Meeting on the Bridge: Fr. James Martin’s Ministry to LGBT Catholics Becomes a Book
An interview with Jesuit Priest Fr. James Martin, by author Kaya Oakes
A few years ago, the idea of a “celebrity Jesuit” would have puzzled most Americans. That was not only before the election of the first Jesuit pope, but also before Fr. James Martin began appearing on The Colbert Report, and before his books on saints, spirituality and prayer ascended the bestseller lists.
Today, Martin occupies a unique place in religious media: still working a day job as the editor-at-large of America magazine (where I’m an occasional contributing writer), he’s also become a go-to explainer of Catholic issues to both religious and secular audiences. He’s so successful in this role that in April of this year, he took up yet another job when he was invited by Pope Francis to be a consultor to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications.
In the past few years, however, even as Martin’s profile has grown, it has also included a focus on one of the Catholic church’s most marginalized groups, the LGBT community. Martin describes this as an “informal ministry,” conducted through articles, conversations and social media, and it expanded after the June 2016 shooting in Orlando, Florida when Martin was dismayed that Catholic church leaders failed to acknowledge the targeting of LGBT people in the Pulse massacre. His Facebook video posted the day after Orlando has over a million and a half views.
The scope of his outreach is still so unusual for a Catholic priest that Martin was honored by the church reform group New Ways Ministry in October of last year.
The talk he gave at that gathering has now been expanded into a book, Building a Bridge. Martin’s collection of the expanded talk and scripture meditations for LGBT Catholics even comes with an unusual set of endorsements from cardinals, bishops, and New Ways Ministry founder Sister Jeannine Grammick, who was investigated by the Vatican for her work with LGBT Catholics in 1999.
At a time when Catholic school teachers and lay ministers are still regularly being fired for being LGBT, endorsements from church higher-ups for a book that advocates pastoral outreach to LGBT Catholics comes as a surprise. But it’s also indicative of Martin’s unique position in the church: respected by everyone from Vatican officials to activist women religious to secular journalists to his massive social media following, he may actually be in a position to gently influence the way LGBT people are treated by the institutional church. We spoke in May.