Building a Bridge between the Church and LGBT communities
Fr. James Martin, S.J., comments on recent book
Author, speaker, and editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America Father James Martin, SJ participated in a live video conference held in DeBartolo Hall’s 450-seat auditorium on November 6. The event, a collaborative effort sponsored by Campus Ministry, the Gender Relations Center, and the Center for Social Concerns, featured a 45-minute talk by Fr. Martin on his recent book Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. A question-and-answer session, in which Fr. Martin responded to questions submitted to Campus Ministry prior to the event, followed.
After an introduction from Father Joe Corpora, CSC and a reading from Scripture, Fr. Martin plunged into the subject of his book. “We are here to talk about LGBT Catholics and their Church,” he began. “The relationship between LGBT Catholics and their Church has been at times contentious and combative, and at times warm and welcoming.” For the sake of clarity, Fr. Martin explained, “Church” would, throughout his talk, denote the institutional Church, including the hierarchy as well as any laypeople within the Church who have decision-making authority.
This tension, Fr. Martin continued, is the result of mistrust between LGBT Catholics and the institutional Church. The title of his book, therefore, arises from Fr. Martin’s call for a “bridge” between the groups to heal wounds and foster dialogue and respect. Although the book was intended to be an invitation to reflect on the nature of and potential for outreach on both sides, its primary focus, as well as the subject of the talk, was the Church’s outreach to the LGBT community.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Fr. Martin explained, instructs Catholics to treat members of the LGBT community with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (CCC 2358). The remainder of the talk was divided into an examination of each of these three terms from the Catechism and the possibilities for their application in the relationship between the Church and LGBT Catholics.
Respect, above all, means recognizing that the LGBT community exists, Fr. Martin insisted, and that members of this community are also members of the Church by virtue of their baptism. Drawing on the example of the 2016 shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, Fr. Martin revealed his grief at the lack of support for the LGBT community expressed by the hierarchy following the shooting. He compared this event to the immediate response of the bishops to the shooting that occurred on November 5 of this year at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. This “failure” of the Church to acknowledge the existence of the LGBT community after the Orlando shooting did not follow a “Christian model,” because, Fr. Martin said, “Jesus recognizes all people, especially those who are invisible to the larger community. He reaches out specifically to those on the margins. Catholics, therefore, following Jesus, have a responsibility to make everyone feel visible and valuable.”
Recognizing the existence of the LGBT community, Fr. Martin said, would also have pastoral implications. It would lead to outreach programs, ministries, retreats, and Masses. It would, ultimately, make LGBT people “feel welcomed and loved.” Furthermore, it would enable the Church to identify the unique gifts that LGBT Catholics offer, both as individuals and as a community. Father Martin observed that LGBT Catholics tend to be particularly compassionate, persevering, and forgiving because of their experiences on the margins. Such gifts build up the body of Christ in special ways.
Father Martin also advised that respect should be extended to the workplace, and he argued that although Church organizations have the right to require their employees to follow certain rules, this authority, in his opinion, “is applied in a highly selective way.” Eliciting laughs from his audience, Fr. Martin remarked, “If adherence to Church teaching is really that important, and is really a litmus test for employment, then we should fire employees who are not Catholic. So, therefore, we should fire all Protestants, because they don’t believe in Papal authority. Papal authority is Church teaching. We should fire all Unitarians; they don’t believe in the Trinity, right? We should fire all Jewish people, who don’t believe in Jesus Christ. That’s a fairly important Church teaching.”
Anticipating the objection that same-sex marriage is a public scandal, Fr. Martin contended that “being cruel,” which is also contrary to the Gospel, is “just as much of a scandal as anything like entering into a same-sex marriage.”
Applying the Catechism’s second category, compassion, would require the Church to learn to listen to and suffer with the LGBT community. Father Martin explained that it is important to speak to parents and families of LGBT people, and remarked that he had learned, through his encounters with the LGBT community, that ministry to LGBT people is ministry to a much broader spectrum of people which includes families and friends.
Father Martin also referred to examples of countries in which it is illegal to be gay, describing the matter as a “life issue.” Catholic leaders, he said, regularly publish statements defending other marginalized groups such as the unborn, migrants, and the elderly, “as they should,” but rarely does Fr. Martin see “statements in support of our LGBT brothers and sisters.” “It’s a life issue,” he insisted again.
Finally, Fr. Martin suggested that the Church foster a “culture of encounter and accompaniment” in order to act with sensitivity, the Catechism’s third term, toward LGBT Catholics. He recommended that Church leaders get to know LGBT people personally. “In all these things, Jesus is our model,” Fr. Martin concluded. “When Jesus encountered people on the margins, He saw not categories but individuals … For Jesus, there is no ‘other.’ There is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’”
In a statement to the Rover, Junior Daniel Witham commented, “Fr. Martin is right to call on the Church and the LGBT community to respect and value one another. Nevertheless, I feel he could have done more to explain what the Church actually teaches, especially the distinction between homosexual attractions and homosexual actions.”
Nicole O’Leary is a senior Theology and Italian major living in McGlinn Hall. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.