Father James Martin answers 5 common questions about ‘Building a Bridge’

Building a Bridge, a book about L.G.B.T. Catholics and their church, has generated a good deal of conversation, commentary and critique—in print, online and in parish settings. In the interest of continuing the conversation, I would like to respond to the most common questions and critiques.

1. Why didn’t you mention church teaching on same-sex relations and same-sex marriage?

The short answer is that I did mention those teachings in my book. But I think the real question is: Why didn’t I mention them more?

That was intentional. The church’s stance on these matters is clear: Sexual relations between people of the same sex are impermissible, as is same-sex marriage. But these are teachings that every single L.G.B.T. Catholic knows and have been told about over and over. In fact, sometimes these prohibitions are the only thing that Catholics know about L.G.B.T. issues.

At the same time, the L.G.B.T. community’s stance on those teachings is clear: Same-sex relations are part and parcel of their lives. (I am leaving out the small portion of the L.G.B.T. community that thinks otherwise.) Theologically speaking, you could say that these teachings have not been “received” by the L.G.B.T. community, to whom they were directed. So I intentionally did not focus on those topics, since not only are those teachings well known, but they are also areas on which the two sides are too far apart. I preferred to focus on areas of possible commonality.

2. Why are you so intent on using words like “gay” and “L.G.B.T.”?

Another common critique concerns the invitation to move away from terms like “same-sex attraction” in favor of terms the L.G.B.T. community uses. The critique is that terms like “gay” and “L.G.B.T.” identify people solely by their orientations. And Catholics are, as one reviewer said, “greater than their inclinations.”

I believe that, too. So do many L.G.B.T. people, who are more than their orientations or identities. But we do have to settle on terminology for people who have felt excluded based on their sexual orientation or identity. Why not use the words that the group uses to describe itself? To do otherwise is to arrogate to oneself the right to name someone else. But groups have a right to name themselves.

L.G.B.T. people are more than their orientations or identities.

There is an irony here: The most common alternative is “same-sex attraction.” But this antiquated term does the same thing that “L.G.B.T.” and “gay” are critiqued for doing—identifying a person only by their sexual urges. In fact, for good measure, “same-sex attraction” includes the word “sex.” By that yardstick, it is hardly an improvement. I always wonder if the resistance to “gay” and “L.G.B.T.” is because these are the terms preferred by L.G.B.T. people, so using them is a form of “caving.” Nonetheless, if one persists in using a term that a group finds outdated or offensive it is going to be hard to dialogue at all. Besides, if Pope Francis can say “gay” so can the rest of us.

3. When you talk about “conversion” in your book what do you mean?

In many Gospel stories, we see Jesus welcoming people, who then feel moved to conversion. One example is the story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho, who would also have been considered the chief sinner. As Jesus passes through Jericho, Zacchaeus climbs a tree to get a better look. And Jesus, rather than condemning him, offers to come to his house, a sign of welcome. In return, Zacchaeus promises to repay anyone he has defrauded. For Jesus here, it is community first, conversion second.

If Pope Francis can say “gay” so can the rest of us.

That is a great story for L.G.B.T. Catholics who feel like they are on the margins, like Zacchaeus did. It is also a great story for church officials because it reminds us to welcome first. But what kind of conversion are L.G.B.T. Catholics called to? The kind that we are all called to. I do not mean to single them out as sinful, either, because we are all sinners. Rather, it is to point out that they often feel as marginalized as Zacchaeus did. And that an encounter with Jesus can move us to a conversion of minds and hearts. (And, by the way, I am not talking about “conversion therapy” either.) Overall, we should lead with welcome, as Jesus did.

4. How can you ask the L.G.B.T. Catholics to treat the church with “respect, compassion and sensitivity”?

I should have been clearer about this in the book. The onus for bridge building is on the institutional church—clergy and church officials, including lay people. Because it is the institutional church that has marginalized the L.G.B.T. community, not the other way around. But we are all called to be respectful of one another, including L.G.B.T. Catholics in the relationship with the hierarchy. Why? Because we are all Christians.

Yes, it can be a tough pill for L.G.B.T. people who have been ignored, insulted and excluded in the church. But this is coming from Jesus, not from me. Even if you still think that some church leaders are your enemies, you are asked to love them and pray for them. Surely that love includes respect. It is hard but it is Christian.

5. What do you expect to happen next?

The former Jesuit superior general Pedro Arrupe was once asked, “Where is the Society of Jesus going?” His responded, “I have no idea!” The Holy Spirit is in charge. I cannot predict where this call for bridge building will go. But I have some ideas where it could go: listening sessions with L.G.B.T. Catholics; bishops no longer firing L.G.B.T. people; pastors including their stories and struggles in homilies. Mainly, it would mean all levels of church leadership helping them to feel welcome.

One reviewer wrote that I am “excessively optimistic.” Well, guilty as charged. I am excessively optimistic because I believe in the Holy Spirit. Let the conversation continue.

K. Miller
1 week 6 days ago

The question I'd like to see answered (and that I have seen asked repeatedly in Catholic media) is this - Why does Fr. Martin refuse to acknowledge (let alone offer some praise) for the members of the Courage Apostolate? Here are thousands of gay men and women who recognize, respect, and attempt to adhere to the Church's teachings - yet Fr. Martin marginalizes these men and women the same way he complains about the Church doing to the audience he is courting in "Building A Bridge".

Henry George
1 week 3 days ago

If what K. Miller says is a simple fact, why, Fr. Martin, S.J., do you not respond to his question ?
If it is a valid point, explain why you do not, and if it is not a valid point why you do support Courage Apostolate ?

Royce Boon
1 week 6 days ago

I do not understand the reasoning that states: these people have been marginalized by the church. To my mind, someone who states or even celebrates the fact that their sexual practices define them, in contradiction to church doctrine, have marginalized themselves. Surely it is not logical to expect full participation in an organization in which you refuse to accept some of their doctrine.

Patrick Byrne
1 week 4 days ago

You are not being fair to the good Father. He wrote that homosexuality is "part and parcel of their lives". It is you who seeks to define them by it.

You seem to trust the catechism on this issue. Why? Where in the teachings of Christ do you find evidence that Christ considered homosexual marriage (and sex within that marriage) as sinful?

M. M.
1 week 4 days ago

The Catechism explains, with no confrontation.

Patrick Byrne
1 week 4 days ago

Based on your words, I assume you trust the catechism on the issue. That seems fair enough, though I would like to hear your own interpretation of the Bible on the matter.

Henry George
1 week 3 days ago

Patrick,
You know the Bible speaks of a man and a woman coming together to become spouses in Marriage.
Nowhere does the Bible speak of two people of the same Gender becoming spouses and forming a marriage.

Patrick Byrne
1 week 3 days ago

Hi Henry,
Indeed, though I don't consider that as being dispositive: absence of evidence does not count as evidence for absence. In the absence of any guidance I defer to the 'does no harm' standard. Also, I don't think we need to go through the list of things that the Bible says is permissible, but which no one in their right mind would defend today.
Pat

Arnoldo Miranda
5 days 13 hours ago

"...absence of evidence does not count as evidence for absence..." Yes, the Jewish culture of that time celebrated these type of relationships. They were highly accepted. Ooops.... sarcasm intended. Of course, there is no evidence because it's obvious to anybody who reads history accurately that a man, a woman, and children were the standard by which the Jewish culture celebrated life. There is no substitute and all the modern rationalizations in support of something that definitely wasn't accepted are delusional and in fact tendentious. This is why you can't distinguish between what were dietary laws and moral laws. This type of modern thinking is what has wrecked all the Christian faiths that have sold their souls to the zeitgest.

James Haraldson
15 hours 18 min ago

Jesus clearly gave magisterial teaching authority to His Church. Common sense and common sanity also makes obvious the fact that homosexuality is a mental illness that should not be indulged.

Gerard Altermatt
1 week 6 days ago

These are softball questions of Fr. Martin's choosing. I wish he had the fortitude to answer the REAL questions that people are asking regarding his book. They might look something like this:
1. Why didn’t you mention whether YOU agree or not with church teaching on same-sex relations and same-sex marriage?
2.Regardless of how people desire to be named, which is the term that more accurately describes the condition and is more aligned to the Church's teaching : “gay” or "person suffering from same sex attraction"?
3. When you talk about "conversion", do you mean what Zacchaeus demonstrated: a firm resolve to commit the sin no more?
4. How can the Church meet your expectations and perceptions of “respect, compassion and sensitivity” towards the LGBT community while actually remaining faithful to the truth?
5. Setting aside your pollyannaism, what do you REALLY expect to happen next, given that you have not genuinely challenged the LGBT community to conversion in the same way that you would challenge any sinner to conversion and that you have basically undermined what the Catholic Church has always and everywhere taught regarding the disordered nature of same-sex attraction?

Patrick Byrne
1 week 4 days ago

While I don't presume to know Fr. Martin's opinions or motivations, I also don't think his aim is to promote one view or another but rather to spur conversation. Occam's razor leads me to conclude that he would rather see the church's position (i.e. the catechism) change on this issue.

I will turn the question back to you: where in the teachings of Christ do you find evidence that Christ considered homosexual marriage as sinful?

Robert Lewis
1 week 3 days ago

That bit about "same sex attraction" being "disordered" really IS the problem, because all modern evidence, scientific, anthropological and historical, is pointing to its NOT being. However, what may be considered "disordered" from the perspective of orthodox (not Protestant individualistic or liberal secularist) Christian anthropology is governance by unlimited desire--which is, in Christian moral terms, using another person's body purely for physical pleasure. Refraining from doing so, even in the context of the connubial relationship, is what we call "chastity." One does not have to be celibate to be chaste, if one is heterosexual, according to Christian theology of marriage, because what characterizes the marital relationship is self-sacrifice for the other. The challenge for the Church now is to VALIDATE gay love by explaining to homosexuals, in the most compelling way possible, how refraining from genital contact might be, in many if not most circumstances, the highest expression of their love for each other. But if that's to be done effectively, the Church would have to publicly, in front of the shocked eyes of the majority, embrace the notion that there might be a special charism for gay people, encompassing specific devotional practices and ministries--and even a Church-sanctified "rite of friendship" that assumes chaste relations. I think all of this is necessary, if homosexuality is to cease being such a stumbling block to the faith of modern youth, and it can't happen fast enough. There is nothing in Sacred Scripture, or in genuine Catholic orthodoxy to prevent it--only thr traditional sexism and homophobia inherited from the Semitic origins of the faith. (And, as I have argued here before, to the horror of the Catholic Fundamentalists who read my interpretation of the healing of the centurion's slave, when Christ was handed the perfect opportunity to condemn the Romans' and the Greeks' cultural approval of homosexual license with slaves, He refrained from doing so--probably to the scandalized horror of the listening Pharisees or Saduccees, who would have known quite well what rights Roman masters had over their slaves.)

Henry George
1 week 3 days ago

Robert,

I have read your argument that the Centurion must have had relations with the slave and find it un-convincing.
I have asked scholars of the Classics and they find it unconvincing.

Saint Paul did not pass up the opportunity to warn of "homosexual licences" - why is that ?

Robert Lewis
1 week 3 days ago

Mr. George, I once again must fault your reading skills; I think you would not be a very good student in one of my college preparatory courses: I never wrote that the centurion "must have had" sexual relations with his slave. I wrote that the onlookers would have ASSUMED that he did, because they would have known that that was the norm, by LAW and custom in the Roman empire. ALL classicists agree with that, because it is an established fact. Additionally, all scholars of Greek know that the translation of "servant" for the Greek word that means something like "young minion" is inaccurate. My contention is that the Jews witnessing the miracle of the healing of the centurion's slave boy would have considered it highly irregular--even scandalous--for the Savior to have refrained from saying "go and sin no more" to a Roman who would have considered sexual relations with his young slave to be entirely normal.

Henry George
1 week 5 days ago

Fr. Martin,
Why do you not answer the comments and questions that people have or are you like Pope Francis - above answering "dubia".

You use forgiveness but really you mean acceptance.
You want the Church to accept these people from where they tell you they are, and not to say that there is anything immoral or "wrong" with what they do.

And so the teachings of the Church are incorrect and you, the finest moral theologian since Aquinas, are correct.

Perhaps, but very difficult to discern.

Michael Barberi
1 week 5 days ago

Anyone who chooses to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence for God, I applaud and respect that person and his/her decision. However, let's get real here. Lifetime sexual abstinence is a rare voluntary choice that a person makes among other choices such as marriage. However, for people born with an innate sexual inclination to people of the same sex they do not have a 'choice' between marriage and sexual abstinence. There is no such licit 'choice' according to the Catholic Church.

Permit me some leeway here to explain. Celibacy or lifetime sexual abstinence is a gift from God given to a few individuals, not to a large segment of the population. For example, only about 1% of the worldwide Catholic population choose to be priests and and nuns who practice celibacy. On the other hand, about 2% of the worldwide population are born with an innate same-gender inclination. They are not all given the gift to practice a lifetime of sexual abstinence. Like most heterosexuals, most homosexuals want to marry someone they love in a permanent, faithful and loving relationship with all the responsibilities and obligations of a heterosexual marriage. Some homosexual couples that marry (e.g., civilly or in a non-Catholic Christian Church) adopt children; some have children by in vitro (lesbian couples); some lesbian couples choose to rescue a frozen embryo giving it life and love; while some gay and lesbian couples merely choose no children (as some heterosexual couples do)..

Must all people born with a same-gender orientation suffer the burden of lifetime sexual abstinence for "heroic virtue" because the hierarchy asserts that lifetime sexual abstinence for them is God's will and the only way to their salvation? Is it impossible that the pastoral application of this teaching cannot be developed? Witness the fact that Amoris Laetitia has demonstrated that there is a difference between a doctrine and the application of doctrine, or the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Today some divorced and remarriage Catholics can receive the Eucharist under certain conditions. This was considered 'impossible' ten years ago even though many moral theologians, priests and bishops historically believed that some divorced and remarried couples in circumstances deserved a second chance.

To most of us who are heterosexual, a homosexual act is something that we cringe at because it goes against our very 'nature'. However, recognize that homosexuals cringe at heterosexual acts because they go against their very 'nature'. I agree that everyone is called to be chaste. However, a heterosexual can choose marriage but a homosexual can only choose celibacy. In other words, homosexuals do not have the 'choice' of marriage where sexual relations are morally permissible. The choice of a lifetime of sexual abstinence is imposed on homosexuals by authority. However, in order for lifetime sexual abstinence to work it must be 'voluntarily chosen' and not forced upon people by authority. While some may say that God will give all or most gay and lesbian persons the gift to practice lifetime sexual abstinence, such an assertion is not substantiated.

For those who want to argue that this innate inclination that one is born with is akin to inclinations to murder, stealing, pedophilia, lying, etc., please save me from a lengthy counter-argument.

Many gay and lesbians strive to love God and neighbor and want to be part of a Church that welcomes them. So far, the Catholic Church has not found a way to treat LGBT people with respect, dignity and compassion. I hope they will eventually find a pastoral way for their salvation without the requirement of a lifetime of sexual abstinence. If anyone wants to read some recent contributory scholarship on this subject, read the Sexual Person by Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler.

Robert Lewis
1 week 3 days ago

Michael, I am pro-gay, and I am entirely in favour of civil unions for gay folks. I am also in favour of ritually blessed pledges of mutual fidelity for gay folks IN CHURCHES, accompanied by pledges to strive for chastity (not celibacy), but what I am not in favour of is a requirement that the Catholic and Apostolic Church extend to gay folk its sacramental marriage--which is fundamentally and "intrinsically" different--more different than most "conservatives" writing here seem to comprehend--from the marriages of the Protestants. That is because, in every Catholic marriage there is a third person involved who is more important than the wedded couple; that person is Jesus Christ and He is as much being wedded as the two oppositely-sexed people are. I know this sounds bizarre to people of the majority culture, but it's classic marriage theology that was lost in the Protestant heretics' rebellion against orthodox Christian soteriology. Anyone who doubts what I'm arguing should take a look at Brad Pitre's book "Christ the Bridegroom"--and that includes Father Martin!

Michael Barberi
1 week 2 days ago

Robert,

My comments did not argue for the Catholic Church to change their doctrine on marriage but to change their pastoral theology or the application of this doctrine with respect gay and lesbian permanent, faithful and loving homosexual relationships (e.g., in a Civil, Christian Church, or Jewish Synagogue marriage). In particular, to change the absolute requirement that gay and lesbian persons who are in a permanent, loving and faithful relationship must live as brothers and sisters for their salvation. Nevertheless, I do believe that under certain conditions such a marriage is not absolutely immoral.

If you are open minded about being educated by some very excellent contemporary scholarship, I would read "Sexual Ethics" by Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler (Geogoertown University Press, 2012). There is a few chapters on this topic that you will find very enlightening. This does not mean you will fully agree with this scholarship but it will open your mind to possibilities. What I found very useful and educational was the Scripture texts that the Catholic Church often uses for its doctrine on marriage (e.g., regarding heterosexual relationships) and how both authors offered insightful commentary on the context and interpretation of these texts. Keep in mind that this issue is most complex and not all contributory scholarship is automatically 'the truth'. Salzman and Lawler make that clear but offer a convincing argument for a 'rethinking'. Hence, we must always continue to be open to new interpretations of Scripture and moral theology and strive to love Christ and neighbor as best we can. This means finding a reasonable, merciful and compassionate way to deal with homosexuals and their journey to Christ.

This is why I call for the Church to 'rethink' the imposed (and almost impossible) requirement that 'every' gay and lesbian person must submit to a life of sexual abstinence.....while at the same time calling any type of permanent, loving and faithful relationship taken before God (e.g., in a Civil, Christian Church, Jewish Synagogue) is sinful if such a relationship includes sexual relations.

If the Catholic Church can find a way to allow people who practice contraception for good reasons to receive the Eucharist without the requirement to confess this action in confession every week....AND if the Church can find a way to allow some divorced and remarried Catholics to receive the Eucharist, then they can find a way to change their practices regarding homosexuals and homosexual relationships.

Steve Thompson
6 days 9 hours ago

The Church has not found a way for contracepting or divorced and remarried Catholics to receive communion. It has been suggested that those that are truly ignorant of the fact that it is sinful for these to receive the sacraments are not sinning when they receive them, but thanks to the controversy over this issue it is nearly impossible that there are any that are still ignorant. And, the belief that the deposit of faith is open to change is a heresy, known as modernism. Truth cannot change.

M. M.
1 week 4 days ago

I think it's important for father to include the reasons LGBT are called to be chaste. I agree that most people know that the church calls for the chastity. But I think few can articulate the reasons. If we don't explain, we don't plant a mustard seed. Father, I feel like I'm planting a very small seed in you. We don't know what Jesus said to Zaccheus while visiting Zaccheus's house.

Andrew Eppink
1 week 3 days ago

"...if Pope Francis can say “gay” so can the rest of us."

'Gay' means happy, cheerful. 'Gay' in the homosexual context is Orwellian language perversion.
Martin is a typical lying lib, a politician, trying mightily to mainstream perverted behavior. It's not for nothing God has proscribed 'gay' behavior (nearly always freely chosen, nearly always.), which is utterly destructive of masculinity. In addition to which 'gay' men are some of the most depressed individuals imaginable, understandably so. Lying, politicking 'churchmen' like Martin, 'Pope' Francis and so many others are destroying the Church in their ongoing attempts to destroy its orthodoxy.

Andrew Eppink
1 week 3 days ago

The fact that "Love the sinner, hate the sin" has come to be regarded as trite, unintelligent personal piety by the overwhelmingly brilliant 'sophisticates' running Francis' 'church' has no bearing on its enduring truth.

Patrick Byrne
1 week 2 days ago

I don't regard it as trite or unintelligent. Rather, I think that those who condemn homosexuality are guilty of confirmation bias when they hold up those sections of the Bible which support their position while ignoring the laundry list of things which the Bible says are OK, but which no one in their right mind would promote today. I do not think I need to enumerate them here. That is all. When faced with such contradictions I defer to the 'does no harm on this Earth'' standard.

"Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

I'm willing to hear you out though. Christ never condemned homosexuality himself, one must turn to Paul for that or find it in the Old Testament. I cannot rationalize why Paul would argue so strenuously for something that Christ never bothered to mention, other than to suppose that he did it because he believed in the conventional wisdom of his day.

Steve Thompson
6 days 12 hours ago

It seems that you are saying that scripture is in error. Do you affirm or deny the dogma that all sacred Ttadition and scripture is the teaching of Christ? And, are you aware that the Church also teaches through sacred Tradition that if one *doubts* even a single teaching of Christ then that person has lost the gift of faith?

Sam Sawyer, S.J.
1 week 2 days ago

Dear Mr. Eppink — please take a look at our comments policy, and in particular point 4 on charity. Phrases like "typical lying lib" and "lying, politicking 'churchmen'" fall far short of the mark. Since this comment has already received a substantive reply, I will leave it in place, but ordinarily it would be removed. Please consider editing it to be more charitable about those with whom you disagree.

alan macdonald
1 week 2 days ago

Martin wants to shake up and confuse whatever you believe so you will swallow his view of the Gospel. This is an old socialist trick that works well on insecure people. I am amazed his Superior allows him to lead people astray.

Michael Barberi
6 days 18 hours ago

The thousand pound gorilla in the room is what the Church is expected of gay people. After all the talk about treating them with respect, compassion and sensitivity, gay people are expected to muster heroic virtue and live a life of sexual abstinence. No one is talking about this almost impossible requirement because the Church thinks this is very possible for most gay people. After all they can point to some (very few) gay people that do this. All they need to have is courage, a love of God and a belief that His grace is sufficient.

I will try to expand on what I already have said here.

The 1% of Catholics who become priests and nuns are choosing the priesthood and celibacy 'voluntarily' even though they have other choices like marriage. Their love of God is so strong that such a choice is something they know will be difficult but they believe it is worth it. I get it and applaud those that do this. However, after they become priests and determine that the priesthood is not for them, they can get a 'dispensation' leave the priesthood and choose marriage, if this is what they want to do. Hence, lifetime sexual abstinence is not a permanent requirement for them because they have choices.

On the other hand, 100% of those born homosexual have no choice between marriage and sexual abstinence. They must choose lifetime sexual abstinence, which is not a voluntary choice at all but a forced requirement imposed on them by authority. It does not matter if they want to marry another gay person because according to the Catholic Church they cannot. Unlike priests who choose celibacy voluntarily and can get a dispensation, lifetime sexual abstinence is a permanent requirement for their salvation. Gay people cannot get a dispensation nor can they enter a Catholic marriage or any other marriage that the Church recognizes as valid and licid.

Will the gay community believe the Church is treating them with respect, compassion and sensitivity when they will not change their pastoral practices? If not, how do we build that bridge?

Steve Thompson
6 days 12 hours ago

The appearance of dishonesty on Father Martin's part is becoming more concrete with every word he utters. For one thing I would like to know precisely what he means when he implies or states that the Church should "welcome" homosexuals. What does "welcome" *precisely* mean, Father Martin? Should the Church take an objective stance regarding homosexuality that is something other than aposolic doctrine? Does "welcome" mean that the Church should allow unrepentant homosexuals to participate in sacraments such as confession and/or the Holy Eucharist? What about Matrimony? Should unrepentant homosexuals be allowed to participate in Church ministry? Or, should they merely be allowed to attend mass, or something? Just what should change, Father? To be honest, I find the ambiguity of your position to be very dishonest. These questions have been asked many times by many Catholics but so far you seem to have been dodging them. Why is that Father?

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