How a married gay Catholic couple lives their faith

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Tom Molina-Duarte and husband Bryan Victor in their home. (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)

Tom Molina-Duarte and husband Bryan Victor in their home. (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)

DETROIT — Because their Catholic faith is against same-sex marriage, Bryan Victor and Thomas Molina-Duarte made their wedding vows this summer before a Protestant minister in a Detroit Episcopal church.

Those in attendance included many family members, including Victor’s uncle, who is a Catholic priest and Macomb County pastor. The Rev. Ronald Victor did not officiate but was there because, he told his nephew, the Catholic Church “needs more examples of gay holiness.”

When Victor and Molina-Duarte attend Mass every Sunday, the couple go to a Detroit Catholic church, where Bryan Victor’s mom and dad join them in the pew. In their shared Catholic faith, Victor and Molina-Duarte find spiritual sustenance. And at their parish, they’ve also found acceptance.

“We remain in the church rather than leaving,” said Bryan Victor, 30, a Wayne State University doctoral student in social work. “The reason is that it’s my faith. It’s one of my guides. It’s how I treat people. It gives me a deep sense of community.”

READ: Gay and celibate, Ron Belgau is the official face of gay Catholicism for Pope Francis’ visit

The practice of his Catholic faith, said Molina-Duarte, 29, a leadership coordinator for the Highland Park Ruth Ellis Center, which serves many LGBT youth, “is right and life-affirming for me.

“If it challenges things,” said Molina-Duarte, “that’s more of an afterthought.”

But the Catholic Church is being universally challenged from the pews to the pulpit, by the evolving ways society and many everyday Catholics include and welcome LGBT people.

It was a year of triumph for the LGBT community because the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal throughout the country. Yet gay Catholics still wrestle with their church’s condemnation of homosexuality as “disordered” and the church’s prohibition against same-sex marriage.

Pope Francis has signaled a more inclusive tone toward LGBT people, through his words and actions, even as his open-arms position draws fire from some conservative Catholics. But doors continue to open.

READ: Gay Catholics find a new tone under Pope Francis, and from their own bishops

In 2012, Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn overruled an Austrian priest who wanted to ban a gay Catholic man, in a civil registered domestic partnership with another man, from taking his seat on the parish council after other parishioners elected him.

Retired Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a longtime advocate for liberal Catholic causes, said Catholic teaching has long allowed Catholics to let their consciences, in part, be their guide in participating in the church’s rituals and sacraments, even when they may be at odds with church teachings. Gumbleton predicted Catholic teaching against same-sex unions eventually will change, as he noted did its onetime support of slavery and capital punishment.

A card that Tom Molina-Duarte and husband Bryan Victor received from a friend after their marriage. (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)

A card that Tom Molina-Duarte and husband Bryan Victor received from a friend after their marriage. (Photo: Eric Seals, Detroit Free Press)

“It’s clear the movement is there,” Gumbleton said, “but it takes a long time for the teaching to permeate the whole church, and people will fight it.”

Society’s changing norms, however, will not change church teaching that sex is for a man and a woman united in marriage, said Catholic moral theologian Janet Smith, a professor at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary and an adviser to the Vatican’s Pontifical Council on the Family.

Jesus encountered many who “were misusing their sexuality,” said Smith, noting that refers to “cohabitors, adulterers, fornicators, you name it.”

READ: A Catholic priest’s viral Facebook post on gay marriage, and what it means

“He treated them very lovingly, and he wants them under his roof,” Smith said, “but his words to them were that they should repent and sin no more.”

Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron said through a spokesman that he couldn’t comment for this story without knowing more specifics about the men. Officially, the archdiocese offers the ministry program Courage, to urge gay Catholics to abstain from sex; and another program, EnCourage, to counsel Catholic families with gay members. Fortunate Families, a support group for Catholic families with gay family members, is not officially recognized by the Catholic Church.

At the men’s wedding ceremony, family was in force.

Victor’s uncle and Catholic priest Ronald Victor said he was moved by the wedding ceremony, and at the same time, “a little angry and a little disappointed that we couldn’t do it in a church where I could have officiated.”

The church calls gay sex “intrinsically disordered” because it cannot result in procreation. Yet the Rev. Victor said the caring, monogamous relationship between his nephew and Molina-Duarte “reflects God’s love.”

“While it’s not necessarily life-giving in a biological way,” said the priest, “it’s life-giving in other ways.”

Pope Francis, said Molina-Duarte, “completely flips the script” when it comes to ministering to gay Catholics.

READ: Gay US Catholics will greet pope with rainbow rosaries, not protests

Pope Francis, while not changing church teaching against gay unions, has made outreach to LGBT people a hallmark of his papacy. When the pope visited the U.S. in September, he met privately with a former student, who is gay, and the man’s partner. But that came after another revelation that confused and contradicted previous papal images of the pope’s outreach to gays — when Francis also privately met with Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk, who refused to issue gay marriage licenses.

Although Catholic teaching says their union and their love are sins, both men say they are at home, and even at peace, in a Catholic church. They have not encountered condemnation or cruelty. Only one relative refused the invitation to their wedding because of opposition to homosexuality.

Both men are Catholic school graduates, and both stopped going to church as young men wrestling with coming out.

The two met in late 2010 through a mutual friend in Chicago, where Molina-Duarte was living at the time. Victor found himself missing the ritual and inspiration he found at Catholic Mass, and Molina-Duarte began to join him at services in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“I felt too unattached from regular church life,” Victor said. “I wanted to embed myself in the life of the church.”

And because of Victor’s faith, Molina-Duarte said he could imagine a spiritual home for himself.

“I hadn’t met someone my age who was gay and had a deep and respectful reverence for the church,” Molina-Duarte said. “Bryan was able to have both.”

Victor and Molina-Duarte moved to Detroit in 2012. They went to a few parishes, but felt most engaged and most welcomed at St. Charles Borromeo. Victor’s paternal grandparents grew up in the parish and were married there.

Victor said in the church he finds a welcoming place for “the real-lived experience of people” — and people from society’s margins and the poor.

That they present themselves to regularly receive Communion is not a sin, both men say.

“We examine our consciences and we know that our love for each other does not take us out of a relationship with God,” Victor said. “It takes us into a closer relationship with God. And for that reason,we feel comfortable presenting ourselves for Communion.”

Their sexuality is God-given, Molina-Duarte said. “You’re called to be in community and seek justice and how can you do that in a closet?”

“I carry that Gospel message out to the secular world, and my work is reflective of the church,” Victor said. “I am sustained and nourished by the church. I’m sharing my gifts and talents within the church.”

(Montemurri reports for the Detroit Free Press)

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  • Normandy

    It’s so sad to see people self hate because of their religious brainwashing. The RCC is headed by self hating ashamed gay men who treat gays as less than. Its despicable, especially considering the thousands of innocent children that were molested and the pedophiles that were protected. Hopefully, as gays become more accepted, there will be less self hatred in the next generation. Religion is truly evil sometimes.

  • ben in oakland

    ““He treated them very lovingly, and he wants them under his roof,” Smith said, “but his words to them were that they should repent and sin no more.”

    And the words of Paul were that women in church were to keep silent, and not presume to have authority over men. Paul also said that there was only one true gospel: HIS. And yet here is a female theologian, telling MEN all about what god wants.

    It always amazes me– except that it never does– that when someone finds whatever their bible says to be inconvenient, they just assume that it must mean something else entirely.

    That this woman cannot see the similarities between her situation and that of these men speaks worlds about specks and beams.

  • ben in oakland

    Christians must stand up against the evil of “Other Faiths”, and offer Christ as the alternative,

    Christians must stand up against the evil of homobigotry masquerading as faith. and offer Christ– do as you would be done by– as the alternative.

    Christians must stand up against the evil of children starving while ever bigger cathedrals are built, political campaigns attacking their neighbors and costing millions are promulgated, theocrats masquerading as citizens while running for office, and waging wars in the name of peace…

    but they won’t.

  • Billysees

    Are churches worthy enough to follow anything and everything they proclaim?

    I’d rather consider and think about these things when it comes to my life and how I should live —

    …our [church] knowledge is partial and incomplete
    …we [churches] see things imperfectly…
    …All that I [any church] know is partial and incomplete…
    (1 Corinthians 13:9,12)

    All things are allowable, all things are lawful, all things are permissible…1 Corinthians 6:12…..1 Corinthians 10:23

    WORK OUT YOUR OWN salvation or understanding.

    Don’t let any one or any church stand in your way.

    You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, so you can keep it between yourself and God if you want…
    …Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing or being something they have decided is best for themselves….Romans 14:22

    All of those are good and easy to follow.

  • Billysees

    ” Hopefully, as gays become more accepted, there will be less self hatred in the next generation. Religion is truly evil sometimes. ”

    Very well said.

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  • Larry

    Never understood the need for people to stay in a given church which has made it clear they are unwelcome. Its nothing more than sectarian tribalism at that point. The RCC has made it clear, under no uncertain terms will they treat gay people as human beings worthy of consideration or part of their church.

    For christians, there are so many different sects with varying notions of doctrine, especially when it comes to whether they are “affirming” or not. There is a wealth of choice for people who want to continue their belief without the attendant bigotry associated with a given church. Why bother with the headaches of trying to appease those who are using their faith as an excuse to treat one’s self badly?

  • Ben in oakland

    Why was docs comment removed? He called gay marriage an evil. So does a good portion of conservative Christianity.

    Now my comment makes no sense whatsoever.

    Censorship isn’t pretty.

  • Lets consider the followers of Christ, as I believe some where married, some
    where single, strange, Christ never seemed to have a problem with any of
    them. Not all of the early “religious” where single and the church did not
    seem to suffer from this. We have number of gay priest in our church, and I
    could not ask for any better. We have women priest and they functional just
    as well as males. I hope and pray that some day the Roman Catholic church
    with join the “Catholic churches” and then the “use” of Catholic will really
    live up to it’s definition of “Universal.” Until then I will always put Roman
    before Catholic.

  • Tom Snyder

    Like adultery, incest and child murder, homosexuality is evil and loathsome – God, Leviticus 18:1-30. It also is a leading cause of STDs, HIV and AIDS. Also, Jesus defines marriage as something that occurs between one man and one woman – Matthew 19:1-12.

  • Ben in oakland

    Well, dear Christian, if you are going to be quoting god, you really ought to quote him accurately. It seems he was very upset about heterosexuality in the passages you describe.

    Second, homosexuality doesn’t cause diseases, or earthquakes or floods. Enter the 19th century, and learn about microbes.

    Third, you obviously support the death penalty for gay men. Because that’s in there too.

    right, Christian?