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Fr. James Martin, S.J.

DENVER, Colorado, February 25, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ― Two American bishops have come forward with observations about a recent meeting with Pope Francis in which the pontiff discussed LGBT activist Fr. James Martin, S.J. 

The Archbishop of Denver, Samuel J. Aquila, 69, told Catholic News Agency (CNA) that Pope Francis had communicated his “frustration” with the way his September 30 meeting with Fr. Martin was “interpreted and framed by some journalists.” Aquila added that he had done this in a way that was clear, especially for “those who understand Italian.”

Aquila did not repeat the assertions of two anonymous bishops who had earlier told CNA that the Argentinian pontiff had been angry with Martin himself. Those bishops also said had the Pope had discussed Martin with his superiors, who then reproved him. Subsequent to the publication of CNA’s first article on the topic of the Pope’s remarks, Martin denied that his superiors had given him “a talking to,” as the anonymous bishops reported, and Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, 69, who had been at the meeting, denied that Pope Francis had been angry with Martin. 

“My recollection is that it was not Father Martin the Pope was talking about, but the way others tried to use that encounter, one way or the other,” Wester wrote.

“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,” he continued.  

“Furthermore, I have no memory at all of the Pope being angry, upset or annoyed. He spoke gently and patiently throughout our meeting.”

Now Bishop Steven Biegler of Cheyenne, Wyoming has come forward to back Wester’s version of events.  

Wester’s account to the National Catholic Reporter “accurately describes the tone and substance of the short dialogue regarding Fr. James Martin,” Biegler told the dissident magazine.  

Biegler described the southwestern American bishops’ meeting with Pope Francis as a “cordial, forthright and encouraging conversation.” 

Like Aquila, Biegler noted that Pope Francis spoke Italian. Biegler said that the translator in attendance proved an “excellent translation.” But CNA emphasized the differing linguistic abilities of the American bishops present at their February 10 meeting with Pope Francis, saying that “for some bishops” it “relied on a translator.”

In addition CNA reported that Aquila thought “it is reasonable that some remarks from the Holy Father would have been interpreted in different ways by different bishops.”

Both Aquila and Biegler studied in Italy for a number of years. Aquila earned a Licentiate in Sacramental Theology from Rome’s San Anselmo University in 1990. Biegler received a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from the Gregorian in Rome in 1993 and returned to Rome as a faculty member for the North American College from 2003 until 2006. He later received a Licentiate in Biblical Theology from Rome’s University of St. Thomas.   

The reportage of episcopal recollections of the February 10 meeting reflects a divide not only between the anonymous American bishops cited by CNA and the named prelates who spoke to National Catholic Reporter, but between the media outlets. CNA stressed that Wester is “one of seven U.S. bishops to have endorsed Building a Bridge, Martin’s 2017 book on the Church and homosexuality,” and the National Catholic Reporter stressed that CNA’s editor-in-chief both worked for one of Martin’s episcopal critics and has recently criticized Martin himself.

“The author of the [original] CNA article, JD Flynn, is the news agency's editor-in-chief,” wrote NCR’s Heidi Schlumpf.

“He previously worked in the Lincoln, Nebraska, Diocese and the Denver Archdiocese, under Archbishop Charles Chaput, a frequent critic of Martin. Flynn was chancellor of Denver under current Archbishop Samuel Aquila, who attended the ad limina meeting,” she continued. 

“Flynn also wrote an essay critical of Martin, published in the conservative journal First Things the same week as the CNA article about the ad limina meeting.”

According to Martin, Pope Francis invited him to a private meeting at the Apostolic Palace while the pontiff greeted members of the plenary assembly of the Holy See’s Dicastery for Communications. Martin was appointed as a consultant to this department in 2017. 

The private audience took place for over 30 minutes, and Martin’s America magazine interpreted the meeting as a “highly significant public statement of support and encouragement” for the pontiff’s fellow Jesuit. Martin himself saw it as “a sign of the Holy Father’s care for L.G.B.T. people.”  

Martin tweeted that the meeting was “one of the highlights of [his] life” and that he felt “encouraged, consoled and inspired by the Holy Father.” While saying Pope Francis had asked him not to speak to the media about their discussion, he told a pro-homosexual group at St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Manhattan that the pontiff had praised his book and told him to “continue [his] ministry in peace.” 

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