Earlier in March, OwningOurFaith, a short documentary film featuring LGBT Catholics and their families, debuted online. Busted Halo® reached out to Michael Tomae, one of the producers, with questions about the film’s creation.
Busted Halo: Why did you make this film?
Michael Tomae: Last year the LGBT ministry at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle launched a partnership with Covenant House, a young adult homeless shelter. We met many LGBT youth who were abandoned by their families, oftentimes because of faith. Their stories inspired us to address the problem. We gathered a team from our church community to create a video that would encourage greater acceptance of LGBT people within the church and especially in the context of family.
The short video project comes amidst ongoing conversations in the Vatican regarding the Church’s position on various issues related to family life. Pope Francis convened bishops from around the world for the first part of this meeting [called the Synod on the Family] last October and they will re-convene this coming October, 2015, to discuss these issues further. In preparation, Pope Francis has invited Catholics around the world to weigh in on an ongoing conversation regarding the Catholic Church and issues of family. One of the points he has opened up is how we better care for LGBT people within the Church.
We think Pope Francis and the Church have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to reach out to the millions of LGBT people around the world and say, “I love you and you are perfect the way you are.” We want this video to spark an ongoing dialogue about how we can strengthen families when we openly love one another for the unique people God formed us to be.
BH: For the people who might watch OwningOurFaith and disagree with the opinions expressed, what do you hope they will take away from the film?
MT: Ultimately, the core message is that all are welcome and all are loved. It took a lot of courage for the 20 individuals who were interviewed for OwningOurFaith to share their personal stories so publicly. We hope putting a face to the discussion will encourage people to engage in the dialogue which Pope Francis is encouraging, because we think that such dialogue combined with this spirit of love and inclusion will ultimately strengthen families. But our core message is certainly one of love and affirmation that all are welcome.
BH: National Catholic Reporter made a point that the film did not include the perspective of many gay women. Why weren’t more female voices included?
MT: It’s an important observation that Jamie Manson (of NCR) makes regarding the gender representation in the film. It is true that there are more men represented than women. When we were reaching out to potential interviewees we initially had a 50/50 split of men and women who we asked. Unfortunately a number of the women we reached out to were unable to participate and in an effort to share a range of stories (children, parents, single, married, etc.) we ended up having more men than woman. Ultimately we feel called to share as diverse a range of stories as possible and hope that the video sparks lesbian, bisexual and transgender women and supporters to contribute to the conversation.
BH: There have been reports that you were hoping Pope Francis would see this film. What message do you want to send to the pope?
MT: Our hope is that the video will reach as many hearts and minds as possible. Two priests that run our home parish, the Church of St. Paul the Apostle, met with Pope Francis this past week to discuss a book that was recently published by the order’s publishing house. As part of the meeting they also presented the video, so yes, the pope did receive it. Whether he watches it is up to him.
We want the pope to know that there are LGBT Catholics who long to be more fully welcomed into the life of the Church. In the video, we see a transgender man, Mateo, whose participation in spiritual direction allows him to better understand and love the man he is. We see a gay woman, Eve, who is active in her parish’s LGBT ministry and working to share her experience as a celibate woman of deep faith. We meet a gay couple, the Vidals, who have remained weekly churchgoers despite being unable to participate in the sacraments. We see lectors, Eucharistic ministers, teachers, and simply people in the pews, who long to participate in the core of what it is to be Catholic. We want the pope to know that these are faithful Catholics who are drawing on their conscience to live authentically as who they are. And that this journey is drawing them closer to God. We feel that greater acceptance of this group of people can strengthen families and enrich our Church.
BH: Lastly, the video presents people who are clearly impassioned advocates of their Catholic faith. What meaning does the Catholic faith have for you and why do you remain a part of a Church in which you feel discriminated against?
MT: For me personally, my faith only grew stronger during my coming out process as a gay man. I was raised Catholic and grew up with a very welcoming and loving family. I do continue to struggle and question a lot of the things the Church says, but because I found a church at a local level that I think welcomes people, I am able to continue to practice my faith. To me, the underlying message of Catholicism is love, and that is why I stay a part of the Church.
Michael Tomae served as the executive producer and director for OwningOurFaith. Prior to founding OwningOurFaith, Michael worked at BMO Capital Markets as an investment banking analyst in its Financial Institutions Group. While at BMO, he founded and led an effort to donate retired BMO technology to nonprofit organizations resulting in an estimated donation of 700 pieces of technology equipment in 2014. He also actively volunteers his time with Covenant House, a young adult homeless shelter in New York City, working with its LGBT youth. Michael is a graduate of Villanova University with a background in finance and accounting. He is a parishioner at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City and is a member of its Out@StPaul ministry team.