By Sarah Pulliam Bailey, The Washington Post
The Rev. James Martin, a popular priest who published a book earlier this year encouraging a bridge between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church, has been disinvited from giving an address at Catholic University’s seminary.
Martin, who was planning to speak about Jesus and not about LGBT-related issues, has become the target of attacks from right-wing sites since his book “Building a Bridge” was published in June.
In a statement, the university’s seminary, Theological College, said that it had received negative feedback on social-media sites and that its rector, the Rev. Gerald McBrearity, made the decision to rescind Martin’s invitation to speak in October. “In no way does this decision signal approval or agreement with the comments or accusations that the various social media sites have made over the recent weeks,” the statement said.
The seminary acted independently from the university, which hosted Martin last year.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis appointed Martin, who is editor at large at the Jesuit magazine America, as an adviser to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications. His book was endorsed by two cardinals and three bishops, the mark of more senior-level approval in the hierarchical church. But he also came under regular attacks from sites such as ChurchMilitant.com and LifeSiteNews.com, sites he believes are motivated by fear.
“Most of their critique is irrational and hateful and hysterical,” Martin said. “There’s nothing in [my book] that’s contrary to church teaching, despite what everyone might think.”
The decision exposes a rift between Catholics in the United States. Many have lauded the approach of Pope Francis, who has focused more on appointing pastoral bishops than enforcing strict theological boundaries, while many conservative U.S. bishops have resisted any expansion of gay rights.
Caught in the middle of this rift is Martin. His book did not address his own sexuality, but some right-wing sites have labeled him with derogatory terms such as “homosexualist.”
“My provincial asked me not to talk about my sexuality, and I’m OK with that,” said Martin, referring to his religious superior in the Jesuit religious order.
Many Catholic universities, such as the University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University, which are run by religious orders, regularly invite controversial speakers. But Catholic University has a special place of significance in the church because it is run directly by the U.S. bishops.
A statement from Catholic University said the seminary’s rescinding of the invitation does not reflect advice from the university’s leadership. “We regret the implication that Catholic University supported yesterday’s decision,” the statement says.
“The campaigns by various groups to paint Fr. Martin’s talk as controversial reflect the same pressure being applied by the left for universities to withdraw speaker invitations,” said John Garvey, president of Catholic University. “Universities and their related entities should be places for the free, civil exchange of ideas. Our culture is increasingly hostile to this idea. It is problematic that individuals and groups within our Church demonstrate this same inability to make distinctions and to exercise charity.”
Martin said this is the second cancellation of a talk due to the attacks. He said seminary leaders told him they received a storm of messages and people screaming at receptionists over the phone. Martin is still planning to give an address in Washington at Holy Trinity Church on Sept. 30.
The main critique from conservative leaders has been that his book does not emphasize Catholic Church teaching that LGBT people are to remain celibate. Martin has written publicly about his own celibacy in the past, but he said this book was focused on treating LBGT people with respect.
“If you’re giving a talk to married couples, you don’t talk about adultery. It’s only with the LGBT Catholic community that the issue of sex is commonly raised,” he said. “I wanted to find common ground.”
Martin wrote his book in response to the 2016 mass shooting at a nightclub popular among the gay community in Orlando that killed 49 people.
The author of many books, Martin has gained popularity in recent years, becoming one of the most popular priests on social media. In his book, he wrote that he was concerned by the silence from many important church leaders.
“The fact that only a few Catholic bishops acknowledged the LGBT community or even used the word gay at such a time showed that the LGBT community is still invisible in many quarters of the church,” Martin wrote in the book. “Even in tragedy its members are invisible.”
Another book about LGBT issues, titled “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace,” from another writer, came out about the same time as Martin’s book. The book also had endorsements from a different set of cardinals, perhaps illustrating a difference in opinion among Catholic leadership on how to approach LGBT matters.
Sites like Church Militant that have been critical of Martin and his book were on the far fringes of the faith until after the election of President Donald Trump, said Martin, who believes the election has energized these groups. The site’s founder, Michael Voris, has written about his past history of gay relationships, saying, “I was in a state of mortal sin, and had I died, I would have been damned.”