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Fr. James Martin at Boston College, 2014. Youtube.

ROME, October 14, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Fellow priests and lay Catholics denounced speculation by Jesuit Fr. James Martin that newly canonized St. John Henry Newman may have been “gay.”

On Saturday, Fr. Martin retweeted an article from 2010 from NPR that asked, “Was Cardinal John Henry Newman gay?” Coming on the day before Pope Francis canonized the English Newman (1801–1890), who tried to reform Anglicanism but found a home in the Catholic Church, Fr. Martin hastened to preface his remarks with a declaration that he did not intend to imply that the the saintly priest, author, and Oxford don ever broke his “promise of celibacy.”

Fr. Martin continued, “But his relationship with [Fr.] Ambrose St. John is worthy of attention. It isn’t a slur to suggest that New may have been gay.”

Fr. Martin continues to be controversial for his statements on homosexuality and what he asserts is a lack of openness to people in the LGBT movement. While high-ranking churchmen such as Cardinal Raymond Burke and Archbishop Charles Chaput have chastised the Jesuit priest on his public dissent, Fr. Martin continues to have wide acceptance in other Catholic circles and the media. Pope Francis, for example, met with the dissident priest in September.

In another tweet, Martin asked: “Why is the question important to consider? Even if we may never know for sure?” Answering himself, the Jesuit wrote: “Because it reminds us that a gay person (someone with a homosexual orientation, if you prefer) can be holy, even a saint. Holiness makes its home in humanity.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that homosexual acts are “instrinsically disordered” and “contrary to natural law.” It says: “They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

As for homosexual tendencies, the Catechism states that they are “objectively disordered” and constitute a “trial” for those who have them. However, the Catechism also calls on believers to accept these persons with “respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” As for those experiencing homosexual acts or tendencies, it says: “These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

For years, LGBT activists have sought to see a homoerotic nature in the friendship that Newman and St. John enjoyed for decades. Newman and St. John joined the Catholic Church together; were ordained in the Catholic Church; and thereafter collaborated in their respective academic and theological work in the service of the Church, their native England, and Ireland. The two priests were inseparable friends who lived together for 32 years. LGBT campaigners have suggested Newman’s express desire to be buried with St. John, who died at the age of 60 in 1875, as evidence of a “gay” relationship.

Fr. Martin suggested in 2010, “It’s not unreasonable to think he might have been homosexual,” according to NPR. He added, “His letters and his comments on the death of one of his close friends are quite provocative.” According to Newman biographer John Cornwell, St. John faithfully helped Newman (who was 14 years older), packing his bags for travel and making certain of his medical appointments. “So it was almost like a wife but without the marital bed,” Cornwell said. Even so, Cornwell did not see a homoerotic relationship revealed in the 32 volumes of correspondence between the two men.

American Catholic bishops as a body recently failed to rein in Martin, despite a warning from Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia “regarding the ambiguity about same-sex related issues found throughout the statements and activities of Father James Martin.” For his part, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois, supported Chaput and declared that parts of Martin’s teachings are “deeply scandalous” and that his “messages create confusion among the faithful and disrupt the unity of the Church.” Of the rest of the bishops of the United States, only Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, Tennessee, and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco offered public comment.

Numerous fellow priests took Fr. Martin to task on Twitter. Fr. David Palmer tweeted that it is “appalling” to co-opt Newman as a “gay icon.” Fr. Palmer added that the current concept of “gay” would have been “utterly alien” to the saint. “He would have believed that sex belonged in marriage between a man and woman for the purpose, primarily, of procreation.”

Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of South Africa tweeted: “What are you getting at, Fr James? Is being ‘gay’ a new Cardinal Virtue?”

Laymen also commented, such as Catholic author Thomas Peters, who tweeted: “Would it not be a slur to suggest you may be gay?”

Author Chris Stefanik tweeted to Martin that the priest’s message creates a “misperception that intimacy belongs to romantic relationships” and leads young people to “sexualize friendship in a quest for intimacy,” thus causing men to avoid intimacy with each other. The priest responded: “Not at all,” adding, “There is nothing disgusting, appalling, embarrassing or wrong about that suggestion. Celibate gay men can be holy and, even, saints.”

Fr. Ian Ker, who wrote one of the most celebrated biographies of Newman, has dismissed suggestions such as Fr. Martin’s. According to ITV, Ker said that while St. John was the “equivalent of a brother” to the cardinal, he added, “In an age that has almost lost the concept of affectionate friendship untouched by sexual attraction, such speculation was no doubt inevitable.” In L’Osservatore Romano, Ker noted that Newman had vowed to live a celibate life at the age of 15, while he was still an evangelical Protestant.