SHC Graduation Speaker Has Critics, Supporters

Guideposts: Father James Martin, SJ, was invited to speak at SHC's May 2018 graduation ceremony.
Father James Martin, SJ, was invited to speak at SHC's May 2018 graduation ceremony.

At the May 2018 graduation ceremony, Father James Martin, SJ, will deliver the commencement address to the Spring Hill College graduating class. Martin was invited by Christopher Puto, SHC president, and the college board of trustees.

It was an invitation he happily accepted. “It’s a great honor,” Martin said. “I wanted to show my support for the wonderful work that is being done at Spring Hill.” 

Despite Martin’s many accomplishments and recent appointment to the Vatican’s Secretariat of Communications as a consultant, SHC has been the target of negative feedback.

The controversy surrounds Martin’s book, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.” In his book, Martin calls for the Roman Catholic Church “to end the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality,” according to publisher Harper Collins. Martin has shared his views on the topic not only in his book, but in several speeches and social media posts. Martin said that he responds to the negativity “by not caring about it very much. There are always going to be people who are motivated by hatred and homophobia. I can’t do much about that,” Martin said.

Martin’s views have been controversial in the church, with some of his critics being Catholic priests. The Coalition of Concerned Catholics has petitioned to have Martin disinvited from speaking at several colleges, and SHC is no exemption. The Coalition of Concerned Catholics even wrote a letter to Puto asking that he withdraw the invitation.  

In response to all the negativity SHC and Puto received, Puto sent an email to SHC faculty, staff and students. In the email, Puto explains why the college chose Martin to speak, and why he believes that Martin’s views of compassion and love are concurrent with the ideals of the Jesuits. Puto stated in the email, “There is room in our Church for honest differences in how true followers of Christ understand and adhere to His teaching. All of humanity is created in the Image and Likeness of God, and Fr. Martin invites those of differing perspectives to explore opportunities for increasing understanding through respectful dialogue. That approach most definitely is consistent with the expectations of the contemplative discernment processes espoused in Jesuit teaching.”

In his email, Puto said that he will not be rescinding his invitation to Martin. He also explained that Martin will not speak on the controversial topic, but instead will speak about leading a meaningful and purposeful life after college.

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