Written by Kathy Clubb
The mention of Fr James Martin usually elicits one of two responses from Catholics: conservatives believe his approach endangers souls and harms those with same-sex attraction while liberals tend to laud him and emulate his technique. Some begin to follow him believing his views on same-sex attraction to be in line with Church teaching only to discover that chastity is not being actively taught by this Catholic cleric. To further muddy the waters, he has the support of senior churchmen such as the U.S.’s Cardinal Tobin, and in 2017 was appointed by the Pope, some would say scandalously, as consultor to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications.
Part of Fr Martin’s appeal lies in his compassionate advocacy for those who experience same-sex attraction and desire to be part of the Church. This makes him very attractive to those who see the Church’s long-held views on sexual morality as an obstacle to their own membership. While Fr Martin is careful never to directly contradict Church teaching, he is sufficiently ambiguous to allow practising homosexuals to feel that their sin is now tolerated by the Church.
Fr Martin is so problematic in this regard, that the then-Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, felt moved to issue a warning about him, pointing the faithful to a “pattern of ambiguity” found in his book and in his talks. As Archbishop Chaput explained, “ …what is implied or omitted often speaks as loudly as what is actually stated and in the current climate, incomplete truths do, in fact, present a challenge to faithful Catholic belief.”
Fr Martin has himself alluded to the reason behind this ambiguity. When asked by First Things writer Dan Hitchens if he believed Church teaching on homosexuality and women’s ordination could be altered, Fr Martin implied, in his typically oblique way, that by taking care never to directly contradict Church teaching, he is assured of maintaining his high-profile status. This ecclesial approbation takes the form of high-profile speaking engagements, such as at the World Congress of Families, an Imprimatur on his book, and of course, direct access to Pope Francis – something denied to many orthodox and more senior Churchmen, including the Dubia authors.
Unfortunately, Fr Martin’s glib accompaniment model is gaining in popularity and his influence extends even to countries such as Australia. His quotes and articles are shared regularly on the social media accounts of heterodox dioceses such as Parramatta. The “James Martin effect” is apparent in the Diocese’s controversial new school curriculum, which has been reported by this author in a previous article. When the Diocese hosted a conference for Catholic educators, an LGBTIQ activist was brought in to address the event. Benjamin Oh said that it was “an intense moment” addressing “Great Catholic leadership with 500+ System leaders wanting to do more and do better for justice & equality with LGBTIQ siblings.” Mr Oh is on the Board of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, a group whose mission is to “challenge all discriminatory structures and to advance the equality of LGBTI persons” because “any law or practice which oppresses, restricts, punishes or harms LGBTI persons is contrary to the Gospel.” Thus, Mr Oh is actively working to undermine the Church’s ability to refuse to employ active homosexuals or to “restrict” homosexuals in any way.
The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics is endorsed by Fr James Martin, as can be seen in a video which he made to greet attendees at the group’s Second Assembly in 2017. In the two-minute video, Fr Martin compares Hitler’s persecution of the Jews with a perceived discrimination against homosexuals and praises Pope Francis for appointing “LGBT-friendly cardinals, archbishops and bishops.”
Another Australian advocate for Fr Martin’s approach is “celebrity priest” Fr Rob Galea. Whatever one may think of a priest who wears his collar with skinny jeans, who posts photos online of himself working out and who writes and performs secular-style “worship” songs, Fr Galea has successfully shared the Gospel with tens of thousands of young people, seemingly without deviating from Catholic teaching.
Fr Galea is a regular speaker and performer at the Los Angeles Religious Education Conference (LAREC) and it was here that he met Fr James Martin in 2016. Two years later, when Fr Galea released his book, “Breakthrough”; a commendation by Fr Martin appeared on the book cover and on the Amazon website.
Amazon also included a commendation for the book from the disgraced former CEO of Salt and Light Media Foundation, Fr Thomas Rosica. Fr Rosica was exposed as a plagiarist in 2017 and is well-known for his promotion of same-sex relationships and tolerance for LGBTIQ Catholics. In June of 2018, Fr Galea visited Salt and Light ministries in Toronto and celebrated Mass with Fr Rosica.
Then in April of 2019, Fr Galea released an interview he had recorded with Fr Martin, the theme of which was “welcoming” LGBTIQ people into the Church. (A more authentically Catholic topic would have been something along the lines of “helping same-sex attracted people to live the Christian life.”) To be entirely fair to Fr Galea, he did not present anything other than standard Catholic teaching on same-sex attraction in this interview. That is, he reiterated the Church’s view that homosexual inclinations are not, themselves, sinful – as opposed to homosexual acts – and that those experiencing SSA are called to chastity.
However, when in the interview Fr Martin referred to young homosexual Catholics “coming out” to their parents, he omitted to underscore the necessity of chastity for all Catholics, including those who experience same-sex attraction.
It should be noted that Fr Galea’s audience is vast and comprises mostly young people, many of whom are nominal Catholics and who may not have been exposed to Church teaching on homosexuality, save for a condemnation given by its critics. It is irresponsible in the extreme for Fr Galea to be associated with Fr Martin, even if the former adheres perfectly to Church teaching.
Also of note is the fact that Fr Galea was one of the headline acts at last year’s Australian Catholic Youth Festival whereas a speaker most highly qualified in the realm of same-sex attraction from a solidly Catholic point of view was passed over. This follows the pattern of Fr Martin, who inexplicably ignores the valuable work being contributed by orthodox Catholic organisations such as Courage.
Worryingly, the “James Martin effect” is not limited to individual priests and bishops who choose to throw their support behind him. This tolerance for, and even embracing of intrinsically disordered sexuality, has also found its way into formal Church governance documents which will directly impact every parish in Australia.
The Catholic Professional Standards Limited (CPSL) was established in response to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Although created by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and Catholic Religious Australia, the CPSL is not operated by the Church and is made up completely of lay professionals.
In 2019, the CPSL launched its National Catholic Safeguarding Standards (NCSS) comprising ten guidelines and associated criteria around which Catholic institutions are meant to build child-safe environments. These standards were recommended in the Royal Commission’s Final Report and are vital for the safety and well-being of children. It must be said that although standards such as “effective complaints management” and “committed leadership, governance and culture” should implicitly be adhered to by any Catholic group, experience has sadly proven that it is now necessary to explicitly articulate them.
However indispensable these common-sense recommendations may be, there is a common thread running throughout the guidelines which is of grave concern to Catholics; this is the James Martin effect, writ large.
Under one criteria of Standard 4, the document recommends that “The entity pays particular attention to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, children with disability, and children from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, those who are unable to live at home, and children of diverse sexuality.”
The guidelines contain ten references to the word “diverse” with only the one mentioned above referring specifically to “diverse sexuality”. However, according to Kate Mathai, National President of the Catholic Women’s League Australia, earlier drafts of the guidelines included the term, “diverse sexuality and gender” in the glossary and in at least five criteria.
A previous draft also included “challenge or denial of identity” as a form of abuse that is prohibited on the basis of “cultural safety.” The CWLA requested that the NCSS clearly articulate the binary nature of human sexuality, but this has not been done in the final draft.
Rather, the Church is left with the question: do the NCSS authors reject gender ideology or is this false doctrine implicit in their continued use of the term, “diverse?” Will this attempt to safeguard the well-being of children be used to enforce gender ideology at the governance level in the Church? What will happen to those priests, teachers and other Catholic Church employees who uphold Church teaching by refusing to “accompany” same-sex attracted young people?
Unfortunately, with no clarification, the intention behind the standards may not be clear until some unfortunate seminarian, priest, or lay worker does indeed challenge a child’s gender identity, potentially incurring the wrath of the CPSL.
The “accompaniment” model, as opposed to the truly Christian model of “loving the sinner, hating the sin” has thoroughly permeated the Church, most notably through the efforts of Fr James Martin. Although Fr Martin has been publicly accused of heresy and has scandalised countless Christians with his apparent acceptance of homosexual relationships, he has not been publicly censured by his superiors. Rather, his celebrity status and promotion to a prominent position within the Vatican point to a reward, rather than punishment, being dispensed for his heterodoxy.
As Archbishop Chaput said, specifically in response to Fr Martin:
”When people hear that “the Church welcomes gay people” or needs to be more “inclusive and welcoming” without also hearing the conditions of an authentically Christian life set for all persons by Jesus Christ and his Church — namely, living a life of chastity — they can easily misunderstand the nature of Christian conversion and discipleship.”
Due to his ambiguity and personal associations with radical gay activist groups, Fr James Martin calls the Church’s teaching into question whenever he is given a platform and whenever he is treated as a reliable authority on homosexuality. Any individual or group who associates itself with Fr Martin or espouses similar views may rightly expect to have its own commitment to the truth questioned: there is simply too much confusion around to allow a possible misrepresentation of the Faith to go unchallenged. Our same-sex attracted brothers and sisters, and their families, deserve to hear the unadulterated truth, spoken in charity, from every Catholic source.