Theological College, a D.C.-based Catholic seminary affiliated with the District’s Catholic University of America, created a stir on Friday, Sept. 15, when it announced it had rescinded its invitation for an LGBT-supportive priest to deliver an Oct. 4 speech on its campus.
The decision to cancel the speech by Fr. James Martin at an Alumni Day event followed a flurry of hostile social media postings attacking Martin over his recently published book, “Building a Bridge,” which calls for better understanding of the LGBT community within the Catholic Church.
In a Facebook posting on Sept. 15, Martin said the attacks against his scheduled speaking engagement at Theological College and another Catholic organization in London were fueled by a campaign by an ultraconservative Catholic web commentary site called Church Militant. Among other things, postings on the site referred to Martin as a “homosexualist.”
“That campaign caused a storm of phone calls, emails and messages to Theological College, which included, I was told, people screaming at the receptionists who answer the phone,” Martin said in his Facebook message.
In its own statement last week, Theological College said its rector, Rev. Gerald McBrearity, made the reluctant decision to disinvite Martin as a speaker “in the interest of avoiding distraction and controversy.”
“In no way does this decision signal approval or agreement with the comments or accusations that the various social media sites have made over the recent weeks,” the statement says.
In an action likely to be viewed by LGBT Catholics as a positive development, Catholic University issued a separate statement disassociating itself from Theological College’s decision to disinvite Martin as a speaker.
The Catholic University statement notes that Martin is the editor at large for the Jesuit magazine America and serves as an adviser to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications.
“This decision does not reflect the University’s policy on inviting speakers to campus, nor does it reflect the specific counsel received from the University and leadership,” the statement says. “We regret the implication that Catholic University supported yesterday’s decision.”
The statement then quotes Catholic University President John Garvey as comparing the campaign by groups opposed to Fr. Martin’s speech at Theological College to “the same pressure being applied by the left for universities to withdraw speaker invitations.”
“Universities and their related entities should be places for the free, civil exchange of ideas,” Garvey said in the statement. “Our culture is increasingly hostile to this idea. It is problematic that individuals and groups within our church demonstrate this same inability to make distinctions and to exercise charity,” Garvey said.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of the LGBT supportive Catholic organization New Ways Ministry, called the decision to rescind Martin’s speaking invitation at Theological College “a devastating blow to the Catholic Church, academic freedom, and pastoral outreach to LGBT people.”
“The decision is an impotent one in which the seminary’s leaders reveal that they are powerless to stand up to commentators whose views are beyond the mainstream of Catholic thought,” DeBernardo said in a statement. “It reveals cowardice on the part of the seminary’s administrators who do not have integrity to withstand pressure from outside forces, and instead opt for censorship instead of discussion,” he said.
DeBernardo noted that at least two cardinals and a bishop have praised Martin’s book.
“One of those cardinals, Kevin Farrell, is the head of Congregation for Laity, Family, and Life at the Vatican,” according to DeBernardo. “What could possibly motivate the seminary rector, Fr. Gerald McBrearity, to feel that he could not let a speaker with the impressive credentials and Vatican approval that Fr. Martin has to speak in an academic setting?”