A film produced by Martin Scorsese looks at the Catholic Church’s treatment of the LGBTQ community

In the 1950s, Ravenhall, a saltwater pool on Brooklyn’s Coney Island, was a destination for summer day-trippers from the sweltering city, including Martin Scorsese’s family and friends, who often visited there from Little Italy. On one such outing, Scorsese, in his early teens, was told there was something he needed to see. “Ravenhall was the neighborhood bathtub, so to speak, a big pool where everyone went, and it was packed,” Scorsese recalled last week. “Some wise old men would be there, in shacks, playing cards. And there was a hammam. And one day, we were there, and we heard: ‘Hey, hey, come here, they took a cigarette in the hammam, they beat him up. Come see the blood! You can’t miss this! I never saw the guy, but I saw the blood. We’re talking about the mid-50s, the Red Scare period. The aliens are coming to destroy America and the Catholic Church, and they are communists and, as far as we know, homosexuals.

This summer, Scorsese, who is now seventy-nine, is working in his Upper East Side townhouse with his longtime editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, on his next film, “Killers of the Flower Moon.” (Based on David Grann’s bookit tells the story of a plot to assassinate members of the Osage Nation who were thriving in Oklahoma’s oil boom of the 1920s.) Meanwhile, another Scorsese production is available on AMC+, Sundance TV and various on-demand platforms: “Building a Bridge”, a documentary about James Martin, Jesuit priest and popular author, based in America, the Jesuit magazine, in New York, and which in recent years has devoted itself to Catholic action with the LGBTQ community. Scorsese told me about the Ravenhall incident during a chat at his home, which Martin joined via Zoom. I had asked Scorsese how homosexuality was talked about in the Italian-American Catholic enclave of his childhood.

“It was never mentioned by the priests, never mentioned in the pulpit, never mentioned in the house, never spoken at all,” Scorsese said. “Anything that would be considered the norm was to be ostracized, humiliated, mocked.” But then Scorsese, who had a large extended family, learned that an older cousin he was very close to was gay. “There was this kind of ‘rabid bull’ masculinity” at that time, so “it was an extraordinary trauma for all the uncles, my father, everyone.” He added: “They even asked one of my uncles to ‘talk to him’, so to speak: ‘And if that doesn’t work, I’ll break his legs.’ “It never got that far,” Scorsese said, “but, “during a family event, everyone was arguing, it got tense — ‘very busy,’ as they say. After that things calmed down, but I will never forget those nights.

The cousin, however, also confided in Scorsese, who, because he suffered from asthma, did not engage in many neighborhood exploits. “One night as we were walking, he said, ‘I hang out with these guys, and I’m like them.’ I was stunned.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Martin says, “for someone in their 50s to say something, not knowing if you’d tell your friends or your family.” It takes a lot of courage. »

“Yeah, it did,” Scorsese said. “But he knew how he felt, he knew who he was and he trusted me. He knew I was an outsider too. He knew I didn’t belong to the street toughs.

Sixty-one-year-old Martin is a grandson of Sicilian immigrants on his mother’s side. He grew up near Philadelphia, graduated from the Wharton School of Business, and worked for General Electric in Connecticut before joining the Society of Jesus in 1988. Through his articles for America, then a series of books, he got involved in artistic projects with a Catholic dimension. He acted as an advisor for the Off Broadway production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” (and later presided over the funeral mass for Philip Seymour Hoffman, who conducted it); served as “official chaplain” for “The Colbert Report” (Stephen Colbert is Catholic); served as an advisor on Scorsese’s 2017 film “Silence” (which is about Jesuit missionaries in 17th-century Japan); and had a cameo role in “The Irishman”, as a priest performing baptisms. His Facebook page is widely read as a bulletin board for events in the Catholic and Jesuit world, and his Twitter account has over three hundred thousand followers. “Terrible news from the Jesuit Curia: Two Jesuits murdered in Mexico,” reported a recent article. “May they rest in peace.”

“Building a Bridge” was directed by Evan Mascagni and Shannon Post. (Their previous documentary, “Circle of Poison,” examines the devastating effects of selling pesticides overseas whose use is banned in the United States.) It’s based on a short book Martin wrote after the shooting. mass in 2016 at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, in which forty-nine people were killed. He noticed that the Catholic hierarchy made little reference to homosexuals or homosexuality in their response, and this prompted him to try to “build a bridge” between the Church and LGBTQ people. “Father Martin’s message resonated with us personally, me as a Catholic and Shannon as a queer person,” Mascagni told me. The filmmakers followed Martin for several weeks in 2018 and 2019, as he met gay people and parents of gay people in Catholic schools and parishes. In one scene, during a signing session, he is approached by a young man in tears who tells him: “I’m not going out with my family”, because “they talk so badly” about homosexuality. He says give them time.

Martin said he’s not looking for the Church to change its teachings on homosexuality; he simply wants him to treat homosexuals with “respect, compassion and sensitivity” – a position laid out in the Catechism. The film counterpoints his efforts to those of Michael Voris of the traditionalist outlet Church Militant, who hosts a video, shown in the film, denouncing “homo heresy” in the Church. “Martin is a twisted perv,” Voris says in another clip. “There is not a doctrine or teaching of the Church that he would not twist and pervert with his diseased mind in order to excuse his acceptance of homosexual lust.” Scorsese signed on as executive producer on the film during post-production after Martin told him about it – and he sent Mascagni and Post suggestions for re-editing certain sections. “Evan got a call from Marty, and he says it was the highlight of his life,” Martin said. “’Guess who I got a call from?’ ”

Scorsese told another story: Around the time his cousin confided in him, he had an epiphany about a young man everyone in the neighborhood knew. He “looked like Tony Curtis in ‘The Town Across the River,'” recalls Scorsese. “It was a rock – tough, but not belligerent.” He had a car that he drove to make deliveries in the area, and Scorsese and his friends once asked to go with him “because we liked to ride in cars and nobody had a car”. Once the deliveries were done, the young man said he had to make one more stop and drove to Washington Square Park, where a group of “well-cut young men”, with “buttoned-up collars, chinos, blonde hair,” called her name. He got out of the car, and a ‘flamboyant’ man joined them, and, Scorsese said, ‘The next thing we know is he brings it in the car’, saying, ” I’ll just drop him off at the subway station at Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue.’ And we’re in the back, looking at this guy, who’s a little exotic, and also a little menacing, because we’ve never experienced that, and we start laughing. The young man said, “’Don’t pay attention. They do not understand. And we stopped. “They do not understand.” We never said a word about it, but it was an amazing moment,” Scorsese said.

Scorsese had two other cousins ​​who were also “like that”, as they said in the family. A cousin dated for 20 years and eventually got married. The other, Scorsese said, “was younger than me. I saw him take his first steps. Then I lost contact with him. The last time I spoke to him he was in the hospital. It was in the early nineties. AIDSand died shortly afterwards.

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