Building a Bridge; How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity

By Dan Clendenin

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James Martin, SJ, Building a Bridge; How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity (New York: HarperOne, 2017), 150pp.

After a gunman murdered forty-nine people at a nightclub in Orlando in the summer of 2016, the Jesuit priest James Martin was deeply disappointed that very few of the Catholic Church’s 250-plus bishops actually used the words gay or LGBT in expressing their grief and horror. Some even remained silent. Martin says that he found this experience to be “revelatory.” Around this same time, a gay advocacy group called New Ways Ministry honored Martin for his thirty years of ministry to their communities with their “Bridge Building Award,” and thus his talks at that ceremony formed the genesis for this short but powerful book.

As Martin cautions several times, we need to be careful about making generalizations about any community. Nonetheless, it’s clear to him that many gays still feel very much unwelcomed, excluded, insulted, and slandered by the Catholic Church hierarchy. Martin hopes to build a two-way bridge between the two groups. He does this by appealing to the Catechism of the Catholic Church that calls all its people to treat one another with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” (no. 2358). It furthermore and explicitly calls people to refrain from what it calls “unjust discrimination.”

In the first part of the book, Martin explores what these three virtues might mean for the Catholic Church and how it treats LGBT people. He then asks the same question for gays: what might these virtues mean for them in their encounters with the Catholic hierarchy? In the final part of the book Martin offers ten biblical passages for meditation, followed by questions for further reflection. The book concludes with “A Prayer For When I Feel Rejected.”

I found Martin’s anecdotes based upon his many ministry experiences among both groups to be especially helpful. After this book was published, as one might expect, Martin was criticized by some for going too far and too fast, and by others for his sort of patient gradualism. That sort of debate, I recall, also plagued the civil rights movement. At a minimum, perhaps it’s not too much to ask: let’s treat one another with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.

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