The Bishops, the Pope and Fr James Martin. Sheesh.

The Bishops, the Pope and Fr James Martin. Sheesh. February 24, 2020
Fr James Martin, Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Here’s the story.

A group of American bishops from what news reports characterize as the American Southwest had a lengthy audience with Pope Francis. I am assuming that there was at least an implicit understanding that this conversation was off the record.

That’s the way these things go among elected officials. It’s a trust-me deal in which people know good and well that they aren’t supposed to go out and jump in front of a microphone, or sneak around to a reporter and yak as an “anonymous source,” in order to use what is said to stick knives in people. That kind of trust allows frank and fruitful conversation of the kind that you will never get if people are afraid that what they say will be reported, misreported and just flat out lied about later.

One would assume that a bunch of bishops would be discreet and trustworthy participants in such a meeting. But, as it turns out, one would assume wrong.

Evidently, one or more “unnamed” bishops hustled off after the meeting to Catholic News Agency to stick a few knives in Father James Martin. I don’t know Father Martin and don’t have a dog in this particular fight except to say that I’ve read several of his books and found them edifying. I have not, however, read Building a Bridge, which is the book he wrote with the subtitle, “How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity.” Like everything on that topic, this book has set off a firestorm.

I have seen a bit of the hate-fest that Building a Bridge has set in motion. I don’t know what Fr Martin wrote. I don’t know if I agree with him or not. But I doubt very much that he said anything that deserves the name-calling and vitriol he’s been subjected to. Even without reading the book, I can say that I respect the courage of anyone who believes in a nonviolent cause enough to submit himself to this much abuse on its behalf.

As it turns out, the bishops weren’t the only ones who had an audience with the busy pope. Fr Martin also had an audience with Pope Francis. A photo of the two men together has been published widely. This was followed by all sorts of wailing and cursing from the hate Martin crowd, who also don’t think too highly of the pope. I even read a comment by one self-proclaimed Martin-hater saying that they “hated” the pope and wished he would die.

The American bishops had their meeting with the pope a few weeks later. Afterward, one or more, we can’t know how many, of the bishops made anonymous claims to Catholic News Agency that Pope Francis had unburdened himself to them about how he felt about Fr Martin. The bishop(s) claimed that the pope thought Fr Martin had “used” him.

Aside from all else, what they were doing is gossiping to the press. Not only that, but they were, presumably, violating the confidentiality of the meeting. Given what has followed, they may also have been lying. Or just mistaken. Big time mistaken. Or not.

Of course, this little tidbit of gossip lit up the lights in the hate Martin channels of the internet. The Hate Martin/Hate Pope Francis trolls trolled big time.

Then, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, who was also at the meeting, stepped up and went on the record in a public statement saying that the previous comments by his brother bishop(s) were in error. I want to emphasize that, unlike the bishop(s) who gossiped about Fr Martin, Archbishop Wester spoke publicly, in a published statement, over his name.

Now, Bishop Steven Biegler of Wyoming has come forward to say that he supports Archbishop Wester’s statement.

I’m grateful to the two bishops who were willing to clear the record. The truth matters.

As for the bishop(s) who gossiped about his/their meeting with the pope in order to attack Fr Martin, I think his/their actions speak for themselves.

From Catholic News Agency:

Archbishop Wester responds to recounting of pope’s words about Jesuit Fr. James Martin

web 20191001T1210-30661-CNS-POPE-JAMES-MARTIN.jpg

Pope Francis greets Jesuit Fr. James Martin, author and editor at large of America magazine, during a private meeting at the Vatican Sept. 30, 2019. (CNS/Vatican Media)

Editor’s note: Pope Francis met Feb. 10 with the bishops of the southwestern United States, as part of the recently concluded ad limina visits to Rome of the 15 regions of the U.S. bishops’ conference. In a Feb. 21 article, Catholic News Agency (CNA), recounted alleged details of the papal encounter, citing several unnamed bishops who took part. Specifically, CNA reported that the pontiff had expressed displeasure over how Jesuit Fr. James Martin had acted following a Sept. 30, 2019, meeting with Francis, during which the two discussed Martin’s ministry to the LGBT community.

I wish to address the article that appeared in CNA regarding the meeting of the bishops of Region XIII and Pope Francis on Monday, February 10, 2020.

The article puts forward a series of statements supposedly made by Pope Francis regarding Fr. James Martin’s meeting with the Holy Father on September 30, 2019. The bishops who reported these statements to CNA remained anonymous throughout the article.

web 20200210T0658-2004-CNS-ADLIMINA-THIRTEEN-STPETER.jpg

Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico, gives the homily as bishops from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming concelebrate Mass in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica while making their “ad limina” visits to the Vatican Feb. 10. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Our meeting with the Pope lasted almost two hours and forty-five minutes, so it is difficult for anyone to remember with precision anything that was said. However, the general tone of the Pope’s responses to issues raised with him was never angry, nor do I remember the Pope saying or implying that he was unhappy with Father Martin or his ministry.

It is not my place to speak for the Pope in these matters; I am simply saying that my distinct recollection is that during our meeting the Pope never spoke of Father Martin or his ministry in a negative way.

… The first paragraph states that Pope Francis talked about “…his 2019 meeting with Fr. James Martin, SJ…” Yes, he did. But he did not bring it up: several bishops did. Furthermore, that September 30, 2019 meeting was only mentioned in passing

… In the fourth paragraph, the article states that the Pope was most displeased with the subject of “Father Martin and how their encounter had been used.” My recollection is that it was not Father Martin the Pope was talking about, but the way others tried to use that encounter, one way or the other.

… The Pope never said Father Martin was given a “talking to,” nor did he say that he spoke to his superiors regarding him.

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