Catholic College Presidents Invite Fr. Martin to Speak

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by Paul Murano  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  February 5, 2020   

Advice sought from LGBT advocate at their annual meeting

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WASHINGTON (ChurchMilitant.com) - LGBT advocate Fr. James Martin has been invited to speak at a meeting of Catholic college and university presidents to offer advice on how to deal with current issues of sex and gender within their institutions.

The annual meeting of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) was held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Washington, Jan. 31 to Feb. 3. More than 150 of the association's nearly 200 school presidents and 250 senior school leaders were present, according to the ACCU.

The Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, president of the ACCU, said the group welcomed Martin warmly. It was a reflection, he said, of the fact that Catholic higher education leaders are wrestling with how to think through issues such as unisex bathrooms, ­non-binary language and how to apply Catholic teaching to LGBT issues.

People "want university presidents to be an advocate," Holtschneider said, "and for a society that hasn't made up its mind but is very divided, any university feels that division very personally, and is trying to care for the students in front of them."

"Father Martin is well-spoken and knowledgeable, and he is also someone who has been in conversation with the pope about this," Holtschneider said.

Martin, a Catholic priest known for advocating for those with same-sex attraction while under-emphasizing Church teaching that the behavior is intrinsically disordered and can never be approved, urged the hundreds of school leaders to take new steps to promote inclusion, such as allowing students to pick their pronouns and holding up "openly gay" staff as role models.

Martin has not been disciplined by Church hierarchy for advocating to students what the Church considers a lifestyle of mortal sin.

The ACCU leadership has avoided this subject in the past because it was a lightning rod with the bishops.

Longtime attendees of the conference were surprised at the invitation since in all past meetings the LGBT agenda has been ignored. The invitation reflects a new generation of Catholic college presidents as well as the influence of Pope Francis, who emphasizes making all feel welcome, some of them said.

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Bp. Joseph Strickland

Some Catholic colleges have had LGBT support centers, Holtschneider noted. The debates today have evolved to include concerns of gender-confused Catholics, such as what names they can use on diplomas, which bathrooms they can use at their Catholic institution, and whether school staff can remain in their positions with full benefits if they choose to "marry" someone of the same sex or "transition" to another gender.

"Father Martin is well-spoken and knowledgeable, and he is also someone who has been in conversation with the pope about this," Holtschneider said.

In his talk, Martin spoke about respect, compassion and sensitivity, but nothing on biblical truth. He told the group:

When you encounter an LGBT person, your starting point must be that you are meeting someone who has suffered and may still be suffering. Imagine a group of refugees. Calling people by the names and pronouns they choose is part of respect; providing LGBT-inclusive benefits reflects compassion; and including sexual orientation and gender identity in nondiscrimination policies shows sensitivity.

Martin urged presidents to "avoid boilerplate responses to hot-button topics. Find out what's going on yourself and exercise empathy."

Jim Towey, past president of St. Vincent College and Ave Maria University, said the appearance by an LGBT advocate would not have happened under previous popes.

"The ACCU leadership has avoided this subject in the past because it was a lightning rod with the bishops," he said, noting that Holtschneider has been in the job for less than a year. In addition, Towey said "perception by some of Pope Francis's openness on LGBT outreach, it seems to me, there is a shift underway ... ."

If Catholics minister without calling sinful behavior sinful, then their work is neither truly Catholic nor true ministry.

Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, tweeted condemnation to Catholic Fordham University for hosting Martin this June at a conference about outreach to LGBT Catholics.

"May those who join in this Conference share the full message of Catholic teaching," Strickland exhorted. "If Catholics minister without calling sinful behavior sinful, then their work is neither truly Catholic nor true ministry. True compassion calls the person from sin to virtue," Strickland added.

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