Not too long ago—soon after he had published his book Building a Bridge—James Martin, S.J. approached the Catholic Answers booth at an event that, in a rare convergence, we were both attending.
“Catholic Answers, eh?” he said with a smile. “I’m more interested in Catholic questions.”
Not many bridges were built that day. But I thought back to that brief encounter last week when Fr. Martin tweeted that “many LGBT Catholics still feel unwelcome in their own church,” but this is changing, and as proof he offered the story of a man and “his husband” who had been made to feel at home in a Washington, D.C. parish.
Fr. Martin, of course, has become a “rock star” through his advocacy for Catholics with same-sex attraction (SSA). Since his appointment by Pope Francis as a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, his media platform has only grown. And despite repeatedly seeming to approach or even transgress the limits of Catholic moral teaching on sexual matters, he has steadfastly maintained that he does not challenge that teaching. None other than Robert George, with whom he struck up an unlikely friendship in 2017, has gone to bat for him publicly, stating that when Fr. Martin says he’s faithful, we should take him at his word.
Assuming people’s sincerity is a good and noble thing. But Fr. Martin makes it hard sometimes, and this latest tweet, in which he refers approvingly to a same-sex “marriage” and parenting arrangement, is just another example to throw on the pile. This leaves many observers with a massive disconnect between his assertions.
But maybe some simple followup will fix that. Maybe we can get to the bottom of all this by engaging Fr. Martin’s own interest in… Catholic questions. In that spirit, I respectfully pose to Fr. Martin these four questions, along with an open invitation to make public his answers on Catholic.com or Catholic Answers Live.
1. Does God positively will that some people possess and act upon homosexual desires as their natural, correctly ordered sexuality?
Father, when you tweeted “Pride Month” greetings to your “LGBTQ friends,” urging them to be “proud” of their “God-given dignity” and “gifts” and their “place in the world,” did you mean to insinuate that homosexuality is a gift from God and thus something to embrace? Has God given them a gay nature? (You don’t say it in so many words, but it’s hard to think you’re ignorant of the subtext of the words you chose.) And you seem to suggest just that when you claim that such people are “born that way,” as you did this past June.
If this is the case, homosexual acts cannot be said to be immoral. In fact, prohibiting homosexual acts (as the Church does) would be immoral, because it would prevent people from being who God made them to be and doing what God wants them to do. Then it would make sense to advocate for the de-stigmatization of homosexuality and to encourage those with SSA to fully actualize their attractions as a lifestyle. This could explain your consistent support for Catholic gay ministries that affirm homosexual activity while ignoring or throwing shade on those that don’t. It would also provide context for your reference to homosexuality as “a loving act, a form of love… that I have to reverence.”
Do you believe this?
2. If you don’t believe this, aren’t you doing gay people a disservice?
If you think that homosexuality is not a nature given by God, does not have a sexual expression that is moral and ordered to a person’s happiness, then the only other option is that it is unnatural, that its sexual expressions are immoral, and that, however mixed with real friendship or real virtues it may be in any given situation, it’s ultimately ordered away from happiness.
In which case, doesn’t saying that gay people are born that way, and insisting on using the gay-affirmative language that people with SSA “use for themselves,” have the effect of affirming people in what will make them unhappy? To say nothing of leading them away from eternal life?
It’s one thing to promote general civility, to decry hatred toward people with SSA, to work for reconciliation between such people and their families and the Church. This is what you say you’re doing, and we all should support these efforts. But when you use affirmative language without any accompanying call to conversion and healing, won’t the result be that people will only feel affirmed? And if homosexuality is not natural, good, and God-given, isn’t that hurting them? What’s your answer?
3. Do you think it is possible for two persons of the same sex to be married?
The ancient and, until about five minutes ago, unanimous human belief has been that marriage is only possible between men and women. Not merely sacramental, mind you, and not merely “Church-sanctionable.” Marriage simply is what it is and not another thing: a union between a man and a woman. We can agree that this is manifestly Catholic teaching, right?
So when you refer to a man and “his husband” and their child; when you are chronically silent on the legal movements to redefine marriage and family despite your influential Catholic profile on the issue; when we do the math and realize that endorsing same-sex marriage is the only logical end point of endorsing homosexuality as God-given and natural—it’s only fair to wonder whether you assent to this teaching.
One way to square the circle, of course, is for you to say that you assent to Catholic teaching today that marriage is only between a man and a woman, but that’s not written in granite. Perhaps you would say this teaching is evolving and you’re just helping it get where it’s going. That would jibe with, for example, your stated wish to a gay man that “in ten years you will be able to kiss your partner… soon to be your husband” in church. Is that what you believe, Father?
4. When you say that you assent to Catholic teaching on homosexuality, which propositions do you have in mind?
Same basic question, only broader: Fr. Martin, when you claim that you assent to Catholic teaching on homosexuality, what are you specifically thinking of? Is it the full package: condemnation of homosexual acts as disordered and intrinsically immoral, affirmation that our sexual faculties are ordered toward marital love between a man and a woman, a basic biblical anthropology of sexual difference and complementarity, and so on?
Or do you have in mind a minimalist or cloudy Catholic sexual morality in which very little is actually unchangeable “Church teaching,” which would make assent pretty meaningless? This would make sense of your claim that “for a teaching to be really authoritative it is expected that it will be received by the people of God,” but that Catholic teaching on homosexuality hasn’t been “received” by the “LGBT community.” Is that it?
Or maybe you’re holding on to a mental reservation in which the “Church teaching” to which you claim assent is actually what you think Church teaching should be, or what you think it’s going to be—once the Church finally sheds all its old homophobic hangups. (In ten years?) You could be substituting your own internal idealized or future version of “Catholic teaching” for the conventional one and thus making your claim to assent “true”… in a sense.
Is that what you’re doing? Because when you say that you “will not challenge” Church teaching on homosexuality and even lay out that teaching in impressive detail, most people can figure out that this isn’t the same as saying you agree with it, that you endorse and promote it, and that you aren’t subtly—in ways that don’t rise to the level of a “challenge”—working to change it. So there’s a suspicion that you might be hiding your light under a bushel.
Here’s a chance to put the suspicion to rest (or confirm it). A chance to tell your many fans and foes alike what it is that you do believe and are trying to accomplish, and put an end to all the speculation and the strife. “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’” (Matt. 5:37).