Catholic University of America

From 'Building Bridges' to 'Building a Bridge' -- About the roots of wars over Father James Martin

From 'Building Bridges' to 'Building a Bridge' -- About the roots of wars over Father James Martin

It would be hard to name a media figure in American Catholicism who is more popular than Father James Martin, in part because he is witty, candid and concise. He understands how journalists work, pays attention to deadlines and is relentlessly cooperative.

Martin has his points to make and he makes them, both with his words and with strategic silence. If conservative Catholics want to have a constructive debate with Martin, they need to take all of this into consideration. Attack this particular priest and lots of mainstream journalists will feel like you are attacking them.

This brings us to the mini-media storm surrounding the decision by leaders of Theological College -- the National Seminary at the Catholic University of America -- to rescind a speaking invitation to Martin. While he was planning to speak about themes in his book "Jesus: A Pilgrimage," this controversy centers on Martin's most recent book, "Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity."

When you are reading news coverage of this debate there are several key points to consider.

(1) This action was taken by seminary leaders, not by the Catholic University of America. Still, CUA is the only pontifical university in the United States and has a special relationship with the U.S. Catholic bishops. As its mission statement notes, CUA was "founded and sponsored by the bishops of the country with the approval of the Holy See."

(2) Mainstream Catholic leaders have criticized Martin's book (most notably Cardinal Robert Sarah, leader of the Vatican’s liturgy office), as well as conservative groups such as the Church Militant. Were Martin's mainstream critics quoted?

(3) Martin has warmly embraced New Ways Ministry, an LGBTQ advocacy group that for decades has attacked Catholic teachings on sexuality. This is crucial because the Vatican condemned New Ways in 1999 -- specifically the work of Sister Jeannine Gramick and the late Father Robert Nugent -- with its investigation focusing on their book "Building Bridges." In 2010, the president of the U.S. bishops stressed that "New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church. ..."

This controversy -- for seminary leaders -- was almost certainly linked to New Ways and the book "Building Bridges," as well as to Martin and his book "Building a Bridge." Last year, New Ways honored Martin with its annual "Bridge Building Award." Did that link make it into news coverage?

So what ended up in the Associated Press report on this controversy, the story seen in most American newspapers and in others around the world?

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Washington Post on airplane sleep: These days, most folks (like me) don't have a prayer

Washington Post on airplane sleep: These days, most folks (like me) don't have a prayer

I have been looking at this Washington Post feature for several weeks now, trying to decide whether to write a post mentioning its tiny little religion angle.

The headline got my attention right from the get-go and then it stuck. Anyone else? I am talking about: "Can’t sleep on airplanes? These products and techniques can help."

Yes, dear readers, I have even stared at this piece on my iPad while on an airplane, during a two-stage, coast-to-coast flight during which I nodded and nodded, but did not sleep a wink. You might say that I am the target audience for this travel piece. I once failed to get a minute of sleep during an entire 15-hour flight from Delhi to Chicago that left the ground at 1 a.m. Believe me, I tried. I took enough Melatonin to stun a horse.

Now, the religion angle in this piece is hidden right there in the headline, in the word "techniques."

Hold that thought. First, here is the evocative overture:

The rumble of a jet engine is a comforting sound to some air travelers, making it easy to sleep on virtually any flight. For others, just the thought of being trapped in a pressurized aluminum tube is enough to send massive doses of adrenaline into their bloodstreams, ensuring alertness for days.
Pamela Wagner falls somewhere in the middle. Though not a white-knuckled flier, she says the noise makes rest impossible.
“I’m used to super silence when I’m sleeping,” she says. “Not exactly what you get on a flight.”
True. The interior of an aircraft is anything but silent, with noises ranging from chatty passengers to screaming children and, of course, the constant whine -- of the engines. It’s also uncomfortable, even if you’re in one of those lie-flat business-class seats, which don’t always lie all the way down. Try falling asleep in a sitting position, even when you’re not on an aircraft, and you’ll know why sleeping on a plane can be a pipe dream.

The bottom line, saith the writer: "Having a snooze on a plane is not getting any easier."

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So the first Jesuit pope comes to D.C. and visits one not-so-scary Catholic campus

So the first Jesuit pope comes to D.C. and visits one not-so-scary Catholic campus

If you follow religion news at all, you have probably heard of this Pope Francis fellow. You may even have heard that he is coming to the United States this fall, including a series of media-friendly events in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Readers may even have heard that Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope. Hold that thought.

Detail-oriented folks may want to inspect the actual details of the schedule by clicking here. Yes, we are talking about a hug from President Barack Obama, an address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, an address to the United Nations and other events that are automatically "news," on every conceivable level.

Now, the pope will also do some obviously Catholic stuff, which led to a recent report in The Washington Post that focused on one interesting college detail, when comparing this papal Beltway trip with others in the recent past:

For the Catholic faithful, a papal visit is always historic. For one university in the nation’s capital, the upcoming visit of Pope Francis provides special bragging rights: It will be the third papal stop at the Catholic University of America in less than 40 years.
Pope John Paul II came in 1979, and his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, came in 2008.
The university in Northeast Washington is a natural destination for a traveling pontiff. Founded in 1887 under a papal charter, Catholic U. is overseen by a board that includes numerous bishops and other church clerics. It is not just affiliated with the church; it is the church’s national university in the United States.

Bragging rights? Hold that thought, too.

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