At the Out at St. Paul Book Club, the topic of discussion will be Jamie O’Neill’s novel “At Swim, Two Boys.” O’Neill is a gay Irish author who was raised a Roman Catholic. Leaving home at age 17, according to O’Neill, he didn’t get along well with his father. As a young man, O’Neill began a relationship with British TV presenter Russell Harty who was 27 years his senior. Published in 2001, “At Swim, Two Boys” is considered by some as a landmark book in LGBT literature and remains O’Neill’s most acclaimed work. Along with another famous novel about a boy’s so-called sexual awakening, André Aciman’s 2007 “Call Me By Your Name,” O’Neill’s book contains instances of homosexual grooming.
The book tells the story of two very different 16-year old boys, Jim and Doyler. With the backdrop of political and social upheaval in early 20th century Ireland, these two wayward and abused young men begin a friendship that eventually results in homosexual sex. While Jim is naive and shy, Doyler is more outgoing. Jim attends a Catholic school where one of his teachers is a religious named “Brother Polycarp.” According to one reviewer, “Jim is too innocent to realise how he is being groomed by Brother Polycarp.” In the meantime, the more streetwise Doyler meets an older gay man who pays the teenage boy for sex.
In the book, swimming is used as an allegory for the developing sexual relationship between the two main characters; but especially for Jim who doesn’t know how to swim. But in the book’s most disturbing storyline, the older man who earlier assaulted Doyler, becomes a sort of mentor and begins to teach Jim how to swim. While a reviewer at the New York Times briefly mentioned “the ticklish business of celebrating under-age lovers and a grown man’s entanglement with them both,” the book is alarming for it’s rather benevolent view of sex between boys and men.
The Out at St. Paul ministry and the Parish is a favorite of Jesuit priest James Martin. In a recent promotional video for the Second Edition of his book “Building a Bridge,” Martin included images of Out at St. Paul members. During his featured presentation at the 2018 Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, Martin praised the group:
The Church has a responsibility to make everyone feel visible and valuable. Visible. Recognizing that LGBT Catholics exist has important pastoral implications. It means carrying out ministry that some dioceses and parishes already do well. Particularly in this Archdiocese, I know many parishes for example, I know St. Monica’s, that has a flourishing LGBT ministry. The parish that I go to, the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York, which is where this picture is from. [A photo of various members from the Out at St. Paul ministry appears on the overhead screen.] That’s the Pastor Gil Martinez, and the group Out at St. Paul…a flourishing ministry.
At another major Catholic forum, Martin praised Out at St. Paul during the 2018 World Meeting of Families held in Ireland.
On July 16, 2017, James Martin, addressed Out at St. Paul; he had previously spoken to the group on March 2, 2017. In the past, Out at St. Paul sponsored and promoted a Mass at the site of the Stonewall Riots, “countertraditions” to Adam and Eve, and an outing to a local gay bar. On several occasions, Martin has recommended both the Parish and Out at St. Paul (see video interview, and a Facebook live discussion.) In a video series entitled “Owning Our Faith,” featuring various LGBT members from the Out at St. Paul ministry, a “gay” Catholic man said the following:
I think what’s interesting is that the Catholic Church probably thinks that it is accepting of gay people, because its message is ‘gay people exist and we should love them and not discriminate against them. But because the Church also tells gay people essentially that they need to be celibate, what the Church is saying is ‘you cannot live fully. You can be gay but you can’t live that life.’ And so that inherently is discriminatory.
On June 15, 2017, Martin again recommended Out at St. Paul on his official Twitter account:
Dear friends: "Out at St. Paul" is one of the most vibrant Catholic #LGBT ministries in the country, perhaps the world. A ministry of the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in NYC, it seeks to welcome all to the church and is a model for many parishes. Here's an intro to @outatstpaul pic.twitter.com/4OFu20e5nS
— James Martin, SJ (@JamesMartinSJ) June 15, 2018
On his Facebook page, Martin wrote:
Dear friends: “Out at St. Paul” is one of the most dynamic Catholic LGBT ministries in the country, and probably the world. It is a ministry of the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City, just next door to our Jesuit community. They shared this video with me and asked me to share it with you. May it give hope to parishes who are striving to be welcoming places for everyone.
Please contact the Archdiocese of New York:
Cardinal Timothy Dolan
1011 First Ave
New York, NY 10022