Pope Francis received James Martin, S.J., in a 30-minute private audience in the papal library of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace this morning, Sept. 30, in what is seen here as a highly significant public statement of support and encouragement for this U.S. Jesuit. Father Martin is well known as a public speaker, author and for his pastoral ministry to L.G.B.T. people.
“I was very moved by my encounter with a real pastor,” a joy-filled Father Martin told America after the meeting. “I am most grateful to the Holy Father for his generosity in granting me an audience in the midst of his busy schedule,” he said.
Father Martin would not reveal what the pope said to him in the course of their conversation, except that “we both laughed several times.” He did say, however, that “among other things, I shared with Pope Francis the experiences of L.G.B.T. Catholics around the world, their joys and their hopes, their griefs and concerns. I also spoke about my own ministry to them and how they feel excluded.” He concluded, “I saw this audience as a sign of the Holy Father’s care for L.G.B.T. people.”
“I was very moved by my encounter with a real pastor,” a joy-filled Father Martin told America after the meeting.
It was their third meeting but their first substantial conversation. Significantly, it took place not as a private encounter in Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse where he lives, but in the pope’s private library where he meets heads of states and international organizations, cardinals and bishops conferences, leaders of the other Christian denominations and of the world’s major religions, as well as distinguished persons. By choosing to meet him in this place, Pope Francis was making a public statement. In some ways, the meeting was the message. They spoke to each other, seated at the table where the pope meets his high-level visitors. The encounter lasted 30 minutes and was conducted in English and Spanish with the assistance of a translator, who was the only other person present.
Father Martin, editor-at-large for America, first met Pope Francis after Mass at Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse where the pope lives, in 2016. At the time, Francis greeted him briefly. They met for the second time early last week when the pope greeted him along with other members of the plenary assembly of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communications. On that occasion, Francis, who had appointed the Jesuit as a consultant to the dicastery in 2017, invited Father Martin to meet him in a private audience. The audience took place today between 11:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. (Rome time).
A Vatican source (who asked not to be named) told America before the audience that Pope Francis had read Father Martin’s 2017 book Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. The same source said the pope was also aware that Father Martin had been heavily attacked by some people, including clerics, in the United States, sometimes viciously, for that book, as well as for his lectures and ministry to L.G.B.T. people.
Father Martin revealed that, at his request, Pope Francis wrote a personal note to his nephew, Matthew, who is taking the name Francis for his confirmation.