Building a Bridge to Those Who Dissent From Church Teaching

By Peter Wolfgang Published on June 25, 2018

I confess, I never thought I would see it. I mean a statement of Christian orthodoxy on the impossibility of same-sex marriage and the impermissibly of same-sex acts by the ubiquitous Fr. James Martin.

I trust he needs no introduction for Stream readers. Punch his name into our search engine and just a quick skim of the titles gives you a sense of what we think of his work around here.

So when Princeton professor Robert P. George, a leading pro-family Christian intellectual, wrote a piece arguing that Fr. Martin was being sincere when he says that he does not reject the teachings of the Church on same-sex relations because he is not knowingly rejecting those teachings, I scoffed.

I Scoffed at Robert George

I had seen it all before. As a fellow-traveler in the dissident Catholic Left of twenty-five years ago, I know how this game is played. Dissenters almost never admit they dissent from Church teaching. They nearly always claim to be faithful to the teachings — of some future Church that just hasn’t arrived yet. And they never make statements affirming the Catholic teachings in question.

But then Fr. Martin went and did the very thing I said he never would do. To be sure, he did it through gritted teeth. He affirmed The “official” teaching … “according to” the Catechism of the Catholic Church … the “traditional” reliance on natural law … conscience as “the final arbiter of moral decision-making,” etc. All very pro forma.

Because of all the qualifiers and because of all the times he has said the opposite of what he now affirms in his America article, we have good reason to be suspicious. Nevertheless when he, however grudgingly, affirms Church teachings we all understood him to oppose, attention must be paid.

One person paying attention is the one who likely got him to say it: Robert George. George accepted Martin’s affirmation at face value. He emphasized his friendship with him when they recently appeared together at a conference on “overcoming polarization.”

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These developments met with some deserved skepticism by those who are on the front lines of ministry to persons with same-sex attractions, men like Joseph Sciambra. He says it was “priests just like Martin who confirmed his homosexuality that led to Sciambra’s lost decade in the bowels of the sex-drenched gay world.”

What Does It All Mean?

What does it all mean? It may be that Martin’s affirmation of Christian orthodoxy — grudging qualifiers and all — is a sign that things have changed inside the Catholic Church these last 25 years, for the better.

Or it may be that George’s article, written in the irenic spirit of friendship for which he is known, spurred Martin to dialogue with a partner to whom he could — to borrow a phrase — build a bridge. If so, George is playing one heck of a fascinating game of chess.

Only by doing what guys like me don’t like — accepting at face value Martin’s affirmation of Catholic orthodoxy despite much evidence to the contrary — could George be in a position to challenge the very heart of what is wrong with Fr. Martin’s ministry: His acceptance of the identity politics of the LGBT movement and his attempts to get the Church itself to embrace it.

The LGBT agenda is everywhere. You can’t show your children modern versions of the superhero or Star Trek universes you grew up on without exposing them to it. You can’t work for a Fortune 500 company without being expected to express support for things that violate your faith. And you can’t speak out against it publicly without risking your standing in the community.

And you can’t necessarily expect the Church to be the oasis of sanity in this 21st century madhouse that it should be. Many have written on how the LGBT agenda has infiltrated some aspects of the Church itself and the harm it has caused both to those who have been abandoned to that agenda and to those who struggle to live chastely.

Further Confusion

Further confusion in the face of this massive onslaught against faith and morals would only demoralize them more. Indeed, it would demoralize all of us who have fought this agenda. So we ought to pray for the success of Robert George’s bridge to Fr. James Martin — provided it is a bridge to his ceasing to support LGBT identity politics.

Will he? Probably not. Not even under the influence of the persuasive Prof. Robert P. George. In either case, we also must continue our support for those ministries that bring to persons struggling with same-sex attractions the healing clarity of God’s truth — a truth often obscured or actively opposed by prominent figures within the Church itself.

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