Owning Our Faith Q&A: LGBT Catholics and the Church

09/10/2015 03:51 pm ET Updated Sep 10, 2016

In an interview with Michael Tomae, Executive Producer and Director of the Owning Our Faith documentary and Father Gilbert S. Martinez, CSP, pastor of the Church of Saint Paul the Apostle in New York City, I explore some of the pressing questions surrounding the Catholic Church in regards to the LGBT issue.

What was the inspiration for the "Owning Our Faith" documentary?

Michael Tomae: OwningOurFaith was developed after many conversations at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City, particularly within its LGBT ministry, on how to reach out to LGBT people outside of New York City who long to experience greater inclusion in the Catholic Church.

More recently, through the ministry's partnership with Covenant House, we were also inspired to create OwningOurFaith after hearing stories of LGBT homeless youth whose families rejected them on the basis of faith. The Catholic Church's message is clear -- all should be welcomed and loved. However, this spirit of inclusion written into Church doctrine and recently emphasized by Pope Francis is not being practiced in many Catholic communities and parishes. We hope to shed light on this issue and foster a dialogue on greater acceptance of LGBT people within the Catholic Church.

Fr. Gilbert: The documentary was inspired by the gay and lesbian experience of living their faith as active Catholics. Part of that experience is reflecting on the call/demand of our faith to seek out those thos feel rejected by the Church. Early on, the team talked about reaching out to a teen in a small city or town who might feel only rejection rather than sense that he/she might be able to speak about his/her sexuality with family and friends. This call to service I think was inspired by the Holy Spirit which, for Christians, creates community.

For LGBT Catholics struggling with their faith, what would be your advice to them?

MT: Know that you are loved, and do not let religion or faith make you feel that you are not deserving of love. Also, it's worth researching if there are more accepting and welcoming Churches in your community for LGBT people.

FG: Don't be discouraged. There are many gay and lesbian laypersons and clergy in the Church who know your struggle. You are part of the Church. You can never be turned away by God. It's not always easy, but faith is a gift from God, which no one can take from you.

Some view the church's stance on the LGBT issue as an exercise in religious liberty while others view it as discrimination. Do you believe these differences can be reconciled?

MT: It's discrimination when people are made to feel excluded based on who they innately are. Some people definitely see it as discriminatory that the Church does not include gay people in the sacraments.

FG: Reconciliation between these two approaches cannot always be reconciled and, perhaps, should not be. There is a creative tension between living the Gospel which sometimes conflicts with societal norms on many issues, e.g., fighting in an unjust war, procuring abortions, capital punishment. In the case of LGBT issues, the Church should not specifically go against its teaching on gay marriage to perform church weddings, however, being gay or lesbian does not go against church teaching, so as a civil matter, the church could support what's healthy and helpful for the good of a LGBT couple including marriage or employment. Firing or dismissing people based on who they are is, at least in most cases, is civilly discriminatory and, I think, morally as well. The creative tension helps both the church and society be true to themselves and grow into a just society for all its members.

What kind of steps need to be taken to improve the pastoral care of LGBT families?

MT: The Church and local parishes need to set a clear example to families that it is important to love and welcome your LGBT children. Rejecting your child is not a part of Catholic teaching, yet there are parishes that preach rejection instead of acceptance. Families can only grow stronger when parishes show their openness to all people. This can be accomplished by forming LGBT ministries and encouraging an open dialogue on sexual ethics.

FG: 1. To actually announce that LGBT families are welcome.
2. Invite LGBT Catholics into ministries of service.
3. Baptize children of LGBT couples.
4. To engage faith and church teachings by offering courses and small communities of faith opportunities.
5. Not be afraid of LGBT people. Ask all parishioners to reflect on their experience of LGBT persons, family and friends, who they personally know.

If you could ask Pope Francis one question, what would it be?

MT: Do you see how the Catholic Church is hurting gay people and what is the Church doing to address this?

FG: Would you celebrate mass for the LGBT community?