Friday, June 07, 2024

Pope writes preface for book by LGBT-rights activist Fr James Martin

Book review: Come Forth: The raising of Lazarus and the promise of Jesus's  greatest miracle by James Martin

Pope Francis has written a preface for a new book by one of the Catholic Church’s most prominent apologists for the global gay rights movement.

The book by Fr James Martin, a Jesuit and media personality in the US, who is also editor at large of America: The Jesuit Review, is a meditation on the raising of Lazarus, which some critics say is presented in a way that can be seen as a metaphor for the encouragement of people with same-sex attractions to “come out” and “embrace” their sexuality.

In his preface to Come Forth: The Raising of Lazarus and the Promise of Jesus’ Greatest Miracle, which was published in Italian today and will be available in English from the autumn, Pope Francis describes Fr Martin as the “author of many other books that I know and appreciate” and a writer who has “the perspective of a person who has fallen in love with the Word of God”.

He praises Fr Martin’s book as “always fascinating and never predictable”, adding that the author is able to make “the biblical text come alive”.

The Pope said the book illustrates how the faithful can “practically feel the profound meaning of what Jesus does when He finds Himself before a dead man who is really dead, whose body gives off a nasty odour”.

“Jesus isn’t scared of coming close to sinners – to any sinner, even the most brazen and undaunted,” the Pope writes.

Rather, Jesus’s only concern, he says, is that “no one goes missing, that none are deprived of the possibility of feeling the loving embrace of His Father”.

“As I read the careful arguments and exegeses of the biblical scholars he cites, it made me wonder how often we manage to approach Scripture with the ‘hunger’ of a person who knows that that word really is the Word of God,” continues the Pope.

“The fact that God ‘speaks’ should give us a little jolt each and every day. The Bible truly is the nourishment we need to handle our lives. It’s the ‘love letter’ that God has sent — since long ago — to men and women living in every time and place.”

He added: “Rooting himself firmly in the Ignatian tradition, Father Martin brings us directly into the story of this friend of Jesus. We’re his friends, too — ’dead’ as we sometimes are on account of our sins, our failings and infidelities, the despondency that discourages us and crushes our spirits. Jesus is hardly afraid to get close to us — even when we ‘reek’ like a dead body that’s been buried for three days.

“No, Jesus isn’t afraid of our death, or our sin. He waits just outside the closed door of our hearts, that door that only opens from within, that we lock with a double bolt whenever we think God could never forgive us.”

The Pope’s praise for Fr Martin’s book comes a week after the pontiff caused controversy by telling the Italian bishops there was too much frociaggine (faggotry) in seminaries, and suggesting that candidates for the priesthood should be screened for their sexual preferences.

The backlash prompted the Vatican to issue an apology and to clarify the Pope’s inclusive approach to people with same-sex attractions.

“The Pope never intended to offend or express himself in homophobic terms, and he apologises to those who felt offended by the use of a term, as reported by others,” the Vatican statement said. It was reported that the Pope also, in a gesture that some interrupted as an attempt to mend fences, sent a sympathetic response to a young man who reached out to him after being rejected from seminary for being gay.

Fr Martin is a controversial figure for many Catholics because he has openly championed gay rights causes for years, including public speculation on whether St John Henry Newman was a homosexual just two days before he was beatified in 2010.

He repeated the same claim on the eve of the canonisation of the English saint in 2019, saying that St John Henry’s “relationship with Ambrose St. John is worthy of attention. It isn’t a slur to suggest that Newman may have been gay”.

In 2017, Fr Martin brought out a book on LGBT issues in the Church, called Building a Bridge, which included a preface by Cardinal Matteo Zuppi of Bologna who praised his adoption of secular ideological categories to understand same-sex attraction as “a necessary step for beginning a respectful conversation”.

Fr Martin later said on Facebook that the preface by Cardinal Zuppi was “a huge vote of confidence by an important prelate” for ministry to LGBT Catholics.

Fr Martin was subsequently offered a place by Pope Francis at last year’s Synod on Synodality in Rome.

Following the publication of Fiducia Supplicans, the Vatican declaration in December 2023 that provided for the non-liturgical blessings of same sex couples, Fr Martin was much involved in the subsequent media storm, especially on social media, and declared that “I will now be delighted to bless my friends in same-sex unions”.

Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, the Prefect of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, has stressed that the document does not imply an endorsement of sexual activity which the Church has traditionally held to be morally impermissible.

He did, however, last week respond to claims that the document was being used precisely for that purpose by dismissing such abuses as minor compared to clerical sex abuse.

The cardinal told the Spanish media outlet Alfa&Omega that when it came to Fiducia Supplicans being misused and wrongly interpreted, while “the most serious cases can be reported to the local bishop, I don’t believe we have to go on a witch hunt”.