Fr. James Martin, S.J., and accusations of heresy

Fr. James Martin, S.J., and accusations of heresy

Fr. Martin’s rebuff of heresy accusations suggests that either he does not know or does not wish to acknowledge that “heresy” is not limited to the actual contradiction of revealed truths.

Two important essays, one by Janet Smith at Catholic World Report (29 sep 2017) and the other by Dan Hitchens at First Things (2 oct 2017), along with their links to and quotes from Fr James Martin’s own words (and sometimes, as Smith and Hitchens note, to Martin’s refusal to say certain words), occasion these comments on Martin’s recent complaints (21 sep 2017) that he has “been accused of heresy, ridiculously, by some critics (I’m not contradicting any revealed truths).” There are several issues to sort out here.

First, yes, I am very sure that some of the accusations of heresy made against Martin are, indeed, ridiculous. As are some of Martin’s accusations that, for example, among his critics: “Heresy” is a word they use as frequently as “and” and “the.” Apparently there is plenty of ridiculousness floating around out there. All purveyors of the ridiculous should cease spouting it.

To my canonical observations.

Martin’s rebuff of heresy accusations above (“I’m not contradicting any revealed truths”) suggests that either he does not know or does not wish to acknowledge that “heresy” is not limited to the actual contradiction of revealed truths. Canon 751 defines heresy as “the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt” of certain truths (my emphasis). Thus one’s “obstinate doubt” concerning revealed truths, and not just one’s outright contradiction of such truths, can, upon proof, result in a finding of heresy.

Next, when speaking to a male questioner recently, Martin expressed the “hope [that] in 10 years you will be able to kiss your partner or, you know, soon to be your husband”. Any reasonable listener will conclude that Martin not only hopes that a man may someday marry a man with the Church’s blessing, but that Martin believes “same-sex marriage” to be radically possible under Church teaching and that it is a matter of regret that such Church recognition is not yet available.

Here, I suggest, Martin effectively denies infallible Church doctrine that marriage can exist only between a man and a woman. I see only two canonical issues in the wake of his statement:

(A) Whether the infallible Church teaching on the absolute impossibility of marriage between two persons of the same sex is itself a “revealed truth” (in which case the issue is indeed one of heresy) or whether it is a “proposition … to be held definitely” (in which case the issue is opposition to the doctrine of the Catholic Church, but not heresy strictly speaking), with the weight of scholarly opinion, however, favoring the view that Church teaching on the male-female aspect of marriage is divinely revealed, meaning that one’s “obstinate denial or obstinate doubt” concerning that teaching would be heresy; and,

(B) Whether Martin’s comment, coming as it did during a public Q-and-A session, accurately reflects his actual position on marriage—an important point because both heresy (per cc. 7511364, etc.) and opposition to definitive Church teaching (per c. 1371, etc.) require a demonstration of one’s deliberateness in so holding before any penal consequences could be levied.

Either way, Martin’s shocking (as coming from a priest) comment, uttered against the backdrop of his frequent refusal to state his own positions directly (as opposed to his practice of characterizing his positions as sound, etc.) make the pursuit of clarity here very important.

Scholion on Pio-Benedictine law and the Eastern Code:

Martin’s frequent, often seemingly studied, ambiguities regarding Church teaching on various doctrinal and moral issues would have been more directly cognizable under the Pio-Benedictine Code of 1917 than they are under the Johanno-Pauline Code of 1983, notwithstanding 1983 CIC 209. The old Code squarely stated: “The faithful of Christ are bound to profess their faith whenever their silence, evasiveness, or manner of acting encompasses an implied denial of the faith, contempt for religion, injury to God, or scandal for a neighbor.” 1917 CIC 1325 § 1. Of course, giving scandal (CCC 2284-2287) to one’s neighbor, even if not directly scored in the new Code, is still a grave evil against which all should be on guard. Similarly, Canon 10 of the Code of Canon Law of the Eastern Churches (1990) makes ‘adherence to the authentic living magisterium of the Church’ and the ‘open profession of the Faith’ matters of law. Interesting, eh?

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One comment on “Fr. James Martin, S.J., and accusations of heresy

  1. The definition of marriage (between one man and one woman) is also primarily a fact of reason, common sense, direct observation, as well as basic anatomy and biology. A failure to be able to reach a rational judgment assenting to this fact would indicate loss of reason, common sense, and an ability to discern basic facts, therefore being a mental defect which is an impediment to being a Catholic priest or holding a position of authority to teach in Catholic institutions. Hence, regardless of whether the facts concerning marriage have been revealed or not, the denial of these basic facts concerning marriage is a serious problem for anyone aspiring to Catholic religious life. A Catholic priest must have sufficient mental powers for making rational judgments regarding basic facts of common sense and also must be able to explain the natural law teachings concerning marriage, reproduction, and the sanctity of human life. Any defect of reason in these areas would require suspension of faculties and removal from active ministry. A modernist heretic who disagrees with the Catholic moral teachings concerning marriage, procreation, and sexuality, could NOT be permitted to hear Confessions and could not even be allowed to teach catechism or a religion class in a Catholic grade school or high school. Since these are among primary duties for Catholic priests, connect the dots.

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