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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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James Martin, S.J., advocates for LGBT acceptance in Catholic Church

Fr. Martin talks to students after his talk. PHOTO: Luke Malanga ’20

In the top floor lounge of Villiger Residence Center, residents Mac Castellano ’23 and Bailey Cafone ’23 re-organized the Post-It notes on the window overlooking City Avenue from “Go Birds!” to “Gay is OK.” 

Students re-organized Post-It notes on windows overlooking City Ave in response to protestors. PHOTO: Luke Malanga ’20

On the street below, about 20 protestors gathered on the sidewalk, singing “Ave Maria” and holding signs that condemned James Martin, S.J., and the university’s decision to invite him to speak on campus. 

“I looked over, looked at what their message was, and me and Bailey thought of having a message ourselves,” Castellano said. 

Protestors of Fr. Martin stand along City Ave. PHOTO: Mitchell Shields ’22

An hour later, in the Cardinal Foley Campus Center, Martin shared the message that brought the protestors to campus⁠—that the Catholic Church, which has long been hostile against members of the LGBTQIA+ community, needs to be more open and accepting. Martin spoke about the need to invite the LGBT community into the Church.

“LGBT people are just as Catholic as Pope Francis, me, many of the sisters here tonight, our brothers, the Jesuits,” Martin said. “It is not a question of making them Catholic. They already are.”

Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large at “America” magazine, has faced critics both inside and outside the Church in response to his outspoken views on the Church’s lack of acceptance of the LGBT community. He also has supporters, among them Pope Francis, who appointed Martin as a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communication in 2017.

Maggie Nealon ’20, president of SJUPride, said Martin’s words help marginalized groups, specifically the LGBT community, feel more welcomed in the Catholic Church.

“As somebody who’s a member of the LGBT community and somebody who also grew up in the Catholic Church, I grew up understanding the divide between the two, and I think writings like his serve to build a bridge,” Nealon said.

Students listen to Fr. Martin speak. PHOTO: Luke Malanga ’20

Martin’s Sept. 17 talk on campus, titled “Building a Bridge” after one of his books, was sponsored by the the Faith-Justice Institute’s Joseph William and Madeline Eberle Klein Fund and the Center for Inclusion and Diversity. It drew an overflowing crowd of university and community members.

Martin told the audience that those who push away the LGBT community are ignoring the fundamentals of the faith.

“Jesus’ main message was one of love and compassion and mercy, and he’s also reaching out first to people along the margins,” Martin said. “The people on the margins most in our church today are LGBT people.”

For Martin, part of welcoming LGBT people into the church means listening to them. 

“Do not treat other Catholics simply by repeating the catechism over and over and over and over without considering their lived experiences,” Martin said.

Fr. Martin addresses the crowd in the Foley Center. PHOTO: Mitchell Shields ’22

Despite critics, Martin maintained that nothing he says is against the teachings of the church.

“I’m not challenging any church teaching,” Martin told The Hawk in an interview. “I’m just trying to get the church to welcome LGBT people into what is, after all, their church too.”

Since beginning his fight for LGBT inclusion in the church, Martin says he has noticed change.

“Ten years ago people would come up to me and whisper ‘my child’s gay’,” Martin told The Hawk. “Ten years ago there were very little LGBT programs and now they are proliferating.”

Dan Joyce, S.J., executive director of Mission Programs, said to The Hawk after hearing Martin’s talk that he believes when members of the Church listen to people in the LGBT community, change happens.

Everyday Catholics have had an experience of somebody who is lesbian, gay or transgender and therefore their ideas about that aren’t abstract, but they are about real people and real situations and about real peoples lives,” Joyce said. “That has really changed the conversation, and it’s really changed people’s thinking.”

Thomas Brennan, S.J., associate professor and chair of the English department, came out publicly as a gay priest many years ago. He said he appreciates Martin’s efforts but also thinks more can be done.

“The Church hasn’t changed its teaching on homosexuality,” Brennan said. “For that reason the painful history between gay people and the Church needs to be remembered.”

Nealon said she believes having Martin speak at St. Joe’s helps to increase inclusivity on campus. 

“I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction despite the hate that may be outside,” Nealon said. “I think this environment right now is definitely a place of discussion and love, as it should be.”

Cara Smith ’21 and Mitchell Shields ’22 contributed to this story.


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  • B

    Betty L. WelshOct 7, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    Hi Luke,

    While I appreciate your desire and the desire of most wonderful young people today to love your neighbor and close the gaps which divide us in the name of inclusivity and justice, I caution you all not to be misguided by teachers such as Father James Martin. While the things that Father Martin says may seem loving and inclusive, Father Martin is incorrect on many of his teachings and he insinuates that Catholics who follow traditional strict doctrine are unloving, uncaring and homophobic. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are to love all of our brothers and sisters but true love includes correcting people when they do things that are wrong or harmful to themselves or others. As a journalist, I’m sure that a fair and balanced reporting of an issue is very important to you and I would hope that you would take the time to investigate or publish the Church’s view of this issue in your newspaper as well, none of which ever condones hatred or violence. I didn’t notice any quotes from a conservative Catholic or a student who believes that traditional marriage is best or from any of the peaceful protesters who were deemed “hateful” by Ms. Nealon, the leader of SJUPride. Please don’t lead the students of SJU into thinking that Father Martin’s view is correct or the only positive one around. Inclusivity goes both ways and a true respect for the views of conservative Catholics needs to be given by the LGBT community as well if we are to make any progress. Statements like Ms. Nealon’s only further divide people over this issue. Perhaps she has never truly listened to the “real” Catholic teaching on this topic. I encourage you to publish Archbishop Chaput’s response (attached) to Father Martin’s teachings in your paper as well so that the students who rely on you for information will be given both sides and will be able to better determine for themselves what they believe. Standing up for what you think is right and decent does not make you a “hater”. May both sides always remember that. May this belief lead to more compassionate and authentic discussions on this issue and many others. May God bless you and all SJU students in your efforts to live happy, healthy, faithful lives.

  • J

    Judy WallSep 24, 2019 at 1:32 pm

    Used to be the Church preached, “Repent of your sins”. Now the message is, no sin is too evil, join us and we’ll support you and maybe even join you in your sin.

  • J

    JohnSep 18, 2019 at 5:07 pm

    The protesters outside showed more love for the Catholic Church and its perennial moral teaching than those who preach love, but only show kindness to those who endorse their sinful choices. Many LGBT people, on their way to Fr. Martin’s talk, took a moment to curse at the young Catholics who were peacefully praying the rosary on the sidewalk. If that’s a display of “compassion” then I’d rather not experience Fr. Martin’s novel and twisted approach.