Jesuit wants to build bridges

Jesuit wants to build bridges

Two gay men at the service © CBA

They are Catholic and yet different. Faithful gays and lesbians seek church fellowship and often don't find it. Jesuit James Martin is trying to change that in the U.S.

Summer 2016 in Orlando, Florida. A man shoots up a nightclub as if in a frenzy. 49 people die. Incident goes down as largest mass shooting in U.S. history. Many of the victims at Pulse are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Compassion runs high – even among the country's Catholics.Of the more than 250 bishops, however, only a handful spoke plainly. Cardinal Blase Cupich (Chicago), Bishop Robert Lynch (St.Petersburg), Bishop Robert McElroy (San Diego) and few others referred to the victims as they call themselves: as homosexuals or simply LGBTs.

The great majority of the bishops found it difficult. Not without reason. While the 1992 Catholic Catechism urges "respect, compassion and sensitivity" toward other sexual orientations, it then also speaks of circumstances that are "objectively disordered". The relationship between the church and LGBTs is – indisputably – strained and complicated.

"Building a Bridge"

To change this, the Jesuit James Martin (57) has set as his task. He is best known in the U.S. Catholic world as a book author and editor of the Jesuit magazine America. Martin is aware from years of pastoral care of the needs of the faithful who do not feel accepted by their church because of their sexuality. The charismatic Father wants to build bridges between the often alien worlds of experience. "Building a Bridge," then, is the title of his book, which, not entirely coincidentally, will be published in the U.S. by HarperCollins one day after the anniversary of the Pulse Massacre this Tuesday.

It is an attempt to bring together the Church and LGBTs in respect and with sensitivity. The prominent Jesuit has the support of his order as well as the backing of many cardinals and bishops. Martin understands what LGBT people of faith suffer from. They feel excluded, even insulted, by the institutional church. This experience has led him to develop a two-bridge theory. In his book he describes a way in which both sides could get in touch through "the gift of time" in order to accept each other. "A welcome and much-needed book," writes Curia Cardinal Kevin Farrell, 69, whom Pope Francis recently just appointed to head the Vatican's Office for Laity, Family and Life. It will help, the former Dallas bishop said, for LGBT Catholics to feel more at home in the church. "It is, after all, their church."

"Love includes all".

Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego recalls the Gospel requires Christians to have "genuine love and appreciation" for those who are marginalized. At present, unfortunately, this is often not the case. Just how much the Church in the U.S. is currently struggling to rethink its relationship with Catholics who are a little different illustrates the response of the new Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, to a request from a group of LGTB Catholics. He "is pleased that you and the LGBT brothers and sisters want to visit our beautiful cathedral," the cardinal wrote in an email to the organization, which had requested a visit to the place of worship. It even approved a leaflet entitled "Love includes all" for the church visit followed by Mass. This is a wonderful message. "Please distribute it."

Under Pope Francis, debate on the sensitive ie could pick up steam. The pope himself sets a good example by using the long-shunned term "homosexual". Asked about gay priests, the pope in 2013 spoke his now-famous words, "If a person is homosexual and seeks the Lord and is of good will – who am I to judge them?"

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Christina Cherry
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