At a time when some Catholic dioceses are firing LGBTQ teachers, musicians, and staff members because they are considered incompatible with the gospel or the Catholic faith, Tom Loehr’s new documentary, The Golds: A Portrait of an American Family, offers a more human story of LGBTQ Catholics.
Chronicling the 40-plus year relationship of two devout Catholic men who met in a Jesuit seminary, The Golds dismantles the oft-cited opinion that same-gender relationships cannot be an expression of God’s love. Frank Gold and Jerry Snodgrass, who met in the formation process to become priests, are, on the contrary, models of what it means to enter into a sacramental relationship.
Though the documentary offers a rich commentary on the internal struggle gay Catholic priests face between following their vocation to serve God and the Catholic community and living authentically as gay men, the beauty of The Golds unfolds in the undeniable love story between Frank and Jerry.
Rather than depicting a foreign, unusual relationship, the documentary offers the viewers something simultaneously surprising and mundane: a relatable Catholic family, living out of love for one another rooted in a love of God. Herein lies the real gift The Golds offers Catholics on both sides of the great LGBTQ divide.
It is clear from the beginning that the budding relationship between the two young seminarians was something special. By the time we see Frank and Jerry in present day, they look like any other married couple. They have grown older together, building careers grounded in their desire to make the world a better place and raising four children together.
When Frank and Jerry decided to buy a house and begin their life together, such a decision for two Catholic men—especially for one who was a Catholic priest in good standing—was anything but ordinary. When Frank, still a priest, and Jerry, a public high school counselor, felt the call to be fathers, they had seemingly insurmountable hurdles to overcome.
As the Golds began the adoption process, they discovered that the children who most needed a stable placement through Denver Social Services (DSS) were children of color. While they were originally hesitant to adopt a child who was BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), recognizing that having two white parents would be difficult enough without adding the complications of having two gay parents–and one being a Catholic priest. They decided, however, that they would adopt a child who needed a home no matter the challenges. After adopting their first two sons, DSS recognized the stable and loving home Frank and Jerry were able to provide the boys, and called to ask if the Golds could open their family to a third and then a fourth son. The social workers at DSS, used to hearing from adopted parents that they can no longer handle raising their children, marveled at the stability the Golds were able to maintain raising four BIPOC children, some of whom had been in and out of the foster care system for some time.
Though the Frank and Jerry all acknowledge life with their adopted sons was not always a walk in the park, Tim, Dominic, Demetrius, and Dante became the new loves of their lives and centers of their worlds.
Frank remained a well-known and respected priest in the Diocese of Denver for over 25 years during his relationship with Jerry. He and Jerry raised their four children, and sent them to Catholic schools while he continued to minister officially. His renown for preaching and liturgy meant that Frank could not hide his family. The wider community, including the archbishop of Denver knew that Frank and Jerry were raising children together. The archbishop did not remove Frank from the priesthood for years. Ultimately, at what some in the film surmise was an arbitrary time, the archbishop required Frank to choose between the priesthood and his family. Frank left the priesthood, recognizing that his vocation to serve God and the church could effectively be done while he followed his vocation to love his family. The Golds remain faithful Catholics to this day.
Those who do not know LGBTQ people and those who know only what the overly-clinical Catechism has to say about LGBTQ Catholics might be led to believe that love cannot be manifested in same-gender relationships. They might believe that God does not love LGBTQ people, and therefore is absent from queer relationships. It is impossible, however, to watch Frank and Jerry’s story unfold and hear from the countless people whose lives they touched to see anything but the authentic love of God in their journey.
Rather than sinful boogeymen, Frank and Jerry are exemplars of the Christian family. Tom Jost, S.J., a Jesuit friend of the Golds says in the documentary,
“The most important thing is that we love one another. That’s the one thing that really matters. At the last supper, Jesus reduces all the commandments to that one. Love one another as I have loved you. And Frank and Jerry really demonstrated that.”
It is apparent throughout the film that this is the case. Frank and Jerry are models of the sacramental love of God. Instead of relying on antiquated doctrine, flawed teaching on human sexuality, and disproved theories of sex and gender, the church should look to the lived experience of LGBTQ folks, and the Golds in particular, to conclude that LGBTQ love is from God and of God. As Frank Gold homilized at a wedding,
“We cannot know God or talk about God unless we first experience and find that in ourselves and in each other. We have to love each other and find that which is best and the good in each other, and when we experience that, we begin to see God and know that is what love is about. That’s the God that dwells in us.”
To deny LGBTQ people the chance to love, is to deny them the very experience of God.
The Golds: A Portrait of An American Family can be viewed on YouTube. The film is a fruitful invitation to discussion for LGBTQ parish groups, LGBTQ couples discerning adoption, and especially for those who may doubt LGBTQ people can raise families while remaining faithful Catholics.
–Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, August 12, 2020