WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A U.S. bishop vigorously defended Jesuit
Father James Martin when a prominent U.S. seminary canceled an invitation it
had extended to the well-known author, who was to speak about Jesus at an October
event, after fringe groups unhappy with the priest's recent book about the
church and the gay community mounted a series of attacks.
Theological College, a national seminary at The Catholic
University of America in Washington, said the cancellation, first made
public Sept. 15, came after it "experienced increasing negative feedback
various social media sites regarding the seminary's invitation" to
Martin. It did not name the groups associated with the attacks.
"This campaign of distortion must be challenged and exposed
for what it is -- not primarily for Father Martin's sake but because this
cancer of vilification is seeping into the institutional life of the church,"
said San Diego Bishop Robert W. McElroy in a vigorous defense published by America magazine Sept.
"The concerted attack on Father Martin's work has been
driven by three impulses: homophobia, a distortion of fundamental Catholic
moral theology, and a veiled attack on Pope Francis and his campaign against
judgmentalism in the church," wrote Bishop McElroy.
cancellation of the speech was not the first, Father Martin noted, even
though that speech and others he was to give were about Jesus and not
In a Sept. 15 Facebook post, the priest wrote about the incident and said the
attacks included "a storm of phone calls, emails and messages to Theological
College, which included, I was told, people screaming at the receptionists who
answered the phone. In the end, they felt that the expected protests and
negative publicity would distract from Alumni Day."
Father Martin was to speak
at an Oct. 4 symposium celebrating the 100th anniversary of the seminary's
"The organizers were all apologetic and in some cases more
upset than I was. I know that they were under extreme pressure, and in some
cases were overwhelmed by the rage that can be generated by social media: ill
will based on misrepresentations, innuendos, homophobia and especially fear.
Perfect love drives out fear, as 1 John says. But perfect fear also drives out
love," Father Martin wrote.
"Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT
Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity,"
the book that has driven the controversy, grabbed the No. 1 spot on Amazon's
Roman Catholicism category Sept. 18.
It has been endorsed by Bishop McElroy, U.S. Cardinal Kevin
J. Farrell, prefect of the Vatican's Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, and Cardinal
Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, and has a long list of endorsements
from other notable Catholics. However, it also was recently criticized by Guinean
Cardinal Robert Sarah in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal.
Jesuit Father Matt Malone, editor of America magazine, where
Father Martin is editor at large, defended the priest and the book, which has
been approved by the Jesuits as being in line with church teaching, in a Sept.
"Some elements in the American church," Father Malone said, "have
taken it upon themselves to organize a campaign, not only against the contents
of the book, but against Father Martin himself. In recent weeks, Father Martin
has been subjected to repeated, calumnious attacks in social media and in
print, involving invective that is as appalling as it is toxic. It is one thing
to engage in spirited debate. It is another thing to seek to stymie such debate
through fear, misinformation, or blunt censorship."
Though Theological College, with the cancellation of the
invitation made more than a year ago, was seeking to avoid controversy, it
invited more attention. The news of the cancellation ended up appearing in the
pages of major U.S. newspapers such as The New York Times and The Washington
Post over the weekend of Sept. 16 and 17.
John Garvey, Catholic university's president, issued a
statement saying the institution regretted any implication that the university
supported the decision by the seminary, adding that "universities and their
related entities should be places of free, civil exchange of ideas. Our culture
is increasingly hostile to this idea."
Garvey said it was "problematic" that groups within the
Catholic Church demonstrate an "inability to make distinctions and to exercise
In his Facebook post, Father Martin, a consultor to the
Vatican's Secretariat for Communications, said the only thing he asked of the
organizations that canceled his talks is that they be honest about the reasons for the cancellations.
"Also, I want to say that none of these cancellations
disturbs me," he said. "I've not lost any sleep over them. ... I want to say that Jesus
is close to me in prayer. So I am at total peace."
Thousands on social media, including high profile Catholics,
voiced support for the Jesuit.
After the Theological College invitation was rescinded, Holy
Trinity Church, in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood, asked Father Martin if
he could instead visit their Jesuit parish around the same time.
"So I look forward to seeing you all in Washington," he
Whether by coincidence or on purpose, on Sept. 18 hackers
briefly took down the international Catholic daily LaCroix International after
it ran the commentary "Catholic Cyber-Militias and the New Censorship" about