A Baptist theologian, Dr. Albert Mohler, has claimed that Fr. James Martin’s teaching on sexuality is “an entire re-orientation of the Catholic faith.” Mohler’s comments refer to Martin’s suggestion that Catholics should refer to same sex attraction or an LGBT identity as “differently ordered” rather than the Catechism’s use of “intrinsically disordered.”
Mohler says the suggestion fundamentally changes Catholic teaching on sexuality, and on creation itself. In comments to CNA, Martin rebuffed Mohler's comments, calling them “obtuse,” and stating that those who identify as LGBT, or those who are not educated in philosophy or theology, could easily perceive the Church’s language to be “cruel.” “So my point is simply that we have to be sensitive to the language we use. We can't pretend that language like that isn't harmful,” Martin told CNA.
Martin has drawn criticism after the publication of his most recent book, Building A Bridge, which addresses the Church’s engagement with those who identify as LGBT. Most notably, he has been critiqued for the book’s avoidance of Catholic teaching on celibacy and chastity, and for the book’s lack of engagement with Catholics who identify as LGBT, but observe the moral teachings of the Catholic Church.
In August, Martin announced on Facebook that he intends to respond to these critiques in a revised edition of the book. Martin’s comments came in response to a podcast by Mohler, who is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
On the Sept. 19 edition of his podcast, “The Briefing,” Mohler points to a passage in Martin’s book, which suggests replacing the theological term “disordered” with the phrase “differently ordered.” “If you say that LGBT sexual orientation is merely differently ordered, you have actually not only changed the catechism in this specific case of the Roman Catholic Church, you have changed the Catholic Church’s understanding of the doctrines of creation, of humanity, of sin, of redemption, of the church. It is an entire re-orientation of the Catholic faith,” Mohler said.
Mohler explained his comments in an interview with CNA, saying that to an evangelical Protestant, language like Martin’s is “pointing to a fundamental change that’s happening in the Catholic Church.” He expressed concern that given Martin’s statements, his role at the Vatican could imply a change in Catholic Church doctrine.
In April, Martin, the editor-at-large of America Magazine, was appointed to serve as a Consultor to the Secretariat for Communications in the Vatican. “Acceptance of the LGBT revolution by Christians, or any belief system based upon a claim to revelation, will require a total redefinition of doctrine,” Mohler said.
He stated that, in his view, such a change of language “isn’t just about sex, it’s about our understanding of Creation.” Mohler elaborated, saying that the phrase ‘intrinsically disordered’ explains that same-sex attractions are a result of mankind’s fall, whereas the phrase ‘differently ordered,’ means that those attractions are “a part of the goodness of creation.” “That’s just not changing the position on homosexuality, now you’re redefining the Garden of Eden.”
Martin called Mohler’s understanding of his book “absurd,” and questioned Mohler’s conclusions. He continued, saying that Mohler’s reaction is part of why it’s difficult to even discuss persons who identify as LGBT in Christian churches. “To link a new way of understanding their sexuality with the destruction of the faith is not only absurd, it's a sign of how LGBT people are still seen primarily, and in this case totally, as sinful,” he said.
Martin accused such an approach of echoing the “scribes and Pharisees, who cared more about words than about people,” rather than Jesus. “The Catholic faith, in the end, is not about a single phrase in the Catechism; it is about an encounter with the Risen One,” he said.
The phrase in question derives from paragraph 2357 of the Catechism of Catholic Church, which states that “ tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered’...They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” The Catechism elaborates, explaining that those “who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies,” should be “accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”