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Catholic institutions block lectures by priest because he supports gay equality

Nick Duffy September 21, 2017
James Martin

PAUL FAITH/AFP/Getty

A number of Catholic organisations stand accused of censoring a priest who has called for the church to reach out to LGBT people.

Rev. Martin, a highly-respected Jesuit priest, is the author of recently-published book Building a Bridge, which sets out a framework for the Catholic Church to begin to engage with the LGBT community with “respect, compassion and sensitivity”.

In the book, the priest draws on the Christian ideals of “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” as a model for how the Catholic Church should relate to the LGBT community, igniting anger from the anti-LGBT lobby which is dominant within the church.

In the wake of the book’s publication, hardline opponents of LGBT equality within the Church began a campaign targeting Rev. Martin – successfully convincing a string of global Catholic organisations to cancel planned events where he had been due to speak about unrelated subjects.

The Theological College in Washington DC, where the priest was due to give a lecture about the Bible, abruptly cancelled the event last week, after conservatives raised issues with Rev. Martin’s beliefs on LGBT issues.

The Order of the Holy Sepulchre in New York also cancelled a lecture by Rev. Martin, confirming that his invite “was in fact rescinded”.

Rev. Martin had also been set to travel to London to deliver the 2017 lecture for Cafod, the overseas aid agency of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

After the backlash the event was shelved entirely, with Martin confirming that “cancellation of the 2017 Cafod lecture, scheduled for October, was out of fears of the backlash to my book”.

In a statement to PinkNews Cafod claimed that the 2017 lecture was actually just ‘postponed’ until next year for scheduling reasons and that an invitation “still stands” for Rev. Martin to speak in future.

This is somewhat incongruous given Cafod supplied a completely different statement to the Catholic Herald that confirmed it had been “considering” the future of the event due to “strength of feeling [Martin’s book] generated in some quarters”.

In a statement, Rev. Martin said: “I want to say that I bear no ill will whatsoever to Cafod, the Order of the Holy Sepulchre or Theological College. All of them are fine Catholic institutions that serve, in their different ways, the People of God.”

He added: “One of the many sad ironies of this episode has been that in each case the local ordinary was perfectly fine with my speaking – in London, New York and DC.

“Yet those who decided on the cancellations were ultimately influenced more by fear of protests and negative publicity than by the opinions of their ordinaries, in each case a cardinal.

“The situations were so terrifically fraught with fear for these organizations: fear of protests, fear of violence, fear of bad publicity, fear of angry donors, fear of lost donations, fear of offending, and on and on.

“When two of the organizers called me, I could hear the anguish in their voices.”

Addressing the anti-LGBT activists who had waged a campaign against him, he added: “So what do we do?

“Don’t give into them. To me, that’s an important lesson of the past few days. Don’t let them cow you.

“They’re like schoolyard bullies that keep taunting you? Well, you’re not 12 any longer. They can’t hurt you.

“And why let fear run your organization? It’s a sure way to disaster. And the PR from cancelling something is always worse. Don’t let them run things in your organization.”

He added: “If they are angry people, their anger comes from somewhere, which is ultimately sadder for them than for you. If they have a visceral hatred for LGBT people, it probably comes from a discomfort with their own complex sexuality, which is also sadder for them. ‘Hurt people hurt people’, as the saying goes.

“Often these sites or groups or individuals feel that they are being prophetic: i.e.,pointing out your supposed sins, completely contrary to Jesus’s command not to judge.

“Even more often, that prophecy morphs into pure hatred and obvious contempt and endless name calling. It’s called spite. But that doesn’t mean you yourself have to move towards hatred. That would be giving into the Evil Spirit.”

Others have been less forgiving.

Writing in America Magazine, San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy lashed out at those who had sought to censor Rev. Martin.

He wrote: “There has arisen both in Catholic journals and on social media a campaign to vilify Father Martin, to distort his work, to label him heterodox, to assassinate his personal character and to annihilate both the ideas and the dialogue that he has initiated.

“This campaign of distortion must be challenged and exposed for what it is—not primarily for Father Martin’s sake but because this cancer of vilification is seeping into the institutional life of the church.

“Already, several major institutions have canceled Father Martin as a speaker. Faced with intense external pressures, these institutions have bought peace, but in doing so they have acceded to and reinforced a tactic and objectives that are deeply injurious to Catholic culture in the United States and to the church’s pastoral care for members of the L.G.B.T. communities.”

Surprisingly, the active censorship of Rev. Martin has not aroused protests from any of the ‘free speech’ campaigners who have sprung up to defend far-right speakers on college campuses.

It is the latest in a concerning trend of pro-LGBT voices being censored.

Harvard University recently buckled under pressure from the CIA and rescinded a Visiting Fellowship extended to transgender ex-prisoner Chelsea Manning, who had been invited to discuss LGBT issues.

Last year following the Orlando shooting  Rev.Martin posted a video urging Catholics to “stand with their LGBT brothers and sisters”.

He also noted that in their condemnation of the shooting, nearly all US Catholic leaders neglected to refer explicitly refer to the LGBT community.

More: Catholic, Church, Gay, James Martin, jesuit, LGBT, priest, Religion, US

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