In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, argues that the Church cannot back down in maintaining its standard of chastity—including for those within the LGBT community.
“Those who speak on behalf of the church must be faithful to the unchanging teachings of Christ, because only through living in harmony with God’s creative design do people find deep and lasting fulfillment,” he wrote.
Sarah specifically mentions Jesuit priest Father James Martin, author of the new book Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.
“He [Martin] repeats the common criticism that Catholics have been harshly critical of homosexuality, while neglecting the importance of sexual integrity among all of its followers,” said Sarah.
Sarah notes that he and Martin are in agreement that there should not be a double standard with regard to the Church’s teachings on chastity.
“For the unmarried—no matter their attractions—faithful chastity requires abstention from sex,” wrote Sarah.
“This might seem a high standard, especially today. Yet it would be contrary to the wisdom and goodness of Christ to require something that cannot be achieved,” wrote Sarah.
“As a mother, the Church seeks to protect her children from the harm of sin, as an expression of her pastoral charity,” he continued.
In an interview with Crux, Martin says his book is “not a book of moral theology, nor is it a book on the sexual morality of LGBT people. Rather, it’s an invitation to dialogue and to prayer.”
The book was published with ecclesiastical approval from Martin’s provincial Jesuit superior.
“Cardinal Sarah is correct that I have been critical of the Church’s overall pastoral response to LGBT Catholics, and have found it lacking,” Martin said. “On that point, His Eminence is correct, and I also think that we agree on that,” he told Crux.
Martin’s book has received praise from the head of the Vatican’s office for Laity, Family and Life, Cardinal Kevin Farrell. Farrell called the book “welcome and much-needed,” and stated that it will “help LGBT Catholics feel more at home in what is, after all, their church.”
In his op-ed, Sarah praises a similar book that was released around the same time, Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace, by Daniel Mattson.
The book recounts Mattson’s experience of being a Catholic trying to live out the Church’s teaching on chastity and abstaining from sexual relations.
Of Mattson and like-minded Catholics, Sarah says, “Their example deserves respect and attention, because they have much to teach all of us about how to better welcome and accompany our brothers and sisters in authentic pastoral charity.”
A July 2017 New York Times profile of Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, highlighted the divide over how members of the Catholic hierarchy have responded to the two books.
Dolan endorsed Mattson’s book, describing it as an “honest account of the genuine struggles faced by those with same-sex attraction” about how the author came to “understand and accept God’s loving plan for his life.”
Meanwhile, Tobin praised Martin’s book as “inspiring,” saying it “invites church leaders to minister with more compassion and reminds LGBT Catholics that they are as much a part of our church as any other Catholic.”
Martin, who is also a consultor to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications, applauded Sarah for his use of the phrase LGBT in his op-ed.
“In one important way, his piece is a step forward,” he told Crux. “He uses the term ‘LGBT,’ which a few more traditional Catholics resist.”
While Sarah argues that the Church’s standard of chastity is the only response to avoid “the sad consequences of the rejection of God’s plan for human intimacy and love,” Martin sees parts of the op-ed as a missed opportunity.
“I would like to have heard something about the sad consequences of what happens when LGBT people are made to feel like second-class citizens, or worse, by clergy and members of the hierarchy,” he told Crux.