On Sunday, November 12, Fr. James Martin, S.J., visited St. Ignatius Parish to lecture on methods of LGBT inclusion. The talk, which was well-attended, drew interested members from both the St. Ignatius community and the Boston College student body. The lecture was based on Fr. Martin’s recently published book, Building a Bridge, which identifies ways in which “the Catholic Church and the LGBT community can enter into a relationship of respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” He elaborated on each of these three aspects individually, attempting to describe his own vision for dialogue and acceptance.
Fr. Martin began by acknowledging the “very complicated relationship” between the Catholic Church and its LGBT members. He asked the audience what it may look like for both groups to treat each other with charity, and went on to enumerate concrete examples of what his ideas would look like in action.
Fr. Martin first focused on how the Catholic Church could show respect to the LGBT community. At baseline, this constitutes “recognizing the existence” of the group; in other words, acknowledging their contributions to the faith. Fr. Martin emphasized the necessity of making all Catholics feel “visible and valuable.” Practically, he believes this idea manifests itself in the formation of LGBT outreach groups within individual parishes.
With recognition of their existence comes recognition of their gifts and talents. Fr. Martin asked Catholics to acknowledge the contributions that the LGBT community makes to the Church, both through their personal faith and through their ministry in various areas. With their own experience of marginalization, they also have a “natural compassion to the people on the margins.”
Next, Fr. Martin explained how the Catholic Church can express compassion for the LGBT community. He cited the meaning of the word “compassion” itself (“to suffer with”) and called for Catholics to become more attuned to the struggles of this group. The first step, said Martin, comes with “listening” to the stories of LGBT people, as one must “know a person’s life to be compassionate.” He encouraged the audience to ask questions and be attentive to the responses they receive. In this way, he believes Catholics can begin to “see the Holy Spirit in these people.”
Fr. Martin proposed that the final important aspect of the Catholic-LGBT relationship is sensitivity; in other words, a sense of “familiarity and friendship” within the groups. He called on listeners to reduce the distance between Catholics and their marginalized brothers and sisters. He quoted the Merriam-Webster definition of sensitivity, describing it as “an awareness and understanding of the feelings of others.” By investing themselves in the concerns of LGBT people, Fr. Martin believes Catholics can make them feel more included in their faith community.
Fr. Martin closed his talk with a short question-and-answer session, in which he selected written questions that were previously submitted by the audience.
The lecture at St. Ignatius comes in the midst of a nation-wide controversy, in which Fr. Martin is critiqued for some propositions that do not align with the marital doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. Fr. Martin referenced the controversy several times during the November 12 talk, though he did not address any specific objections. The focus of the lecture appeared to be the improvement of Catholic-LGBT relations.
The lecture was well-attended, both by supporters and by disagreeing parties. It represented a talking point in a large and ongoing conversation, especially in the United States, about what it means to welcome LGBT Catholics into the Church.