Workshop raises awareness of Courage program

BRIGHTON — Almost 60 priests, deacons, seminarians and pastoral associates attended a workshop on Courage, a Catholic ministry to those who struggle with same-sex attraction, at St. John’s Seminary May 12. The daylong event featured Father John E. Harvey, OSFS, Courage’s founder.

Father John M. Sullivan, chaplain of the Boston chapter of Courage, said that the spiritual support group is essential for those struggling with same-sex attraction and desire to live chaste lives.

Those who have a homosexual orientation are not encouraged by society, especially here in Massachusetts, to live a chaste lifestyle. In fact, many people tell them that such a lifestyle is undesirable, unrealistic or impossible, he said.

“We have an obligation to provide this ministry,” he said.

Members of Courage in Boston suggested the workshop as a way to promote education and understanding of the organization. The group, which is based on personal anonymity, has experienced difficulty informing the public about its mission.

“They sometimes feel invisible,” said Father Sullivan.

Father Sullivan said that he first understood the need for this ministry when at his first pastoral assignment, a man teaching confirmation approached him and said that he was gay, he added.

“I had no idea what to do or say,” he said. “I didn’t know how to respond pastorally. I knew Church teaching, but I didn’t know how to apply it.”

Speaking at the workshop, Father Harvey said he knew over 30 years ago that those struggling with same-sex attraction needed support and began holding retreats for them. He was asked by Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York to begin the Courage Apostolate in 1980. Courage now has more than 110 chapters and contact people worldwide.

“Anyone who works with homosexual persons knows the depth of their loneliness,” he said. “I see the whole thing as a miracle of God’s grace.”

Courage members set out five goals to live chastely— develop a life of prayer with Christ, come together, share their struggle with same-sex attraction, forge good friendships and live lives as good examples to others, he said.

“If one is faithful to prayer — and of course going to Mass and confession, spiritual direction, all these other things — you will be able to be chaste,” he said. “Whenever you’re talking about chastity, it’s always God that does it in you.”

Father Harvey began his talk by quoting various passages of the Bible that illustrate God’s plan for marriage and sexuality. He started with Genesis and continued to the New Testament, noting that Christ confirms the teaching of Moses in Genesis.

“From sacred Scripture it is clear that the two purposes of marriage, which always go together, are the union of man and woman and the procreation of children,” he said. “The solid basis for the argument against homosexuality is the teaching on marriage.”

He added that homosexual acts are “seriously immoral” because they are neither ordered toward unity nor procreation.

Father Harvey stressed that Catholics must respond by speaking the truth in love to those with same-sex attraction and focus on their dignity as a person. Catholics should support friends and relatives with same-sex attraction but not support the homosexual lifestyle. For this reason, they should not attend same-sex weddings or allow homosexual couples to share a bedroom in their own homes, he said.

“Pray for God’s grace to stand up for what we believe in,” he added, acknowledging the difficulty of these situations.

Father Jeffrey Keefe, OFM, Conv., a longtime collaborator with Courage, agreed.

“If we are too tolerant, we encourage something that is spiritually destructive,” he said. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the list of known mental disorders after protests from homosexuals, said Father Keefe. This was a socio-economic, not scientific, decision that was based on a majority vote, he added.

The association then asserted that homosexuality is a normal variant in psycho-sexual development, genetically determined and inborn — all of which are untrue, he said.

Father Keefe asserted that twin studies of both identical twins and fraternal twins have shown that identical twins are more likely to both have homosexual orientation, indicating a genetic component. But genetics cannot be the determining factor since less than half of genetically identical twins have the same orientation, he said.

“I think what is inherited here is temperament,” he said.

Those with a homosexual orientation tend to be more sensitive. This can lead them to be more affected by early childhood trauma that can affect their sexual orientation, he said.

“Some adverse incident or incidences occur that in a boy’s case undermine his masculinity and in a girl’s case undermine her femininity,” he said.

Father Keefe added that homosexuality is not immutable and the proof is that some homosexuals have been able to shift their sexuality. A few have even gone on to marry.

“The fact of change proves the possibility,” he said.

While Courage is not aimed at changing orientation, it is ordered toward chastity, which is necessary before any change could occur, he added.

Father Keefe said that he has enjoyed working with Courage and has been inspired by its members.

“They’re in no man’s land, and yet they keep on. I think they’re really heroic,” he said. “You really see miracles if you work in this ministry.”

Three members of the Boston chapter of Courage spoke at the workshop about their experience facing same-sex attraction in the Church.

“It’s very easy in the Catholic Church to find people — priests, people working with priests — who give you half the truth,” one of the men said, urging the priests there to always give the whole truth.

The Catholic Church calls those with same-sex attraction to lives of chastity and helps them to achieve that through the work of Courage and through a relationship with Jesus Christ, he added.

“I’m so glad that I’m Catholic. I’m willing to take the sacrifices. That’s where Christ is real, and I’m learning who He is,” he said.

[Editor’s note: More information about the Boston chapter of Courage is available by calling Father John M. Sullivan at 781-665-0152.]