Catholics React to Fr. James Martin’s Talk in Philly

 •  •  October 31, 2017   

Speaking engagement on Oct. 30 at oldest parish in Philadelphia

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PHILADELPHIA ( - Church Militant Resistance members showed up to pro-gay priest Fr. James Martin's Philadelphia talk, and were treated to the same themes, namely, his attempt to normalize homosexuality in the Church. Martin gave a speech Monday at Old St. Joseph's Church in Philadelphia — an event for which Abp. Charles Chaput chose to remain silent, in spite of requests that he issue a public warning against Fr. Martin's dissent. The parish is run by Jesuit priests — the same religious order to which Fr. Martin belongs.

The Jesuit celebrity priest was scheduled to speak about his recent book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity. By itself, Fr. Martin's book says nothing that specifically contradicts Catholic doctrine. However, Fr. Martin does make problematic and heterodox comments on social media and in speaking engagements.

A few Church Militant Resistance members attended Monday night's event. One of them spoke with us in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon and asked to remain anonymous.

Old St. Joseph's, our source explained, is situated in a Philadelphia neighborhood known as Society Hill. The area, he says, is very Left-leaning and staunchly "progressive." It has a strong LGBTQ subculture, earning it the nickname "gay-borhood."

"Father Martin was obviously very welcome into that community, into that parish, into that area," he observed.

He informed us that about 10 Resistance members and others prayed the Rosary outside the church building before the event. One group was stationed near the main entrance, while another was praying near the side entrance. They experienced a more positive reaction from attendees than expected, with one person whispering to the Resistance group, "I'm secretly with you."

Read our FAQ on Fr. James Martin

As the event began, Fr. Martin was introduced by Fr. Walter Modrys, a Jesuit priest stationed there at Old St. Joseph's. Father Modrys said that Philadelphia's Abp. Charles Chaput wanted him to summarize Church teaching on homosexuality before Martin's talk. Modrys remarked, "Church teaching is not news to most people. So why is that necessary on this particular occasion? Well, first to respect the Church's stance on the issue of homosexuality and related issues; second, to put that teaching into its context."

He noted with a grin and with laughter from the audience that Church teaching on homosexuality occupies only three of the 3,000 paragraphs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Father Modrys then read aloud the three paragraphs (2357–2359), adding his own comments. He characterizes the catechism's phrase "intrinsically disordered" as "harsh" and prone to misinterpretation unless read with the subsequent paragraph, calling for "respect, compassion and sensitivity."

Father Modrys also discussed Pope Francis' controversial apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. He claimed that the Pope affirms "the Church's opposition to equating same-sex marriage with traditional marriage between a man and a woman." He also said that the Holy Father condemns "unjust discrimination" and encourages "accompaniment" and "recognizing the good in every single person."

He asked rhetorically whether his speech fulfilled Abp. Chaput's request that he articulate Church teaching. "There may be different answers among us to those questions," he acknowledged. "Your faith might be different from mine."

He told his audience that if they are looking for "accompaniment," this was the place for them: "Know that you are always welcome here at Old St. Joseph's."

Father Modrys then invited Fr. Martin to the podium. Martin described his years of friendship with Fr. Modrys; when Martin was still a temporary deacon in priestly formation, it was Fr. Modrys who taught him how to say Mass. Martin then introduced his mother, who was sitting in the pews among the audience.

Father James Martin's at Old St. Joseph's in Philadelphia

Father Martin began, "The relationship between the LGBT Catholic community and the Catholic Church in this country has been at times combative and contentious and at times warm and welcoming."

"Much of the tension in this complicated relationship results from, I think, a lack of communication and a good deal of mistrust between LGBT Catholics and the hierarchy. What is needed, then, is a bridge between that community and the Church."

Martin then clarified that when he talks about "the Church," he is referring to "the institutional Church." By "institutional Church," Fr. Martin elucidated, he means not only Vatican offices, the pope, cardinals, bishops and priests, but also lay leaders such as principals at Catholic schools.

He argued, "Respect means at the very least acknowledging that the LGBT Catholic community exists."

Father Martin believes that this means using modern pop-culture terms like "LGBT" and "gay." He called on bishops to adopt these terms:

Last year after the Mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando called the Pulse nightclub, while some bishops — Catholic bishops — expressed their support for the LGBT community, many of them said — unfortunately most of them said — nothing. And even fewer still mentioned the words "LGBT" or "gay." To me, that reveals a certain failure to acknowledge the existence of that community.

"Respect," Fr. Martin said, involves "calling people what they want to be called."

He exhorted, "So let us finally lay to rest phrases like 'afflicted with same-sex attraction,' which no LGBT person I have ever met uses." The latter comment caused laughter and a few cheers.

Whether or not Fr. Martin has met face-to-face with folks who call themselves "afflicted with same-sex attraction," he certainly has interacted with them in social media.

For example, there is Joseph Sciambra, a Catholic speaker who talks about his former experiences in the gay lifestyle. In a video from September, Sciambra said, "While James Martin has repeatedly condemned those outside and within the Church for marginalizing the LGBT community, he does the same thing when he marginalizes and mocks ex-gays."

At one point during Monday's talk, Fr. Martin spoke about Catholic organizations hiring and firing in accord with their Catholic identity. He ranted about his discontent with such policies:

Church organizations have the authority to require their employees to adhere to Church teachings. The problem is that this authority is applied in a highly selective way. Almost all the firings of recent years have focused on LGBT members; specifically, the firings are related to those employees who have entered into same-sex marriage — which is against Church teaching. ... But, if adherence to Church teaching is going to be a litmus test for employment in Catholic institutions, ... then parishes and dioceses have to be consistent. ... So, do we fire people who are divorced and remarried without an annulment? That's against Church teaching. Do we fire divorced people? That's against the Gospels, that's [against] Jesus, that's a pretty important Church teaching. Do we fire women who bear children out of wedlock or men who father children out of wedlock? Do we fire all employees who are living together before getting married? Do we fire people who are using birth control? All these things are against Church teaching, [but] we do not. ... [W]e're so used to focusing on the LGBT person.

Martin continued extending his "consistency" argument, claiming Catholic organizations would have to fire any non-Catholic employees. He also alleges that they would have to fire anyone who acts contrary to the exhortations of the Gospel: "To be consistent, we should fire people who do not help the poor. We should fire people who are unforgiving. We should fire people who are not loving."

Father Martin tried to address possible objections: "Now a number of people have said, 'That's not a public scandal. Same-sex marriage is a public scandal.' If you don't think that being cruel [while] working for a Church organization is a scandal, then I don't understand you. ... That is a public scandal."

He concluded by saying that removing open homosexuals from Catholic faith-based organizations is "a sign of unjust discrimination."

Fr. Martin complained that the American bishops speak so rarely about "LGBT" issues, saying:

Catholic leaders regularly publish statements that they should defend the unborn, refugees and migrants, the poor, the homeless, the aging. You know, the bishops have done a tremendous job in the past year or so about refugees and migrants. I mean, tremendous! ... They have put themselves on the border, they have welcomed refugees and migrants. It's been amazing! ... But where are the statements in support of our LGBT brothers and sisters?

At a later point in the talk, Fr. Martin talked about how Jesus healed the servant of the Roman centurion in chapter 8 of the Gospel of Matthew. Instead of rejecting the centurion for being a pagan, "He welcomes him, He listens to him, He encounters him, He accompanies him."

Martin reflected, "Look how Jesus deals with someone who was on the margins."

Father Martin encouraged his audience to be forgiving to Church leaders who come across as stubborn and "homophobic." He also decried "the institutional Church" for marginalizing people. He lectured, "The onus is on the institutional Church. I want to be very clear. The onus is on the institutional Church because it is the institutional Church that has made LGBT Catholics feel marginalized, not the other way around. So, the heavy lifting should be done by Church leaders."

The onus is on the institutional Church.

During the question and answer session following his talk, Fr. Martin announced, "Also — I think I can say this publicly — Archbishop Chaput invited me to the seminary to speak," but he was unable to fit it into his schedule. Instead, he thinks he will speak "next year" at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

Father Martin explained why some priests and religious who identify as LGBT are sometimes forbidden by their superiors from "coming out." Their bishops or religious superiors are usually concerned the will become a "target."

The CM Resistance member remarked that Fr. Martin, by saying this, "all but came out as gay" himself.

Martin added that some priests and religious may just be naturally shy, or even scared of "coming out." He blamed this sense of fear on "these terrible websites, these sort of self-appointed orthodoxy police that could give anybody faults."

The Jesuit celebrity priest lamented that he tries to help LGBT people "within the bounds of Church teaching," but still gets backlash from Catholics. He went on:

Church Militant, LifeSiteNews, Father Z, I mean it was like every day that they would come to these talks, and they would have someone here, and they would take notes. And the next day, there it would be! And it was weird, it was a little weird every day being called "heretic" which is insane! It's just insane by groups that themselves have very little legitimacy. ... Many of these groups are not official Catholic groups ... and yet I, a priest in good standing who has the official approval of my religious superior and endorsement from cardinals, am responding to critiques that I am a heretic!

The notion that Church Militant lacks "legitimacy" is contrary to the facts of Canon Law (esp. Canon 299). Church Militant is a private lay apostolate and therefore does not need official recognition from Church authorities, and has the canonical right to exist and operate. It is also an apostolate in good standing with the Church, staffed by Catholics in good standing with the Church.

Father Martin's claim about legitimacy is especially rich considering his prominent support of New Ways Ministry, a pro-LGBT group that has been repeatedly condemned by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as well as the U.S. bishops' conference owing to its rejection of Church teachings on marriage and sexuality.

Read our FAQ: On Claims of "Disobedience"

Father Martin called supposed "far-right" groups like Church Militant "homophobic," "mean" and "insane." He asked rhetorically: "So why would I concern myself with people who are homophobic, mean or nuts?"

He admits "not all people who critique the book are like that." He has found some "thoughtful, intelligent, interesting critiques." But Fr. Martin refuses to engage with people he deems "homophobic, mean and crazy."

In anticipation of Monday's talk, Church Militant sought comment from the Philadelphia archdiocese, but our two media inquiries received no response.

Father Martin's speaking engagement was announced in the Old St. Joseph's weekly bulletin as early as October 8.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia

The archdiocese of Philadelphia is led by Abp. Charles Chaput. In a First Things article published September 21, Abp. Chaput offered a mild critique of Fr. Martin for failing to preach on chastity but then slammed faithful Catholic organizations like Church Militant that draw attention to Fr. Martin's treachery. On September 23, Church Militant shared a response to Abp. Chaput's criticism, written by Timothy J. Gordon.

In spite of Church Militant and faithful Catholics' repeated calls for the archbishop either to request cancellation of the event or issue a public warning against Fr. Martin's controversial and dissident claims, Abp. Chaput chose to remain silent.


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