Santa Fe Archbishop Weighs in on Papal Discussion of Fr. James Martin

Archbishop Wester said bishops raised to the pope questions about a recent speech Fr. Martin delivered to the presidents of Catholic universities, “and his work in general with the LGBT community.”

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VATICAN CITY — Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe has offered his recollections of a meeting between Pope Francis and the American Southwest, especially as regards a discussion during the meeting of Jesuit Fr. James Martin.

CNA reported Feb. 20 that Fr. Martin was discussed during a Feb. 10 meeting between the pope and bishops of the USCCB’s Region XIII, who were with the pope as part of their ad limina visit.

Fr. Martin, an American Jesuit, is well known for his writing and speaking on LGBT issues and the Church. His work has been a subject of controversy; it is criticized by some bishops and praised by others.

Archbishop Wester confirmed that Fr. Martin and his Sept. 30 visit to the pope had been discussed in the meeting, in a Feb. 21 commentary published by the National Catholic Reporter.

The Santa Fe archbishop, who was appointed to his post in 2015, is one of seven U.S. bishops to have endorsed “Building a Bridge,” Fr. Martin’s 2017 book on the Church and homosexuality.

“This courageous work is necessary reading for all who wish to build up the Christian community and to give witness to the Gospel message of inclusion,” Archbishop Wester wrote of Fr. Martin’s book.

In his Feb. 21 commentary, the archbishop indicated that a broader discussion of Fr. Martin had taken place than was previously reported. Archbishop Wester said bishops raised to the pope questions about a recent speech Fr. Martin delivered to the presidents of Catholic universities, “and his work in general with the LGBT community.”

The pope’s visit with Fr. Martin “was only mentioned in passing and was not the main point of the questions” bishops raised to the pope about Fr. Martin, Archbishop Wester wrote.

The archbishop did not indicate what he saw as the “main point” of the bishops’ questions, nor did he indicate the response of Pope Francis to questions raised about the issues he mentioned.

While it would be “difficult for anyone to remember with precision anything that was said” in such a lengthy meeting, Archbishop Wester said that he did not recall “the pope saying or implying that he was unhappy with Fr. Martin or his ministry.”

Regarding the pope’s visit with Fr. Martin, one bishop told CNA Feb. 20 that Pope Francis “made his displeasure clear” about the way the meeting was interpreted, and framed by some journalists.

Archbishop Wester’s commentary confirmed that report. The archbishop added that from his viewpoint, “it was not Fr. Martin the Pope was talking about, but the way others tried to use that encounter, one way or the other.”

The Archbishop of Santa Fe did take issue with a bishop who told CNA that “the Holy Father's disposition was very clear, he was most displeased about the whole subject of Fr. Martin and how their encounter had been used. He was very expressive, both his words and his face -  his anger was very clear, he felt he'd been used."

Speaking of that bishop’s description, Archbishop Wester said “the language subtlety, yet incorrectly, leads the reader to believe that Fr. Martin was the issue while in fact, it was how others used their meeting that was in play.” Archbishop Wester said he did not think the pope had been “angry, upset or annoyed.”

In his commentary, Archbishop Wester disagreed with reports from other bishops that the pope said Fr. Martin had received some correction about the way the Sept. 30 visit was framed.

"Not at all true from my vantage point," Archbishop Wester said.

Archbishop Wester conceded that there was some discussion of raising issues with Fr. Martin's superiors, though he was not specific about what was said.

“I vaguely remember some mention of people in leadership trying to clarify any misunderstandings about his ministry,” the archbishop wrote. Archbishop Wester said he thought that reference had to do with an article Fr. Martin had written in America Magazine, and not with the pope's meeting with Fr. Martin, although he did not indicate what factors led him to that conclusion.

Fr. Martin himself, after Archbishop Wester’s commentary was published, tweeted that he has “never heard anything negative from Jesuit superiors, nor was I ever given a ‘talking to.’”

The archbishop said he could not recall other aspects of reports about the meeting.

“I believe that I have an obligation to offer my perspective on those matters contained in the CNA article about Fr. Martin, since my understanding of the facts differs from what was reported anonymously,” Archbishop Wester concluded.

The bishops who spoke with CNA reported that Fr. Martin’s work in regards to the LGBT community was also discussed with the heads of numerous Vatican congregations, and that some officials expressed concern about aspects of the priest’s work. Archbishop Wester did not comment on those reports.

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