LGBTQ Agenda: Gay journalist selected to lead Catholic ministry

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Tuesday April 2, 2024
Share this Post:
Outreach Executive Director Michael O'Loughlin, left, the Reverend James Martin, and Outreach managing editor Ryan Di Corpo were guests of President Joe Biden at a White House event for Roman Catholic leaders on St. Patrick's Day, March 17. O'Loughlin, a gay man, was selected to lead the LGBTQ Catholic ministry that was founded by Martin. Photo: Courtesy Outreach
Outreach Executive Director Michael O'Loughlin, left, the Reverend James Martin, and Outreach managing editor Ryan Di Corpo were guests of President Joe Biden at a White House event for Roman Catholic leaders on St. Patrick's Day, March 17. O'Loughlin, a gay man, was selected to lead the LGBTQ Catholic ministry that was founded by Martin. Photo: Courtesy Outreach

A gay journalist is the first executive director of the relatively new LGBTQ Catholic ministry Outreach.

Michael O'Loughlin, 38, had been a national correspondent for America Media: The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture, published by the Jesuit order. O'Loughlin may be familiar to Bay Area Reporter readers as the author of "Hidden Mercy: AIDS, Catholics, and the Untold Stories of Compassion in the Face of Fear" (2021) and host of the podcast "Plague: Untold Stories of AIDS and the Catholic Church," which reported on events in New York City, San Francisco's LGBTQ Castro neighborhood, and elsewhere.

It was during the process of researching and writing for those reports that O'Loughlin came out of the closet publicly.

"I was so inspired by the stories of LGBT Catholics who had done this heroic HIV/AIDS ministry in the 1980s and 1990s and what it took for them during a difficult time in our history," he told the B.A.R. "I also wanted to let listeners know that I was reliable, because I know the struggles LGBT Catholics face because I share in them."

O'Loughlin is based in Rhode Island, while Outreach is headquartered in New York City. It is currently under the auspices of America Media, which is a nonprofit organization, as a resource for articles and information for LGBTQ Catholics, O'Loughlin stated.

The Catholic Church is the world's largest Christian denomination, claiming 1.4 billion members worldwide. Long-standing Catholic teaching is that while homosexuality isn't sinful per se, it is a sin to have sex with someone of the same sex.

Some countries with large Catholic populations have seen increasingly restrictive environments for LGBTQ people in recent years, such as Poland and Hungary, but the rhetoric from the Vatican has shifted during the reign of Pope Francis, who last December approved blessings of same-sex couples by priests (though some church leaders, such as San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, have told priests they can or should disregard that, as the B.A.R. reported). Francis also campaigned for the decriminalization of homosexuality worldwide.

Francis is less forgiving on issues of gender transition. While openly transgender Catholics can now be baptized, become godparents, and be witnesses at weddings, Francis called so-called gender ideology an "ugly ideology of our times, which cancels out the differences and makes everything the same," according to Reuters.

Outreach came about because of a book, O'Loughlin said

"Father Jim Martin founded the organization [Outreach] a couple of years ago — it stemmed from his book 'Building a Bridge,' and he saw in the reaction to the book there was a need for a community where LGBT people could find support and share stories," O'Loughlin said. "It's been growing for the last couple years."

Martin, an American Jesuit priest who is a consultant on the Roman Dicastery for Communication, advises the pope and often discusses LGBTQ-related topics with him.

In a February 6 news release announcing the selection of O'Loughlin, Martin stated that "with his [O'Loughlin's] years of journalistic experience, his theological background, two books to his credit, and his deep knowledge of the LGBTQ community, I can think of absolutely no one better suited for this job."

O'Loughlin, Martin, and Outreach's managing editor, Ryan Di Corpo, were among President Joe Biden's guests at a White House St. Patrick's Day event for Catholic leaders March 17. (Biden, after John F. Kennedy, is the second Roman Catholic to serve as president.) O'Loughlin stated that he "shook Biden's hand but there wasn't too much of an exchange."

The president had also invited members of the Kennedy family. One relative, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., is running against Biden as an independent candidate in this year's election. Many Kennedy family members oppose RFK Jr.'s presidential bid and support Biden. The president said during the event, "This has always been a special day for the Biden family and the Biden household. It's not just about heritage, but it really is about faith. So much of it being Irish means to be connected to the Catholic teachings I grew up with."

Marianne Duddy-Burke, a cisgender married lesbian Catholic mom who is executive director of DignityUSA — an LGBTQ Catholic group barred from meeting on church property in some dioceses, such as the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco — agreed with Martin.

"I certainly have known Michael's work as a journalist for quite a long time," Duddy-Burke said. "He has written about DignityUSA on numerous occasions and I feel like he has a very good understanding of the Catholic LGBTQ world and the major issues. I think his having covered that beat for a while gives him a breadth of understanding of what's going on.

"I think it's really interesting to see Outreach expanding at this point where there is so much focus on queer issues within Catholicism both sexual orientation and gender identity issues ... and lots of questions about the church's future," she added. "I welcome a new teammate in this work."

So too does Stan JR Zerkowski, a gay man who is the executive director of the LGBTQ Catholic-affinity group Fortunate Families and director of Catholic LGBT ministry for the Diocese of Lexington.

"Michael is a person with incredible credentials, and pastoral sensitivity is second to none," Zerkowski stated. "He is well respected, and, without a doubt, will lead Outreach with distinction. I look forward to working with Michael and I look forward to collaborating with him and seeking his counsel, too, as together all of us who minister with and among the LGBTQ community move forward with more grace because Michael is now aboard."

Paul Riofski, a gay man who has been a member of Dignity/San Francisco since 1978 and who has held leadership roles there, said, "I think it's a positive thing overall. The group was started by James Martin, the Jesuit, who has done a lot of work in the last couple of years. ... Obviously they may have some limitations compared with what we can do as Dignity, but it's a positive thing to have a group in favor of greater outreach to LGBTQ Catholics in the church.

"Particularly when you are dealing with people in our community who have family members who don't know how to approach the topic, it's a positive thing to have a group promoting accepting LGBTQ people in the church rather than a negative thing," Riofski added.

Upcoming conference

O'Loughlin said that right now one main task is preparing for the 2024 Outreach LGBTQ Catholic ministry conference that will take place August 2-4 at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

"For the upcoming conference, we're focused on building community — there's a sense of people gathering together at a conference once a year, then scattering, then coming back next year," he said. "We want a chance for people to connect with other LGBT people across the country, share ideas about LGBT ministry and celebrate a community that doesn't always have that space in the Catholic Church and think about ways we could sustain that community feeling throughout the year."

One of the planned speakers at the conference is the Reverend William Hart McNichols, a gay Catholic priest and icon painter.

"This opportunity to hear and ponder the wisdom of all these people has been a great grace for those of us in the LGBTQ community and for others who are still struggling to understand us," McNichols stated. "Now Michael O'Loughlin has been appointed executive director and he comes with lived experience and as an acclaimed author. He is knowledgeable and yet humble enough to learn from others; like Pope Francis, a great leader who also listens. I have tremendous respect for Michael and am honored to be asked to give a PowerPoint presentation of my art for this year's Outreach conference in August."

Outreach's budget information was not immediately available. O'Loughlin declined to answer a question about his salary.

When asked his goal for his tenure with Outreach, O'Loughlin said he hopes the resource can highlight LGBTQ Catholic experiences so people don't feel so isolated.

"Growing up, it was very isolating," he said. "You had to choose to be gay or to be Catholic. I would have benefited from hearing some of these stories."

He hopes Outreach "empowers them [LGBTQ Catholics] to live their life more holistically."

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact John Ferrannini at [email protected]

Never miss a story! Keep up to date on the latest news, arts, politics, entertainment, and nightlife. Sign up for the Bay Area Reporter's free weekday email newsletter. You'll receive our newsletters and special offers from our community partners.

Support California's largest LGBTQ newsroom. Your one-time, monthly, or annual contribution advocates for LGBTQ communities. Amplify a trusted voice providing news, information, and cultural coverage to all members of our community, regardless of their ability to pay -- Donate today!