Building a Bridge
Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity by James Martin, SJ
What a topic to tackle. When I was in Washington, DC attending the Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice, Fr Jim Martin, SJ gave a breakout presentation on the book I am reviewing here today. He began with saying that he had wanted to write this book for a long time, and I am very happy that he did! It is time that we, as Catholics, have a serious discussion about sexuality.
But, before we begin here, let’s take a look at how Canadian Catholics have fared on this issue: between 1967 and 1969, the Government of Canada moved to decriminalise homosexuality. This work was started by Jesuit educated Pierre Elliott Trudeau and finished by another devout Catholic, John Turner.
Fast forward to the 1990s, it is Catholic Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien who ensconces discrimination against LGBT Canadians into the Human Rights Act. And, finally, in 2005, it is Catholic Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin who makes marriage equality a reality from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
Further to this, the Jesuits in Toronto have a long history of ministering to those with HIV/AIDS. So, there are Catholics who are already in dialogue and working with LGBT Canadians/LGBT Canadian Catholics, but in this book, Fr Martin looks at the overall (that is, American) relationship between the LGBT Community and the institutional Church. Let’s dive right on in.
I agree with Fr Martin that this must be a two-way street. The difficulty that arises is that people on both sides tend to talk past each other and over each other without listening. I like that he uses the Catechism of the Catholic Church as well as the Bible itself to narrate this story.
This must be a relationship founded upon respect, compassion, and sensitivity. But, often on both sides, there is hurt and fear that get in the way. I think that Fr Martin provides excellent advice and guidance to LGBT Catholics and insights that are often hidden away or seldom discussed, such as the story of the Roman centurion.
It is clear that there is a loving same-sex relationship happening between the centurion and his servant. Christ does no condemn the centurion or the servant. He heels the servant and praises the centurion for his faith. This is the message we need to be hearing from the pulpit.
In both the book and Fr Martin’s breakout presentation in Washington, DC, he spoke of naming, and the power it has. We must respect what people want to be called. My name is Luke. It is not Lucas. It never has been nor will it ever been that. And I expect that people respect that. It is the same with the LGBT community. Catholics need to respect what people want to be called.
If someone tells you that they are gay, do not go and say that they are afflicted with a same-sex attraction. To me, that is as hurtful as being called a faggot. The simple message here is that we need to treat people as you would want to be treated. This is what all of our mothers and fathers taught us.
Fr Martin uses Psalm 139, which says that one is wonderfully made in one’s mother’s womb. This is an important message to broadcast in conjunction with the creation story from Genesis that says that God made humanity in His image. We are all children of God wonderfully made in His image.
Let us remember this when we judge someone and remember that His Holiness said ‘who am I to judge’ in his first year as pontiff. These are all crucial steps to moving forward to a relationship of respect, compassion, and sensitivity.
Now, it must be clear that I loved the book. I found great personal comfort and acceptance within the pages of this book. It was one of the fastest reads of a book I have ever done. However, there is one problem. The sentence before ‘respect, compassion, and sensitivity’ in the Catechism must be addressed. The sentence before refers to LGBT persons, Catholic or otherwise, as objectively disordered.
Let that sink in. The point of Fr Martin’s book is to mend the wounds that exist between the LGBT community and the institutional Catholic Church. The problem is, and I fully understand that the Church exists outside of the Western World in places where homosexuality is not accepted at all, that the phrase ‘objectively disordered’ undoes the good work of Fr Martin.
When I first read these words, it was like a frozen rod pierced through my heart. I had never understood on a personal level the hurt that the Church has caused to my community until I read that phrase. A priest explained to me that this objectively disordered phrase refers not just to queer people but to everyone. That may be the case; however, that does not come across when one reads the Catechism. In black and white, it makes queer Catholics feel subpar.
Although I think that Fr Martin has done an amazing problem in getting the ball rolling on this vital discussion, a discussion that could possibly save lives, we need to push the envelope further. We need to make sure that if we want to enter into a relationship truly founded on respect, compassion, and sensitivity then we need to start with sensitivity and strike the phrase objectively disordered from the Catechism because the hurt and distrust will continue to exist without the removal of the phrase.