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Father Martin Inches Closer To The Brink

Father James Martin meets in the Vatican with Pope Francis on September 30 (Vatican Media photo)

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Father Martin (quoting in his tweet a blog entry by the popular Franciscan Richard Rohr) is intelligent enough to know that slavery is not the same kind of thing as sexuality. And he’s not openly endorsing this, either; he’s only saying that the claim is “interesting.” How Jesuitical. This is precisely the species of sophistry that Pope Francis, Father Martin’s fellow Jesuit and great champion, will use to overturn Catholic teaching on homosexuality. Well, that’s not exactly right — Francis will probably not live long enough to cross that Rubicon. But the bishops he has appointed and the cardinals that he has made will. Or perhaps his successor will.

I know faithful Catholics won’t agree, because they believe that the Catholic Church will be protected from teaching error on faith and morals. I don’t want to argue with y’all on that. You are my friends. If what you believe about the Catholic Church is true, then you will be proved right, and I will be proved wrong. With respect, I don’t share your ecclesiological convictions, so I do expect this to happen — and believe me, I dread it!

I do believe, though, that as a matter of prudently reading the signs of the times, faithful Catholics should prepare themselves for the possibility, either in this papacy or the next, that Rome will abandon Biblical teaching on homosexuality. If that happened, it would not necessarily negate your ecclesiological faith, but it would mean that the pope and those who followed him would be heretics — and that you would have a schism on your hands.

Remember, Father Martin is a favorite of Pope Francis, who named him as an advisor a couple of years ago. Last month, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia criticized Father Martin in print (respectfully), regarding Father Martin’s teaching on homosexuality. Excerpt:

Father Martin — no doubt unintentionally — inspires hope that the Church’s teachings on human sexuality can be changed. In his book, Building A Bridge, he writes: “For a teaching to be really authoritative it is expected that it will be received by the people of God … From what I can tell, in the LGBT community, the teaching that LGBT people must be celibate their entire lives … has not been received.”[vi] One might easily, and falsely, infer from such language that the Church’s teaching on sexual intimacy lacks binding authority for same-sex attracted Catholics.

Again to his credit, Father Martin has stressed that, “as a Catholic priest, I have … never challenged [the Church’s] teachings, nor will I.” [vii] But what is implied or omitted often speaks as loudly as what is actually stated, and in the current climate, incomplete truths do, in fact, present a challenge to faithful Catholic belief.

When people hear that “the Church welcomes gay people” or needs to be more “inclusive and welcoming” without also hearing the conditions of an authentically Christian life set for all persons by Jesus Christ and his Church — namely, living a life of chastity — they can easily misunderstand the nature of Christian conversion and discipleship.

For this reason, Catholic teaching always requires more than polite affirmation or pro forma agreement, particularly from those who comment publicly on matters of doctrine. Faithful Catholics who are same-sex attracted need support and encouragement in the virtue of chastity. They deserve to hear — as all people do — the truth about human sexuality spoken clearly and confidently. Anything less lacks both mercy and justice.

In its 1986 Letter, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith warned us,

“This Congregation wishes to ask the Bishops to be especially cautious of any programs which may seek to pressure the Church to change her teaching, even while claiming not to do so. A careful examination of their public statements and the activities they promote reveals a studied ambiguity by which they attempt to mislead the pastors and the faithful.”

Supporters of Father Martin’s efforts will note, correctly, that several Church leaders have endorsed his work. Those Churchmen are responsible for their words — as I am for mine, as pastor of the Church in Philadelphia. And specifically in that role as pastor, I want to extend the CDF’s caution to all the faithful of the Church in Philadelphia, regarding the ambiguity about same-sex related issues found throughout the statements and activities of Father James Martin.

After the appearance of that Chaput column, Francis summoned Father Martin to the Vatican for a friendly meeting in front of the cameras. It was widely interpreted as a papal show of support for the liberal priest. Father James Martin knows what he’s doing. So does Pope Francis.

UPDATE: From a reader:

“Where the Bible mentions murder at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether the biblical judgment is correct.”

“Where the Bible mentions adultery at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether the biblical judgment is correct.”

“Where the Bible mentions exploiting the poor at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether the biblical judgment is correct.”

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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