An Article Which Has Nothing to Do With Father James Martin

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Anthony Esolen is cross with Father James Martin.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why.

Esolen wrote a whole article about how cross he is for the aptly named Crisis magazine, and I still couldn’t tell you why he’s so upset, only that it’s interfered with his ability to write intelligible sentences. The article is called “Open Your Eyes Father Martin.” It’s missing a comma right off the bat, and that’s just a taste of the quality that follows. The article is accompanied by a stock photo of a set of rainbow-striped fingers setting fire to a snapshot of a man and woman with three children. If a family that small had walked into one of my homeschool group gatherings when I was growing up, we’d all have privately wondered if they were contracepting.

Instead of naming anything that Father Martin has said and then engaging in a debate with it, as one would expect from a college professor writing a magazine article, Esolen simply declares right off the bat that Father James G. Martin, S.J., is either a cruel or a foolish man. It does not seem to be the first. But if it is not that, it must be the second, because that alone can explain how a Catholic priest can live in the midst of massive and unprecedented family breakdown, and the chaos, loneliness, and alienation consequent upon it, and still wave the banner for the latest innovation in sexual confusion.” That’s how it starts. I thought that the bold letters in the article meant that there was a link you could click on to a relevant article, but there isn’t. There’s no mention in the article of Martin’s books or any remarks that Martin made, or even whom Father Martin is. Anyone coming to the article without a knowledge of Father James Martin would be completely bemused. I took a break midway through the article to read up on Father Martin, and I’m still bemused.

After Esolen’s initial denunciation of the priest, we get down to the real business of the article: gross sexual anecdotes related with a lurid delectation I can only describe as pornographic. None of these tales are to do with Father Martin; half of them aren’t even about LGBTQ people, whom I understand Father Martin is regularly attacked for respecting and whom I suppose to be the real boogeymen and boogeywomen Esolen is afraid of. Many of them contain credulity-straining details that suggest an entirely fictional origin. But these are supposed to make the case for why Father Martin is a cruel or foolish person, as if this is all his fault.

Esolen kicks off the bacchanal by fat-shaming a pregnant woman.

Fifteen years ago I was in a Boston hospital, lying on a bed in an out-patient ward where the sexes were not separated. In the next stall was a pudgy young woman, sniffling. When the nurse came round, she asked the girl whether she was sure she wanted to go through with the “procedure.” The girl said she was. For the record, the nurse asked why.

The reason was straightforward enough. She had a two year old at home whose father was nowhere to be found. The child she was carrying was begotten by another man, also not in the picture. She did not have the energy to take care of both. When the nurse asked if she had any way of getting home, she said her brother was going to come get her after work.

That was that, and the nurse left. The girl kept up the sniffling. You see, Father, what the god of this age hath wrought?

How could he tell the pregnant woman was pudgy? Was he peeking through the curtain at her? Is this really an appropriate time to get in a dig at a lady’s weight or mock her sniffles? I’ve never heard such a lack of compassion for a woman in dire straits. Also, unless Father Martin is the father of both of those children, he has nothing to do with this tragedy.

Esolen tells another story about a young man who was raised a devout Catholic but led into sin when he went off to college.

He fell in love with a girl, and one evening when they were on the floor doing things they should not have been doing, she surprised him with a trick from Sodom; and from that evening on, he lost any sense that the Church had something to say about that whole realm of human action.

Which trick from Sodom? Refusing to harbor strangers or anal rape? The only trick a woman from Sodom ever pulled, at least as far as the book of Genesis tells us, was date raping her father, but I don’t suppose that happened on the floor at college.

The affair went on, because he was in love, after all. His mind was clouded, he says, and he did things that years later still bring him intense shame. The results were predictable. Nervous days, fearing—fearing!—the natural result of what they were doing, while he, making foolish excuses, told himself that of course they would keep the child and get married.

Depending on which trick from Sodom she used, they may be perfectly safe from pregnancy. And this is also not a story about homosexuality or about Father Martin.

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