Mob Rule by Social Media

Dear friends:
Theological College, the seminary at The Catholic University of America, in Washington, DC, today cancelled a talk I was to give on Alumni Day, on Oct. 4, thanks to a campaign by Church Militant, the priest known as “Father Z” and Lifesite News.
Those campaigns can be seen, in part, here:
and here:
That campaign caused a storm of phone calls, emails and messages to Theological College, which included I was told people screaming at the receptionists who answered the phone. In the end, they felt that the expected protests and negative publicity would distract from Alumni Day.
This follows the cancellation of another lecture at the Annual Investiture Dinner of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre in New York City, scheduled on Oct. 21. The organizers told me that they had received angry emails and calls from several members of the Order, most of whom, they believed, were encouraged to protest thanks to another campaign initiated by Church Militant, which you can see here: https://www.churchmilitant.com/…/episode/vortex-unbelievable
As an aside, a few years ago I was invited to join the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, but couldn’t because of its steep entrance fee. Also, Catholic University hosted me for a talk, one of a few that I have given there, just last year.
That follows an earlier cancellation of a lecture in London for Cafod (Catholic International Development Charity in England) which was scheduled for the third week in October.
Each of these cancellations was a result of anger or fear over my book “Building a Bridge,” about LGBT Catholics. The book has the formal approval (the “Imprimi Potest”) of my Jesuit Provincial, the Very Rev. John Cecero, SJ; and has been endorsed by Cardinal Joseph Tobin, Cardinal Kevin Farrell, Archbishop John Wester, Bishop Robert McElroy and Bishop John Stowe.
In the case of Theological College, the fears were of angry protesters disrupting their Alumni Day. In the case of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre Dinner, it was anger from some members over the topic of LGBT Catholics. In the case of Cafod lecture in London, it was not a response to any campaign but fear that my presence itself would garner negative attention, after the group had recently faced other similar problems. In none of these cases was the local ordinary–in each a cardinal–in any way advocating for the cancellation of the talk. The impetus was purely from those social media sites.
I have asked each organization to be honest about the reasons for these cancellations. That is, I told them I did not want to lie and say, “I withdrew” or “I declined” or “I was afraid to come.”
So I share with you as much as I can in the interests of transparency, which we need in our church. And to show you the outsize influence of social media sites motivated by fear, hatred and homophobia.
For my part, I bear no ill will to Theological College, Catholic University, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre or Cafod. The organizers were all apologetic and in some cases more upset than I was. I know that they were under extreme pressure, and in some cases were overwhelmed by the rage that can be generated by social media: ill will based on misrepresentations, innuendos, homophobia and especially fear. Perfect love drives out fear, as St. Paul said. But perfect fear also drives out love.
Also, I want to say that none of these cancellations disturbs me. I’ve not lost any sleep over them. (The outsize influence of social media sites that traffic in homophobia, specialize in personal attacks, and whips up hatred another matter. This is disturbing and should be disturbing to all of us. It is not coming from God.)
And there will be many other venues. In fact, after the talk in DC was cancelled, Holy Trinity Church in DC invited me to deliver a lecture a few days before the planned Theological College event was to occur, on Sept. 30. So I look forward to seeing you all in Washington.
I’m also happy to say that a revised and expanded version of “Building a Bridge,” with a new introduction, more stories drawn from my encounters with LGBT people, more insights from church leaders, and more biblical meditations, will be published early next year.
Last night at the University of Scranton, after the talk to the incoming freshmen, a mother approached the book-signing table, and started to cry when she talked about her gay son and what the book had meant to her. And I told her that her tears put any opposition in perspective.
Because what is opposition next to the love of Jesus? It is nothing.
I also have the support of my Jesuit Provincial, my Jesuit brothers, and two cardinals and several bishops who endorsed my book (as well as many other cardinals, archbishops and bishops who have contacted me privately). Most of all, I want to say that Jesus is close to me in prayer.
So I am at total peace.
A final note: all of the talks that were cancelled–at Theological College, at the Order of the Holy Sepulchre Investiture Dinner, and at Cafod, were not about LGBT Catholics. They were about Jesus.
James Martin, SJ

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  1. I hope that Fr James will keep up his excellent and compassionate ministry to LBGT Catholics. I hope someday he will be invited to Ireland. Maybe the acp could organise a conference and have him speak.
    And his topic was about Jesus, not even lgbt issues.
    More prophetic voices like Fr James’ are needed in the Church.

  2. Brendan Peters says:

    James Martin is an authentic witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His detractors are anti ~ witnesses. I was bigoted and narrow minded concerning persons who are homosexual. Then I met some. Now I am privileged to count some of them as good friends and as brothers and sisters in Christ. Perspective helps here and though the voice of Church Militant et al is loud and shrill ultimately it has nothing creative to say. Thank you for the many edifying words you have spoken and written over the years, Fr.James.

  3. Con Devree says:

    It’s one thing to criticize respectfully an author’s ideas and their implications. It’s quite another to engage in ad hominem trashing.
    Wherever we locate ourselves on the ecclesial spectrum, we have the duty to speak the truth with love. Culture warriors come in all shapes and shades of opinion. The bitterness directed at the person of Fr. Martin or against Pope Benedict is not just unwarranted and unjust; it’s a destructive counter-witness to the Gospel.
    People should remember that Fr. Martin’s book is not above legitimate, serious criticism that has nothing to do with ad hominem rancour.
    Some might suggest that disputes over “Building a Bridge”, given its call for closer dialogue with the LGBT community, are really about whether we’re willing to eliminate judgmentalism from Church life. But that’s simply wrong. Clear judgment, tempered by mercy but faithful to Scripture and constant Church teaching, is an obligation of Catholic discipleship—especially on moral issues, and especially in Catholic scholarship. The perceived ambiguities in some of Fr. Martin’s views on sexuality have created much apprehension. There’s nothing vindictive in respectfully but firmly challenging those inadequacies. Doing less would violate both justice and charity.

  4. Sean O Brien says:

    #3 Con,
    I agree that we have the duty to speak the truth with love.
    When it comes to the type of attack on Fr. Martin, as referred to in the above article, there is no room for equivocation or ‘whataboutery’.
    It would suffice to say “The bitterness directed at the person of Fr. Martin is not just unwarranted and unjust; it’s a destructive counter-witness to the Gospel.”

  5. Sean@4, I completely agree with you. I thought you might be interested to read this reflection on the issue in this week’s Tablet. “Let Fr. Martin speak out” It does not mention that Cardinal Blasé Cupich has invited Fr. Martin to preach in his Cathedral in Chicago.
    Let Father Martin speak out                                                                
    Cafod and censorship
    Cafod, the overseas aid agency that stands for all that is truest and best in Catholicism in England and Wales, has allowed itself to succumb to a combination of trolling, no-platforming, and the Catholic alt-right – that is, the mad-as-a-hatter version of American Catholicism. It has issued and then withdrawn an invitation to a distinguished American theologian to give a lecture in London – then reissued it after second thoughts – because of the fuss his most recent book might cause.
    “No-platforming” means refusing to invite to speak – or having invited, then cancelling – people whose opinions draw strong disapproval. It has legitimately been used to keep academic campuses clear of outright racists or fascists, on the grounds that the invitation itself conveys some support or approval for the speaker’s views. Trolling is the practice of using Twitter, Facebook and other social media to bombard a target with insulting or threatening messages. And the alt-right (or alternative right) is a grisly section of the internet occupied by extremists who reject mainstream conservative ideas, and is usually ultra-nationalistic, rabidly anti-liberal, racist, homophobic and misogynistic.
    The latest book by Fr James Martin SJ, Building a Bridge, argues for a dialogue between the official Roman Catholic Church and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics who feel alienated from it. It is a moderate proposal, for each side to enter into a relationship of respect, compassion and sensitivity. What has angered his critics, it seems, is that Fr Martin’s approach is incompatible with the continued stigmatisation of homosexuality and other sexual orientations. But instead of attempting to disprove his argument, on the basis that the best response to bad theology is better theology, these critics demand that Catholic institutions no-platform him. Explaining that the decision had been made after “increasing negative attacks” on social media, the national seminary run by the Catholic University of America in Washington recently withdrew its invitation to Fr Martin to speak – on the subject of Jesus, no less.
    Fr Martin reported on Facebook that an invitation to come to London to give a talk to help Cafod launch its campaign in support of migrants and refugees had also been cancelled. Cafod explained that when Building a Bridge was published “and we saw the strength of feeling it generated in some quarters”, they had a duty to consider how to proceed in the best interests of Cafod’s work. “We have recent experience of social media attacks. Responding to these takes a significant amount of staff resource,” they explained. Cafod said it had talked to Fr Martin about another date, but he told The Tablet it was clear to him that he had been disinvited, and that the book – and social media reaction to it – was the reason.
    The influence of far-right-wing Catholicism on the Catholic Church, particularly in the US, is out of all proportion to its significance. It succeeds by bullying and intimidation. It is time the Church and all its institutions, official and unofficial, made a firm determination to deal with this poison in the best and only way – to pay it no attention whatsoever. To do otherwise is to allow oneself to be poisoned

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