On October 20, 2018, Jesuit priest James Martin spoke about “showing respect and welcome to LGBT people and their families” at St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Decatur, Georgia.

Almost from the very beginning Martin said:

Sadly, many people still believe that people choose their sexual orientation. Despite the testimony of almost every psychiatrist, psychologist, biologist, social scientist, and more important, the lived experience and testimony of LGBT people themselves. You do not choose your orientation or gender identity, any more than you choose to be left-handed.

Martin has made such claims several times before about homosexuality as an innate characteristic. However, even the highly gay-affirmative American Psychological Association disagrees. According to the APA:

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors.

But the “born gay” theory is often promulgated in the Church, with some going even further and claiming that children as young as Second and Third graders can recognize their sexual orientation. A priest at the 2018 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, where Martin was also a featured presenter, said to an audience composed primarily of Catholic educators:

Part of our question as we walk this journey is do we understand what this is about – sexual identity. The way in which a person sees themselves and in terms of who they are romantically and sexually attracted to. Now some people don’t even have that when they are 50 years old. We know that some people as Second and Third graders have that, and they begin to identify with either what is normative, or from their perspective, what is normative, and they dress different from what you expect, they speak differently and they identify themselves in a world that is unto themselves. And we are called to journey with them and affirm them in that journey.

Martin also claimed that, “The more religious the family they come from. The more likely LGBT people are to attempt suicide.”

There is a great distinction, which Martin does not even attempt to mention, between rejecting a child and not accepting a sexual orientation because of religious beliefs. For example, there are countless caring and compassionate parents involved with the “Encourage” ministry (I know them personally) who love their children, but refuse to facilitate in their child’s decision to enter into a same-sex relationship.

In addition, the conclusions reached in many such studies are based upon the “minority stress theory.” However, in countries with a long history of LGBT acceptance, significant disparities in mental health continue to exist among the gay population. For example, in the Netherlands, the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage: “homosexual Dutch men have much higher rates of mood disorders, anxiety disorders and suicide attempts than heterosexual Dutch men.” In 2009, the Lutheran-affiliated Church of Sweden, to which roughly three-quarters of all Swedes belong, allowed its clergy to officiate at same-sex marriage ceremonies. But in Sweden, where the Constitution was amended to include prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, even same-sex married individuals continue to exhibit increased rates of suicidal behavior: “Among same-sex married men the suicide risk was nearly three-fold greater as compared to different-sex married.”

Martin also praised gay-affirmative ministries such as “Out at St. Paul” and “Fortunate Families;” which he has done before. 

According to “Fortunate Families:”

We learn from our LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers that they knew they were “different” from an early age, that they experienced attraction to the same gender or other internal sense of gender nonconformity from an early age.

We also acknowledge, together with the Church, that the fullness of sexual expression is best framed in a loving committed relationship. We believe, along with mainstream science, that the homosexual orientation and experience of gender is deeply seated and cannot be reversed by prayer and/or therapy. Many of our LGBTQ+ children and brothers and sisters are in loving, committed relationships with persons of the same sex or persons with other gender nonconforming expressions and ask us, as parents, to embrace, accept and love them for who they are. We do embrace our children, knowing that our decision to love our children and all LGBTQ+ persons – at times – places us in tension with Church teaching.

He then described an “evening of sharing stories” at Martin’s home parish of St. Ignatius in New York City.

According to Martin, those invited to speak were: “three gay men, the mother of a gay child, the father of a gay child,” and his teenage son. At that event, the father with the “gay” son said:

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.

He then 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 the question and answer period, Martin was asked the following: “Virtually all scientific evidence and research confirms the innate characteristics of sexual orientation…yet the Church still teaches that homosexual marriage is gravely disordered and sinful. It seems to me that this teaching conflicts with natural law. Can you unravel this?

Martin responded: “The first thing I’m gonna say is, I am not challenging Church teaching on marriage.” He continued: “I will just tell you a story.”

He describes the relationship between a same sex couple: Carlos and Jim. According to Martin, Carlos is a lector, Eucharistic minister and hospital chaplain. He is also “married to his husband Jim.” At their home, while one of the men is seriously ill and being taken care of by the other, Martin observes the genuine affection between the two men.

Martin concludes: “So when we think of those kinds of questions, when we think of questions about the Church’s teaching on marriage, which as I said I am not challenging, we also have to think about what Carlos and Jim teach is. What does that say to us? That is a parable and we need to learn from that parable.”

Martin used this illustration before when he referenced another “gay” friend in a same-sex relationship: “I have a hard time imagining how even the most traditionalist, homophobic, closed-minded Catholic cannot look at my friend and say, ‘That is a loving act, and that is a form of love that I don’t understand but I have to reverence.'”

This approach is highly simplistic. I have experienced chaste affection from another man with same-sex attraction, but that does not justify homosexuality. Emotions can not change physiology. Even in a “loving” relationship, the rectum can not accommodate the penis. (See: CDC.)

While Martin is quick to appropriate the “stories” of LGBT people, he will not comment on his own life.

When asked: “Is there room for any kind of ritual [in the Catholic Church] that recognizes same sex relationships,” Martin said, “Not currently, not currently.” And he smiled.

In 2016, Martin received the “Bridge Building Award” from New Ways Ministry;” at that event he was asked by a priest from a gay-affirmative parish if Martin would “collaborate in developing a Pre-Cana course for gay couples.” Martin said: “One works within the confines of what the ordinary will allow you to do.”

Concerning his views on LGBT acceptance in other faith traditions, Martin said: “In general, my experience has been that other groups are much further along than we are. And that they are much more welcoming…”

When asked about the possibility of “LGBT acceptance” at the 2018 Youth Synod, Martin said: “Pope Francis has moved this ball ahead.”

Martin was also asked about the Courage apostolate – but he did not answer.

Currently, in the Roman Catholic Church, as expressly witnessed during the 2018 “Vatican Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment,” there is an attempt to swiftly label young people as LGBT. Part and parcel with this effort is the dissemination of the unproven theory that certain people are born, or created by God, with a homosexual orientation. As a result, its permissible to disregard certain Church teachings because a loving god would never make someone “with an intrinsic orientation to evil;” with some going as far as calling for changes in both the language and the meaning of certain words in the Catechism; for example, from “disordered” to “differently ordered.”

Besides the troubling consequences of promoting a false biological determinant for homosexuality that could result in someone rejecting Church teaching, there is also the rather disturbing optics involving priests and prelates, a group of men under scrutiny for the abuse of teenage boys and the subsequent cover-up, actively encouraging the acceptance of homosexuality among young people.

In some parishes, the Church has taken on the role of castigating parents who do not fully accept a child’s manifestation of an LGBT orientation. A study which attempted to correlate familial unacceptance of homosexuality and youth suicide, made the following observation:

While changing parental beliefs on homosexuality (particularly as the beliefs in this study were founded in religious doctrine) may not always be feasible, these findings indicate that there is a critical need to intervene with, not only, LGBT young adults but potentially their parents, families, and their belief systems.

In a sense, this encapsulates the current efforts in the Roman Catholic Church.