When Compassion is seen as Sin – The Stalking of Fr. James Martin sj

Fr James Martin is one of the most famous priests in America. His books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies; he’s a popular advisor to the film industry on movies with religious themes; and he’s a constant presence on social and other media. Indeed his status in America is such that the New York Times recently called him ‘a Roman Catholic rock star’.

As you’d expect, there’s huge demand on his time and words. Recently a group of parishes in central New Jersey were delighted when he agreed to give a talk on — ‘Jesus Christ: Fully Human, Fully Divine — and were delighted to announce it.

But, after the parish in which the talk was to be delivered publicised the event, they were inundated with angry phone-calls objecting to the talk. Twitter and other social media described Fr. Martin as variously ‘sick’, ‘wicked’, ‘a heretic’ and, as quoted in the New York Times ‘on the fast track to eternal damnation’. Indeed such was the reaction that the talk had to be moved out of a parish venue to a nearly hall.

So what’s this all about? Father Martin’s ‘sin’ is that, in his most recent book, he calls on Catholics to show LGBT people respect and compassion. The result is that he’s being stalked by right-wing Catholics who do whatever they can to encourage Catholics not to attend his talks and everywhere he goes they orchestrate a media campaign against him in an effort to prevent him speaking.

What’s clear is that Fr. Martin is no heretic. He’s in good standing with his Church, supported by his Jesuit colleagues and respected in his ministry. He’s not rejecting church teaching. He’s doing what Pope Francis himself has done, creating a space in the Catholic Church for LGBT people and creating greater awareness of the need to respect them – something absent from the Church’s attitude in the past when words like ‘intrinsically disordered’ were used to describe them.

The truth is that, in America, the presence of homophobic groups who place themselves under the umbrella of ‘Catholic’, are spewing unimagined levels of vitriol on anyone whom they believe is compromising what they see as ‘Catholic teaching’. It is a sinister and corrosive development that runs counter to the gospel, to the mercy Pope Francis consistently underlines and even to minimal standards of civility and respect.

The problem for the Catholic Church is that, more often than not, their behaviour is not confronted and condemned and they’re given a status disproportionate to their actual numbers. And, of course, by their bullying tactics they continually bring the Catholic Church into disrepute.

There’s a growing awareness of this problem in the Church now that Pope Francis is less amenable to their influence. Heretofore, they were often pushing an open door in terms of how receptive Vatican personnel were to their accusations. Then anyone could make any accusation against priest, bishop or cardinal and a Vatican congregation would give it their full attention, regardless of the credibility of its provenance.

This often meant that church personnel had to spend an inordinate amount of their time responding to Vatican congregations which had indulged accusations (against priests, for example) at face value from self-appointed people who were not, let us say, taken very seriously by those who knew them. Unsurprisingly this led to huge injustices being perpetuated against decent people who had given lifetimes of service to the Church.

It also cheesed off church authorities who had to spend an inordinate amount of their times responding to not very credible accusations.

This abuse was part of the reason why cardinals in electing Pope Francis clearly mandated him to reform the Vatican Curia and why Francis, for four years in a row, laid it on the line every Christmas for Vatican officials, pointing out what he called an ‘unbalanced and debased mind-set of plots and small cliques’ and a culture of ‘self-centredness’ in the Curia.

It’s an on-going battle for Francis and for those interested in reform. Some skirmishes are won and some are lost.

Recently, Vatican officials decided that ex-president of Ireland Mary McAleese should be denied permission to speak in a conference in the Vatican on ‘Why women matter’. McAleese’s credentials as a Catholic – a very prominent Catholic, lecturer in a Catholic university, canon lawyer – are impeccable and her barring from the precincts of the Vatican was a spectacular own goal perpetuated by those who wanted to side-line her influence. (The fact that they’ve effectively created the kind of publicity the organisers of the conference must have dreamed about seems to have passed them by.)

The damage done to Francis’ reform agenda is immense – which, of course, was probably part of the plan – and is the result either of incompetency or conspiracy.

The other skirmish lost was the directive to the Irish Church to remove images of same-sex families from a publication of the World Meeting of Families (WMOF). While every effort has been made to advertise the fact that the WMOF extends an open invitation to all families, another egg-on-our-faces public relations disaster has been inflicted on that meeting, again either through incompetency or conspiracy – and the latter seems the more probable explanation.

The experience of Fr. James Martin is, in microcosm, what’s happening in our Church. Unless those who are fighting an unacceptable rear-guard action against the reforms of Pope Francis are confronted, our Church will pay a high price in indulging their fantasies.


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  1. Sheila Harrison says:

    Same kind people have been moralizing and harassing women for decades .
    Revealing a lens of how religion has been skewed in the U.S.
    Life is grey ,not black and white . Possibly the padres of faith should become clearer
    with their teachings ,instead of remaining ambiguous. It takes courage .

  2. William Herlihy says:

    One problem, these so called right wing Catholics have in common,that is glaringly obvious to me,.
    In their case, being Catholic,is not synonymous with being a Christian.
    Sadly for us, we have a liberal sprinkling of them in our Country,and they punch away above their weight,simply, because of the ready ear they are afforded in the Curia.

  3. Frances Burke says:

    There is a long history of the Bible been used to justify discrimination against various groups. In America, Bishop John Shelby Spong has been speaking out against this for decades, and he believes that these groups use a literal interpretation of the Bible to successfully fuel their discrimination.

    There are numerous clips available on youtube which can be viewed to get a flavour of his views on these matters.

  4. Margaret Hickey says:

    William @2 no Catholic believes Catholicism is ‘synonymous’with Christianity since there are many Christians who are not Catholic.
    Right and left wing are terms that describe political and social attitudes. The church’s mission is to seek truth, teach truth and practise truth in love.This is neither left or right but it is radical.

  5. Eugene Sheehan says:

    The attitude of the Institutional Church and it’s empowered “cheerleaders” towards Fr.Martin typically reflects the Church’s view of LGBT people and it’s treatment of women. Sadly, there are many “Fr.Martins” in the sights of the Institutional bullies.
    Question: How am I, or Mrs. McAleese, or any parent of an LGBT child, supposed to respect or remain loyal to a Church that holds such discriminatory attitudes? I commend the ACPI and Fr.Brendan for continuing to alert us to the ongoing incidences of homophobia and mysogeny but my tolerance is at breaking point. Where are the gospel values of non-judgement and non-condemnation? “That they may all be one” Jesus prayed. I see the Roman Catholic Church as a source of division rather than unity, a source of suffering rather than healing. My son is not “disordered”! I abhor the idea of a so-called World Meeting of Families where my family is considered “disordered” by the faceless puppeteers. In 2010, Fr.Owen O’Sullivan OFM Cap wrote an article in the Furrow, “On including gays” and was effectively silenced by the CDF as a result. This article challenged my lack of understanding of the nature of sexual preference and helped both of us as parents to fully and lovingly embrace our son’s reality when he “ came out” to us. No thanks to the CDF!
    Fr. Owen also wrote in the early ‘90s of a silent schism taking place within the Church and how prophetic those words have proven to be. Yet he and so many others are condemned to silence. Methinks it’s the time of the hour to join the schism. Perhaps it is time to embrace the death of the grain of wheat. To quote Fr.Owen, the Church is quickly becoming a “non-prophet” organization!

  6. Con Devree says:

    St Ignatius of Antioch, the first to employ the term “catholic”, rated Catholic Unity as the Church’s supreme present expression as well as her definitive goal. Ignatius exhorts Bishop Polycarp: “Give thought especially to unity, for there is nothing more important than this.” To the Magnesians Ignatius writes: “I pray for their [all of the churches] corporate as well as their spiritual unity – both of these are the gifts of Jesus Christ, our never-failing Life.” He closes his letter with this final appeal: Farewell. See that there is a godly unity among you, and a spirit that is above all divisions; for this is Jesus Christ.” Ignatius assures the Philadelphians that he did his “part as one dedicated to the cause of unity; for where disunion and bad blood exist, God can never be dwelling.”

    The above is a quotation from one Fr Thomas G. Weinandy, OFM, Cap, whom Fr James martin SJ once misquoted, misrepresented, detracted. (Google the internet)

    One of the easiest accusations to make in certain circumstances is that of lack of compassion. The pro-abortion people make it against pro-life people continually.

    Many can sympathize, many can empathize, but who are capable of compassion? Christ’s compassion was formative – “go sin no more.” The compassion shown by wise parents to children is always formative. They do not engage in false mercy which would negate development in many directions, including truth, virtue, character and goodness. It would be the antithesis of love.

    It’s better not to confuse compassion with sympathy or empathy. In Catholicism true compassion relies on the power of Jesus’ love to govern humankind on foot of His redeeming work and his anointing of the Holy Spirit upon all who believe and are baptized; it recognizes Jesus as savior and lord; that the church He founded is holy and can sanctify all its members.

  7. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    When Sin is seen as the truth – the truth is, in today’s world, there are few absolutes and this is what we are all working against. I think the truth is, synthetics that effect the endocrine system are showing gender-bending results when cast openly in environments and food supply. Is that these children’s faults? No, they are born into this reality.

    Are we compassionate enough? You don’t have to answer that question – you just have to show what you are passionate about and what you have accomplished through selfless acts. It is a simple scenario to gauge. Fr. James Martin is leading the way in my mind. He is putting himself out there for all to judge. He is not afraid to take a stand against something.

  8. Paddy Ferry says:

    “synthetics that effect the endocrine system are showing gender-bending results when cast openly in environments and food supply”

    Lloyd@7, that is quite a statement and, as you are always so well researched, I expect there is a credible scientific paper(s), which you have read, supporting that conclusion. This is all news to me and I would be grateful if you could share a link to your source.

  9. Joe O'Leary says:

    So, Con Devree, you claim that Fr James Martin “misquoted, misrepresented, and detracted” Fr Thomas Weinandy, and your evidence for this allegation is “google the internet”.

    I did google and came up with no evidence for your allegation. Perhaps you could be more specific?

    I think you may be referring to these statements of Fr Martin: “Father Weinandy made public a stinging letter to the Holy Father in which he dissented from Pope Francis’ teachings.” “Father Weinandy’s letter reveals once again the double standard often employed by many of Pope Francis’ critics. Under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, no dissent was tolerated. Now some of the same people who were charged with enforcing rules against dissent are themselves dissenting.”

    But in what way are these a misrepresentation? I had formed the same impression independently of Fr Martin’s comments which I have just discovered,

  10. Con Devree says:

    Fr Joe,

    Have you found evidence of dissent in Fr Weinandy’s letter to the Pope? (#10)

  11. Joe O'Leary says:

    If we must use the Stalinist language of “dissent,” I’d say Weinandy plainly dissents from Amoris Laetitia, a solemn papal document backed by two Synod sessions. He also opens a wider field of dissent by accusing the pope of habitual ambiguity, thus undermining all trust in his authority.

  12. Con Devree says:

    Fr Joe
    Whatever about the reference to Stalin, # 13 offers no evidence of dissent against Church teaching by Fr Weinandy.

    Every pope’s day to day performance is open to civil criticism from anybody. This is not dissent from any teaching.

  13. Joe O'Leary says:

    What Fr Weinandy perceives as “the confusion and turmoil within the Church today, a chaos and an uncertainty that I felt Pope Frrancis had himself caused” is not a matter of papal manners but of the entire tenor of Francis’s teaching. The narrowness and rigidity that has always marked Fr Weinandy’s theological outlook makes him a very poor interpreter of the Pope’s vision, which the majority of Catholics have found illuminating and have embraced with joy. Indeed some of the theologians Weinandy branded as “dissenters” were preaching a theological vision in line with Vatican II that Francis’s ministry has confirmed.


  14. Con Devree says:

    Fr Joe – Still no evidence regarding #12.

    I think St Ignatius of Antioch got it right.

    Sincere good wishes.

  15. Joe O'Leary says:

    But don’t forget that Weinandy or at least his groupies tarred as “dissidents” people who never rejected even implicitly, much less explicitly, any church doctrine.

    Weinandy is obviously a “dissident” against Amoris Laetitia. Or are you saying that it is Pope Francis who is the dissident?

    Note this broader context: “Since Amoris Laetitia’s release in April 2016, more than a thousand Catholic academics and clergy (cardinals, bishops, priests) have voiced concern about the exhortation’s seeming incompatibility with Catholic moral teaching. Catholic philosopher Dr. Josef Seifert has demonstrated how the Pope’s teaching could be used to overturn Catholic teaching against contracepted sex and homosexuality.

    “Last month, dozens of Catholic clergy and lay scholars from around the world issued a Filial Correction to Pope Francis for “propagating heresy.” They asserted that Pope Francis has supported heretical positions about marriage, moral life, and the Eucharist that are causing a host of “heresies and other errors” to spread throughout the Catholic Church.”

    That seems to be Weinandy’s position, and yours. But it’s the view of a minority, a dissident cabal, and not of the Catholic world, which as Augustine said, “securely judges” on this matter (apart altogether from the accompanying slogan of “Roma locuta est”).

    See also: https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2018/03/05/claims-heresy-amoris-laetitia-place-cardinal-says/


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