Cardinal Robert Sarah, a frequent defender of Catholicism’s teaching on human sexuality, rejected arguments presented in a book by a popular Jesuit writer that the church must be more respectful toward gay and lesbian Catholics. Instead, he said, Catholics have a duty to remind gays and lesbians that homosexual acts are sinful.
The cardinal, who serves as the Vatican’s chief liturgist, wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that L.G.B.T. people “are always good because they are children of God.” But, he continues, homosexuality is “at odds with human nature” and sexual relations between two people of the same gender are “gravely sinful and harmful to the well-being of those who partake in them.”
The essay directly addresses a new book by America editor-at-large James Martin, S.J., called Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.
The essay directly addresses a new book by America editor-at-large James Martin, S.J., called Building a Bridge.
In his book, which was approved by Jesuit authorities prior to publication and which received an endorsement from Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the head of the Vatican’s office on the family, Father Martin argues that church leaders and the L.G.B.T. community are often at odds because of a failure to respect one another. He does not challenge church teaching on homosexuality, but instead he calls for dialogue between the two sides.
In comments to America, Father Martin called Cardinal Sarah’s column “a step forward,” noting that the cardinal used the term “‘L.G.B.T.,’ which a few traditionalist Catholics reject.” (Part of Father Martin’s book urges church leaders to use the more colloquial phrase “gay and lesbian” rather than antiquated phrases preferred by some Catholics, such as “persons with same-sex attraction.”)
But, Father Martin said, the essay “misses a few important points,” including a failure to acknowledge “the immense suffering that L.G.B.T. Catholics have felt at the hands of their church.”
Father Martin called Cardinal Sarah’s column “a step forward.”
He also urged the cardinal to consider why the church’s teaching on homosexuality has been widely rejected by L.G.B.T. Catholics and their families.
“The only way that the church will be able to answer that question is by listening to them, which is part of the bridge building I am calling for in my book,” Father Martin said.
The cardinal describes Father Martin, who was appointed by Pope Francis to a Vatican communications commission earlier this year, as “one of the most outspoken critics of the church’s message with regards to sexuality,” a designation the Jesuit rejects.
“Cardinal Sarah’s op-ed inaccurately states that my book is critical of church teaching, which it is not. Nor am I,” Father Martin said. “Building a Bridge is not a book of moral theology nor a book on the sexual morality of L.G.B.T. people. It is an invitation to dialogue and to prayer, and I’m sure that Cardinal Sarah would agree on the importance of both.”
Father Martin: “Cardinal Sarah’s op-ed inaccurately states that my book is critical of church teaching, which it is not. Nor am I.”
Cardinal Sarah emerged from a contentious 2015 Vatican summit about family life as a defender of traditional Catholic morality, during which he lumped together homosexuality and Islamist terrorism as major threats to humanity.
He said that “gender ideology,” in which he includes homosexuality and radical Islam, were “two major threats to the family,” calling them “demonic” and saying they are both “destroyers of family.”
“What Nazi-Fascism and Communism were in the 20th century,” he continued, “Western homosexual and abortion ideologies and Islamic Fanaticism are today.”
In his essay, the cardinal said that Father Martin “is correct to argue that there should not be any double standard with regard to the virtue of chastity, which, challenging as it may be, is part of the good news of Jesus Christ for all Christians.”
“For the unmarried—no matter their attractions—faithful chastity requires abstention from sex,” he continued.
But he said the church must not soften its preaching when it comes to homosexuality.
“People who identify as members of the LGBT community are owed this truth in charity, especially from clergy who speak on behalf of the church about this complex and difficult topic,” he wrote. “To love someone as Christ loves us means to love that person in truth.”
Pope Francis has made several overtures to gay and lesbian Catholics, including perhaps his most famous utterance as pope—“Who am I to judge?”—when asked about gay priests in 2013. During his 2015 visit to the United States, he met with a former student and his partner during a private audience, and in 2016 he said he has provided pastoral care to gay people, even as pope.
For his part, Cardinal Sarah argues in his op-ed that the church should hold up the stories of Catholics with “same-sex inclinations” who refrain from sexual relations in order to live in accordance with church teaching.
“Their example deserves respect and attention, because they have much to teach all of us about how to better welcome and accompany our brothers and sisters in authentic pastoral charity,” he wrote.