It was a shocking photo. There was Jesuit James Martin with his arm around Professor Robert George of Princeton, both of them grinning ear to ear.
Professor George published the photo on his Twitter feed and it appeared this beacon of orthodoxy had given his imprimatur to the heterodoxy of James Martin, who has quite famously opposed Church teaching on homosexuality.
But, it turns out this was much more than a chummy photo. In subsequent Tweets, George made it clear he has fully accepted Martin’s claims that Martin has never “challenged” Church teaching and never would. Professor George said, “…it would be churlish for Fr. Martin’s critics not to take yes for an answer.”
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The photo was taken at a three-day confab at Georgetown University called “Overcoming Polarization” that was said to bring together different types of Catholics, so-called liberals and conservatives, in order to heal or talk past the polarization in the Church. The effort was organized by John Carr of Georgetown, who was the long-time peace and justice person at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.
From what I could tell on social media (I was not invited to the conference), the invited “conservatives” were hardly the polarizing types. Professor George certainly isn’t. Neither is Professor Helen Alvaré of George Mason University, or Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review. They are from the least incendiary wing of the orthodox Church.
So, what was the point?
A thoughtful theologian, who also knows Professor George, speculates the event’s purpose was to move the Church conversation leftward. George, Alvaré, and Lopez are at the very center of the Church. On the other side at the conference were authentic dissenters, such as James Martin. And it does seem the immediate fruit of the conference has been to embrace James Martin.
Professor George now believes James Martin holds orthodox views on homosexuality. And Kathryn Jean Lopez published a column praising Martin and telling us the most important thing is not what divides us, like Church teaching, but that we are all baptized Catholics. Presumably, St. Athanasius knew Arius was baptized but that did not stop him from dealing with Arius quite uncivilly.
It is mind-boggling to me that Professor George actually believes James Martin has never questioned the teachings of the Church. Granted, my mind is easily boggled.
In fact, James Martin has said he looks forward to married gays kissing in Church. He has spoken at length about the Church’s “cruel” teaching on gays: the teaching that homosexuality is “disordered” and that gay sex is gravely depraved. But, James Martin says it is not disordered but merely “differently ordered.” How is this not a rejection of Church teaching?
Several months ago, Professor George published a column at the Public Discourse wherein he grappled with the central contradiction in James Martin’s statements about Church teaching on homosexuality. How does one square Martin’s claim that he does not reject Church teaching and his statements that very clearly do?
George said the key to squaring this circle is the use of “mental reservation.” George wrote, “When Fr. Martin says he supports the Church’s teaching, he isn’t saying that he supports what most people mean by ‘the Church’s teaching,’ including what the popes and bishops (or ‘institutional’ Church) have for centuries taught on marriage and sexuality in what they themselves see as exercises of their apostolic authority. He means that he accepts the Church’s truly authoritative teaching, which he thinks does not include the propositions that homosexual conduct is immoral or even, perhaps, that marriage is exclusively the union of man and woman.” Martin takes this view because the official teaching is not authentic on account that it has never been “received” by the LGBT community.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago when James Martin published a column at America Magazine online wherein he recites Church teaching and says, “as a Catholic priest I have never challenged Church teaching and I never will.” This seems to have been enough for Professor George to reject the consideration of mental reservation and to fully accept that Martin believes the orthodox teaching. Not everyone read Martin’s column that way. Father Thomas Petri, academic dean at the Dominican House of Studies, who has often engaged Martin on Twitter, said, “I have never doubted that Fr. Martin knows what the Church teaches and accepts that the Church teaches what it does. That’s not the question.”
In his October column George praised Martin for his “clear and forceful pro-life witness” and for it he knew Martin had “indeed taken heat” from his most “ardent supporters.” I wonder if Professor George has noticed that Martin has not taken any heat from his most ardent supporters for accepting Church teaching on the far more controversial issue of homosexuality? But, we know Martin has not taken any heat precisely because his ardent supporters know nothing has changed.
Professor George ought to know about the bruising he has caused among those who believe James Martin brings confusion and even scandal to the question of homosexuality. Those of us fighting to keep Martin out of our parishes now have to contend with George’s imprimatur. And I have heard from several ex-gays who are crushed and even angry with Professor George and who believe he has cut their legs out from under them.
Joseph Sciambra attends gay pride parades wearing a “God Loves Gay Men” t-shirt and handing out rosaries. He loves these men so much that he exposes himself to abuse. He told me, “I am done with Martin and all those who collaborate with him. It is very clear what Martin is up to.” He says it was priests just like Martin who confirmed his homosexuality that led to Sciambra’s lost decade in the bowels of the sex-drenched gay world. He says the opinions of Catholic elites—priests, prelates, and lay academics—are “utterly devoid of any knowledge about the actual reality of the gay experience.”
A priest who knows him says George may have simply been charmed by Martin, won over by his friendliness at the Georgetown conference. “And I never underestimate the piety of conservative Catholics to want to believe the best about priests,” he says. He also believes the conference is “an attempt to use political means to cover real theological and doctrinal dissent. Dissenters need evangelization not dialogue.”
One perturbed observer tries to put a gloss on George’s embrace of Martin. He says George’s opening may be a pincer move that could box Martin in. Maybe. Without a doubt Professor George will be called upon to speak out the next time, and there will be a next time, that Martin spouts heterodox views on homosexuality. It is just a matter of time.