The Hollywood Whitewashing of Fr. James Martin

A new propagandistic film about Fr. James Martin leaves us with no doubt whatever that the end goal is to thwart existing true doctrine on human nature and human sexuality, either covertly or overtly.

“The onus for bridge-building is on the institutional church.”
—Fr. James Martin, S.J.

What do you get when Academy Award-winning filmmaker Martin Scorsese decides to executive produce a film on a Jesuit priest’s ministry to “LGBTQ Catholics”?

An exquisitely captured propaganda piece, and a glimpse of a distorted, rigid, inflexible “LGBTQ+” culture of unreality

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Welcome to the newly released documentary film about Fr. James Martin, S.J., titled Building a Bridge, after Martin’s book of the same name. 

And welcome to an unquestioningly stubborn world of make-believe in which error is truth, evil is good, sin is virtue, men are women, women are men, men have husbands, women have wives, sodomy is love, and—notably—the only way to embrace the Catechism’s teaching to treat those with same-sex attraction with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” is to reject the Catechism’s teaching that the homosexual inclination is objectively disordered. 

And this culture of unreality is the ethereal “bedrock” upon which this documentary’s distorted narrative is built—primarily seeking to promote the notion that change in Church teaching on human nature and human sexuality is necessary and inevitable, while maintaining that teaching is purely an exercise in irrational, phobic hate. 

Before highlighting some of the film’s elements, let’s set the record straight on one thing: Fr. James Martin is a flagrant dissenter from Church teaching, flagrant in regard to his actions, but subtle in regard to his words. He verbally hides his rejection of Church teaching behind the façade of “not challenging” it. But he “doesn’t challenge” it in precisely the same manner as a wartime spy dons his enemy’s military uniform and proceeds to wreak havoc on the enemy’s plans without ever “challenging” them overtly, since doing so would undermine his true purpose. Fr. Martin is committing ecclesial espionage, and in plain sight, and with praise coming from the highest levels of Church authority. 

At the film’s 34:17 mark, Martin himself states: 

One of the things that has been a surprise to me is that, if you’d asked me 20 years ago, “what’s the way to go about this?” I’d have said, “Oh, (raises fist), you know, just do it.” But I found that doing it with the support strengthens it.… And I was very careful about, you know, what I said, and the fact that it did not challenge any Church teaching made it fairly easier. If I had done it off the top of my head and without any sort of approval, it would have been much harder to stand firm.

Indeed, the unfolding story of the film and the end game of Martin’s ministry is the same: working to normalize this culture of unreality at all levels in the Church. Martin wants Catholics to “welcome” this culture while, at minimum, never ever challenging or acknowledging its contradiction with the truth of Catholic doctrine, or, at maximum, persuading Catholics everywhere to embrace it fully as though this unreality were true. 

This trajectory is clear from start to finish, as the filmmakers have “bookended” its “early spring” theme well. They focus first on Martin’s role as “gardener” of his Jesuit community while giving us lush visuals of lovely foliage and flowers. Ninety minutes later, at the final scene, Vivaldi’s “Spring” theme plays and Martin is shown with St. Peter’s Basilica as a backdrop while he says, “Here comes the sun.” Then, looking around, he jovially says, “Where’s our rainbow?”

In that time frame, the narrative arc here is that a very likable Fr. James Martin and his supporters are the white-hat good guys, while the purportedly unlikable Michael Voris and his minion zealots at Church Militant are the black-hat, hate-filled bad guys. Even Fr. James Martin’s mother makes a very brief appearance in the film, saying she doesn’t like Voris because he’s “against my son.”

The end result is that this simply isn’t a film about two opposing sides constructing pathways to meet each other in the middle. No, only one side—the “institutional Church”—must make the effort to move toward the other, while the other sits there waiting, complaining that the only way they will feel “welcome” in the Church is if the Church fully embraces their intransigent errors. 

The film compares and contrasts “out, loud, and proud” LGBTQ Catholics and their families on one side of the chasm with the Catholic protesters pushing back from the other. And while Martin himself is not directly portrayed as “out,” his fellow priest Fr. Bryan Massingale assuredly is, self-identifying as a “black, gay, Catholic priest” who teaches theology at Fordham University. While Martin avoids overt and direct verbal dissent, Massingale at least owns it.  

The scene moves from Massingale and the “early spring” motif to Michael Voris claiming (correctly) that we’re in the midst of a “civil war” for the very soul of the Church when it comes to this issue. I found it noteworthy that, throughout, Voris and others who protest against Martin’s ecclesial espionage are often depicted as fringe elements (though most of Voris’ scenes make it clear that he’s personable, approachable, and friendly). But there’s one scene the filmmakers include that makes it clear that many of Martin’s supporters have their own “hate” issues to contend with.

At about 27:42, a moment unfolds in which a gathering of faithful Catholics protesting outside of one of Martin’s talks is confronted by an elderly passerby on his way in to the talk. The man tells the peaceful protesters praying the Rosary together to “go f**k yourself” several times before going in to be edified by Martin’s mantra of how the Church is supposed to treat LGBTQ people with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” The protesters responded to the F-bombs with respect, compassion, and sensitivity, merely saying a sincere “God bless you” to the angry Martin supporter.

That’s when it hit me that, if Martin’s beliefs really aligned with Church teaching, his adoring crowds would be treating him in exactly the same manner those peacefully praying the Rosary were treated. They are adoring of Martin precisely because his personal beliefs on homosexuality fully align with theirs, and they know it full well, even though he never says it directly in public.

This thought was reinforced at 1:14:12, when Martin said he was still “discerning” whether to march in the upcoming “Pride” parade. He said: “What if I get photographed with a banner in favor of same-sex marriage and then that gets sent all over the place, right?”

His interviewer replied: “Why would that be such a bad thing?”

Martin paused for a beat, seeming to make sure his wording was careful: “Because I’m not supposed to support same-sex marriage.”

Documentary films like this do offer glimpses of many compelling personal stories. Martin’s own congeniality, affability, and sincerity of belief (albeit both in some Gospel truth and in some egregious error) are evident. Voris’ account of his reconversion is something genuine, visceral, felt in his core. We can feel the great burden of grief experienced by family of victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and the genuine feelings of rejection many in the “LGBTQ community” experience as real, despite the fact that those feelings are basically bound to a point of view that makes “welcome” conditioned upon embracing their illusory, rigid, and impenetrable culture of unreality.

Personal stories do compel and persuade, and the filmmakers under Scorsese, and Martin himself, have created an evocative narrative. But where does this narrative want to lead us?

The answer to that question is why this endeavor is ultimately propagandistic. The film leaves us with no doubt whatever that the end goal is to thwart existing true doctrine on human nature and human sexuality, either covertly or overtly. Martin’s “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” approach to the issue has elicited an all-too-favorable response from our Church leaders at the highest level, making them complicit in embedding this culture of unreality in our Catholic communities. 

Church leaders who gave him a platform in their schools, parishes, dioceses, and even at the Vatican’s World Meeting of Families are complicit. Those who enabled him to garner a private papal audience, resulting in Francis writing personal letters of praise and support to the heretical New Ways Ministry and its previously Vatican-censured co-founder Sr. Jeannine Gramick, are complicit. 

The end goal comes clearly into focus, interestingly, after the film credits have finished, when we see a photo of Martin with Gramick, captioned: “Special thanks to Sister Jeannine Gramick and New Ways Ministry for being pioneers in LGBTQ+ Catholic advocacy.”

But neither Gramick nor New Ways Ministry ever made it into the film itself. Why? My intuition is that the organization being called not Catholic by the U.S. Bishops originally gave the filmmakers pause. But with the pope’s personal letters of praise, the game changed, so they patched in the last-minute “thank-you.”

Martin’s ecclesial espionage is clearly working. 

But wait, there’s more…

At 1:28:32, Martin preaches at a rainbow-festooned “pre-Pride” Mass (he’d discerned that he shouldn’t march in the parade and did this instead), saying: 

You know, lately I’ve been hearing that it’s not enough for the Catholic Church to be welcoming, affirming, and inclusive. And I think I would have said something differently a year ago, but I agree. Because those are the minimum. Instead, LGBTQ Catholics should fully expect to participate in all of the ministries in your church, not just being welcomed and affirmed and included, but leading—leading.

And at the very end (1:35:36) is a dedication:

Dedicated to Carlos Cuartas and all other faithful LGBTQ+ Catholics who spent their lives seeking welcome in their own church.

Cuartas died April 1, 2020. His obituary states that he was a “beloved husband, best friend and travel partner of 34 years” to a man named James; an “officiant” at weddings for 19 couples; a Eucharistic minister; a lector; an RCIA leader; and a “spiritual director.”

And there it is—your glimpse of “Scorsese’s Folly,” coming soon to a screen near you; and your glimpse of the future of “faithful” Catholicism, a culture of unreality coming soon to a parish near you.

  • Jim Russell

    Jim Russell lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He writes on a variety of topics related to the Catholic faith, including natural law, liturgy, theology of the body, and sexuality. He can be reached at: [email protected]

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