On June 11, 2017, Dennis J. Yesalonia, S.J., the Pastor at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York City, the home parish of Jesuit priest James Martin, announced the establishment of the parish’s new LGBT ministry: LGBT Catholics & Friends. In “A Letter From the Pastor,” Yesalonia wrote:
I believe that the strength of our faith, the pervasiveness of the desire to be part of this community, and the depth of our love for one another as friends in the Lord propel us to acknowledge, accept, affirm, and nourish in their faith those members of our parish who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ). To that end, I have authorized the creation of a Parish LGBTQ Ministry whose mission will be to nurture the faith life of the entire parish through the unique perspective these sisters and brothers bring to being Catholic in an environment which in significant ways has banished them to second class status. The LGBTQ members of our parish have waited patiently for this day to come. We can delay no longer. Justice demands it; compassion and mercy accompany it.
My decision to form an LGBTQ ministry was made after having met with members of the parish who identify as LGBTQ, many of whom are actively engaged in other ministries of the parish or who are parents of our grammar school students or parents of LGBTQ children.
Yesalonia then wrote:
For reasons unique to each person, our LGBTQ parishioners are firmly committed to being Catholics, despite how they are characterized by the official teaching of the church. They are nonetheless buoyed by their hope that the church’s teaching will change…They yearn to be true to who they are, created out of love by God as gay, as lesbian, as bisexual, as transgendered, or as questioning of their identity.
On June 13, 2017, Martin launched his new book, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity,” at St. Ignatius Loyola. In “Building a Bridge,” concerning homosexuality and The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Martin stated:
Saying that one of the deepest parts of a person—the part that gives and receives love—is “disordered” in itself is needlessly cruel.
Following criticism of statements made by Martin during his promotional tour for “Building a Bridge,” Yesalonia defended its author, prompting Martin to post a letter written by Yesalonia on his Facebook page; Martin wrote:
I am very grateful to Dennis Yesalonia, SJ, the Pastor of the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola in New York City, where I have served as a priest for almost 20 years, where I celebrated my First Mass, where I pronounced my Final Vows as a Jesuit, and which I consider my home parish, for this generous message of support. It is one of the great joys of my life to be a part of this community.
In his impassioned defense of Martin, Yesalonia wrote:
I now call upon all of us to stand in solidarity with Father Martin who has recently been subjected to a wave of harsh and unjustified criticism because of his attempts to bridge the chasm of misunderstanding and distrust through dialogue and reconciliation. The torrent of invective leveled against him because of his most recent book, Building A Bridge, has unveiled the depth of prejudice and intolerance against affirming our LGBTQ brothers and sisters as valued and beloved members of the Church.
On January 7, 2018, Martin posted a link to an article from New Ways Ministry about a parishioner from St. Ignatius Loyola who shared his experiences of being the father of a “gay” son at a recent panel presentation (Our Stories: Being LGBT and Catholic) held at the Parish and sponsored by LGBT Catholics & Friends; in 1999, after a lengthy Vatican investigation, the co-founders of New Ways Ministry were “permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons.” About the article from New Ways Ministry, Martin wrote:
I’m blessed to know everyone in this wonderful family. My good friend Ivan [Briggiler] gave this moving talk at a recent event for LGBT parishioners at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in New York. In October, 2016, he and his son Marcos, a student at Regis High School in New York, accompanied me to the New Ways Ministry gathering last October.
On October 30, 2017, Martin received the “Building a Bridge Award” from New Ways Ministry. The address he delivered at the award ceremony served as the inspiration for his book.
During his address at St. Ignatius Loyola, Briggiler talked about his “gay” son:
When Marcos was around five, my wife began saying that she thought Marcos might be gay. My reaction at the time was cold and rational. I said it was too early to tell, and I wanted Marcos to figure this out and to let me know on his own terms. In other words, I was telling my wife that it was not possible for her to know this about our child at such a young age…I was wrong.
My son was born gay. That is an important lesson that I learned. My son did not choose to be gay: my son was born gay. This Is part of his being.
Finally, Briggiler added:
Now I dream about the day when Marcos will introduce us to our new son in law joining our family. I dream and hope about grandchildren. And I hope I can walk together with my son down the aisle.
During a June 16, 2017 Jesuitical podcast, Martin said:
God made you this way. You are wonderfully made, just like Psalm 139 says. You were knit together in your mother’s womb this way, you know, it’s a mystery why you were made this way, but this is part of your identity.
The “Featured Presenter” for the LGBT panel held at St. Ignatius Loyola was Francis DeBernardo who currently serves as the Executive Director of New Ways Ministry. Following the Obergefell decision by the Supreme Court in 2015, DeBernardo stated:
New Ways Ministry rejoices with millions of U.S. Catholics that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided in favor of marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples! On this historic day, we pray in thanksgiving that justice and mercy have prevailed and that the prayers and efforts of so many have combined to move our nation one step closer to fairness and equality for all.
On June 19, 2018, St. Ignatius Church released Briggiler’s address to New Way Ministry, along with other testimonies from St. Ignatius parishioners who identity as gay or lesbian and their family members, in a free on-line book entitled – Our Stories: Being LGBT and Catholic. On June 21, Martin sent out the following Tweet:
So proud of my parish, the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in NYC, for this spiritual resource. They sponsored an evening where parishioners shared their faith journeys with the whole parish. Their stories are now compiled in a book you can read and download https://t.co/bKECm3YUpT pic.twitter.com/qY32EVWWqM
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) June 21, 2018
The first story in the book is from a longtime (since 1982) male parishioner; he wrote:
I still have gigantic issues with Church teaching on human sexuality and the theology of the human body. I never have felt shame about my own incarnation. For the Franciscans, it counts as “Original Blessing” and my body is made for Love in Action. The Church, as I have participated in it and have been embraced by it, does the bulk of its saving work on the parish level, not in Rome, not even on Fifth Avenue. We, the People of God, are the Church. I believe in the priesthood of all Christian believers…
The son of Ivan Briggiler also contributed his testimony, he wrote:
In regards to the Church, I felt as though I had to lose my identity as a homosexual boy. Although things have definitely moved forward in the last decade or so, I still felt like the Church shunned me and had no respect for a large part of who I am…I did, and do not want to have to, sacrifice anything.
Also included in the book is a man “married” to his same-sex partner, a “gay” man who has been at the parish since 2011 and plans to marry his same-sex partner in 2018, and a mother with a “gay” son. The boy’s father died when he was young. As the mother describes in the story, her son experienced bullying in school – including accusations of “being gay.” In college, at Fordham University, which has a long history of gay-affirmative and Catholic dissidence, (see: here, and here) the young man: “decided to be true to himself and just surrender to the fact that he is gay.” The Chair of the Theology Department at Fordham University is Patrick Hornbeck; Hornbeck married his same-sex partner in 2015. James Martin participated on two highly publicized conversations with Hornbeck at Fordham: one in 2014 and the other in 2017.
The young man’s mother concluded with this statement:
“My son, Stanley, is a good, genuine, and generous person. He did not choose to be gay. Thank God he has learned to accept it and be comfortable in his own skin… Me, too.
My fondest hope would be that he could marry at St. Patrick’s Cathedral or right here in our own parish.”
Please contact the Archdiocese of New York:
Cardinal Timothy Dolan
1011 First Ave
New York, NY 10022