Fr. James Martin proposes 'two-way bridge' for LGBT community, Catholic church

Jesuit Fr. James Martin is pictured in 2011 by the "Bay of Parables" at the Sea of Galilee. (CNS photo/courtesy James Martin)

Jesuit Fr. James Martin offered over the weekend a blueprint to ease long-existent tensions between the LGBT community and the U.S. Catholic church, one where priests and bishops become more comfortable accompanying gay and lesbian people — and actually using those terms — while LGBT persons offer clergy "the gift of time" to get to know them, at a time when the country has seen major shifts in acceptance of its own. 

Those steps were part of a larger remedy of mutual respect, compassion and sensitivity the popular priest and editor at large of America magazine outlined in a lecture Sunday at a gathering of New Ways Ministry, in Pikesville, Md. The national Catholic LGBT advocacy group was honoring Martin with its Bridge Building Award, which, according to its website, recognizes people "who by their scholarship, leadership or witness have promoted discussion, understanding, and reconciliation between the lesbian/gay community and the Catholic Church." 

Martin picked up the bridge theme in his lecture, titled "A Two-Way Bridge," in which he proposed a way forward for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and the institutional church to address their more-often-than-not contentious and combative interactions. 

But as the title suggested, his advice cut both ways, first charting the lane for the hierarchical church before addressing the opposite side he suggested LGBT persons follow. At several points in his speech, Martin acknowledged that his message to the LGBT community "may be hard to hear for people who feel beaten down by the church."

"Much of the tension characterizing this complicated relationship results from a lack of communication and, sadly, a good deal of mistrust, between LGBT Catholics and the hierarchy. What is needed is a bridge between that community and the church," he said. 

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Specifically, one with two lanes constructed out of respect, compassion and sensitivity. 

The priest and noted author began his speech with steps for the church to take. He said respect for the LGBT community "means, at the very least, recognizing that the LGBT community exists," and also acknowledging the gifts they bring to the church, "as every community does." And like other groups, he said the church should not hesitate in creating pastoral ministries for the LGBT community, such as special Masses and outreach programs, to help them feel more connected to their church and as "beloved children of God." 

Along with that, Martin said he was "disheartened by the trend" of church organizations firing LGBT people, saying that church teaching authority has been "applied in a highly selective way" and is a "sign of unjust discrimination," pulling the phrase from the Catholic Catechism, which directs avoidance of such behavior. 

Another step is referring to the community by the names it prefers, Martin said. He called for the church to "lay to rest" terms like "afflicted with same-sex attraction," "homosexual person" and "objectively disordered," and instead use the words most common to the community, such as LGBT, LGBTQ and gay and lesbian. 

"People have a right to name themselves," he said. "Using those names is part of respect. And if Pope Francis can use the word gay, so can the rest of the church." 


More: "Is Pope Francis alone on apologizing to gays?" (June 30, 2016)


On the flip side, he asked LGBT Catholics to recognize the church hierarchy — the pope, bishops, priests — as teachers of the faith, though with differing levels of authority, and to whom all should listen and "prayerfully consider what they are teaching," even when you may disagree with their message, including on LGBT matters. 

In addition to "ecclesial respect," Martin asked the LGBT community to show priests and bishops "simple human respect," as well. He said he's often "disheartened" by the way he hears some talk about the clergy, in particular mocking of their vow of celibacy but also their clothes, including elaborate liturgical vestments. 

"Does the LGBT community really want to proceed in that way? Do gay men want to mock bishops as effeminate, when many gay men were probably teased about those precise things when they are young? Is that not simply perpetuating hatred?" Martin asked. 

Compassion for the LGBT community means to be with them, like any other Catholic community, in the joys and sufferings of their lives. And that begins with listening. 

"It is nearly impossible to experience a person's life, or to be compassionate, if you do not listen to the person, or if you do not ask questions," he said. Ask about their life, both now and in growing up as a gay boy, lesbian girl or transgender person, Martin suggested, as well as their experience of God and the church. 

But compassion also calls for the church to go beyond listening and to stand alongside LGBT persons when they are persecuted, Martin said, again returning to church teaching to avoid "every sign of unjust discrimination." After the June mass shooting at an Orlando night club that was popular with the LGBT community, the Jesuit priest said he was "discouraged" by the response of many U.S. bishops in not immediately signaling their support, as they might have if another group had been targeted. 

"Why not in Orlando? It seemed a kind of failure of compassion, a failure to experience with, and a failure to suffer with. Orlando invites us all to reflect on this," he said. 


More: "Chicago archbishop decries targeting of gays in Orlando attack" (June 13, 2016)


But greater sensitivity can't develop without the church engaging the LGBT community more deliberately, Martin said, borrowing from Francis' call for the church "to be one of 'encounter' and 'accompaniment.'" 

"You can't be sensitive to the LGBT community if you only issue documents about them, preach about them, or tweet about them, without knowing them," or having friends who are public about their sexuality, he said.

The priest encouraged his fellow clergy to look to Jesus' encounters with the Roman centurion and the tax collector Zacchaeus, where his first response was not to call them "pagan" or "sinner" but rather to befriend them. 

"Jesus saw beyond categories; he met people where they were and accompanied them," he said. 

Turning back to the LGBT community, Martin asked that in showing greater compassion, that is, "knowing what a person's life is like," toward church hierarchy, they first recognize the numerous responsibilities of a modern bishop: among others, fallout from the clergy sex abuse scandal, declining vocations, parish and school closures, and fundraising. 

Beyond that, he said compassion is recognizing that some church leaders "may be struggling themselves" with their sexuality, perhaps a factor that led them to religious life, in the privacy it afforded as well as safety from hateful attitudes they too may have experienced as youths. 

Martin acknowledged that many in the LGBT community may have come to see the institutional church as its enemies and persecutors. While it's true some clergy "have indeed said and done ignorant, hurtful and even hateful things," the priest said he believed those represented a minority in the hierarchy, and one whose sway in the church he sees as "slowly changing" in the Francis papacy toward "helping to heal some of that hurt." 

Sharing a story of how his parents responded with confusion and dismay when he sprung on them his decision as a 27-year-old to enter the Society of Jesus, Martin said his spiritual director advised him to give them the gift of time to come to grips with a decision he himself had his whole life to process. 

"I wonder if the LGBT community could give the institutional church the gift of time. Time to get to know you," he said. "… In a very real way the world is just getting to know you. So is the church. I know it's a burden, but it's perhaps not surprising. It takes time to get to know people. So perhaps the LGBT community can give the institutional church the gift of patience." 

On sensitivity, Martin asked his audience to be cognizant of the varying levels of teaching authority in the church associated with statements, and that when the pope or a Vatican congregation speaks, they're often talking to the whole world — and not solely the United States. 

Martin said he was disappointed that some gay and lesbian Catholics dismissed Francis' call in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love") that "before all else … every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while 'every sign of unjust discrimination' is to be carefully avoided, particularly, any form of aggression and violence." 

"Perhaps in the West those words seemed insufficient," Martin said before adding, "Imagine reading that in a country where violence against LGBT people is rampant and the church has remained silent. … What seems arid to LGBT people in one country may be, in another country, water in a barren desert." 

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

Jesuit Fr. James Martin offered over the weekend a blueprint to ease long-existent tensions between the LGBT community and the U.S. Catholic church, one where priests and bishops become more comfortable accompanying gay and lesbian people — and actually using those terms — while LGBT persons offer clergy "the gift of time" to get to know them, at a time when the country has seen major shifts of acceptance of its own. 

 

Those steps were part of a larger remedy of mutual respect, compassion and sensitivity the popular priest and editor at large of America magazine outlined in a lecture Sunday at a gathering of New Ways Ministry, in Pikesville, Md. The national Catholic LGBT advocacy group was honoring Martin with its Bridge Building Award, which, according to the group's website, recognizes people "who by their scholarship, leadership or witness have promoted discussion, understanding, and reconciliation between the lesbian/gay community and the Catholic Church." 

 

Martin picked up the bridge theme in his lecture, titled "A Two-Way Bridge," in which he proposed a way forward for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people and the institutional church to address their more-often-than-not contentious and combative interactions. 

 

 

But as the title suggested, his advice cut both ways, first charting the lane for the hierarchical church before addressing the opposite side he suggested LGBT persons follow. At several points in his speech, Martin acknowledged that his message to the LGBT community "may be hard to hear for people who feel beaten down by the church."

 

 

"Much of the tension characterizing this complicated relationship results from a lack of communication and, sadly, a good deal of mistrust, between LGBT Catholics and the hierarchy. What is needed is a bridge between that community and the church," he said. 

 

 

Specifically, one with two lanes constructed out of respect, compassion and sensitivity. 

 

 

The priest and noted author began his speech with steps for the church to take. He said respect for the LGBT community "means, at the very least, recognizing that the LGBT community exists," and also acknowledging the gifts they bring to the church, "as every community does." And like other groups, he said the church should not hesitate in creating pastoral ministries for the LGBT community, such as special Masses and outreach programs, to help them feel more connected to their church and as "beloved children of God." 

 

 

Along with that, Martin said he was "disheartened by the trend" of church organizations firing LGBT people, saying that church teaching authority has been "applied in a highly selective way" and is a "sign of unjust discrimination," pulling the phrase from the Catholic Catechism, which directs avoidance of such behavior. 

 

 

Another step is referring to the community by the names it prefers, Martin said. He called for the church to "lay to rest" terms like "afflicted with same-sex attraction," "homosexual person" and "objectively disordered," and instead use the words most common to the community, such as LGBT, LGBTQ and gay and lesbian. 

 

 

"People have a right to name themselves," he said. "Using those names is part of respect. And if Pope Francis can use the word gay, so can the rest of the church." 

 

 

More: "Is Pope Francis alone on apologizing to gays?" (June 30, 2016)

 

 

On the flip side, he asked LGBT Catholics to recognize the church hierarchy — the pope, bishops, priests — as teachers of the faith, though with differing levels of authority, and to whom all should listen and "prayerfully consider what they are teaching," even when you may disagree with their message, including on LGBT matters. 

 

 

In addition to "ecclesial respect," Martin asked the LGBT community to show priests and bishops "simple human respect," as well. He said he's often "disheartened" by the way he hears them talk about the clergy, in particular mocking of their vow of celibacy but also their clothes, including elaborate liturgical vestments. 

 

 

"Does the LGBT community really want to proceed in that way? Do gay men want to mock bishops as effeminate, when many gay men were probably teased about those precise things when they are young? Is that not simply perpetuating hatred?" Martin asked. 

 

 

Compassion for the LGBT community means to be with them, like any other Catholic community, in the joys and sufferings of their lives. And that begins with listening. 

 

 

"It is nearly impossible to experience a person's life, or to be compassionate, if you do not listen to the person, or if you do not ask questions," he said. Ask about their life, both now and in growing up as a gay boy, lesbian girl or transgendered person, Martin suggested, as well as their experience of God and the church. 

 

 

But compassion also calls for the church to go beyond listening and to stand alongside LGBT persons when they are persecuted, Martin said, again returning to church teaching to avoid "every sign of unjust discrimination." After the June mass shooting at an Orlando night club that was popular with the LGBT community, the Jesuit priest said he was "discouraged" by the response of many U.S. bishops in not immediately signaling their support, as they might have if another group had been targeted. 

 

 

"Why not in Orlando? It seemed a kind of failure of compassion, a failure to experience with, and a failure to suffer with. Orlando invites us all to reflect on this," he said. 

 

 

More: "Chicago archbishop decries targeting of gays in Orlando attack" (June 13, 2016)

 

 

But greater sensitivity can't develop without the church engaging the LGBT community more deliberately, Martin said, borrowing from Francis' call for the church "to be one of 'encounter' and 'accompaniment.'" 

 

 

"You can't be sensitive to the LGBT community if you only issue documents about them, preach about them, or tweet about them, without knowing them," or having friends who are public about their sexuality, he said.

 

The priest encouraged his fellow clergy to look to Jesus' encounters with the Roman centurion and the tax collector Zacchaeus, where his first response was not to call them "pagan" or "sinner" but rather to befriend them. 

 

 

"Jesus saw beyond categories; he met people where they were and accompanied them," he said. 

 

 

Turning back to the LGBT community, Martin asked that in showing greater compassion, that is, "knowing what a person's life is like," toward church hierarchy, they first recognize the numerous responsibilities of a modern bishop: among others, fallout from the clergy sex abuse scandal, declining vocations, parish and school closures, and fundraising. 

 

Beyond that, he said compassion is recognizing that some church leaders "may be struggling themselves" with their sexuality, perhaps a factor that led them to religious life, in the privacy it afforded as well as safety from hateful attitudes they too may have experienced as youths. 

 

 

Martin acknowledged that many in the LGBT community may have come to see the institutional church as its enemies and persecutors. While it's true some clergy "have indeed said and done ignorant, hurtful and even hateful things," the priest said he believed those represented a minority in the hierarchy, and one whose sway in the church he sees as "slowly changing" in the Francis papacy toward "helping to heal some of that hurt." 

 

 

Sharing a story of how his parents responded with confusion and dismay when he sprung on them his decision as a 27-year-old to enter the Society of Jesus, Martin said his spiritual director advised him to give them the gift of time to come to grips with a decision he himself had his whole life to process. 

 

 

"I wonder if the LGBT community could give the institutional church the gift of time. Time to get to know you," he said. "… In a very real way the world is just getting to know you. So is the church. I know it's a burden, but it's perhaps not surprising. It takes time to get to know people. So perhaps the LGBT community can give the institutional church the gift of patience." 

 

 

On sensitivity, Martin asked his audience to be cognizant of the varying levels of teaching authority in the church associated with statements, and that when the pope or a Vatican congregation speaks, they're often talking to the whole world — and not solely the United States. 

 

 

Martin said he was disappointed that some gay and lesbian Catholics dismissed Francis' call in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love") that "before all else … every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while 'every sign of unjust discrimination' is to be carefully avoided, particularly, any form of aggression and violence." 

 

 

"Perhaps in the West those words seemed insufficient," Martin said before adding, "Imagine reading that in a country where violence against LGBT people is rampant and the church has remained silent. … What seems arid to LGBT people in one country may be, in another country, water in a barren desert." 

 

 

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org.]

Jesuit Fr. James Martin offered over the weekend a blueprint to ease long-existent tensions between the LGBT community and the U.S. Catholic church, one where priests and bishops become more comfortable accompanying gay and lesbian people — and actually using those terms — while LGBT persons offer clergy "the gift of time" to get to know them, at a time when the country has seen major shifts of acceptance of its own. 

 

Those steps were part of a larger remedy of mutual respect, compassion and sensitivity the popular priest and editor at large of America magazine outlined in a lecture Sunday at a gathering of New Ways Ministry, in Pikesville, Md. The national Catholic LGBT advocacy group was honoring Martin with its Bridge Building Award, which, according to the group's website, recognizes people "who by their scholarship, leadership or witness have promoted discussion, understanding, and reconciliation between the lesbian/gay community and the Catholic Church." 

 

Martin picked up the bridge theme in his lecture, titled "A Two-Way Bridge," in which he proposed a way forward for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people and the institutional church to address their more-often-than-not contentious and combative interactions. 

 

 

But as the title suggested, his advice cut both ways, first charting the lane for the hierarchical church before addressing the opposite side he suggested LGBT persons follow. At several points in his speech, Martin acknowledged that his message to the LGBT community "may be hard to hear for people who feel beaten down by the church."

 

 

"Much of the tension characterizing this complicated relationship results from a lack of communication and, sadly, a good deal of mistrust, between LGBT Catholics and the hierarchy. What is needed is a bridge between that community and the church," he said. 

 

 

Specifically, one with two lanes constructed out of respect, compassion and sensitivity. 

 

 

The priest and noted author began his speech with steps for the church to take. He said respect for the LGBT community "means, at the very least, recognizing that the LGBT community exists," and also acknowledging the gifts they bring to the church, "as every community does." And like other groups, he said the church should not hesitate in creating pastoral ministries for the LGBT community, such as special Masses and outreach programs, to help them feel more connected to their church and as "beloved children of God." 

 

 

Along with that, Martin said he was "disheartened by the trend" of church organizations firing LGBT people, saying that church teaching authority has been "applied in a highly selective way" and is a "sign of unjust discrimination," pulling the phrase from the Catholic Catechism, which directs avoidance of such behavior. 

 

 

Another step is referring to the community by the names it prefers, Martin said. He called for the church to "lay to rest" terms like "afflicted with same-sex attraction," "homosexual person" and "objectively disordered," and instead use the words most common to the community, such as LGBT, LGBTQ and gay and lesbian. 

 

 

"People have a right to name themselves," he said. "Using those names is part of respect. And if Pope Francis can use the word gay, so can the rest of the church." 

 

 

More: "Is Pope Francis alone on apologizing to gays?" (June 30, 2016)

 

 

On the flip side, he asked LGBT Catholics to recognize the church hierarchy — the pope, bishops, priests — as teachers of the faith, though with differing levels of authority, and to whom all should listen and "prayerfully consider what they are teaching," even when you may disagree with their message, including on LGBT matters. 

 

 

In addition to "ecclesial respect," Martin asked the LGBT community to show priests and bishops "simple human respect," as well. He said he's often "disheartened" by the way he hears them talk about the clergy, in particular mocking of their vow of celibacy but also their clothes, including elaborate liturgical vestments. 

 

 

"Does the LGBT community really want to proceed in that way? Do gay men want to mock bishops as effeminate, when many gay men were probably teased about those precise things when they are young? Is that not simply perpetuating hatred?" Martin asked. 

 

 

Compassion for the LGBT community means to be with them, like any other Catholic community, in the joys and sufferings of their lives. And that begins with listening. 

 

 

"It is nearly impossible to experience a person's life, or to be compassionate, if you do not listen to the person, or if you do not ask questions," he said. Ask about their life, both now and in growing up as a gay boy, lesbian girl or transgendered person, Martin suggested, as well as their experience of God and the church. 

 

 

But compassion also calls for the church to go beyond listening and to stand alongside LGBT persons when they are persecuted, Martin said, again returning to church teaching to avoid "every sign of unjust discrimination." After the June mass shooting at an Orlando night club that was popular with the LGBT community, the Jesuit priest said he was "discouraged" by the response of many U.S. bishops in not immediately signaling their support, as they might have if another group had been targeted. 

 

 

"Why not in Orlando? It seemed a kind of failure of compassion, a failure to experience with, and a failure to suffer with. Orlando invites us all to reflect on this," he said. 

 

 

More: "Chicago archbishop decries targeting of gays in Orlando attack" (June 13, 2016)

 

 

But greater sensitivity can't develop without the church engaging the LGBT community more deliberately, Martin said, borrowing from Francis' call for the church "to be one of 'encounter' and 'accompaniment.'" 

 

 

"You can't be sensitive to the LGBT community if you only issue documents about them, preach about them, or tweet about them, without knowing them," or having friends who are public about their sexuality, he said.

 

The priest encouraged his fellow clergy to look to Jesus' encounters with the Roman centurion and the tax collector Zacchaeus, where his first response was not to call them "pagan" or "sinner" but rather to befriend them. 

 

 

"Jesus saw beyond categories; he met people where they were and accompanied them," he said. 

 

 

Turning back to the LGBT community, Martin asked that in showing greater compassion, that is, "knowing what a person's life is like," toward church hierarchy, they first recognize the numerous responsibilities of a modern bishop: among others, fallout from the clergy sex abuse scandal, declining vocations, parish and school closures, and fundraising. 

 

Beyond that, he said compassion is recognizing that some church leaders "may be struggling themselves" with their sexuality, perhaps a factor that led them to religious life, in the privacy it afforded as well as safety from hateful attitudes they too may have experienced as youths. 

 

 

Martin acknowledged that many in the LGBT community may have come to see the institutional church as its enemies and persecutors. While it's true some clergy "have indeed said and done ignorant, hurtful and even hateful things," the priest said he believed those represented a minority in the hierarchy, and one whose sway in the church he sees as "slowly changing" in the Francis papacy toward "helping to heal some of that hurt." 

 

 

Sharing a story of how his parents responded with confusion and dismay when he sprung on them his decision as a 27-year-old to enter the Society of Jesus, Martin said his spiritual director advised him to give them the gift of time to come to grips with a decision he himself had his whole life to process. 

 

 

"I wonder if the LGBT community could give the institutional church the gift of time. Time to get to know you," he said. "… In a very real way the world is just getting to know you. So is the church. I know it's a burden, but it's perhaps not surprising. It takes time to get to know people. So perhaps the LGBT community can give the institutional church the gift of patience." 

 

 

On sensitivity, Martin asked his audience to be cognizant of the varying levels of teaching authority in the church associated with statements, and that when the pope or a Vatican congregation speaks, they're often talking to the whole world — and not solely the United States. 

 

 

Martin said he was disappointed that some gay and lesbian Catholics dismissed Francis' call in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love") that "before all else … every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while 'every sign of unjust discrimination' is to be carefully avoided, particularly, any form of aggression and violence." 

 

 

"Perhaps in the West those words seemed insufficient," Martin said before adding, "Imagine reading that in a country where violence against LGBT people is rampant and the church has remained silent. … What seems arid to LGBT people in one country may be, in another country, water in a barren desert." 

 

 

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org.]

Jesuit Fr. James Martin offered over the weekend a blueprint to ease long-existent tensions between the LGBT community and the U.S. Catholic church, one where priests and bishops become more comfortable accompanying gay and lesbian people — and actually using those terms — while LGBT persons offer clergy "the gift of time" to get to know them, at a time when the country has seen major shifts of acceptance of its own. 

 

Those steps were part of a larger remedy of mutual respect, compassion and sensitivity the popular priest and editor at large of America magazine outlined in a lecture Sunday at a gathering of New Ways Ministry, in Pikesville, Md. The national Catholic LGBT advocacy group was honoring Martin with its Bridge Building Award, which, according to the group's website, recognizes people "who by their scholarship, leadership or witness have promoted discussion, understanding, and reconciliation between the lesbian/gay community and the Catholic Church." 

 

Martin picked up the bridge theme in his lecture, titled "A Two-Way Bridge," in which he proposed a way forward for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people and the institutional church to address their more-often-than-not contentious and combative interactions. 

 

 

But as the title suggested, his advice cut both ways, first charting the lane for the hierarchical church before addressing the opposite side he suggested LGBT persons follow. At several points in his speech, Martin acknowledged that his message to the LGBT community "may be hard to hear for people who feel beaten down by the church."

 

 

"Much of the tension characterizing this complicated relationship results from a lack of communication and, sadly, a good deal of mistrust, between LGBT Catholics and the hierarchy. What is needed is a bridge between that community and the church," he said. 

 

 

Specifically, one with two lanes constructed out of respect, compassion and sensitivity. 

 

 

The priest and noted author began his speech with steps for the church to take. He said respect for the LGBT community "means, at the very least, recognizing that the LGBT community exists," and also acknowledging the gifts they bring to the church, "as every community does." And like other groups, he said the church should not hesitate in creating pastoral ministries for the LGBT community, such as special Masses and outreach programs, to help them feel more connected to their church and as "beloved children of God." 

 

 

Along with that, Martin said he was "disheartened by the trend" of church organizations firing LGBT people, saying that church teaching authority has been "applied in a highly selective way" and is a "sign of unjust discrimination," pulling the phrase from the Catholic Catechism, which directs avoidance of such behavior. 

 

 

Another step is referring to the community by the names it prefers, Martin said. He called for the church to "lay to rest" terms like "afflicted with same-sex attraction," "homosexual person" and "objectively disordered," and instead use the words most common to the community, such as LGBT, LGBTQ and gay and lesbian. 

 

 

"People have a right to name themselves," he said. "Using those names is part of respect. And if Pope Francis can use the word gay, so can the rest of the church." 

 

 

More: "Is Pope Francis alone on apologizing to gays?" (June 30, 2016)

 

 

On the flip side, he asked LGBT Catholics to recognize the church hierarchy — the pope, bishops, priests — as teachers of the faith, though with differing levels of authority, and to whom all should listen and "prayerfully consider what they are teaching," even when you may disagree with their message, including on LGBT matters. 

 

 

In addition to "ecclesial respect," Martin asked the LGBT community to show priests and bishops "simple human respect," as well. He said he's often "disheartened" by the way he hears them talk about the clergy, in particular mocking of their vow of celibacy but also their clothes, including elaborate liturgical vestments. 

 

 

"Does the LGBT community really want to proceed in that way? Do gay men want to mock bishops as effeminate, when many gay men were probably teased about those precise things when they are young? Is that not simply perpetuating hatred?" Martin asked. 

 

 

Compassion for the LGBT community means to be with them, like any other Catholic community, in the joys and sufferings of their lives. And that begins with listening. 

 

 

"It is nearly impossible to experience a person's life, or to be compassionate, if you do not listen to the person, or if you do not ask questions," he said. Ask about their life, both now and in growing up as a gay boy, lesbian girl or transgendered person, Martin suggested, as well as their experience of God and the church. 

 

 

But compassion also calls for the church to go beyond listening and to stand alongside LGBT persons when they are persecuted, Martin said, again returning to church teaching to avoid "every sign of unjust discrimination." After the June mass shooting at an Orlando night club that was popular with the LGBT community, the Jesuit priest said he was "discouraged" by the response of many U.S. bishops in not immediately signaling their support, as they might have if another group had been targeted. 

 

 

"Why not in Orlando? It seemed a kind of failure of compassion, a failure to experience with, and a failure to suffer with. Orlando invites us all to reflect on this," he said. 

 

 

More: "Chicago archbishop decries targeting of gays in Orlando attack" (June 13, 2016)

 

 

But greater sensitivity can't develop without the church engaging the LGBT community more deliberately, Martin said, borrowing from Francis' call for the church "to be one of 'encounter' and 'accompaniment.'" 

 

 

"You can't be sensitive to the LGBT community if you only issue documents about them, preach about them, or tweet about them, without knowing them," or having friends who are public about their sexuality, he said.

 

The priest encouraged his fellow clergy to look to Jesus' encounters with the Roman centurion and the tax collector Zacchaeus, where his first response was not to call them "pagan" or "sinner" but rather to befriend them. 

 

 

"Jesus saw beyond categories; he met people where they were and accompanied them," he said. 

 

 

Turning back to the LGBT community, Martin asked that in showing greater compassion, that is, "knowing what a person's life is like," toward church hierarchy, they first recognize the numerous responsibilities of a modern bishop: among others, fallout from the clergy sex abuse scandal, declining vocations, parish and school closures, and fundraising. 

 

Beyond that, he said compassion is recognizing that some church leaders "may be struggling themselves" with their sexuality, perhaps a factor that led them to religious life, in the privacy it afforded as well as safety from hateful attitudes they too may have experienced as youths. 

 

 

Martin acknowledged that many in the LGBT community may have come to see the institutional church as its enemies and persecutors. While it's true some clergy "have indeed said and done ignorant, hurtful and even hateful things," the priest said he believed those represented a minority in the hierarchy, and one whose sway in the church he sees as "slowly changing" in the Francis papacy toward "helping to heal some of that hurt." 

 

 

Sharing a story of how his parents responded with confusion and dismay when he sprung on them his decision as a 27-year-old to enter the Society of Jesus, Martin said his spiritual director advised him to give them the gift of time to come to grips with a decision he himself had his whole life to process. 

 

 

"I wonder if the LGBT community could give the institutional church the gift of time. Time to get to know you," he said. "… In a very real way the world is just getting to know you. So is the church. I know it's a burden, but it's perhaps not surprising. It takes time to get to know people. So perhaps the LGBT community can give the institutional church the gift of patience." 

 

 

On sensitivity, Martin asked his audience to be cognizant of the varying levels of teaching authority in the church associated with statements, and that when the pope or a Vatican congregation speaks, they're often talking to the whole world — and not solely the United States. 

 

 

Martin said he was disappointed that some gay and lesbian Catholics dismissed Francis' call in his apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love") that "before all else … every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration, while 'every sign of unjust discrimination' is to be carefully avoided, particularly, any form of aggression and violence." 

 

 

"Perhaps in the West those words seemed insufficient," Martin said before adding, "Imagine reading that in a country where violence against LGBT people is rampant and the church has remained silent. … What seems arid to LGBT people in one country may be, in another country, water in a barren desert." 

 

 

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org.]


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