18 July 2019, The Tablet

Inside the world of James Martin, America’s most turbulent priest

Inside the world of James Martin, America’s most turbulent priest

Fr James Martin (right) pictured during an annual “Pre-Pride Festive Mass” at St Francis of Assisi Church, New York City, last month with Franciscan Fr Andrew Reitz, the church pastor
CNS, Gregory A. Shemit


His books are bestsellers and lectures by the celebrated Jesuit writer and media commentator James Martin are guaranteed to fill a cathedral. But, as his biographer discovered, his public appearances also draw angry demonstrators

“Is he old enough?” I thought when I was asked to write a life of perhaps the most admired – and perhaps the most reviled – priest in the United States, James Martin. I had other doubts. Biographies of serious figures tend to be written after their subject’s death.I also knew that if I were to take it on, while retaining the freedom to write what I liked about him, I’d want his participation, so I asked him what he thought of the idea.

We’ve known each other many years. I had started writing articles for the Culture pages at the Jesuit-owned America magazine when he was editing them more than a decade ago. He was hesitant at first. He half-joked, “My Jesuit life is supposed to include humility. Does having a biography written about me fit that?” But conversation brought him round to seeing that this might be the right time to say something more about him, when the audience for his writings, talks, and ministry both inside and outside the Church, is greater than ever, and when the maelstrom around him has grown more intense.

In England, too, interest in Fr Martin and his work is on the rise. An invitation to give a lecture in London was withdrawn by Cafod after an ugly campaign on social media. On both sides of the Atlantic there are many who credit Martin with almost single-handedly keeping them in the Church. There are many others who would like to see him shut up and go away.

Get Instant Access

Continue Reading

Register for free to read this article in full

Subscribe for unlimited access

From just £30 quarterly

  Complete access to all Tablet website content including all premium content.
  The full weekly edition in print and digital including our 179 years archive.
  PDF version to view on iPad, iPhone or computer.

Already a subscriber? Login