Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, was on MSNBC Good Friday morning, when he compared the famously violently removed United Airlines passenger to Jesus Christ, who was beaten, bruised, and bloodied on his way to the cross.
“As I was looking at that poor man being dragged through the aisles, I thought, you know, Jesus is beaten and bloodied and dragged through the streets of Jerusalem,” Martin said, describing the way police officers at O’Hare International Airport yanked Dr. David Dao, 69, from his seat aboard Flight 3411. “And that poor man is beaten and bloodied and dragged through the floor of a plane.”
“I think something, really, in us recoils at that,” he continued. “And it should. It’s our conscience speaking and saying, that is not the way to treat people.”
It should be noted that, on Wednesday, Pope Francis tapped Martin as a “consultant” to the Vatican’s secretariat for communications, Crux reported.
According to Dao’s lawyer, Thomas Demetrio, the removed passenger suffered a concussion and a broken nose, lost two teeth, and will require reconstructive surgery, NPR reported. Demetrio said there will “probably” be a lawsuit filed against United.
All of this unfolded when United decided it needed to make room for a handful of crew members on Flight 3411 — a full flight to Louisville. Initially, the airliner reportedly offered $800 to four volunteers who would be willing to give up their seats. When no one volunteered, United used an automated system to randomly select passengers for removal. Dao was one of those passengers. When he resisted removal, the flight attendants called for police, who then forcefully removed the doctor, causing his head to slam against a nearby armrest before they dragged him out of the airplane by his arms.
United later referred to Dao’s violent removal as an “involuntary de-boarding situation.” When she first saw the video, Dao’s daughter, Crystal Pepper, told reporters she was “completely horrified and shocked.”
Though the comparison of the horrible treatment of a paying customer to the biblical account of Jesus’ devastating path to his crucifixion seems to be quite a leap, this isn't necessarily out of step for Martin, who has a history of making controversial remarks. For example, in 2009, the priest praised the University of Notre Dame for inviting then-President Barack Obama to deliver the commencement address, which upset a number of pro-life students.
He said it was “terrific” the Catholic university invited Obama, who could “mix it up with the graduates, as well as the faculty and the larger world on this question of abortion.”
“I think, you know, one of the things that is getting lost is I think the Catholic Church also needs to treat people with dignity and grace themselves,” Martin said at the time. “And I think to welcome the president — this guy with, you know, a tremendous record — I think it’s entirely appropriate.”
“I think if anyone has a problem with honoring him, I think they just need to look at his record,” he added.
Even more recently, Martin accepted an honor in October 2016 from an LGBT-affirming Catholic organization, the New Ways Ministry, which has been condemned by both the Roman Curia and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
And in late February, Martin waded into the debate over transgender bathroom access. He said transgender people should be free to “use whatever bathrooms they choose” because they have to “endure so many indignities already.”
It saddens me that a #trans student cannot choose what bathrooms to use. A basic need. It's an affront to their dignity as human beings.— James Martin, SJ (@James Martin, SJ) 1487814028.0
When fellow Catholic priest, Father Matt Bozovsky, challenged Martin, saying he had “distorted human dignity,” the backlash Bozovsky received from the Jesuit priest’s followers was so intense, he had to temporarily make his Twitter account private.