Cardinal Sarah offers critique of L.G.B.T. book, Father James Martin responds

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, is pictured at the Vatican in this Oct. 9, 2012, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

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.

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Anne Danielson
2 years 11 months ago

Every inclination towards sin is a disordered inclination.
Michael, your disagreement is first and foremost with Christ, The Second Person Of The Ordered Communion of Perfect Love, The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage.
Love is ordered to the inherent personal and relational Dignity of the persons existing in a relationship of Love, which is why a man is not called to Love his wife, in the same manner as he Loves his daughter, or his son, or his mother, or his father, or his friend. Every act of authentic Love will serve to complement and thus enhance the fullness of Love. Love does not divide, it multiplies, just as in The Loaves and Fishes.

Michael Barberi
2 years 11 months ago

Sorry Anne, but your accusation that my disagreement is with Christ is insulting.

Your comments are indicative of an extreme self-righteous and far-right attitude based on your proof texting that you think justify your point. I tried to have a respectful and civil conversation with you on this highly emotional and controversial topic. Unfortunately, it seems that anyone who disagrees with you and in particular a Church teaching, however respectful and scholarly, is simply wrong and going against Christ. Unfortunately, this is ridiculous and absurd and it does not justify any irresponsible accusations or your argument.

I hope you will reflect on your comments here as they are intellectually unpersuasive and this is being kind. This is my last comment to you.

Anne Danielson
2 years 11 months ago

Michael, The Church's teaching on the Sanctity of Marriage is part of The Deposit of Faith, which comes directly from Christ, The Word of God Made Flesh.

Why not tell those men and women who have developed a same-sex sexual attraction the truth? It is because we Love you, and respect your Dignity as a beloved son or daughter, that we cannot condone the engaging in or affirmation of any act, including any sexual act that demeans your inherent Dignity as a beloved son or daughter. The desire to engage in a demeaning act of any nature, does not change the nature of the act. We Love you, and because we Love you, we desire that you will always be treated with, and will always treat others with Dignity and respect in private as well as in public. We will not tolerate the engaging in or condoning of sexual behavior that does not reflect the upmost respect for the human person, because every beloved son or daughter is sacred in the Eyes of God.

Pray that those men and women who struggle with same-sex sexual attraction, will be able to see themselves as God sees them and Created them to be, young men and women, worthy of being treated with Dignity and respect in private as well as in public, and Pray that soon they may heal their wounds, as they develop healthy and Holy friendships and relationships that are grounded in authentic Love.

Joseph Jaglowicz
2 years 11 months ago

Anne, what's the status of your relationship with your gay relative?

Joseph Jaglowicz
2 years 11 months ago

I suspect we will not resolve this deep-rooted controversy in the church until Jesus tells us down the road that he was a celibate gay: gay because such was his natural sexual orientation, and celibate because, as Son of God, he had no reason to have sexual relations at all. In the meantime, the CCC uses atrocious language that is increasingly being rejected by western faithful who apparently know more about the subject that purportedly "celibate" theologians and hierarchs who do nothing but pontificate.

Robert Lewis
2 years 10 months ago

Pontiffs pontificate. That is what they do. Folks who don't pontificate, and who prefer, rather, to LISTEN to the Spirit, should abandon the company of pontiffs.

Mark Tamisiea
2 years 10 months ago

I am offended by James Martin's (and Michael's) grave disservice to anyone who is engaging in sexual mortal sin. In 1 Cor 5 St Paul's advisement is instructive out of a sincere concern for the salvation of the soul of the person who is in this dangerous position:

"For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment 4 in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.[a]

6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? 7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

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