Post submitted by Michael Toumayan, former HRC Senior Religion and Faith Program Manager

The recent decision by Catholic University’s seminary and two other Catholic institutions to cancel speeches by the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit priest and author of a book encouraging the Catholic Church to open dialogue with the LGBTQ faithful, has again highlighted the deep gulf between the church’s laity and its conservative leaders.

HRC’s own polling shows that an overwhelming majority of Catholics in the pews support LGBTQ equality, including marriage equality and employment protections. A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute also found that a majority of Catholics reject the notion that businesses should be allowed to use religion as a guise to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

But for many of the church’s conservative leaders, acceptance of LGBTQ people violates the tenets of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which still characterizes “homosexual acts” as “intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law,” and names “homosexual tendencies” as “objectively disordered.”

That’s why Martin’s book, Building a Bridge, published earlier this year, has re-energized the debate about the LGBTQ faithful. It has not only predictably ignited vicious attacks from far right Catholic websites, but, encouragingly, it has also prompted many in the Catholic community -- including leaders like San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy -- to call for an end to the church’s “long-standing bigotry” against LGBTQ people.

"The concerted attack on Father Martin's work has been driven by three impulses: homophobia, a distortion of fundamental Catholic moral theology, and a veiled attack on Pope Francis and his campaign against judgmentalism in the church," Bishop McElroy wrote in an op-ed in America Magazine.

“I think it is important to notice who the author is -- a priest,” said Frank DeBernardo, Executive Director of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBTQ Catholics, While Catholic theologians, scholars and lay leaders have tackled the issue of LGBTQ inclusion, it’s far more unusual for a priest to speak out.

In his book, Martin, appointed by Pope Francis as counselor to the Vatican's Secretariat ( a counselor or adviser in the Catholic Church) for Communications, provides a roadmap for repairing and strengthening the bonds that unite all of God's children. He writes that criteria at the heart of the Christian ministry -- "respect, compassion, and sensitivity” -- should guide how the Catholic Church relates to the LGBTQ community.

On his Facebook page, Rev. Martin said he’s received overwhelming support since the controversy began.  

“I am so grateful!” he wrote. “And, as I said a week ago, thanks to so many things -- most of all, Jesus being close to me in prayer, and the support of my Jesuit superiors and brothers -- I am at total peace.”

Filed under: Religion & Faith

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