ROME — Pope Francis received Jesuit Father James Martin in a 30-minute private audience Monday, which the Jesuits are calling “a highly significant public statement of support and encouragement.”
“Father Martin is well known as a public speaker, author and for his pastoral ministry to L.G.B.T. people,” Gerard O’Connell reported Monday in the Jesuit magazine America.
The pope’s “public statement of support” for Father Martin comes just days after several U.S. bishops voiced concerns over the “ambiguity” of the priest’s words and actions regarding homosexuality.
“Father Martin’s public messages create confusion among the faithful and disrupt the unity of the Church by promoting a false sense that immoral sexual behavior is acceptable under God’s law,” wrote Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, in a statement on the diocesan website.
Those who experience same-sex attraction need the Church’s support “in the Christian struggle for virtue, sanctification, and purity,” the bishop said, while Father Martin “either encourages or fails to correct behavior that separates a person” from God’s love.
“This is deeply scandalous in the sense of leading people to believe that wrongful behavior is not sinful,” he said.
For his part, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput warned Catholics of a “pattern of ambiguity” in Father Martin’s teachings on the matter of homosexuality.
“Due to the confusion caused by his statements and activities regarding same-sex related (LGBT) issues,” the archbishop wrote in Catholic Philly, “I find it necessary to emphasize that Father Martin does not speak with authority on behalf of the Church, and to caution the faithful about some of his claims.”
In the past, Archbishop Chaput has chastised Father Martin for failing to summon gay Catholics to “conversion,” rather than simply asking for “affirmation.”
What Father Martin’s book “regrettably lacks,” Chaput wrote, is “an engagement with the substance of what divides faithful Christians from those who see no sin in active same-sex relationships.”
In 2017, Vatican Cardinal Robert Sarah, who heads up the Vatican’s liturgical department, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that people who identify as LGBT are owed the truth that same-sex relations “are gravely sinful and harmful to the well-being of those who partake in them,” especially from clergy who speak on behalf of the church.
Lamenting that Father James Martin is “one of the most outspoken critics of the church’s message with regard to sexuality,” the cardinal said that those who speak on behalf of the church “must be faithful to the unchanging teachings of Christ, because only through living in harmony with God’s creative design do people find deep and lasting fulfillment.”
The America magazine article said that the pope’s meeting with Father Martin was significant, in part because it took place “in the pope’s private library where he meets heads of states and international organizations, cardinals and bishops conferences, leaders of the other Christian denominations and of the world’s major religions, as well as distinguished persons.”
“By choosing to meet him in this place, Pope Francis was making a public statement. In some ways, the meeting was the message,” the article stated.
In a meeting with a group of Jesuit priests in Mozambique early last month, Pope Francis said the Church should downplay sexual morality and focus its preaching instead on issues of social justice.
Citing “a great Jesuit,” Francis told the priests that “the most serious sins are those that are more angelical: pride, arrogance, dominion” while “the least serious are those that are less angelical, such as greed and lust.”
“We focus on sex and then we do not give weight to social injustice, slander, gossip and lies. The Church today needs a profound conversion in this area,” the pope proposed.
According to the estimates of one Jesuit priest, some 50 percent of the members of the Jesuit order are homosexuals.
“Roughly half of the Society under the age of fifty shuffles on the borderline between declared and undeclared gayness,” wrote Father Paul Shaughnessy, S.J., in a 2002 essay in the Weekly Standard, titled, “Are the Jesuits Catholic?”