Fr. James Martin, SJ is leading Catholics astray, and he continues to do so with the permission, and sometimes the blessing, of Catholic bishops and other leaders in the Church.
This must stop.
Fr. Martin is recognized, wrongly in my estimation, as some kind of expert on LGBT Catholic issues and how the Church should be welcoming to LGBT Catholics. As such, he has been invited to speak at the upcoming World Meeting of Families taking place in Dublin, Ireland later this summer.
“The organizers have asked me to speak about how parishes can welcome L.G.B.T. Catholics, as well as their parents and families. So I hope to share ‘best practices’ from parishes that have successfully reached out to the L.G.B.T. Catholic community,” Father Martin told America.
Let’s be clear. Fr. Martin’s goal in his outreach to LGBT Catholics is not to assist, guide, challenge, or encourage LGBT Catholics to live faithfully the teaching of the Church on God’s will for sexual love. Rather, his hope is that the Church will eventually come to embrace the LGBT lifestyle as consistent with God’s will for sexual love.
How do I know this? Because Fr. Martin is a supporter of New Ways Ministry and was the recent recipient of their Building Bridges Award. Fr. Martin’s book, Building a Bridge, which purports to discuss how the Catholic Church and the LGBT community can find common ground, is an expansion of his speech at New Ways Ministry when he received their award. New Ways Ministry is an organization that has been condemned by the Church for rejecting God’s revelation on sexual love and championing the LGBT lifestyle and same-sex marriage.
You can read my critique of Fr. Martin’s book, Building a Bridge, here.
Another problem with Fr. Martin’s message is his insistence that a teaching of the Church is not “authoritative” unless it is “received” by the faithful. Fr. Martin basically claims that, “For a teaching to be really authoritative, it is expected that it will be received by the People of God, by the faithful.” Fr. Martin gives the example of the Assumption of Mary, believed by the faithful for centuries and officially declared a dogma of the Church by Pope Pius XII in 1950. Fr. Martin says that the people accept this teaching, they go to Mass on the Solemnity of the Assumption, for instance, testifying to their reception of the dogma. Fr. Martin claims that, in his conversations with LGBT people, the teaching that LGBT Catholics are expected to be committed to celibacy their entire lives “has not been received by the community to which it was largely directed.” Therefore, in Fr. Martin’s mind, the teaching is not authoritative.
Fr. Martin’s teaching here is problematic. First, it is by no means certain that Catholics manifest their reception of the dogma of the Assumption by going to Mass on the Solemnity of the Assumption. I would wager that many Catholics, perhaps most, have abandoned the practice of attending Mass on Holy Days. If the Solemnity of the Assumption were not a holy day of obligation in the United States, it’s safe to say that even the the great majority of the most faithful Catholics would not attend Mass on that day. Would this indicate a rejection of the teaching? What else might indicate a reception of the teaching? What if Catholics in 2018 receive the teaching of the Assumption and demonstrate their reception by attending Mass on the holy day, but Catholics in 2118 do not receive the teaching? Does the teaching then become no longer authoritative? Considering the abysmal state of catechesis the Church has suffered in resent decades and the number of Catholics, as a result, who are ignorant of or who flat out reject the dogma of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, one could conclude by Fr. Martin’s logic that this teaching, too, is no longer authoritative. Catholics have never embraced with enthusiasm the Church’s teaching on contraception. St. Jerome lamented as far back as the early fifth century how few Catholics followed the teaching. Does that meant that this teaching, too, lacks authority? At one point in the history of the Church, half the bishops in the world were Arians who denied the divinity of Christ. Did that teaching lack authority in the fourth century, but gain authority in the preceding centuries when Arianism died out? Were Fr. Martin’s teaching on the authority of Church teaching followed, Catholics would never have grounds for confidence in what the Church teaches.
It’s interesting that Fr. Martin introduces a bit of nuance on his message when he says that the teaching of the Church on homosexual sexual activity and marriage “has not been received by the community to which it was largely directed.” So, now the teaching of the Church is not only subject to the reception or rejection of the entire People of God, but to each segment of the People of God a particular teaching may be “largely directed.” So, perhaps the teaching is authoritative among heterosexual Catholics, but lacks authority among homosexual Catholics.
Oh, what a tangled web Fr. Martin weaves!
Now, there is a legitimate teaching of the Church on the importance of what is called the sensus fidei, or “the sense of the faith” in the life of the Church and the individual believer. This is spelled out in the 2014 document by the International Theological Commission entitled, “Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church.” The authentic teaching on the sensus fidei, however, bears little resemblance to Fr. Martin’s message. Or, perhaps Fr. Martin’s message bears just enough resemblance to the authoritative teaching to cause confusion among Catholics, and that is the whole point.
Why do bishops and other leaders of the Church tolerate Fr. James Martin, or even exalt him as an expert on certain matters impacting the Church, holding his teaching up for others as an example of how to apply the Church’s teaching to their lives? I suspect it’s because of their own lack of faith in the faith and morals of the Church. There has never been a shortage of bishops, priests, deacons, religious and lay leaders in the Church more interested in passing on their own “take” on matters Catholic than on promulgating and promoting the Church’s genuine teaching. This is tragic, but not new. Don’t be tempted, either, to hold to the delusion that it is only a problem on the so-called Catholic left. There are plenty of Catholics on the so-called right who are only too happy to inform everyone else what it means to be a “true” Catholic!
But, either way, it must stop. Bishops, especially, have a responsibility to teach the faith as the faith has been given to us by our Lord. Sometimes it’s not a happy thing to have to speak the truth when the truth is so unpopular, as Pope Francis pointed out when he recently affirmed the truth of marriage as being only between one man and one woman. To speak the truth with passion, and to power (which popular culture surely represents) requires courage and steadfastness. It also often requires sacrifice. The prophets and saints of past centuries were rarely embraced when they spoke the truth of God’s word to those in power, and often exiled or killed. In the West, the most we might suffer is loss of our job, if we work for a pastor, principle, or DRE who prefers his or her own teaching to that of the Church, being kicked off the pastoral council under accusation of being an ultra-montanist, or losing friends on Facebook. But, it is imperative that we study the faith so we can know the gospel that Jesus has revealed to us through the Church, that we speak the truth, that we teach the truth to our children, that we strive to live by the truth, and that we demand the same of our bishops and pastors. Also, regarding Fr. Martin and his many invitations to speak, to follow the advise of our Lord: If the false prophet is in the desert, don’t go to the desert! (Mt 24:26).
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.