Courtesy of the Yale Divinity School

On Wednesday the Yale Divinity School hosted Fr. James Martin to speak at the school’s annual Ensign Lecture, which this year addressed the topic “Building the Bridge: Welcoming LGBTQ Catholics,” and premiered on the YDS YouTube channel.

Martin started the lecture with anecdotes illustrating the complicated relationship between members of the LGBTQ community and the Catholic church. He recounted a moment when a nurse contacted him asking for any priests willing to anoint a dying patient, because the hospice’s local priest refused. He also told “stories of grace,” one of which described a college student coming out to their supportive, accepting priest.

“The way that Catholics are welcomed or not welcomed in their parish heavily influences their outlook not only on their church but on their faith and on God,” Martin said. “It’s not just their relationship with their church, they extend that to their relationship with God, and they feel unwelcomed by God.”

Martin dedicated his lecture to three areas.

He first addressed fundamental insights about LGTBQ Catholics for parishes, then went on to speak about what a parish can do to be more welcoming and respectful. He ended by explaining how the gospel can guide the Church’s policies and actions toward LGBTQ members.

“The first thing is that [Catholic members of the LGBTQ community] are Catholic,” Martin said. “That sounds obvious, but parishes need to remember that LGBT people and their families are baptized Catholics, or more broadly are baptized Christians. They are as much a part of the church as Pope Francis, the local bishop or the pastor. It’s not a matter of making them Christian or Catholic — they already are.”

Martin then went on to list 10 ways parishes can be more welcoming to the LGBTQ community. Suggestions included examining existing attitudes towards LGBTQ people and their families, listening to those people and “acknowledging their individual gifts.”

Wednesday’s lecture was not Martin’s first at Yale. Three years ago, Martin gave a lecture at Yale to a “packed house,” according to Professor of Liturgical Studies and Thomas E. Golden Jr. Professor of Catholic Theology Teresa Berger, who introduced Martin to the virtual guests. For this year’s Ensign Lecture, he tuned in from his office at The Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City.

Bao Phan ’24 is a member of the LGBTQ community and Roman Catholic.

 “I think it’s unfair to tell someone who they are is a sin,” Phan said. 

Phan teaches confirmation at her church in North Carolina. She has yet to come out to her church, because she doesn’t want to get fired.

“If people would start interacting and forming deep relationships with people that have different views, I think these people would be more empathic and be able to live out God’s message and Jesus’ message to the fullest extent,” Phan said.

Angel Alvarado ’24 also identifies as both Catholic and a member of the LGBTQ community. His religion puts a strong emphasis on cohesion among its members, he said, and there is an underlying pressure to be a “good Catholic boy” in order to be accepted by the community.

Alvarado believes there are deep flaws in people projecting their religious views onto others.

“Part of being religious is having a personal relationship with who you worship,” Alvarado said.

To conclude his lecture, Martin recounted the story of Zacchaeus, a tax collector who had to climb a tree in order to see Jesus. Martin likened the character of Zacchaeus to the LGBTQ community in Catholicism — both have crowds getting in the way of their interaction with Jesus, and both are forced to take alternative routes that most worshippers do not need to take.

“There are two places where you can stand,” Martin said. “You can stand with the crowd, who grumble and oppose mercy for those on the margins. Or you can stand with Zacchaeus, and more importantly, you can stand with Jesus.” 

In addition to being a priest, Martin is an editor at large of the Jesuit weekly magazine America, has authored over a dozen books and is a consultant to the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications.


Alex Ori | alex.ori@yale.edu