St. Pope John Paul II attends an inter-religious peace meeting in Assisi, Italy, in this Oct. 27, 1986 CNS/L'Osservatore Romano

Faith in civil discourse waxes, then wanes

  • October 13, 2017
When this column cited a vicious smear campaign against Fr. James Martin, it was expected that some people would disagree with his call to build a bridge of dialogue between the Church and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. It was also expected some would agree with his call for civil discourse. Naturally, both things occurred.

The main argument of my recent column in The Register was a call to stop the cyber bullying of Martin over his new book Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. After all, his Jesuit superior and several cardinals endorse the book and say Martin is in line with Church teachings.

Indeed, the point of that column (and this one) goes beyond Martin’s case and more broadly to society in general where schoolyard taunting is becoming the norm and civility increasingly wanes in the age of social media.

Just to recap, “alt-right” Catholics are up in arms about Martin’s book and have pressured several institutions to cancel the priest’s speaking engagements. Many U.S. bishops and cardinals (both liberal and conservative) have come to the priest’s defence, offering him new speaking engage-ments and calling on Catholics who disagree to do so with respect, not degrading insults.

After all, the book does not endorse homosexuality or other al-ternative lifestyles. It simply looks at things we get wrong on both sides, then offers some prayers to help bring people together.

Two recent email correspondences opposed to the book and the overall papacy of Francis are worth noting. Let me begin with the first one in my mailbox.

In this one, the writer attacks Pope Francis for being too left wing and going against Church teachings in various ways such as meeting “with an infamous Italian abortionist in Rome” and “meeting with a gay couple, seemingly giving approval to their actions.” He then said “it is time the mainline Catholic press, including The Register, spoke out about what Francis is doing."

The email was definitely aggressive, but certainly not abusive. After checking with the editor of The Register to confirm such news stories about Pope Francis were published in non-judgmental ways, I wrote him back. He wrote a nice note back saying he must have missed those things and telling me a little about himself. For example, he’s 84 years old and he converted to Catholicism 64 years ago in the United Kingdom.

Then he stated he is not “alt-right” or “ultra conservative,” but rather “a traditional Catholic.” Fair point and that is how we left things.

My faith was restored in the possibilities of civil discourse amidst differing opinions, I thought. Here was an exchange of ideas without personal insults or “ad hominem trashing,” as a conservative bishop wrote urging an end to the Martin smear campaign.

But compare that gentleman’s approach to that of another writer. This second person said he read my column at Bible study at a North York church and immediately launches into an accusation of me “pushing sodomy under the guise of compassion.” (For the record, the person’s first name could be either gender but the aggressiveness sounds more like a man than a woman.)

He then accuses me of being a homosexual, which gave my wife and our children a chuckle. Personally, I actually got a belly laugh out of that accusation before feeling sorry for him for owning a heart filled with so much anger. (When I wrote him back to tell him his email gave me a chuckle, he replied with more vitriol than the first.)

He lashes out at so many other people — Martin, Pope Francis, bishops and cardinals — accusing them of things like homosexuality and heresy. He says men like Robert McElroy, bishop of San Diego, who defends Martin, have “renounced their obedience to the revealed truth of Christ.”

You get the point; that’s enough of his babblings and accusations, except to say that according to him, if one talks of “compassion,” “building bridges” and “dialogue” between the LGBT community and the Church then one is in league with the devil. The only certainty I could glean from his ravings is that if one does not hold the same views as this person, then you’re a fool (or worse) and he will hurl endless insults in your general direction.

What causes such behaviour in people these days? Is it social media which allows them to spew hatred with no regard to the concept of respect? Is it the ease in which the online world allows them to find so many others who align perfectly with their world views and, thus, re-enforce their views?

Who knows? But I’d like to think there are more in the world like the first writer who was in disagreement than the second person, a true ad hominem trasher.

(Brehl is a writer in Port Credit, Ont., and can be reached at, or @bbrehl on Twitter.)

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