BOOK REVIEW: The popular Jesuit priest puts forth the notion that the Church has misunderstood God’s plan for human sexuality for her entire history.
In his new book, Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity (HarperCollins), Jesuit Father James Martin has written a critique of the Catholic Church’s dealings with what he calls the “the LGBT community.”
What is the “LGBT community”? This acronym describes three groups of people: those who engage in, or feel drawn to engage in, homosexual activity (lesbians and gays); those who engage in, or feel drawn to engage in, both heterosexual and homosexual activity (bisexuals); and those persons who reject their sexual identity and think that they are in fact a member of the opposite sex (transsexuals/transgendered persons).
Is this, in fact, a community? Not really.
This is a lumping together of those who reject the natural order of human sexuality in different ways, and who thus share a common interest in seeing that laws and societal norms and customs that support that natural order be proscribed.
Father Martin’s book has practically nothing to say about bisexuals and transsexuals/transgendered persons. His book is about homosexual persons, and more specifically about Catholic homosexuals. Yet even this category of persons is not fully treated. Father Martin writes about Catholic homosexuals who embrace the “gay identity.” He ignores completely those Catholics who experience same-sex attraction and do not positively embrace this as their identity.
He never once mentions Courage, a Catholic apostolate founded in 1980 by Cardinal Terence Cooke and entrusted to the direction of the late Father John Harvey.
In a book that alleges to analyze and critique the Catholic Church’s outreach to homosexual Catholics, this omission cannot be accidental.
The point of this book is not to suggest ways in which the Church, in fidelity to the teaching of Christ, can improve her outreach to those persons who feel attracted to commit the sin of sodomy in the hope that they will reject this wrongful tendency and embrace chastity. If that were the case, then the very successful experience of Courage, which has spread throughout the United States and internationally, would have been at least mentioned, if not highlighted.
The real purpose of this book is to advocate for a relaxation of the Church’s teaching that sodomy is gravely immoral and that any attraction to commit acts of sodomy is an objective disorder in one’s personality.
Father Martin rejects the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that the “inclination” to “homosexual tendencies” is “objectively disordered” (2358). He writes:
“The phrase relates to the orientation, not the person, but it is still needlessly hurtful. Saying that one of the deepest parts of a person — the part that gives and receives love — is ‘disordered’ in itself is needlessly cruel” (pp. 46-47).
In a recent interview, he called for the use of the replacement phrase “differently ordered.” That would be a change in the Church’s teaching. It would mean that God created two different orders of sexual behavior that are both good and right according to his will: Some people are homosexual by God’s express design and some are heterosexual by God’s express design.
If that were the case, then homosexual acts themselves could no longer be described, as they are in the Catechism in Paragraph 2357, as “intrinsically disordered.” If the inclination is simply different, and not disordered, then acting upon that inclination is simply different, and not disordered. Homosexual activity would simply be natural behavior for “differently ordered” people.
For Father Martin, a disordered inclination or tendency is “one of the deepest parts of a person.” He refers to “the part that gives and receives love.” It is our heart and soul that constitute our innermost being, the center of love.
An inclination toward unnatural sexual activity is not the heart and soul of a person. True love is expressed in virtuous deeds. Evil inclinations or tendencies to sin must be seen by the Christian for what they are, and resisted.
How can Father Martin say that the homosexual inclination is the center of love of a person?
He can only say this if he considers the tendency not to be disordered. Thus he finds cruelty in the Catechism. Yet is it hurtful and cruel to tell someone the truth about human sexuality as taught by the Church for her entire history? Quite the opposite; Our Lord told us: “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Father Martin’s book is an extended meditation on a point he takes for granted, without ever attempting to reconcile his contention with the Church’s constant teaching, because that is impossible. He assumes that God made some people by design to be homosexual, and thus any disapproval of homosexuality and even homosexual activity is in fact an attack on God’s plan.
This, of course, cannot be squared with Catholic teaching — it is the rejection of that teaching.
Everyone is heterosexual by nature. Some heterosexuals have a problem with homosexual attraction. Father Martin does not see it this way.
He writes that “coming to understand one’s identity as an LGBT person is easier than it was just a few decades ago” (p. 9).“Jesus saw beyond categories: He met people where they were and accompanied them” (p. 43).
He speaks about “sexual orientation” and one’s “sexuality” (p. 88). He tells “LGBT” Catholics to reflect on this question: “God, who creates only good things, made your ‘inward parts.’ How does that make you feel about yourself?” (p.114).
He then asks the “families, friends and allies” of “LGBT” persons to reflect on this question: “You are wonderfully made yourself! And your family member or friend is made in a different, but no less wonderful, way. What does this say to you about God’s ‘works’ and God’s ‘thoughts’?” (p. 114). He asks “LGBT” persons: “What enables you to accept yourself as you are?” (p. 123).
The end of this book contains “A Prayer for When I Feel Rejected,” “composed for all who feel excluded, rejected, marginalized shamed, or persecuted,” in which one avows to God: “Jesus understands me and loves me with a special love, because of the way you made me” (p.146).
Here we have the danger posed by this book: Father Martin puts forth the notion that the Church has misunderstood God’s plan for human sexuality for her entire history and that she must now switch to a new teaching, namely that the union of man and woman in marital love is not the only path for the true and good expression of human sexuality.
The thesis of this book is that lesbians, gays, bisexual persons and transsexual/transgendered persons have been made to be such by God, and thus they should gladly live and express their God-given, differently ordered sexuality in a differently ordered way.
The truth is very different.
God in his goodness helps all of us to deal with our problems and temptations, no matter what they might be. One of his first mercies is to reveal to us the truth about our common human nature, including the truth about human sexuality, which is differentiated between male and female and is only rightly expressed by a husband and wife in the marital embrace that is in itself procreative and unitive.
Inclinations or tendencies toward sexual acts that are neither procreative or unitive, and thus inherently immoral, do not represent who we are or how we were made by God. They are deficits, ultimately traceable to original sin, which need to be dealt with by God’s grace and our willingness to believe firmly that God’s law is good and will produce the greatest happiness in our lives.
Father Gerald Murray is the pastor of Holy Family Church in New York City.