s University “is the same lecture that I presented at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin last year, the text of which was vetted and approved beforehand by the Vatican.”
Acknowledging that same-sex relations and same-sex unions are impermissible and immoral, Father Martin tweeted that “LGBT Catholics have heard this repeatedly. Indeed, often that is the only thing that they hear from their church.”
“What I am trying to do instead is encourage Catholics to see LGBT people as more than just sexual beings, to see them in their totality, much as Jesus saw people on the margins, people who were also seen as ‘other’ in his time,” the priest wrote.
During his World Meeting of Families lecture, which Father Martin said was the same lecture he gave in Philadelphia this week, the priest criticized “homophobic pastors” and said that “LGBT people bring special gifts to the Church, like any group.”
Archbishop Chaput’s column, which explained that he was unable to prevent Father Martin from appearing at a Catholic college overseen by a religious order (the Society of Jesus), also criticized “bitter personal attacks” against the priest from other Catholics.
“As I’ve said previously,” he said, “such attacks are inexcusable and unChristian.” Nevertheless, the archbishop said, he had a responsibility to raise objections to some aspects of Father Martin’s message.
“Supporters of Father Martin’s efforts will note, correctly, that several Church leaders have endorsed his work,” Archbishop Chaput concluded. “Those Churchmen are responsible for their words — as I am for mine, as pastor of the Church in Philadelphia. And specifically in that role as pastor, I want to extend the CDF’s caution to all the faithful of the Church in Philadelphia, regarding the ambiguity about same-sex related issues found throughout the statements and activities of Father James Martin.”