Confusion In the Kingdom

Have you ever met someone who says something controversial and then acts as though he had said something mundane and wonders why everyone is getting so upset? If not, just follow the work of Fr. James Martin, and you’ll have many opportunities to become acquainted with this routine.

For example, on January 21, 2023, the Catholic League tweeted about transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg, widely recognized as married to another man named Chasten, saying, “It is true that Pete Buttigieg is legally married, but that is a legal fiction.” Fr. Martin tweeted in response: “Pete Buttigieg is married.”

After receiving a torrent of criticism, Fr. Martin published an article where he clarified that all he meant was that “as much as anyone in this country whose marriage [is] registered in City Hall, he and his husband Chasten are legally married. But this is disingenuous because the tweet Fr. Martin originally responded to said Pete and Chasten were legally married. What the Catholic League meant is that the relationship between these men is a marriage in name only.

Just as totalitarian states can say their citizens have “freedom,” but it is fictional freedom that bears no resemblance to the real thing, the state can say two men, or three women, or a man and a robot (or who knows what else in the future) can be “married,” even though these relationships bear no resemblance to the real thing—to marriage.

Before I explain what else is wrong with this (and many other things Fr. Martin says), it will be helpful to have some backstory on his work involving those who identify as “LGBT.”

A Bridge Too Far 

Prior to 2016, Fr. Martin was best known as a Catholic commenter who would appear on television shows like The Colbert Report. Although he emphasized things like social justice, Martin’s work focused on general spirituality and wasn’t very controversial. He began to openly court controversy after accepting the “Bridge Building Award” from New Ways Ministry in 2016.

New Ways Ministry openly dissents against the Church’s teachings on a variety of issues, including homosexuality. Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent founded the group in 1977. By 1999, the Congregation (now Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF, now DDF) noted how the pair “promote ambiguous positions on homosexuality and explicitly criticized documents of the Church’s Magisterium on this issue.” The CDF said Gramick’s and Nugent’s statements were “incompatible with the teaching of the Church” and permanently prohibited them from engaging in “any pastoral work involving homosexual persons,” insisting that they “are ineligible, for an undetermined period, for any office in their respective religious institutes.”

Ten years later, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Cardinal Francis George, issued a clarification of the status of New Ways Ministry:

No one should be misled by the claim that New Ways Ministry provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice. Their claim to be Catholic only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the Church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination. Accordingly, I wish to make it clear that, like other groups that claim to be Catholic but deny central aspects of Church teaching, New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church and that they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States.

Just as it would be scandalous for me to accept an award related to apologetics from a group of schismatic Catholics who deny the pope’s authority, it was scandalous for Fr. Martin to receive an award from a group like New Ways Ministry.

Fr. Martin’s acceptance speech for the New Ways Ministry award was adapted into the 2017 book Building a Bridge, and he was also featured in a 2021 documentary by the same title. The documentary includes a scene where Fr. Martin tells attendees at Mass, “I used to say, the Church needs to be welcoming, and that’s not enough. That you all, LGBT, need to lead. You need to lead the Church.” In another revealing moment, Fr. Martin explains that he doesn’t attend LGBT pride parades because he could get photographed in front of a pro-same-sex “marriage” sign. When the interviewer asks him, “Why would that be such a bad thing?”, Fr. Martin replies, “Because I’m not supposed to support same-sex marriage.”

Not “I don’t support same-sex marriage” or “Because marriage can’t be same-sex.” Instead, his response is “I’m not supposed to support same-sex marriage,” which sounds more like an employee commiserating with a customer about his rigid managers than a spiritual father bearing others’ burdens in order to fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). I imagine that if the management asked Fr. Martin if he’s okay with company policy, he would do his best to give an answer that at least won’t get him fired.

Indeed, that’s the feeling I get from a 2018 article Fr. Martin wrote in America magazine, where he explains what the Church teaches on homosexuality. In one passage, he writes, “All these considerations rule out same-sex marriage. Indeed, official church teaching rules out any sort of sexual activity outside the marriage of a man and a woman.”

Robert George is a Catholic philosopher who has done some of the best work defending the Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality. He also calls Fr. Martin a friend despite their disagreements and says that by publishing this article, “Fr. Martin has left no room for detractors (or, for that matter, supporters) to suppose that he believes marriage can be between persons of the same sex or that homosexual conduct can be morally good.”

Fr. Martin may not have left room for himself to dissent from Church teaching at this present moment, but he has left room for himself to at some point believe that same-sex “marriage” is possible or that homosexual conduct can be morally good.

We hope you enjoyed this brief excerpt from Trent Horn's Confusion in the Kingdom: How “Progressive” Catholicism Is Bringing Harm and Scandal to the Church, due out in Late April. Click Here and we'll notify you when it's available for purchase and provide you with a discount code to purchase your copy for a great price!

Mar 4th 2024 Trent Horn

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