Meet the priest advocating for LGBT inclusion at a Catholic Church gathering next month

Father James Martin, a pro-LGBT American Jesuit priest, will address the World Meeting of Families for the first time in August, when the triennial Catholic Church event dedicated to reflecting on the importance of marriage and family life is scheduled to take place in Dublin, Ireland.

The priest is a controversial figure within the Catholic Church due to his ministry to the LGBT community. A vocal advocate of LGBT+ rights, he has spoken out against discrimination of LGBT+ Catholics, through articles, interviews, and homilies.

“The main reason that I’ve become involved in LGBT issues is because LGBT people are part of the church, and so they deserve to be cared for,” he told PinkNews. “They are also the most marginalised group in the Catholic Church and for that reason they deserve special care and attention.”

People receive communion during a mass celebrated by Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty)

The 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre signaled a turning point for the priest, who published the book Building a Bridgea call for respect between the LGBT+ community and the Catholic Church—the following year, out of frustration with the response the church offered to the one of the worst mass shootings in US history.

“What alarmed me at the time was that very few Catholic bishops publicly expressed any compassion after the shootings – in contrast to what happens in almost every other public tragedy,” he said. “The lack of solidarity seemed to reveal that even in death LGBT people are largely invisible in the church.”

Father Martin’s stance has sometimes been met with hostility from parts of the Catholic Church. The priest has had lectures cancelled all over the world due to his advocacy, been protested at numerous events, and been vilified in several Catholic far-right publications. But he said that a majority of Catholics have been supportive of his views and hateful reactions don’t bother him anymore.

“Jesus’s message in the gospel is clear: love, welcome, and inclusion, especially for those who feel marginalised,” he said. “That’s the most essential church teaching.”


People attend a mass celebrated by Pope Francis for the World Meeting of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty)

The Catholic Church’s official stance on homosexuality is that same-sex attraction is a sin if acted upon. Although Pope Francis has in some ways been more progressive in terms of LGBT acceptance, he recently upheld the belief that marriage should only be between a man and a woman and warned bishops to turn down any priesthood applicants who they suspect might be gay.

Pope Francis is expected to attend the final two days of the event, scheduled for August 21st to the 26th. Held in Ireland for the first time since the historic vote to legalise same-sex marriage, this year’s World Meeting of Families adopted the theme “The Gospel of the Family: Joy for the World” and it will focus on Amoris Laetitia, the Pontiff’s 2016 letter about the pastoral care of families.


Pope Francis smiles as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in Saint Peter’s Square at Vatican on May 30, 2018. (TIZIANA FABI/AFP/Getty)

The event organisers did not respond to several PinkNews requests for comment about the impact of marriage equality on the organisation of the event—but some priests taking part in the gathering have expressed their desire to see a more progressive depiction of family that inclusive of same-sex couples.

The Association of Catholic Priests criticised the World Meeting of Families in March after clips depicting same-sex couples raising children were removed from the event’s promotional video. This followed the replacement of photos of same-sex couples with photos of traditional families in the event’s booklet in February.

A Catholic nun of Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in Mishawaka, Indiana, holds a rosary and prays as she waits for the beginning of the Mass for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway September 27, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Alex Wong/Getty)

Father Martin wants his keynote address to help people reflect on what it means to minister to LGBT+ Catholics, show which parishes have been role models in welcoming LGBT+ people into the church, and advocate for change in those who have fallen short.

He mentioned parishes such as  St. Paul the Apostle Church and St. Francis Xavier Church in New York City as positive models of inclusion, as they have active LGBT+ ministries that sponsor outreach and support groups, parent groups, speakers series, and weekend retreats.

“It’s important to remember that LGBT people bring unique gifts to the church, and that the church needs them,” he said. “Tragically, many of them have been excluded, insulted, or ignored by heartless and cruel priests and pastoral associates, but LGBT people are nonetheless an essential part of the church.”

Despite his advocacy, Father Martin’s stance on same-sex marriage remains unclear, as he has not explicitly challenged the church’s teachings in his publications. Instead, he believes in finding common ground between the LGBT+ community and the Catholic Church as a way to heal the relationship between the two groups.

According to him, the church should focus on areas of LGBT life other than sexuality, for LGBT+ Catholics often have their sex lives scrutinised, which he says is “clearly discriminatory.”