Photo |Spring Hill College

Fr. James Martin, SJ, delivers the commencement speech at Spring Hill College May 5.

The Jesuit priest and author of the bestselling book “Building a Bridge” brushed off criticism of his invitation to speak at Spring Hill College as “homophobic.”

The Rev. James Martin told local media last Friday he was excited to deliver the commencement speech to the more than 300 graduates of the college May 5 despite some backlash and planned protests because of the book that calls on the church to open up more fully to LGBTQ parishioners.

“[Pope Francis] has asked us to work with the LGBTQ community,” he said. “Treat them with respect, compassion and sensitivity. The book is calling on people to listen to one another.”

Doubling down, Martin said many of the comments are based in fear.

“The book is firmly within the Gospels,” he said, adding that his book has received a lot of support from the top levels of the church. “If they read the book they’ll notice there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

In an email John Ritchie, director of TFP Student Action, a project of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property, wrote that concerns over Martin’s speech stem from his attempt to “normalize homosexual sin.”

“Instead of unfurling the banner of holy purity and chastity, Fr. Martin is waving the rainbow flag,” Ritchie wrote. “It’s shocking to see a priest thumb his nose at 2,000 years of Church teaching and join forces with the movement that promotes same-sex ‘marriage’ and transgenderism for children.”

In response to the protest, SHC President Christopher Puto said he “welcomes prayers for my well being.” He added that the group planning the demonstration comes from outside SHC and the selection of Martin hasn’t caused any internal strife for the college.

“This one is very much on the side of right,” Puto said. “The criticism comes from confused people who misunderstood Father Martin’s work. They’re not bad people … ”

On the other hand, Puto said the accolades in support of the move have been “heartwarming.”

“Because of his lifetime of commitment to the church and the church’s mission, we’ve invited him to be here,” he said of Martin.

For his part, Martin said he was very pleased to be in Mobile and at the historic college established by the Jesuit order.

“I was delighted to receive the invitation,” he said. “It’s gorgeous. It’s a beautiful place. I’ve sort of fallen in love with it in 24 hours.”