Fr James Martin has said that Cafod was “inaccurate” in its explanation of why they cancelled a lecture he was supposed to deliver.
Cafod, the overseas aid agency of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, has said that they postponed a lecture by Fr James Martin partly because of concerns about scheduling.
Cafod said in a statement: “When the book was published and we saw the strength of feeling it generated in some quarters, we had a duty to consider how to proceed in the best interests of Cafod’s work.”
But the agency said their final decision was made because of considerations about scheduling. “While we considered how to address the response to Fr Martin’s book, we heard that his trip to the UK was likely to be postponed.”
They also thought a later date would work better for Fr Martin to speak on migration: “It was also becoming clear that the launch date for our refugees and migrants campaign in parishes and schools was shifting,” the statement said. “This seemed a much better platform for Fr Martin.
“It therefore made sense for us to continue our conversations about the proposed lecture when both sides were clearer about their plans.”
“We are sorry this was not communicated better to Fr Martin. We pray that our Catholic family treat him with the respect that he deserves and offer him our support and solidarity.”
But in a statement on his Facebook page, Fr Martin said: “I am a great admirer of Cafod, and am sorry to have to correct the record – which I did in an email to them yesterday – and I look forward to some day speaking for them. But the sequence of events as they have reported it is inaccurate.
“The cancellation of the 2017 Cafod lecture, scheduled for October, was out of fears of the backlash to my book, and was one of the reasons that the entire trip to the UK did not come off.”
Fr Martin said that a Jesuit friend helped to arrange the lecture for October 2017, on the topic of Jesus, “with a special emphasis on how he would reach out to migrants and refugees today”. But the friend later contacted him revealing that “Cafod had pulled out over concerns about my LGBT book, and the negative publicity it could attract for Cafod.”
Fr Martin, a well-known American priest who has over 500,000 Facebook followers, has recently published a widely-discussed book on LGBT issues and the Church.
Fr Martin said he had subsequently had to cancel his trip to the UK, because Cafod would no longer be able to pay for his airfare. “But the Cafod cancellation came first,” he said. “This I remember very clearly, not only because of my friend’s anger over their decision to cancel and his angry email, but because the lack of airfare forced the decision of whether I could come to the UK at all.”
Two of Fr Martin’s talks in America, both scheduled for October, were cancelled last week. One was to take place at the Catholic University of America, in Washington DC, and one at the Order of the Holy Sepulchre’s annual dinner in New York.
Fr Martin said that these talks and the Cafod lecture were called off as “a result of anger or fear over my book Building a Bridge”.
The organisers of the talks, he said, had received angry feedback, after the scheduled appearances were publicised by Catholic websites critical of Fr Martin’s work.
The cancellation of Fr Martin’s talks has received wide coverage. The Washington Post said that Fr Martin had attracted “protests over his support for gay and lesbian Catholics”. Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego has defended Fr Martin, writing in America magazine: “The concerted attack on Fr Martin’s work has been driven by three impulses: homophobia, a distortion of fundamental Catholic moral theology and a veiled attack on Pope Francis and his campaign against judgmentalism in the church.”
Earlier this month, Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Vatican’s liturgy chief, criticised Fr Martin in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal. He said that the Church must speak clearly about sexual morality, and praised Catholics who experience same-sex attraction and live according to Church teaching as “testify [ing] to the power of grace, the nobility and resilience of the human heart, and the truth of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality”.
Fr Martin responded that the cardinal has overlooked “a few important points,” including “the immense suffering that LGBT Catholics have felt at the hands of their Church”.
This piece has been updated to incorporate Fr James Martin’s response.