In a much-anticipated address, American Jesuit Fr James Martin told a packed 1,000-seater auditorium filled to overflowing at the World Meeting of Families Pastoral Congress in Dublin, that gays have often been treated like “lepers” by the church.
Fr Martin, who is an author and editor of America magazine, is trying to build a bridge between the LGBT community and the Church.
He said gay Catholics have felt excluded from the church for so long that any experience of welcome can be life-changing.
He highlighted some double standards in the attitudes of Catholics. “For example, even though Jesus condemns divorce outright, most parishes welcome divorced people. Do we treat LGBT people with the same understanding?” he challenged.
He also urged people to be willing to apologise to LGBT Catholics or their families if they have been harmed in the name of the church by homophobic comments, attitudes or decisions. An apology, he said, “doesn’t solve everything, but it’s a start.”
He stressed that LGBT people do not choose their orientation. “Sadly, many people still believe that people choose their sexual orientation, despite the testimony of almost every psychiatrist, biologist and, more important, the lived experience of LGBT people. You don’t choose your orientation or gender identity any more than you choose to be lefthanded. It’s not a choice,” he challenged.
Over the past few years, he said he had heard the most appalling stories from LGBT Catholics who had been made to feel unwelcome in parishes, including the case of a 30-year-old autistic gay man who came out to his family, and was not in any sort of relationship. He recounted to Fr Martin how a pastoral associate had told he could no longer receive Communion in church because even saying he was gay was a scandal.
Fr Martin set out a series of ways in which Catholic parishes can show welcome and respect to LGBT people and their families, many of whom have been “deeply wounded” by the church.
“They may have been mocked, insulted, excluded, condemned or singled out for critique, either privately or from the pulpit. They may never have heard the term ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ expressed in any positive way, or even a neutral way.”
He explained that his own Jesuit community in New York is next to a church called St Paul the Apostle, which has one of the most active LGBT outreach programmes in the world. The ministry is called ‘Out at St Paul’ and it sponsors retreats, Bible study groups, speaking engagements and social events for the parish’s large LGBT community.
“Help LGBT people and their families to fulfil their deepest desires: to know God,” he urged and reminded the faithful that LGBT people are loved by God.
“God loves them, so should we. And I don’t mean a stingy, grudging, judgmental, conditional, half-hearted love. I mean real love. And what does real love mean? The same thing it means for everyone: knowing them in the complexity of their lives, celebrating with them when life is sweet, suffering with them when life is bitter, as a friend would.”
Elsewhere in his address, he urged people to examine their own attitudes towards LGBT people and their families.
“Do you believe someone is sinful because she’s lesbian, or more inclined to sin than a straight woman? Do you hold the parents ‘responsible’ for a gay teen’s orientation? Do you think a person is transgender person only because it’s ‘fashionable’? Here’s another question: If none or only a few LGBT people have made themselves known to you, why might that be the case?”
He warned them not to reduce gays and lesbians to the call to chastity we all share as Christians.
“LGBT people are more than their sexual lives. But sometimes that’s all they hear about. Remember not to focus solely on sexuality but on the many other joys and sorrows in their lives. They lead rich lives.”
“Many LGBT Catholics are parents themselves or are caring for aging parents; many help the poor in their community, many are involved in civic and charitable organisations. They’re often deeply involved in the life of the parish. See them in their totality. And if you talk about chastity with LGBT people, do it as much with straight people.” He called for them to be more included in ministries.
Fr Martin received a standing ovation for his address from the auditorium.
At a press conference on Thursday, Cardinal Blaise Cupich of Chicago backed Fr Martin and warned that “to stigmatise one group over another can be very damaging” particularly to teenagers.
Ahead of the Jesuit’s talk, a petition was organised by the Irish branch of ‘Tradition, Family, Property’ which garnered over 15,000 signatures calling for Fr Martin to be disinvited from WMOF2018 over his views on LGBT people.