Clapback Comes for the Archbishop, Part One

Clapback Comes for the Archbishop, Part One September 23, 2019

Archbishop Charles Chaput’s recent column about Fr James Martin, and the latter’s reply, have been swirling through the online Catholisphere. Unlike their partisans, both are courteous—His Excellency goes out of his way to point out that the personal attacks many people have made against Fr Martin are not only ugly, but fundamentally unchristian, and the latter’s reply receives the former’s criticism with good grace.

I had heard some infuriating things about the Archbishop’s column; for instance, I’d been told he said (in substance) that the Church has been not only well-meaning but effective in making gay people welcome, and that those who don’t feel welcomed are simply prejudiced against her teaching. His column turned out, mercifully, to be a good deal more reasonable than that. I’m not completely happy about it, but, in order to contextualize what I dislike about it, I should discuss my feelings about Fr Martin a little bit first.

In fairness, I must first admit to something of a grudge against him because he is a Jesuit. I haven’t had bad experiences with Jesuits, understand, but I’ve never liked the ethos of contemporary American Jesuits (despite how much I share with it): maybe it’s because I grew up evangelical, and Reformed at that, but the atmosphere of conciliation and pastoral gentleness and soft-pedaling doctrine is something I strongly dislike. And it’s something Fr Martin has a lot of. I’m much more in line with Edmund Pevensie’s bad-news-first outlook from Voyage of the Dawn Treader: “If there’s a wasp in the room I like to be able to see it.” And I do actually enjoy and get a lot out of doctrine, so soft-pedaling it not only makes no appeal to me, it actively repels me. But none of these things entails false doctrine, nor true doctrine being insincerely espoused; and not everyone is me. So while I am free to dislike this style, and while I’m prepared to criticize it when that seems called for (every spiritual style is open to criticism, after all, since we’re imperfect beings), I won’t say that it’s illicit in itself.

But while I’m here criticking, I do have mixed feelings about Fr Martin’s LGBTQ+ ministry.

On the one hand, while he points out that he has said, several times and in plain English, that he doesn’t challenge the Church’s teaching about homosexuality, that phrase is the proverbial wax nose that can be pushed into any posture you like. The chadtrad who wants to believe that Fr Martin is a closet heretic can brush it aside as either another lie or a sneaky way of saying “Well, I’m not going to challenge the Church, but I don’t really subscribe to what she says here—I just put up with her saying it.” That reading isn’t fair, but it’s understandable.

What bothers me more than uncharitable readings from people who wouldn’t trust him anyway, though, is the prospect of a fellow gay person (for quite different reasons) reading such statements in almost the same way. Hoping this is something Fr Martin is saying because, after all, he has to to protect his job, but he doesn’t really believe it, and we don’t have to either. That person is in for a nasty, possibly faith-damaging, shock, if and when that intellectual question comes to a point. And in my experience, intellectual questions have a way of coming to a point. That’s one of the ways in which not being clear and forthright about doctrine can be unkind to people. (1)

Fr Martin’s habitual and (to my knowledge) uncriticizing association with groups like New Ways Ministries—which promotes doctrinal dissent on this very issue, and has a track record of disobedience to boot—only strengthens the impression that, whatever he says, he doesn’t really believe the Church’s teaching. And while no one should be judged solely on the impression they give, it seems either naïve or disingenuous to expect anything else. It’s difficult, for someone like me, to trust someone like that.

The reason my feelings about him are mixed, rather than merely negative, is that what he is trying do in a flawed way, most Catholics are not trying to do at all. His attempt to reach out to LGBTQ+ people isn’t perfect, but frankly, he’s about the only Catholic clergyman I can think of who not only talks about treating us with respect, but has actually bothered to find out what we consider respectful and made any effort at all to meet those considerations. Listening to someone is one of the first and most basic parts of respecting them, and priests generally don’t listen to us. They are too busy telling us what a great job they’re doing respecting us.

Part Two; Excursus


(1) Not that kindness can be satisfied merely by being clear and forthright about doctrine, however badly a lot of traddies want to pretend it can.

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  • Tom O.

    My problem with Fr. Martin is simple. He has many times openly said that the teachings of the Catholic Church do not need to be followed. He has said that people who have a same sex attraction do not have to follow Church teaching because it has not been accepted by the LGBT+ community. It’s not up to validate the Church’s teaching, only follow it if we want to call ourselves Catholic.
    I understand. If you go through the Catechism and not find something that rubs you the wrong way, you aren’t thinking for yourself. There is always something to challenge us to help us grow. Fr. Martin goes the other way and prefers to keep people comfortable in their sins. That will never lead to salvation.

  • Father Martin strikes me as the perfect example of why Jesuitry has such a bad name. My opinion of him would improve considerably if he would do three simple things. Firstly, clearly state that sodomy is a sin, rather than just saying that he does not “challenge” the “official” Church teaching (which he says has not been “received” by the “LGBT community”) on the subject. Secondly, stop associating with open heretics who are trying to change that teaching, or at least denounce them as such. Thirdly, stop encouraging people to identify themselves by reference to their disordered sexual desires. There is more to a person than just lust. (On that point, one has to marvel at his audacity in suggesting that he is trying to “encourage Catholics to see LGBT people as more than just sexual beings”, when he is the one reducing people to those desires.)

  • Andy

    Please point me to where Father Martin has said clearly that people who have same sex attraction do not have to follow Church teaching. Thanks

  • Tom O.

    I will give you a big one. His YouTube video of 9/27/17 where he says outright that the LGBT community is not bound to chastity because they community has not accepted that teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states that those who have a same sex attraction are called to lives of chastity and that no sexual act between two people of the same gender cannot be condoned. A few days later he said the church should hold gay marriages in “reverence”. Holding a sinful action in reverence is just a bit heretical.

  • Andy

    I wasn’t asking for your diatribe about what the Catholic Church, I know that. I asked I thought politely for a place where Father Martin stayed clearly that people with same sex attraction did not have to follow what the church teaches. Thank for pointing it out to me.

  • Etranger

    It is nice to hear that Archbishop Chaput was courteous for once toward LGBT folks! Too bad he was not at all like that when in Denver or during his first couple years in Philly. Nasty people can change – just keep praying for them!

  • Irksome1

    I mean, Father Martin did say in his reply that homosexual relations were immoral. Were you looking for the precise formulation “sodomy = sin?”

    I don’t know enough about New Ways Ministry or Father Martin’s involvement with them to comment on that specifically, but I would ask, if we’re not supposed to associate with material heretics, are we taking the Great Commission seriously?

    Finally, if we merely accept the common usage of words like “gay,” “lesbian, or “homosexual” to refer to people who experience same-sex attractions, I’m not sure how we would refer to them at all. There might be a point to be made if someone, calling himself “gay,” meant that descriptor as exhaustive of his identity. I’ve never met that person. Further, the argument against such usage proves too much and, since I don’t see anyone complaining about people who describe themselves as “alcoholic,” “diabetic,” or even “a sinner,” the objection seems disingenuous.

  • Irksome1

    I’m having difficulty finding that particular video. Could you please provide a link?

  • MorganHunter

    If Father Martin were to specifically declare that *sodomy* is a sin, wouldn’t that be giving the green light to lesbians? Not to mention the approximately 50% (IIRC) of sexually-active gay men who don’t engage in anal intercourse?

    Seriously—this is a major pet peeve of mine. “Sodomy” isn’t just an especially nasty term for homosexual intercourse. There are plenty of heterosexual sodomites out there too!

  • Irksome1

    I think “sodomy” has been used, historically, to refer to any and all sexual practices that deviate from heterosexual intercourse in the missionary position. I know several state-level legal definitions of sodomy contemplate any form of non-vaginal intercourse. Granted, this may not be the way it is colloquially understood now, but it would be difficult for me to make a legalistic argument on this point given so many historical and legal counter-examples.

  • Tim Walstrum

    Heaven forbid that a Catholic priest be affirming, I was lucky in college the LGBT group was started by a gay affirming priest. He literally saved many LGBT lives.

  • He did say that the Church teaches that homosexual relations are immoral and that he does not challenge that teaching. However, that seems like a very roundabout, Jesuitical (in the pejorative sense) way of saying “I believe homosexual relations are immoral”. It is almost like he is saying, “I wish I did not have to believe this, my homosexual friends, but I do not have a choice (at least until my material heretic friends succeed in changing the teaching, wink, wink)”. Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but why not be more direct?

  • Irksome1

    Ok, but isn’t the charge against Fr. Martin that does challenge the Church’s teaching either directly or through implication (as you’ve described in your response)? Wouldn’t the direct answer to that accusation be that he doesn’t challenge Church teaching? Would it, in fact, matter what words he uses since the insincerity he’s being accused of can apply equally well to whatever he says?

  • If they are still LGBT, then he failed to SAVE anybody at all.

    Hell is not just for those who are dead. Homosexuality is a lifestyle that brings hell and abuse to earth.

  • The Doctrine of Reception, in general, is proof that Jesuits are Satanic.

  • True Sodomy is not just one form, nor is it only homosexual. All fornication, all sex not oriented to procreation, is Sodomy. Read the Book of Gomorrah by St Peter Damian who created the term.

  • St Peter Damian went further than that even. All sex not ordered to procreation was the original Sodomy.

  • MorganHunter

    I’m pretty sure, though, that even the broadest sodomy laws only ever applied to heterosexual and male-on-male non-vaginal intercourse. Bluntly, it seems as though penetration of some sort had to be involved, hence why Victorian England had to pass an additional law criminalizing non-penetrative male homosexual intercourse.

    The broader point is, I have literally *never* actually heard anyone denouncing the currently quite widespread practice of heterosexual anal intercourse as “sodomy”. In practice, in contemporary conservative discourse it’s *only* applied to homosexual activity.