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Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, at the Vatican, Feb. 10, 2015. Credit: Bohumil Petrik/CNA.
– Catholic outreach to LGBT individuals must always include the truth about Catholic teaching and chastity, Cardinal Robert Sarah said in an article responding to Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin.
“The Catholic Church has been criticized by many, including some of its own followers, for its pastoral response to the LGBT community,” Cardinal Sarah wrote in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal Sept. 1.
“This criticism deserves a reply, not so much to defend the Church’s practices reflexively, but to determine whether we, as the Lord’s disciples, are reaching out effectively to a group in need.”
The Guinean-born cardinal heads the Congregation for Divine Worship. He specifically named Father Martin, S.J., editor-at-large of the Jesuits’ America Magazine, as “one of the most outspoken critics of the Church’s message with regard to sexuality.”
Fr. Martin has become a media personality and has a significant presence on social media. He authored the 2017 book, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.”
The book drew praise from Cardinal Kevin Farrell, prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life, as well as Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark, who said the book “marks an essential step in inviting Church leaders to minister with more compassion, and in reminding LGBT Catholics that they are as much a part of our Church as any other Catholic.”
However, other admirers include dissenting Catholic groups like New Ways Ministry, which hosted the lecture on which the book is based and gave Fr. Martin their Bridge Building Award last year.
New Ways Ministry is part of the Equally Blessed Coalition, itself an outspoken critic of Catholic theology and sexual ethics. The coalition’s funders include billionaire heir Jon Stryker’s Arcus Foundation, which is following a broad strategy to counter Christian opposition to LGBT activism and to foster global social change on LGBT issues, particularly within Christianity and other religions.
At the same time, Fr. Martin’s book has its critics. They say the book avoids Church teaching on marriage, celibacy and chastity and shows an apparent reluctance to recognize Catholics who experience same-sex attraction and seek to follow Catholic teaching.
In his op-ed, Cardinal Sarah said the priest repeated “the common criticism that Catholics have been harshly critical of homosexuality while neglecting the importance of sexual integrity among all of its followers.”
The cardinal said Fr. Martin is correct to reject any double standard on the virtue of chastity “which, challenging as it may be, is part of the good news of Jesus Christ for all Christians.”
“For the unmarried – no matter their attractions – faithful chastity requires abstention from sex,” the cardinal said. While this may appear to be a high standard, Jesus’ wisdom and goodness would not require something that cannot be achieved.
“With God’s grace and our perseverance, chastity is not only possible, but it will also become the source for true freedom,” the cardinal continued. “Jesus calls us to this virtue because he has made our hearts for purity, just as he has made our minds for truth.”
Cardinal Sarah stressed the importance of both truth and love.
“To love someone as Christ loves us means to love that person in the truth,” he said. “Those who speak on behalf of the Church must be faithful to the unchanging teachings of Christ because only by living in harmony with God’s creative design do we find deep and lasting fulfillment.”
Cardinal Sarah summarized Catholic teaching on same-sex attraction: the person is good because he or she is a child of God. Homosexual attractions are not sinful if not willed or acted upon, even though they are not in harmony with human nature. However, homosexual actions are “gravely sinful and tremendously harmful to the well-being of those who partake in them.”
“People who identify as members of the LGBT community are owed this truth in charity, especially from clergy who speak on behalf of the Church about this complex and difficult topic,” the cardinal continued.
The cardinal recommended the book by American author Daniel Mattson titled “Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay,” for which he wrote the foreword.
“It is my prayer that the world will finally heed the voices of Christians who experience same-sex attractions and who have discovered peace and joy by living the truth of the Gospel,” Cardinal Sarah said. “I have been blessed by my encounters with them, and their witness moves me deeply.”
Such Christians testify to “the power of grace” and the truth of Church teaching, he said. Some have been reconciled to Jesus Christ and the Church after living apart from the faith.
“Their lives are not easy or without sacrifice…but they have discovered the beauty of chastity and of chaste friendships,” he said, adding that these Christians deserve respect and attention for their ability to teach about “how to better welcome and accompany our brothers and sisters in authentic pastoral charity.”
Speaking generally, the cardinal further stressed the necessity for Catholic fidelity in public life. Rejecting God’s plan for human intimacy and love has sad consequences, he said.
“The sexual liberation the world promotes does not deliver its promise. Rather, promiscuity is the cause of so much needless suffering, of broken hearts, of loneliness, and of treatment of others as means for sexual gratification,” the cardinal warned. “As a mother, the Church seeks to protect her children from the harm of sin, as an expression of her pastoral charity.”