August 8, 2014

Priest, young adults collaborate on film about Church’s teaching on same-sex attraction

This is the title screen viewers see when watching The Third Way, a film made by Blackstone Films in Indianapolis with Father John Hollowell serving as executive producer. The film focuses on the stories of people who experience same-sex attraction and seek to live according to the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuality. (Photo courtesy of Blackstone Films)

This is the title screen viewers see when watching The Third Way, a film made by Blackstone Films in Indianapolis with Father John Hollowell serving as executive producer. The film focuses on the stories of people who experience same-sex attraction and seek to live according to the teachings of the Catholic Church regarding homosexuality. (Photo courtesy of Blackstone Films)

By Sean Gallagher

Father John Hollowell had a problem. The teenagers he taught at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School in Indianapolis a few years ago accepted nearly everything that he taught them about the Catholic faith—except the Church’s teachings on one topic.

“When I taught on the issue of homosexuality, I was shocked by the reaction of the students and how angry and upset they were at the Church’s teaching,” said Father Hollowell, now pastor of Annunciation Parish in Brazil and St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle. “As soon as I started talking, it was clear that they were not even listening to what I was saying.”

The students’ reaction mirrors the high level of acceptance of gay and lesbian relations among young people. According to a 2012 Gallup poll of people ages 18-34, nearly two-thirds said that gay and lesbian relations were morally acceptable, more than any other age group polled.

And in a Gallup poll completed earlier this year, nearly 80 percent of people 18-34 years old supported redefining marriage to accommodate same-sex couples—nearly 25 percentage points higher than the next highest supporting age group.

The results of this latest poll were announced around the same time that Father Hollowell and the young adult filmmakers at the Indianapolis-based Blackstone Films released The Third Way, which tells the stories of several people with same-sex attraction, but who seek to live according to the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. (Related: Watch the film here)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church holds that having same-sex attraction is not in itself sinful, and that homosexual people should be accorded the respect that belongs to all people.

At the same time, it notes that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” because they cannot result in the creation of a new life and “do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity” (#2357).

It also calls people with same-sex attraction—and all unmarried people—to lives of chastity. (Related: What the Church teaches on homosexuality)

These teachings and the grace-filled striving of people with same-sex attraction to live them out are presented by the makers of film as the “third way” to look at homosexuality. They see it as standing in contrast to the two other ways of viewing this issue offered by society—total acceptance or rejection of people with same-sex attraction.

Father Hollowell came up with the idea for the film after failing to find an effective teaching resource to help reach young people on this controversial topic, and present to them the Church’s “third way.”

$2,000 per minute

Coming up with an idea for such a film is one thing. Finding the financial resources to make it a reality is another. But Father Hollowell, the film’s executive producer, and John-Andrew O’Rourke, the director and founder of Blackstone Films, knew that it couldn’t become a reality without significant financial support.

So for about a month in late 2012, Father Hollowell and O’Rourke sought to raise online a minimum of $70,000 to support the making of The Third Way. Some $84,000 ended up being contributed by nearly 900 donors. The average donor contributed $93.

O’Rourke saw “God’s hand” in the fact that the financial support for the film came from such a grassroots effort.

“I knew, at the point that we started the fundraising, that it was such a hot-button topic,” said O’Rourke, a member of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish in Indianapolis. “There were people out there who could bankroll the entire thing with one check. But it never happened.”

The funds raised paid for such expenses as the licensing of music used in the film, travel costs, equipment and paying the film crew.

Father Hollowell explained that many documentaries cost about $10,000 per minute to produce, whereas the 40-minute-long The Third Way cost about $2,000 per minute.

Once enough funds were raised to make the film, Father Hollowell knew that he had been given a serious responsibility.

“It was humbling. It was inspiring,” said Father Hollowell. “It was scary, because, in a sense, both myself and the guys at Blackstone knew that we needed to produce something that rewarded people for their faith, that was well done and did what we said it would do.”

‘How powerful their testimony was’

The filming of The Third Way started in February 2013. The film crew traveled to various parts of the country to interview both Catholics who experience same-sex attraction and various experts on the Church’s teaching on sexuality.

When they started interviewing people with same-sex attraction, Father Hollowell and O’Rourke simply let the cameras roll and the people tell their stories.

“When we realized how powerful their testimony was, we really let them kind of carry the film,” Father Hollowell said. “You want to know these people more. You want to hear their stories. You want to see how they progress through this process that they underwent.”

One of those people was Julie Sponsler, 56, of northwestern Ohio. At the start of The Third Way, viewers see Sponsler sitting in a church, quietly and emotionally recalling how she brought her struggle with same-sex attraction to God in prayer.

This is immediately contrasted with video images of the clash of the ways of full acceptance or rejection in which many in society respond to people who live the homosexual lifestyle. The images are marked by loud, sometimes violent, protests filled with hatred.

At the end of this montage of video images, viewers are asked, “Is there another way?” The rest of the film seeks to lay out an alternative—the one embodied in the Church’s vision for human sexuality.

Simply being interviewed for the film helped Sponsler come to a greater appreciation of her commitment to that vision and a regret that she hadn’t embraced it earlier.

“I was kind of weepy in a few parts,” Sponsler said. “It just was really impacting me when I was sitting there in the [church], going through my story and realizing all of the chances that God had given me, all the years that I had wasted, all the time lost.”

Joseph Prever, 31, was also interviewed for the film. Like Sponsler, Prever experiences same-sex attraction, but seeks to live according to the Church’s teachings. He said that the approach of letting people tell their stories in The Third Way is “an indispensable part” of the conversation going on in the Church and broader society regarding homosexual people.

“Anytime you have an issue that touches people’s lives as intimately as this one, then if you’re not talking to individual people and seeing the specifics of how it does touch their lives, then you’re not going to understand anything about it at all,” said Prever, who lives near Boston.

Hollowell and O’Rourke knew that letting people like Sponsler and Prever simply tell their stories was key. It avoided lumping people with same-sex attractions into one generic group.

“The film gets the focus back on what this lifestyle does to individual persons,” Father Hollowell said. “When you let individuals tell their stories, then it shifts the focus off of generic arguments that are just thrown around.”

He and O’Rourke also knew that this approach would be key to having people be open to the film’s message.

“I can stand up and teach what the Church says and approach it from, ‘This is the truth,’ ” Father Hollowell said. “But, if I don’t have same-sex attraction, then people aren’t going to listen to me, because I’m not a credible witness in their eyes.”

‘We’re opening up the conversation’

Shooting for The Third Way took about six months, followed by several months of editing and post-production.

It was premiered in a movie theater in Indianapolis on April 25 and was released online two days later.

Reactions to the film that spanned the spectrum soon poured in. Various Church leaders, including Bishop Christopher J. Coyne, vicar general, archbishops Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia and Samuel J. Aquila of Denver, praised it.

A commenter at, a website that often supports homosexual advocacy, said that The Third Way was “slick, state of the art,” but so was Triumph of the Will, a Nazi propaganda film.

O’Rourke says how people ultimately react to the film isn’t important to him, but that they react is.

“If we hadn’t done it well, no one would have talked about it,” he said. “But people are talking about it. So whether it be positive or negative, we’re opening up the conversation.”

Sponsler has seen the film have a positive effect on some of her Catholic friends.

“[They] told me that they didn’t realize the impact they were having on me before they knew what I had come out of,” she said. “They’d sit there and talk about those ‘evil gay people,’ not realizing that I was sitting right there with them. They came to me after watching it and said, ‘I am so sorry.’ ”

Prever thinks the film speaks best “to those inside the Church who deal personally with homosexuality in their own lives, but don’t know where to turn and don’t have a lot of hope.

“In that, I think the film is a huge success, mainly as a starting point for those people,” Prever added.

‘A prime example of the new evangelization’

At 35, Father Hollowell was by far the oldest person involved in producing The Third Way. The people at Blackstone Films are all in their early 20s, the exact age group that polling reveals offers the most support for acceptance of gay and lesbian relations.

Father Hollowell knew that the young adult Catholics with whom he worked were up to the task of making an effective film on this topic.

“This film just shows what happens when we unleash their potential as a generation and don’t treat them as spiritual infants, but instead say, ‘Show us the way. Lead us and teach us how to reach out to your peers, your friends, your unchurched,’ ” Father Hollowell said. “They did not disappoint.”

O’Rourke said this film can reach his peers as a part of the Church’s new evangelization—both through the way it is available on the Internet and social media, and in the priority of beauty in the film.

“I think this film is a prime example of the new evangelization,” O’Rourke said. “It’s meeting people in a way that they can accept … through the Internet.

“We are meeting people with art that they can appreciate. As opposed to detracting or being neutral to the message, the art actually helps to enhance the message.”

Another place where people may meet the film is in classrooms and parishes. Various bishops have encouraged high schools and youth ministry programs in their diocese to use the film.

“That’s what really excites me and warms my heart about it all,” said Father Hollowell. “Now those teachers that are working in our Catholic schools, who are struggling and looking for the same sort of thing that I was a few years ago, have that.”

How many people end up viewing and being affected by The Third Way is not important to O’Rourke.

“As long as we’re affecting the individual person, I’ll let God take care of who the individual people are and how many there are.”

(To view The Third Way: Homosexuality and the Catholic Church, log on to For more information about Blackstone Films, log on to

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