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Pope Francis meets with LGBT-activist Fr. James Martin in Rome, Sept. 30, 2019.James Martin / Twitter

SANTA FE, New Mexico, February 21, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― A U.S. archbishop is denying a report claiming that Pope Francis expressed anger towards Fr. James Martin at a meeting of American bishops earlier this month.

The original report, published Thursday by Catholic News Agency (CNA) based on accounts from unnamed bishops who attended the meeting, sparked considerable discussion given the prominent backing Fr. Martin has received from the Vatican under Pope Francis.

In a statement today at the National Catholic Reporter, Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester denies the veracity of the CNA story.

Wester was at the meeting with Samuel Joseph Aquila, Archbishop of Denver; Steven Biegler, Bishop of Cheyenne; Michael John Sheridan, Bishop of Colorado Springs; Stephen Jay Berg, Bishop of Pueblo; Oscar Azarcon Solis, Bishop of Salt Lake City; James S. Wall, Bishop of Gallup; Peter Baldacchino, Bishop of Las Cruces; Thomas James Olmsted, Bishop of Phoenix; and Edward Joseph Weisenburger, Bishop of Tucson, as well as Bishops Emeriti from the area.

According to CNA’s episcopal sources, Pope Francis discussed Fr. James Martin at his February 10 meeting with bishops from the American Southwest. An unnamed bishop said that the pontiff was “most displeased about the whole subject of Fr. Martin and how their encounter had been used.” He added that Pope Francis’s “anger was very clear” and that the pontiff “felt he’d been used.” 

Wester, however, says that he was present at this meeting and that “the general tone of the Pope's responses to issues raised with him was never angry…”

“[N]or do I remember the Pope saying or implying that he was unhappy with Father Martin or his ministry,” he continued.

The CNA piece stated that Pope Francis had discussed his September 30 meeting with Fr. Martin, a pro-LGBT Jesuit priest, but Wester has stated that it was several of his fellow bishops, not the pope, who brought him up.

Pope Francis’s supposed displeasure with Martin was a strong feature of the CNA article, but Wester says that it was not Martin the pontiff was upset with but “the way others tried to use that encounter, one way or the other.”

“In my view, the language subtlety, yet incorrectly, leads the reader to believe that Father Martin was the issue while in fact it was how others used their meeting that was in play.”

Wester, a strong advocate of Martin’s LGBT advocacy, stressed that he has “no memory at all” of Pope Francis being “angry, upset or annoyed.” 

The CNA piece also quoted an unnamed bishop as saying that Francis told the groups that he  did not intend his meeting with Martin “to convey any significance.” The Archbishop of Santa Fe, however, says that he does not remember Francis saying that. 

Finally, one of the bishops who spoke to CNA purportedly said that Pope Francis has told them “that the matter had been dealt with; that Fr. Martin had been given a 'talking to' and that his superiors had also been spoken to and made the situation perfectly clear to him.” Wester denies Francis said anything like this.

“Not at all true from my vantage point,” he wrote.

“The Pope never said Father Martin was given a ‘talking to,’ nor did he say that he spoke to his superiors regarding him,” he continued.

“I vaguely remember some mention of people in leadership trying to clarify any misunderstandings about his ministry. This may refer to an article he wrote in America about a year ago regarding his ministry. In it, as I recall, he detailed the ways in which his ministry was not contrary to Church teaching but in keeping with the Church's mission and Gospel mandate.”

In his account, Wester stressed that CNA’s sources had been anonymous, a point not lost on Martin’s biographer Jon M. Sweeney. Earlier today Sweeney tweeted his anger over the CNA piece.

This is disgraceful disinformation fueled by blind quotes that I'm prepared to assume JD Flynn simply made up,” he posted. 

JD Flynn, the editor-in-chief of CNA, fired back, tweeting “Fr. Martin's biographer is making a very serious charge.” 

James Martin, SJ. himself has weighed in, tweeting: “Grateful to Archbishop Wester for going on the record to set the record straight about anonymous comments in a recent @cnalive article. (Also, I never heard anything negative from Jesuit superiors, nor was I ever given a ‘talking to.’ That's also false.)”

Martin has strong support in the Vatican, among U.S. Bishops

Martin’s private audience with the pontiff took place on September 30 for over 30 minutes in the papal library of the Apostolic Palace. America, the magazine for which Martin is “editor-at-large” reported that Pope Francis invited Martin to the late-morning meeting during his greeting with members of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Communications. 

This was not an unusual show of favor; Martin was appointed a consultant to this department in 2017. Martin was also invited to speak at the Vatican’s 2018 World Meeting of Families. He has been invited to speak in several dioceses, and his pro-LGBT Building a Bridge has been endorsed by three U.S. prelates created cardinal by Francis: Blase Cupich of Chicago, Joseph Tobin of Newark, and Kevin Farrell, Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life and Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church.  Martin’s work has also been endorsed by Bishop Jon Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky; retired Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston;  Bishop Patrick Dunn of Auckland, New Zealand; Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego; and the abovementioned Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

America interpreted the September 30 meeting as a “highly significant public statement of support and encouragement” for Pope Francis’ fellow Jesuit. Martin himself saw it as “a sign of the Holy Father’s care for L.G.B.T. people,” support for his LGBT ministry, and an increase in his status.  

Martin tweeted the news and photograph of his meeting with the pope the day it happened and again on October 30, stating that the meeting was a sign of Pope Francis’ support. Martin also discussed the meeting in detail at a November 3 meeting for Catholics who identify as LGBT at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in  Manhattan. 

According to investigative reporter George Neumayr, Martin “bragged” to the LGBT group of the respect he was getting from bishops thanks to his meeting with the pope. 

“Every bishop in the world saw the photo of us together,” Martin apparently said. “This is a pope who uses signs to communicate. The meeting with him gave me and us a lot of currency.”

Neumayr reported that Martin told his hearers that that Vatican is still a “court” and that those whom the pope “favors with a meeting rise in it.”

“He said that the day after his meeting with the pope he met with members of the Congregation for Education to complain about a document it produced on ’gender ideology’. According to him, they were eager to listen, having been wowed by his meeting with the pontiff the day before,” Neumayr wrote. 

LifeSiteNews has reached out to Fr. Martin but has not yet received a response. CNA Editor JD Flynn declined to comment.