Thoughts on “The Third Way”

Let me start with this: I’m 29, straight, unmarried, and accept (somewhat begrudgingly and sadly) the Church’s teachings on homosexuality. That having been said, I live in a state with gay marriage and work at a company that is a cheerful proponent of gay rights. I have gay relatives and friends.

I think this film ultimately fails at its objective, which is to present Catholic teaching on homosexuality both realistically and positively. Though the film does pretty good at telling us the interviewees who are gay have pretty happy lives, it does a poor job at showing us, and that makes it ultimately unconvincing. I watched the film twice; here are my thoughts:

Who is this film for?

I don’t know. Because this film is from Catholics, non-Catholics and gays (Catholic or not) are going to view the film suspiciously, because of the source. (Yes, even Catholics want to spin things their way.) I’m guessing it’s for Catholics looking for clarification on what the Church teaches and non-Catholics trying to get a better explanation of why the Church teaches what it does. I think the film does a decent job at that, although having the interviewees themselves explain the teaching didn’t come off to me as a great idea.

It looks good

Very, very high production values, which is rarer in religious-film circles than it should be. The graphics are well designed, and the music is fair to decent, although it occasionally is a bit over the top in trying to convey a mood. Overall, very well done.

Is there pseudoscience?

A lot of the people discuss their backgrounds, which walk into the stereotypes that science apparently largely rejects as an accurate description of gays as a whole. And that’s going to bring (and has brought) it under attack, even though the film doesn’t explicitly make the claim that their experiences are typical. But why someone is gay is beside the point, isn’t it? The point isn’t why they are gay, it’s the real hurt and alienation they felt because they identified as gay.

There’s that Fulton Sheen quote

I had a feeling I’d see that. The problem is he said that a while ago. And, frankly, I don’t know if he’d say that today. Many gay people oppose the Church because it opposes gay sex and gay marriage.

Fun with apologists

Sister Helena Burns, Jason Evert, and Chris Stefanick are some of the better known Catholic names who pop up to discuss Catholic teaching, and they add some value — Burns especially, since she’s voluntarily celibate. Together, they make a very good case for Catholics to get their act together in terms of treating gays with respect and dignity. This is a very, very weak spot in the Church, and they do a good job of diagnosing the problem and offering the solution. Nice job, all involved.

If they’re happy, and you know it, then you really ought to show it

Here’s the biggest flaw in the film: Why are there no scenes of the interviewees with friends, with family members, living normal, happy, fulfilled lives? We have to take it on faith that they have found happiness in the Catholic faith, and quite frankly, their insistence that they’re happy is less than convincing; they sure don’t seem happy to me, even if they are. And it’s this impression that ultimately sinks the film. Documentaries are better when they show instead of tell, but this film does no showing. The interviewees tell us the Church has helped them, but we’re not given much of a reason to believe them.


I’ve identified what I believe to be the fatal flaw of this documentary, but I think it can be remedied fairly easily, thanks to the age of Internet video. Let’s get some footage of the gay interviewees in real life, interacting with friends and family and just living their lives happily. Weave that into the end sections of the film. Voila! You now have a director’s cut while only adding a few minutes to the film. Let that happen, and we have a film that’s much harder for critics of the Church to ignore.


3 responses to “Thoughts on “The Third Way”

  1. Hi – Thanks for your thoughts on this film. As you may have read elsewhere by now, there are a number of factors about the documentary which do not help its aim in trying to assert the compassion of the Catholic Church for homosexuals. Many of these are tied up with with people involved – including the Executive Producer who has a habit ‘off screen’ of being anything but compassionate. The ex-gay movement and narrative is also heavily represented. Very risky choice of participants. It’s clever, well made, slick – young people walking through crumbling ruins, a metaphor of their sad empty lives AND THEN, the Church comes along and they’re walking in sunshine. Mmmm. Anyway, if you want a different view on the background here’s a link. A long read – it was not originally written for a blog. Regards from the UK

  2. Hi Sue:

    As an ex-journalist, I’m familiar with what amounts to drive-by opposition research, in which quotes are taken, occasionally out of context, and spun to make them seem as bad as possible. That’s what that post appears to be, and I know better than to simply accept any of that post at face value. It would take me a long time to figure out what’s legit and what’s not, and I simply don’t have time or energy. Readers are welcome to try to sort through it all and have at it if they’d like.

    That’s not to say I evaluated the film at face value. Clearly, it has an agenda and is open about it. I factored that into my review and adjusted my expectations accordingly. And I watched it twice, and I wasn’t impressed. Still ain’t. And I get the idea that those who are its proponents may be so because there’s very little available that tries to show the Church’s teachings on homosexuality (which, whether we like it or not, has a 0.00000000000% chance of changing) in a positive light, and they’ll glom onto something like this, flawed as it is.

    If I had my druthers, the film would have cut out the doctors (frankly, they didn’t make an impression on me and I forgot about them while writing my review) and just had the documentary subjects actually interact — with family, friends, and the apologists. Show, don’t tell. Imagine all the gay interview subjects having a chat somewhere, or imagine them talking to Jason Evert. Show, don’t tell. You may not have liked that result, either, but it certainly would have been a lot harder to dismiss.

  3. Hi, No problem, thanks for your response. All I can say is that nothing in there is taken out of context – but as you say, you would have to check it out. Others, including a couple of current journalists have now checked it out. They had no issue with sources or the way they have been used. A lot of what is in there re Cohen has also been previously reported. It’s pretty straight up. My main purpose initially was to ensure as far as possible that the video stayed out of UK Catholic schools etc. So far, no one in the UK has endorsed it – we will see. As you may or not know, fairly predictably, the press in New Zealand came down fairly hard on the endorsement though for now they just took issue with the narrative. It will be interesting to see if it does go into schools there now that various agencies, including the Church, have picked up further background. It seems to have been taken off various sites in NZ and Australia – probably because of the negative press. All the best.

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