It’s a very specific debate about whether conversion and repentance are necessary, not for community, but for communion: The reception of the eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, during the central act of Catholic worship, the sacrifice of the mass. And by claiming — or at least very strongly implying —that Jesus’s meals with sinners are the template for how the church should think about communion, Father Martin is effectively rejecting the entire sweep of our church’s tradition on this question.
This tradition is rooted in the gospels themselves, where the Last Supper is emphatically not a feeding of the five thousand moment or a meal with a tax collector: Those encounters are arguably prefigurations of the Last Supper, but the actual eucharist itself is instituted in an intimate encounter between Jesus and his closest followers, held in a private upstairs room far from the crowds and hangers-on.
The tradition is also rooted in the New Testament more broadly, and particularly in Saint Paul’s admonition that “a man must examine himself first, and then eat of that bread and drink of that cup; he is eating and drinking damnation to himself if he eats and drinks unworthily.” (Which doesn’t sound like a “community first, conversion second” admonition to me.)
And then it’s rooted in the ancient, millennia-spanning practice of the church itself, in which the idea that communion follows conversion is part of the chain of experience that binds the earliest Christians to their medieval and modern Catholic heirs.
—from The New York Times internet article Liberal Catholicism’s Catholicism Problem by Ross Douthat