Father James Martin: When L.G.B.T. issues are pro-life issues

A woman signs the wall outside the Pulse nightclub while visiting the memorial in Orlando, Fla., June 12, the one year anniversary of the mass shooting. (CNS photo/Scott Audette, Reuters) 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics often feel ignored, marginalized, excluded, insulted and even persecuted by their own church. Since my book Building a Bridge was published a year ago, I have heard stories from L.G.B.T. Catholics who have been treated like dirt by priests and other pastoral workers in their church.

A few months ago, for example, a woman who worked in a hospice in a large city in the Western United States asked me if I knew any “compassionate priests” in her archdiocese. She explained that the local parish priest assigned to provide pastoral care to the hospice was refusing to anoint a dying man—because he was gay.

A lesbian woman, who was not in any sort of romantic or sexual relationship, said that her pastor in a Midwestern small town told her that “your kind” were not welcome in the parish and that while he did not “wish you any harm,” she should look for another parish.

L.G.B.T. Catholics often feel ignored, marginalized, excluded, insulted and even persecuted by their own church.

Most poignantly, an autistic man in his 30s called to tell me that a pastoral associate at his parish  told him that he could no longer receive Communion. The man was not sexually active or involved in any relationship; he simply had “come out” to his family and friends, and only recently. The pastoral associate, calling it a “scandal,” said that the man could receive Communion “privately” in the rectory if he kept away from the rest of the parishioners. 

The church needs to listen to the experiences of L.G.B.T. Catholics in order to better treat them with “respect, sensitivity and compassion,” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church asks. Before we can minister to these Catholics, we need to listen.

When we listen, we will hear not only of their experiences but also their calls for help and prayer, especially in times and places of persecution. And when our L.G.B.T. siblings are persecuted in any way, church leaders are called to stand with them.

Catholics are often surprised to learn that in many parts of the world today, L.G.B.T. persons are liable to experience appalling incidents of prejudice, violence and murder.

Before the church can minister to L.G.B.T. Catholics, we need to listen.

In some countries, a person can be jailed or even executed for being gay or having same-sex relations. Indeed, as of this writing, engaging in same-sex relations is a crime in over 70 countries, and simply being gay or bisexual is punishable by death in 13 countries.

In other words, these are questions of life and death. L.G.B.T. issues in many parts of our world are, therefore, “pro-life issues.”

In these countries, the institutional church has an absolute moral duty to stand up for its persecuted and endangered brothers and sisters, publicly. Sadly, this does not often happen, and in fact, a few church leaders have supported these discriminatory laws. But embedded in Catholic teaching is a call to stand with our L.G.B.T. brothers, sisters and siblings. The Catechism, in its discussion on homosexuality, says “every sign of unjust discrimination” must be avoided (No. 2358). More fundamentally, helping, defending and caring for someone who is being subjected to any sort of physical violence is surely part of compassion. It is part of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

In some countries, a person can be jailed or even executed for being gay or having same-sex relations.

Closer to home, what would it mean for the church in the United States to say, when needed, “It is wrong to treat the L.G.B.T. community like this”? Catholic leaders regularly publish statements—as they should—defending the unborn, refugees and migrants, the poor, the homeless, the aged. This is one way to stand with people: by voicing your support for them, even taking heat for them.

But where are statements specifically in support of L.G.B.T. people? When I ask this, some people say, “You can’t compare what refugees face with what L.G.B.T. people face.” As someone who worked with refugees in East Africa for two years, I know that is often the case. But it is also important not to ignore the disproportionately high rates of suicide among L.G.B.T. youths and the fact that L.G.B.T. people are the victims of proportionally more hate crimes than any other minority group in this country.

Here are some statistics from The Trevor Project, an organization that helps prevent teen L.G.B.T. suicides, which remind us again that these are often matters of life and death. They are matters of protecting, defending and respecting the lives of L.G.B.T. people.

What would it mean for the church to say, when needed, “It is wrong to treat the L.G.B.T. community like this”?

  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared with straight youth.
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth who come from “highly rejecting” families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as L.G.B.T. peers who have reported no or low levels of family rejection.
  • In a national study, 40 percent of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt, and 92 percent of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before age 25.

The bullying of L.G.B.T. students in schools is another evil that should be squarely opposed, particularly given the Catholic Church’s long history and extensive experience with running elementary, middle and high schools.

Two years ago, in the wake of the murder of 49 people at Pulse, an Orlando nightclub that catered to a gay crowd, many were discouraged that more bishops did not immediately signal their support for the L.G.B.T. community. A few did. But imagine if the attacks had been on, God forbid, a Methodist church. Many bishops would have said, “We stand with our Methodist brothers and sisters.”

Why didn’t more Catholic leaders express sorrow for or show compassion to our L.G.B.T. brothers and sisters in Orlando?

Why didn’t more Catholic leaders express sorrow for or show compassion to our L.G.B.T. brothers and sisters in Orlando? To me, it seemed a failure of compassion, a failure to experience with and a failure to suffer with.

Orlando invites us to reflect on the implications of these failures. As James F. Keenan, S.J., a professor of moral theology at Boston College, pointed out to our class in graduate school, more often than not Jesus did not critique people who were weak but trying. Rather, Jesus criticized people who were strong but not bothering. For example, the rich man who does not bother to help the poor man by his door (Lk 16:19–31), the religious leader who does not bother to consider that someone needs healing on a Sabbath (Lk 13:10-16) and the Pharisee who does not bother to offer Jesus a welcome (Lk 7:36-45).

For Jesus, sin was, as Father Keenan said, “a failure to bother to love.” In Orlando, many in the church simply failed to bother to love.

How often do all of us fail to bother in this way?

How often do we fail to see the importance of the lives of L.G.B.T. people?

How often do we sin this way?

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Robert Lewis
2 years 5 months ago

Mr. Anderson, you must speak only for yourself and other bisexuals. Every single person I know who is gay says that he had no choice in the matter, and discovered his same-sex-attraction in early childhood. However, you are, of course correct that an "act" is always a choice.

Tim O'Leary
2 years 5 months ago

Mike - You are courageous for speaking out against the ideology of helplessness for people with SSA. Your witness is especially powerful in these discussions. Thank you. I am very disappointed that Fr. Martin does not recognize the essential role of Courage.

Michael Barberi
2 years 5 months ago

Chastity is a virtue that means using our sexuality well in our thoughts, desires and deeds. It means not having any sexual activities before marriage or after marriage with a person who is not your spouse. Chastity-temperance is a virtue of well-ordered desires for pleasures. Within a marriage it means the moderation and proper use of sexual desires based on right reason. When spouses mutually engage in sexual activities and put the pleasure of their sexual acts at the service of love and fidelity, such acts are both chaste and temperate. This means that spouses are not having any impure thoughts of other men or women as this would be a from of adultery as Jesus said.

Keep in mind that according to Tradition (e.g., Clement of Alexandra), chastity in a marriage meant no sexual intercourse if the spouses had no intention of procreation. Sexual intercourse was immoral if it was not for procreation. Compare this today with the fact that couples who practice NFP have the same intention as those who take the pill. In other words, both intend by their thoughts and actions to ensure that their sexual intercourse is not procreative. In fact, NFP can be practiced for a long time or 'a lifetime' for good reasons (Pius XII). Also in the past, sexual intercourse during menstruation was immoral, sex during pregnancy was forbidden and sex with the woman on top was immoral. These teachings were taught as truth for centuries but were eventually abandoned or reformed. So were the teachings on slavery, usury and the freedom of religion.

For heterosexuals (I am heterosexual), any thought of homosexual acts go against every fiber of my nature.. I cannot even think of any reason when I would voluntarily commit such an act. However, for most of those born with a same-sex orientation/inclination, homosexual acts are normal and natural and heterosexual acts are not. While this does not justify homosexual acts, there is the question about sexual acts between same sex individuals within an irregular marriage. While we can debate the doctrine and teachings about homosexuality, especially the Biblical passages mentioned often, the Church has not found any way to treat gay and lesbian individuals with respect, compassion and sensitivity. This is a major problem. In truth they feel unwelcome, disenfranchised and discriminated against.

Fr. Martin's book and his article here is a clarion call for the institutional Church to enter into frequent, honest and serious dialogue with the gay and lesbian community, especially those Catholics who want to come back to the Church, and love and serve God and neighbor. All of us should stop the hatred, negative descriptions and stone throwing. Let's try to practice respect, sensitivity and compassion.

Robert Lewis
2 years 5 months ago

I agree with you about the necessity of treating those who disagree with us with "respect, sensitivity and compassion," but it's very hard to do this when one is exchanging thoughts and arguments with folks who--at least in the institutional Church--have the upper hand, and use it to demean, castigate, demonize and scapegoat. I'm tired of it, and I won't submit to it any longer. I'm determined to use my rather considerable theological scholarship, as well as my great knowledge of Church history, to rebut their benighted views.

Tim O'Leary
2 years 5 months ago

Mr. Lewis - I have been reading your posts for a long time now, and I never heard you showing "respect, sensitivity and compassion," so I find it hard to see that you are tired of doing so. It is hard to see that those who follow the long-established and unchanging teaching of the Church have any kind of "upper hand" today. They are pilloried for their views, labeled homophobic for any objection to the gay ideology and told that their idea of natural law has been disproved by new science, which is never actually presented, just assumed. This has been your tactic for a very long time. You would make much more progress if you abandoned that language and superior attitude and just presented your ideas as among equals, rather than from a position of superiority. Your "rather considerable theological scholarship'" as well as your "great knowledge of Church history" should at least permit you to know you are deviating dramatically from what the Church teaches and has always taught, far further from the truth than Fr. Martin or even the most liberal Church leader.

Robert Lewis
2 years 5 months ago

I know that you won't read Alan Bray's book, "The Friend," but, if you wish to continue to talk to me, I suggest that you read this article very, very carefully: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v27/n11/james-davidson/mr-and-mr-and-mrs-and-mrs
If you do, you will see that my suggestion of a binding rite enacted between two members of the same sex--presumed always to be a chaste union, and sanctified by the Catholic and Anglican Churches with reception of the Eucharist in church--is traditional, and ancient in the Western Christian Churches.
If you won't read this article, I am going to proceed, from now on, to ignore everything you write here, and I'd appreciate it if you stop communicating with me on line.
Your supposition that I am not a devout and extremely committed Catholic Christian is incorrect and defamatory, and, for your information, I am a STRONG supporter of Courage, so long as the local Courage chapter is a PUBLIC ministry.

Tim O'Leary
2 years 5 months ago

Mr. Lewis – You linked this article for me over a year ago. It is 7000 words long and leaves a lot unclear. Apparently, none of these relationships were sexual, but were intense platonic brotherly friendships, with oaths of fealty not uncommon in the feudal world. Still, very strange (one English guy, a Lollard, starves himself to death after his friend dies, another Irish pair drink each others’ blood, and nearly die from bloodloss – “a bloody divorce (divortium)” – there is also the effeminate Edward II & Piers Gaveston, not sure what went on there, etc.). Here is another positive review - from the Spectator that probably agree with your critique of the modern gay ideology: "This involves rescuing same-sex relationships of the past from the over-amicable embrace of sex historians, who have smeared them with the colouring of modern homosexuality. ."

But, none of this is anything like the Christian marriage of the Scriptures (see Jesus’s words in Mt 19), or the Catechism or in Canon Law. Do you have an official Papal bull on this or something in a catechism? Otherwise, it is very speculative, really weird and not really applicable to the gay ideology of today, which is all about legitimizing same-sex sexual thoughts and activity. Yes, this is a pet project of yours. But, you differ from orthodox teaching in many other places (see here https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2018/04/19/was-pope-francis-right-tell-child-his-atheist-dad-may-be-heaven#comment-98764, or the Gerald Manley Hopkins stories), and generally pillory anyone who disagrees with you, showering invectives at them (homophobes, islamaphobes, etc., - see here in case you forget https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/11/14/does-catholic-play-belong-stonewall-inn). If you don't wish to be challenged, then don't post.

Robert Lewis
2 years 5 months ago

OK, one last try with you, to try to get you to develop a heart and expand your blinkered, homophobic horizon (and, then, I DO swear I'll never respond to anything you write again, and I'll never write back to you, even if you write back to me):

I suggest that you do what I've done, on several occasions: ATTEND a meeting of a chapter of "Courage". You'll be quite surprised, I suspect, by the attendance of a certain contingent. There's a reason that they don't publish the places and dates and whereabouts of their meetings at a good many of their chapters' websites. When you go, you will discover that in any big city one quarter to half of the members are ostensibly "straight" men who are married and who are "struggling with same-sex desire." They "struggle" against it because they interpret it as leading, inevitably, to what you label "sodomy" and to some sort of sexual congress with other men, and neglect to EMBRACE it as their God-given "cross," which might challenge them to develop virtuous and emotionally satisfying relationships with their brothers, straight and gay. What is left unattended to, in these exchanges, is the plight of the women a good many of these men are married to or have as "girlfriends". Oh, I know, there is the joy FOR THE MEN of being fathers and "good husbands," but it is obvious that the women must be living in an emotionally impoverished and sexually unfulfilling relationship with these "struggling" men, whose romantic responses have been, from early childhood, passionate exclusively in the direction of their fellow men.
I think the lack of concern for the women with whose lives these men have become entangled is callous and essentially misogynistic, and this is clearly indicated because these women's issues and their feelings are definitely given only passing consideration in the dialogues of a Courage meeting.
Christ Himself said that there are "eunuchs born," and I take that to mean that there are, always have been, and always will be men (and women) who are not ordered toward procreation, because they simply cannot make themselves be attracted physically toward the opposite sex, even if they CAN function normally in procreative activity. John Henry Newman with Ambrose St. John and Gerard Manley Hopkins with Robert Bridges or Digby Mackworth Dolben are examples. W.H. Auden said, in an aside in an essay, that the demise of the monastic movement in Europe deprived many men and women of a valuable and positive emotional outlet and support. Many Courage ministers tacitly accept the need of men who cannot emotionally "connect" with women, by encouraging them to form a sort of "romantic friendship" with straight men who can show them love without any temptation of sexual embrace, and, increasingly, that is becoming possible for Catholic Christian men and women who wish to remain loyal to the Church and her teachings regarding human sexuality, and at the same time have their essential affective nature accepted and affirmed, and this is precisely because, in our culture, the thoroughly natural and God-given homosexual orientation is no longer considered shameful or "intrinsically disordered."
All I am trying to do, with my proposal of a form of public Christian affirmation of the importance for the same-sex-attracted of emotionally (not sexually) satisfying bonds, is to "normalize" their relationships in virtuous, chaste and character-strengthening relationships. I know that this is possible, and I wish to encourage my gay friends to recognize that possibility.

Tim O'Leary
2 years 5 months ago

Promises, promises, Robert. Your response would have been less antagonistic and more "christian" if you didn't use the slurs about homophobia, mysogyny and the absence of certain bodily organs, but a half-loaf is some progress. Interesting that you have attended several Courage meetings. I have not. I wish Courage well, and do not endorse your judgmental characterizations of those who participate. Whatever their individual stories, the fact that they are trying to live out the Lord's wishes is all that matters for me to admire them.

On a philosophical or theological level, I disagree with you that innate tendencies ("God-given") are ipso facto natural or good (I have many innate tendencies that I do not believe are good), and I believe that long-standing Church teaching concurs with that and has not changed. Some people use secular scientific experts (the "science is settled" or "as any reputable... will agree" argument) to try to negate Catholic teaching. That is a flawed approach (and usually means the science is anything but settled), and a bad attempt to disqualify long-held and well established scientific and philosophical understanding, without the need of presenting any credible substantiating evidence.

Robert Lewis
2 years 5 months ago

https://youtu.be/4Khn_z9FPmU

https://youtu.be/PnMrY7ihQPk

Tim O'Leary
2 years 5 months ago

Desire of the Everlasting Hills - https://everlastinghills.org/movie/
Daniel Mattson: Why I Don't Call Myself Gay - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExHFAXqulDI
Joseph Sciambra's Testimony - https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=16&v=MuDG2k6uAZs

Michael Barberi
2 years 5 months ago

Robert
I also have an extensive education in moral theology and I am a published author. I could have argued legitimate alternative interpretations of scripture about homosexuality and same-sex irregular marriages/unions. I had done this before in America Magazine but I wanted to put forth an argument in support of Fr. Martin's article and also of his book and not get into a very long side issue that always seems to become unproductive. I will argue my point only in the right time and place and this article, in my opinion, was not the venue for a deeper discussion on this subject.

When it comes to homosexuals being treated with respect, sensitivity and compassion the discourse always ends in a polarization between those who support the Church's teaching and those who believe that this teaching should be reformed for good philosophical and theological reasons. It is a complex subject. Hence, I choose the points I want to make. I agree with you that those who do not want to change the teaching often use hateful phrases, are close minded and frequently arrogant. Many times those who disagree with your point of view are more respectful and put forth their argument for further comment. Keep in mind that those who disagree with any change in this teaching often think the hierarchy is always protected from evil and always speaks the truth. Of course, history tells us differently. More importantly, there are many prominent moral theologians that do contributory scholarship on same-sex unions and irregular marriages and respectfully challenge the institutional Church to open their minds and hearts to a better understanding of truth.

My suggestion is this: stay focused and move your argument forward in a respectful manner even when some bloggers call you all sorts of names and accuse you of heresy and the like. Remember, the Holy Spirit leads us all in truth in both agreement and disagreement. If we give up, we lose the fight to bring more light to this most complicated subject.

Robert Lewis
2 years 5 months ago

I will TRY to follow your suggestion, but it is sometimes very difficult to maintain composure when faced with so much hatred, when you know so many decent gay folks like the other fellow who just commented to you.

JOHN GRONDELSKI
2 years 5 months ago

From my days of studying moral theology at Fordham, I have always been amazed at how closely Jesuit concerns about "sins" tend to track the secular culture's current obsessions -- and how little they tend to track the larger Church's.

Anthony Noble
2 years 5 months ago

The Catholic Church needs to listen to LGBT Catholics as you mentioned and it needs to begin to do no harm as the Catechism acknowledges as well as the Pope. In addition to stopping anti-gay discrimination, the Church needs to stop firing LGBT workers and to preach to families to love and try to understand their LGBT family members, especially their sons and daughters. It is a grave sin to throw out an adolescent from the home and subject him or her to homelessness with the high rates of sexual abuse and exploitation along with drug use and disease. What judgment would God place upon employers denying a livelihood to a person and especially a parent who throws their child onto dangerous streets?

Mark Langlois
2 years 5 months ago

Thank you, Father Martin for such a comprehensive and caring testimony!

Mark Langlois
2 years 5 months ago

Why aren’t priests who refuse members of the LBGQITA community not barred from ministry? They have understood nothing of Christ’s message of love and compassion and as such are a blight on the Church!

Mark Langlois
2 years 5 months ago

Why aren’t priests who refuse members of the LBGQITA community not barred from ministry? They have understood nothing of Christ’s message of love and compassion and as such are a blight on the Church!

Tim O'Leary
2 years 5 months ago

Mark - I agree that love and compassion should be offered to all who come to the Church with good will, even those who oppose the teachings of the Church, provided they are not disrupting the Mass or being a witness against the Way of Jesus. However, I am not sure the priests and bishops are being fairly characterized above. We shouldn't be judgmental. As a general point, I think it very important that all people be offered the full Gospel and not some diluted version. Homosexuals deserve to know the truth, just as much as heterosexuals. It would be a great crime to withhold the Gospel that can save all repentant sinners (like me) and instead offer a diluted version that saves no one.

Gay Timothy O'Dreary
2 years 5 months ago

Tim you are a living flame to 1 Corinhians 13:1

“If I speak in human.....I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”

You Tim need to take a break from the internet. Enough of your obnoxious gong and clashing cymbal! We cant see Christ in you because all you show us is you, You, YOU!!! We want to see Christ increase, and Tim decrease.

Please disconnect from your obvious addiction to these forums and/or stop showing your Personality Disorder(s)

Sheesh

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