Radio Show

Father James Martin on Building a Bridge with the LGBT Community


Jesuit priest and New York Times best-selling author Father James Martin, SJ, joins Father Dave as a guest on the Busted Halo Show to talk about his new book, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity,” and to answer a few questions of faith. While responding compassionately to a question from a radio listener who is sadly estranged from his children and grandchildren due to conflict over his divorce and remarrying without an annulment, Father Martin brings up “Amoris Laetitia,” Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on love in the family, which provides a great segue into a discussion about Father Martin’s book dealing with some of the same issues and themes.

At 00:08:17 into this podcast, Father Martin begins talking about “Building a Bridge,” his inspiration for writing the book, and his hopes for what it can accomplish in terms of reaching out with respect, compassion, and sensitivity to LGBT Catholics who feel excluded from the Church.

“The book basically took shape out of what I would call informal ministry that I do to LGBT Catholics,” Father Martin says. “People would come to me after retreats and after talks and whatnot, and I never really thought about doing anything formally, [though] I write about [the issues LGBT Catholics face] in “America,” the Jesuit magazine … But after the massacre in the gay nightclub in Orlando a year ago, I thought, I really want to do something that’s more forceful. And one of the things that I lamented was that more bishops — some did — but more bishops didn’t say that we grieve with and lament with the LGBT community. They didn’t mention the name, say LGBT or say gay, and I thought, you know, there’s something going on in the Church.”

In writing the book, Father Martin sought to “use the Catechism [to show] that the Church [needs] to treat LGBT Catholics with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” and he also hoped to make the point that the LGBT community should treat Catholics that way as well. Father Dave points out that those three words — respect, compassion, and sensitivity — actually come directly from the Catechism.

Father Martin explains that the first half of the book really unpacks what those words mean and how they can be applied in the relationship between the Church and the LGBT community. The second half of the book, he says, contains “spiritual resources for LGBT Catholics. For example, Bible passages and reflection questions … And I mean for it to be a kind of workbook of a sort for individuals, for parishes, and for parents and families who struggle with this and need a way of encountering their [relatives].”

Father Dave says, “I would imagine that a lot of the difficulty with even addressing this issue, is that there are plenty — as you mentioned during the Orlando shootings — of folks in the Church, including bishops, but plenty of other people that have voices in the Church as well, that won’t even go as far as to acknowledge that this is a community that exists. [They feel comfortable saying that someone is] Irish or they’re male or they’re brown-haired, but they’re not gay. And people really resist using these terms. Why do you think that is? Aside from the Church’s teaching about sexuality and its appropriate place between a man and woman in marriage — but it seems that we [reach out to other communities] in a lot of other ways, [so why in this case do we often] diminish people?”

Father Martin explains that his book addresses this problem directly, without contravening or challenging Church teaching at all, by using respect, compassion, and sensitivity to answer that question, “Why can’t you even acknowledge or use the word ‘gay’ or ‘LGBT’? That’s what they want to be called … It’s respectful to call someone what they ask to be called. I was in a long discussion with a reporter about this who was insistent on this that the Church needs to say ‘people inflicted with same-sex attraction.’ And I said, ‘That is not what they call themselves. Have at least the respect to call them what they want to call themselves.’ And [LGBT] is a neutral term I think.”

Father Dave says that folks on the other side of the issue would claim that the label LGBT is not neutral because it’s validating their sin. Father Martin bluntly replies, “That’s baloney. You’re validating their identity. And a lot of people say, ‘Oh, well they’re only identifying themselves as a homosexual.’ That’s like saying I can’t say Irish-American, because all you’re doing is reducing yourself to being Irish. It’s ridiculous. It’s the name that they want to call themselves. It’s like saying, ‘I want to address Catholic business leaders. Well, you’re more than business leaders, you’re Catholics first, and parents, and people…’ But you have to have some sort of name to call these people who are persecuted because of [their sexuality]. So how else are we going to identify them? Well, I say identify them by the way that they want to be called.”

Father Martin gets to the heart of the matter: “Think of an LGBT kid. The Church has a responsibility to reach out to that young boy or that young girl or that transgender young person who’s being beaten up. Why wouldn’t we want to reach out to that person? The book is an invitation for the Church to really use respect, compassion, and sensitivity … and for the LGBT community to do the same … I actually think that because the LGBT community has been historically marginalized and persecuted … that it is more incumbent on the Church to reach out. So the onus, I think, is on the Church …”

Father Martin’s book is published by HarperCollins and is available in stores and online.

Note to listener: Conversation about “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity” begins at 00:08:17. (Original Air: 04-28-17)