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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.
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)