James Martin and the Question of the Kiss

Just a few days ago, James Martin, S.J. tweeted: “Jesus says, ‘Stop judging.’… Not ‘Judge if people are sinning.’ Not ‘Judge people to correct them.’… Jesus judged others, but he was the Sinless Son of God. Unless you are, too, ‘Stop judging.’”

Who is Martin fingering, and about what?

Fairfax County School Board member Pat Hynes knows. She just used Martin’s tweet to slam my excellent bishop, Michael Burbidge. Under Martin’s scold she tweeted: “Our school bd was lobbied by followers of Archbishop of Arlington VA to reject ‘sex assigned at birth’ language in sex ed curriculum. He’s not a biologist or doctor, so why weigh in if not to judge others’ lives?”

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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The non-judgmental Pat Hynes and her colleagues on the Fairfax County School Board just voted to teach children they aren’t really male or female, that biological sex is meaningless, and that they should consider taking a daily sex pill to reduce the chance of infection from condom-less gay sex with multiple partners of unknown HIV status. All of this, without their parents’ permission.

The problem with James Martin’s crusade is not just that he is leading young men and women astray with his statements about homosexuality. It is also that he gives aid and comfort to the enemies of both the Church and God’s precious children.

Professor Robert George’s position that James Martin is now orthodox on the question of homosexuality has caused a growing response from Catholics who seldom find themselves at odds with the esteemed Princeton professor.

After Professor George gave Martin a clean bill of theological health on this matter on Twitter, I and others responded, and George doubled down in a Public Discourse column.

Professor George says if we do not believe Martin when he says, “As a Catholic priest, I have never challenged Church teaching” on homosexuality—i.e., if we think he is lying—we will have to answer to God. I accept.

I see many contradictions between Martin’s statements and Church teaching (I have iterated some here) but one, in particular, continues to call for a response: Martin’s public statement that he looks forward to married gays kissing during the Sign of Peace.

Thousands, at least, have viewed an audio recording of the August 29, 2017, podcast of James Martin SJ at Villanova University. In a question and answer period before Martin’s speech to the theology department, journalist Brandon Ambrosino asks a question, really more of a statement. And I quote it at length, so I cannot be accused of strategic editing.

Ambrosino says: “Encounter is tough for LGBT people. I go to a Catholic church with my partner, Andy, and I still always have this moment of decision when we pass the peace … because every other couple just hugs and kisses each other and nobody makes a big deal of it, but I’ve never kissed Andy in church, and I’ve recently starting thinking about that. Will we be in church 10 years from now, in front of our children, and during that part of the service, we hug each other … it’s not that anyone has said anything to me, but nobody has gone out of the way to say, oh, just so you know, it would be okay… Encounter is a difficult thing. Just the fact of showing up, sitting in a church, it takes a lot of faith.”

James Martin replies: “It does, and I would say that LGBT people have more faith than straight people, because of that… I do hope in ten years you’ll be able to kiss your partner, or, you know, soon to be your husband. Why not?”

Why not? One does not have to be a Thomist to see this massive contradiction with Church teaching.

So far, Professor George has not helped us to work through this contradiction. And he should. I asked him on Twitter about James Martin and abortion, and Professor George answered immediately and eloquently about Martin’s pro-life bona fides. But when I asked him about this contradiction on homosexuality he did not answer. The reason is that one is easy and the other is very difficult.

Peter Wolfgang has proposed that Professor George may be playing a game of chess in the matter of James Martin. I do not think so. It would imply that Professor George really does not believe the orthodoxy of James Martin but that there is a stratagem that may pay off at some point. This cannot be true. Professor George is a brilliant tactician, but he does not deceive.

We owe him the honor of believing his words, that he believes that James Martin is orthodox on homosexuality. So, how would one parse “I do hope in ten years you’ll be able to kiss your partner, or, you know, soon to be your husband. Why not?” as orthodox? One could read it not as approving gay marriage but merely recognizing that it may legally happen for the reporter and his partner. And a kiss? A kiss does not necessarily mean there is anything more than a hearty male friendship.

Professor George has written about mental reservation. It very well could be that George accepts Martin’s belief that this statement does not violate Church teaching because of Martin’s possible mental reservation that the teaching on homosexuality has not been “received.”

I would say that what is in Martin’s mind may be important for his own soul, but it is not for ours. The more important thing is what comes out of his mouth. What counts is when this very public priest makes pronouncements that mislead. What counts is Martin saying these things to impressionable young men and women who may be deceived about Church teaching.

In his latest argument in defense of Martin, Professor George claims that Martin’s critics do not want him to befriend Martin, but to shun him. I do not know any of his public critics who hold such a view. In fact, quite the opposite. Professor George said someone had said this to him on Twitter. This is a thin thread upon which to make such a broad claim against Martin’s critics. We are not concerned about Professor George’s friendships. What we are concerned about is that he has thrown his cloak of orthodoxy over a man who does not seem to be orthodox on one of the most vexing questions of our day.

Finally, it gives me no pleasure to challenge Professor George. It is especially uncomfortable to do so in public, and extraordinarily uncomfortable since he can run rings around me brain-wise. He is a hero to so many of us. I have known him for more than twenty years and have often made common cause with him. I do not enjoy disagreeing with him and I fear I may have annoyed him.

But these are questions that demand answers. Robby, how are we to square Martin’s claim never to have “challenged” church teaching when he says he looks forward to married gays kissing in church?

(Photo credit: Salt & Light interview / Youtube)


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