Fr. James Martin, S.J. has been in the news again this past week, after several bishops from the American Southwest reported that, during their ad limina visit, Pope Francis expressed displeasure about how his meeting last year with the controversial Jesuit had been politicized by the press. At least one of the American bishops disputed this account of their meeting, claiming that the pope did not seem upset at all.
Fr. Martin was invited to speak at a meeting of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities held in Washington, DC earlier this month. He published an adapted version of his address on the website of America magazine, which sheds some light on the issues in play.
Fr. Martin’s foundational presumption in this article, which is in plain contradiction of Catholic teaching on the nature and purpose of God’s gift of human life, is found in this sentence: “The four years spent in college is an important experience for all students, but especially for LGBT youth, who are not only discovering their identity and navigating their relationship with parents but hoping to discover their own value.” (Emphases added)
According to Fr. Martin, there exists a God-given human identity other than the identity of being a male or a female, made by God, one for the other with the vocation and capacity of procreating and educating offspring, mutually supporting each other in marriage. This statistically predominant and natural identity is commonly (and pejoratively) described these days as being “straight.”
The alternative identity he posits is actually a variety of identities: there are those males and females made by God for the purpose of engaging in homosexual sodomy (lesbians and gays); there are those made by God for the purpose of engaging in both marital relations and homosexual sodomy (bisexuals); and there are those made by God to rebel against their natural condition of being male or female in order to re-classify and present themselves, through various bodily mutilations, as being the opposite of what, in fact, they are: this is the category of men who insist they are women and women who insist they are men (transsexuals).
For Fr. Martin, those college students who feel drawn to, or actually engage in, any of these behaviors are not young people who have mistakenly embraced a perverted understanding of human sexuality. Rather, they constitute a distinct category of humanity that possesses an identity different from those who do not engage in, nor seek to engage in, these behaviors.
Thus, a student who identifies himself as being gay or bisexual is not someone either contemplating or actually engaging in the misuse of his sexual faculty by committing acts that the Catholic Church teaches are unnatural, depraved, and gravely sinful.
No, this student has discovered his true identity, which, of course, was given to him by God. He has discovered, not invented, this identity. In addition, this student, having discovered his identity, must also discover his own value, meaning in this context not his inherent value as a human being created by God, but rather the value claimed for his newly discovered LGBT identity.
To value something is more than simply to recognize something. What I recognize I can also reject as being evil; what I value I embrace as being good in itself. To value homosexual identity necessarily means affirming that homosexual inclination and activity, the only bases of homosexual identity, are good and useful. It likewise means that any doctrinal disapprobation of this inclination and behavior is an attack on one’s God-given identity, and must be rejected as false and cruel.
Based on this two-fold identity/value presumption, Fr. Martin offers a whole raft of suggestions on how to affirm LGBT students. The problem, of course, is that the Church does not teach that there is a God-given LGBT identity. We are all created by God as human beings with a sexual faculty ordered by nature to procreative activity within marriage. Any use of that faculty apart from naturally procreative activity is a misuse of that faculty. And any inclination, penchant, or desire to engage in such a misuse of the sexual faculty is itself intrinsically disordered and must be resisted, not affirmed or celebrated.
There are not various categories of human beings based on what sexual activity they engage in or feel drawn towards. We are all one in our humanity, and God created man for woman, and woman for man. To call someone a homosexual is already problematic; it implies that he is not a heterosexual. We are all by nature heterosexual; some heterosexual people have a homosexual problem manifested in desires and/or actions. The claim of a distinct identity based on unnatural desires and behaviors cannot change reality: God’s creation is not subject to human re-engineering. There is no God-given LGBT identity. One can only pretend that there is such. To affirm someone in this make-believe self-conception is uncharitable and destructive.
Fr. Martin’s extended project is to change the way the Church approaches the phenomenon of homosexuality in our Church and in our society. It is based on the erroneous conceit that the Church’s teaching on the nature of God’s creation and his law are subject to revision by human beings who, unhappy with the way God made them and with how he commands them to act, discover a new “identity” founded upon God’s supposed alternate plan, for some people.
The human dignity of all persons is promoted by obedience to what God has established. That dignity is wounded and obscured by any rejection of God’s plan and purpose for humanity. The just and loving way to help people who affirm an imaginary LGBT identity is to guide them away from this mistaken idea and towards an appreciation of the true nature of who they are in the sight of the Good God.
*Image: Pope Francis greets a fellow Jesuit, Fr. James Martin, during a private meeting at the Vatican Sept. 30, 2019. (CNS/Vatican Media)