Donald Trump might refer to James Martin S.J. as “Slippery Jim.” He is certainly slippery. His latest act of slipperiness is a column he published this week at America wherein he claims to support the teaching of the Church on homosexuality.
Keep in mind the Church teaches that the homosexual inclination is “objectively disordered” and that genital acts between persons of the same sex are “intrinsically disordered.” Even more, the Church teaches that these are acts of “grave depravity.”
In his column, Martin says, “As a Catholic priest, I have also never challenged those teachings, nor will I.”
This seems to be case closed. James Martin S.J. believes all these things and here he is pronouncing this is so.
Well, not so fast. After all, James Martin S.J. has a pretty lengthy public record on this topic. Even in the column there are questions.
In the America column there are a number of qualifiers. They may mean nothing. For instance, instead of saying, “here is what the Church teaches” Martin refers to “official” Church teaching, perhaps implying there can be another one. Martin’s critics charge him with nods and winks to his audience of active homosexuals. Perhaps this is one of those.
When he writes about the natural law and the proper ordering of sexuality, he refers to the “traditional interpretation.” Tradition is hidebound and changes and we moderns have another understanding. Wink, wink, nod.
In the column, Martin refers to the “two sides” in the debate about homosexuality and the Church. He refers to “both sides.” The implication is that there is a single monolithic “position” among those with same-sex attraction, which is far from the truth, and this single monolithic body is up against a group of others located somewhere in the official Church. In fact, the debate is between a relatively tiny group of mostly gay men against the timeless and ancient teaching of Jesus Christ and Holy Mother Church.
He raises the old canard that many Catholics, even “educated” ones, view the homosexual condition as sinful. This is a straw man he proceeds to knock down. This is a charge of bigoted ignorance often leveled by homosexuals at critics of the homosexual movement. In fact, most Catholics understand a condition is not sinful but that actions are.
After this he skips quickly over Scripture, without quoting any of the clobber parts, and dips ever so briefly into Thomas Aquinas before he lands on Pope Francis and promptly gets him at least slightly wrong. He says Amoris Laetitia reiterates “the church’s opposition to equating same-sex marriage with traditional marriage between a man and a woman.” Note that use of the word “traditional.” But, Martin gets this wrong. The Pope refers not to “same-sex marriage” but “same-sex unions.” Additionally, the teaching of the Church has nothing to do with the problem of equating the two. As Francis implies, one is not marriage at all. Maybe that is a quibble, but Martin puts us all on guard.
The real challenge to his claim that he does not question or want to change Church teaching is his voluminous public statements to the contrary.
He strikes right at the heart of the teaching when he says a teaching has to be received and if it is not received it cannot be an authentic teaching. Further, he says the teaching on homosexuality has not been received and therefore cannot be authentic. He says that about contraception, too, but that is another matter.
Martin believes there is more than one “sexual orientation.” This alone would put him at odds with Church teaching that there can only be one “sexual orientation” and that is the complementarity between men and women. In his piece, Martin actually implies there could be more than two sexual orientations when he explains “any orientation other than heterosexuality is regarded as ‘objectively disordered’.”
He has said repeatedly he wants to change the teaching on “disordered.” He says it is cruel. In his book Building a Bridge, Martin writes, “Saying that one of the deepest parts of a person—the part that gives and receives love—is ‘disordered’ in itself is needlessly cruel.”
Father Gerald Murray points out that for Martin “…a disordered inclination or tendency is ‘one of the deepest parts of a person.’ He refers to ‘the part that gives and receives love.’ It is our heart and soul that constitute our innermost being, the center of love. An inclination toward unnatural sexual activity is not the heart and soul of a person. True love is expressed in virtuous deeds. Evil inclinations or tendencies to sin must be seen by the Christian for what they are and resisted.”
What he prefers is that the homosexual inclination is merely “differently ordered.” You are right handed, and I am left and that is just different. As Father Murray writes, such a change to differently ordered “…would mean that God created two different orders of sexual behavior that are both good and right according to his will: Some people are homosexual by God’s express design and some are heterosexual by God’s express design.” Murray says if the inclination is merely different, then the act—sodomy—is too, and therefore would be “simply natural” and not disordered.
Consider the interview James Martin gave wherein he said he looks forward to the time when married gay men may be able to kiss in Mass. He says, “Why not? What’s the terrible thing?” Is this not a change or at least a challenge to Church teaching? Does the Church teach that gay men may be married and that they ought to kiss in Church? He says opposing gay marriage is similar to being racist. One can therefore conclude the Church is like unto a racist and one can presume Martin wants this to change.
There is so much more that refutes his claim that he does not and has never challenged Church teaching on homosexuality, but this is enough.
It is unclear why Martin posted this column. He says he gets this question a lot. We can certainly believe that. I am sure he was getting lots of heat from faithful Catholics and not a few bishops.
For some, this column settles the question. On Twitter, Elizabeth Scalia of Aleteia called the column “elegant.” My friend Maggie Gallagher says we need to take a yes for a yes. But, I do not believe this is a yes. Note that Martin, an inveterate Facebooker, has not posted the column on his newsfeed. He didn’t post it himself on Twitter though he did retweet a posting by America Magazine. Even more revealing, though, if he really does support Church teaching in all its most difficult parts about homosexuality, why hasn’t there been an uproar among his followers? I suspect it is because they are able, like I am, to see the nods and winks and understand what he really believes.
(Photo credit: Screen shot / Salt and Light)