In the latest episode of the Field Hospital podcast, Jeannie Gaffigan and I talk to Fr. James Martin about his ministry, the vision of Pope Francis, and the criticism and opposition he receives from Catholics within the Church.
Within the US Catholic Church, Fr. Martin is a polarizing figure. In the world of progressive Catholicism, he is praised for his outreach to the LGBT community, many of whom believe they are stigmatized and feel unwelcome in the Church. On the right, positions range from criticism of his reluctance to emphasize Catholic teaching on human sexuality in his public ministry all the way to outright condemnation as a heretic and an enemy of the faith.
As I mentioned in our discussion, Fr. Martin seems to be the “go-to” example for many conservative Catholics when discussing dissenters or heretics on the Catholic left. His name alone can spark outrage or dismissal in certain circles of the Church. Yet Fr. Martin himself has insisted repeatedly that he will not—and cannot—oppose the teachings of the Magisterium. He has also made clear that he understands very well what the Church teaches on homosexuality and same-sex relationships. Still, critics are skeptical about his commitment to upholding these teachings for a number of reasons, such as his choice to address and speak about LGBT people using their preferred descriptions and pronouns, his advocacy for LGBT Catholics who lose jobs in the Church for not living up to Catholic teachings on homosexuality, and his non-condemnatory tone when discussing or engaging LGBT Catholics who do not fully embrace or live according to Catholic teaching on sexuality.
Admittedly, I was nervous about this interview given the inevitable backlash I’d receive for even talking to him. But this is a priest to whom the pope sent a handwritten personal letter, one that was given favorable coverage by Vatican News, in which Francis wrote:
“God’s ‘style’ has three elements,” wrote the Pope, “closeness, compassion and tenderness. This is how he comes closer to each one of us. Thinking about your pastoral work, I see that you are continually seeking to imitate this style of God. You are a priest for all men and women, just as God is a Father for all men and women. I pray for you to continue in this way, being close, compassionate and with great tenderness.”
Pope Francis went on to praise Fr. Martin for his “ability to be close to people, with the closeness that Jesus had, and which reflects the closeness of God.”
It should be clear by now that Pope Francis is setting a new path in ministering to and accompanying the LGBT community, and that he sees Fr. Martin as an example to be followed, despite what other prominent Catholics might say.
For that reason, I am extremely grateful to Fr. Jim for joining us in the Field Hospital.
I think this conversation will help Catholics to better understand his approach and his understanding of the faith. We discussed some things with him in greater depth than he has talked about them in previous interviews, including about his commitment to remaining faithful to the Magisterium, how he feels about the criticism he faces, and how he sees his ministry as a mission from Pope Francis. We also discussed the 2020 controversy where some anonymous US bishops claimed that Pope Francis had expressed disapproval of Fr. Martin’s ministry.
I hope you will listen to this podcast with an open heart and mind.
Don’t forget to check out these books and articles related to topics discussed in the episode!
- Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity by James Martin, S.J.
- Learning to Pray: A Guide for Everyone by James Martin, S.J.
- “Learning to Pray with Fr. James Martin,” book review by Dan Amiri
- “5 common questions about LGBT Catholic ministry” (Video) by James Martin, S.J.
- “Can you really hate the sin and love the sinner?” by James Martin, S.J.
- “Father Martin vs the Anonymous Bishops” by Mike Lewis
- “On the CNA/Martin Affair” by Nathan Turowsky
- “Pope Francis understands Fr. Martin—Do we?” by Rachel Amiri
- “You are Loved and Loveable: Rolling Away the Stones” by Mike Lewis
- “Pope Francis is making space for LGBT people in the church—with limits. And it’s a huge step forward.” by James Martin, S.J.