Fr. James Martin is Creating Chaos in Catholic Circles
You might not follow inside Catholic baseball. I wouldn’t blame you. Lately it has recalled the infamous 1962 Mets, who won only 40 games while losing 120. Their manager, Casey Stengel, famously asked the team, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”
But the latest wild pitch and lost game are important, both to Catholics and other Christians.
There’s a famous, media-savvy priest, James Martin. He’s the kind of man whom Martin Scorcese calls up to consult on movies like Silence. Martin appears on Stephen Colbert, mocking conservatives and roguishly giving the heavy metal “devil horns” salute. He serves as a special advisor to Pope Francis. All this, while he’s pitching himself to the rich and aggressive LGBT lobby as their champion inside the church.
Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me
But he’s also expert at casting himself as a persecuted victim. Criticize him for any of his nasty statements, and you’ll see that. Point out that he encouraged a priest to develop pre-marriage materials for same-sex couples. Or that he thinks it’s fine for gay couples to kiss during the “sign of peace” at Mass. Or that he incessantly undermines and mocks the timeless Jewish-Christian tradition on sexual morality, while winking at serious evil. Then you’ll see him over on the fainting couch, pretending that he’s been bullied.
He’s very good at this act. And media, both liberal Catholic and secular, eat it up like popcorn. Two weeks ago, Martin responded to critics at the website CatholicVote by pretending that their criticisms amounted to threats of violence. He even got them suspended from Twitter. When prolife activist Austin Ruse mocked this act of schoolgirl snitching and lying by calling it “pansified,” Martin cast himself as the victim of homophobic bullying.
But when he has the whip hand, Martin’s not ashamed to “out” dead priests and insinuate that his faithful Christian critics are latently homosexual. He encourages other priests to “come out,” but when observers ask him about his own sexuality, he coyly declines to comment.
First Things Senior Editor Matthew Schmitz points out that Martin and his allies tried to silence him by contacting his employer when he criticized Martin’s book.
Forgive me if I am unsympathetic when I hear appeals to liberal tolerance and free speech from people who have tried to compel my silence.
— Matthew Schmitz (@matthewschmitz) September 17, 2017
And now Martin is preening as the victim of an attack on campus free speech. And media are spooning their readers Martin’s latest martyr narrative.
The Official Seminary of America’s Official Catholic University
Here’s what happened: A year ago, before Martin had “come out” as a leader of the revolt against the timeless, unalterable Christian teaching on sexual love and chastity, he got an invitation. The group was the Catholic seminary for training priests affiliated with the Catholic University of America (CUA). That university is special even among Catholic institutions. It’s chartered by the pope. Its leaders are appointed by the U.S. Catholic bishops. Its theology and philosophy teachers must take vows to champion Catholic teaching. Once a year, every Catholic parish in the country has a special collection to raise money for CUA.
Nobody who takes a job there is under any illusions. There isn’t and shouldn’t be the same academic freedom available at secular universities, much less public colleges paid for by tax money. The First Amendment exists to protect the right of schools like Catholic University to be authentically Catholic. If you don’t like it, go enroll or apply to teach someplace else. Maybe some place that doesn’t pass the basket in parishes nationwide in the name of advancing official church teaching.
Liberal Catholics want it both ways. They want the legal exemptions that come with working at a religious institution. They certainly want alumni and other Catholics to dig deep and donate. But they don’t want to play by the rules the church imposes.
But liberal Catholics want it both ways. They want the legal exemptions that come with working at a religious institution. They certainly want alumni and other Catholics to dig deep and donate. But they don’t want to play by the rules the Church imposes. Some of them, like Martin, want to rewrite the rules.
Many faithful Catholics oppose this arrangement. So a few dogged online commentators started a public controversy about the invitation. That was easy since Martin has made the media rounds as the poster boy for the LGBT cause. So the College, overseen by the Sulpician order, changed course. It announced that it was rescinding Martin’s invitation. Rather than stand on principle, though, it implied that it had no problems with Martin’s views. No, it was simply trying to avoid the needless controversy provoked by online conservative activists.
So Catholic University weighed in, noting it was a shame that public anger deterred the college from having Martin speak. Some conservative Catholic academics also weighed in, comparing the backlash to Martin to violent attacks on free speech by conservatives at public universities like UC Berkeley.
Not Really a Free Speech Issue
Now the Washington Post and the New York Times are echoing that narrative. They’re painting as censors the faithful Catholics who complained that Martin was being honored with a featured public lecture. Meanwhile, Martin is waving around his credentials and authority. He’s pointing out that his religious superiors have no problems with his views. Nor apparently does Pope Francis, who still keeps him as an advisor. It’s just those awful “right-wing” Catholics on the Internet, those dangerous bullies!
Like I said, it’s the 1962 Mets. Except it’s not funny. The official seminary of the official university of the Catholic church was well within its rights to withdraw its platform to Martin, in light of the views he’s espoused. It could have said so. Instead, it said it was giving in to the heckler’s veto.
Do the leaders of the Theological College really think Martin’s views are authentically Catholic? Then they shouldn’t have disinvited him. Nor should they have blamed their decision on criticism by Catholics.
What Should Have Happened
The College should have responded to the outcry of faithful Catholics by listening to them. (Build a bridge!) Then it should have turned Martin’s speech into a debate or a forum. There are plenty of theologians and philosophers at CUA who don’t think gay partners should kiss at Mass. They should have found one of them. Then they would have turned the evening from a lovefest for dissenters into a real academic exchange. No one would have mistaken the event as an endorsement of Martin’s views. If Martin backed out, then we would have seen him as the one who wanted to suppress debate. Who will only speak before friendly audiences that will coo and caw whenever he strokes their distorted worldviews.
But why blame administrators at a seminary? The Jesuits should order Martin to stop airing his dissenting views. If they won’t, Pope Francis should demand it. Every Jesuit takes a special vow of obedience to the pope. Make them follow it.
Then maybe faithful Catholics with websites wouldn’t be so angry, dispirited, and disillusioned.