Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

The subversive ambiguity of Father Martin and friends

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 24, 2019

Emboldened by an unmistakable sign of papal support, Father James Martin is now escalating his war on the Church’s perennial teaching that homosexual acts are immoral. In his latest foray, the popular Jesuit questions the authority of Scripture, with a deliberately provocative Tweet:

Interesting: “Where the Bible mentions [same-sex sexual] behavior at all, it clearly condemns it. I freely grant that. The issue is precisely whether the biblical judgment is correct. The Bible sanctioned slavery as well and nowhere attacked it as unjust...”

As always, Father Martin is being clever with this Tweet, carefully preserving his own “plausible deniability.” The substance of the comment is not his own; he is quoting Father Richard Rohr, the Franciscan proponent of “alternative orthodoxy.” The Tweet comes from Father Martin, but he contributes just that one ambiguous word: “Interesting.”

So you can’t say that Father Martin is questioning the judgment of the Bible. Oh, no. He just finds it “interesting” that someone else has done the questioning. Yet it seems fair to point out that he does not find it “interesting” when someone affirms the Scriptural message.

For years Martin has been busily poking away at the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, always encouraging a welcoming attitude toward homosexuals, never acknowledging that his views are at odds with the Church’s teaching. When orthodox Catholics have sought to call him to account, he has fallen back—ironically—on the argument from authority, pointing to the fact that his book Building a Bridge is endorsed by Cardinals Farrell and Tobin. Now with the implicit support of Pope Francis he dares to take another step.

The Bible does not “sanction” slavery. Someone who has studied the Scriptures should know that it is not particularly “interesting” to bring up that old canard. But it’s far more important to recognize what is happening in the earlier sentences of that quote from Rohr. After freely admitting that the Bible condemns homosexual acts, he proposes to question that judgment—to submit the Word of God to be tested by his own human (i.e. fallen) intellect. By that standard there is nothing in the Bible that could not be questioned.

Furthermore, the Biblical condemnation of homosexual acts has been fleshed out by centuries of Church teaching. Rohr is prepared to question that entire tradition as well. And while Martin insists (not very credibly) that he does not reject the Church’s teaching, he finds Rohr’s project “interesting.” Again, to set aside the clear and consistent teaching of the Church on this subject, and suggest that we can start afresh with our moral analysis, is to deny the authority of the magisterium altogether.

Father Martin is consistent in his own way: always challenging the Church’s authoritative teaching obliquely, always encouraging others to question or to ignore that teaching, yet always innocently protesting that he is merely raising “interesting” questions, not answering them. He uses studied ambiguity to undermine orthodoxy. And now, when challenged, he takes refuge behind the authority of other, more powerful prelates—who are using the same subversive technique.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: [email protected] - Oct. 26, 2019 1:27 AM ET USA

    Remember how clever the devil is. So is Fr. Martin. Beware those wolves in sheep's clothing. Martin will have to explain himself to a higher authority someday. All the cleverness in the world does not help at that time. Christ please protect us.

  • Posted by: padre3536 - Oct. 24, 2019 10:21 AM ET USA

    Well presented. Thank you.