MEDWAY -- The annual conference of Courage International, a group that is designed to provide support to Catholics with same-sex attractions, was held in Massachusetts on Aug. 7-10 in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Boston.
The conference, which was held at the Spiritual Life Center of the Marian Community in Medway and attracted more than 200 men and women, included speakers such as Dale O’Leary, a columnist for The Pilot; workshops; testimonials; and Mass with Cardinal Seán O’Malley.
In 1980, Courage International, a Catholic support group, was established to reach out to homosexuals and provide them with an alternate lifestyle choice--one in communion with the teachings of the Church and where true happiness can be found.
The late Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York asked Father John Harvey, OSFS, Courage’s founder, to begin a ministry to Catholics with same-sex attractions who were trying to live a chaste lifestyle. He felt that little was being done to reach out to them, which in turn caused many homosexuals to accept the status quo that society provided.
In today’s society there is a strong emphasis on finding oneself and living to be happy. This message can be especially strong for people with same-sex attractions. They are encouraged to “be themselves” and pursue the lifestyle that they think will bring them fulfillment.
The Courage support group is aimed at helping those with same-sex attractions to realize that happiness and peace come from God and can be found through chastity, prayer, fellowship, support from others and being a good example to others. Today Courage chapters are located in more than 100 dioceses in the United States.
In the near future, Father Harvey, now 90 years old, will hand directorship of Courage to Father Paul Check, a priest from the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., who has been Bridgeport’s Courage chaplain since 2002. Father Check called Father Harvey “a man of generosity of heart and great love of Christ and the Church,” and said that he will use his new position to carry on the legacy of Father Harvey by educating fellow priests, seminarians and those working in marriage and family ministries about how to minister to those with same-sex attractions.
“There is so much confusion, misunderstanding, ignorance and fear on matter of same-sex attractions and my work begins with trying to bring together all that we know about the origins of same-sex attraction and the way to address it,” said Father Check. “Courage is not an advocacy group or involved in political causes. It is really about carrying on the work of the Gospel, which is conversion of heart, according to the truth from him who loves us most.”
Father Check began his journey of outreach and education by giving the keynote address at this year’s Courage conference. The topic of his address, “Show Us the Father,” examined the relationship between man, Jesus Christ and God, the Father.
“We all want to know who our Father is and original sin is the attempt to abolish fatherhood,” he explained. “The work of the Son is to restore what has been lost and to show us the Father and his love, mercy, truth and grace and to help us to live as his faithful.”
The topic was fitting, Father Check said, because for many people with same-sex attractions the question of fatherhood is a painful one. He said that there is no single profile of a person with same-sex attraction, but a common thread is a bad or non-existent relationship between father and son.
“We need to help everyone understand that God is our father in the full sense because he brings us into being and sustains us, giving us every good thing and directing our life in accordance with perfection, with joy and with peace,” said Father Check. “We can’t begin to understand or know our earthly fathers until we understand and know our Father in heaven and the way to do that is by knowing and loving the Son, because the Son is the perfect image of the Father in this life, and he can help ease that spiritual wound that often is very directly related to same-sex attraction, but is very true for all of us.”
Father John Sullivan, pastor of St. Mary of the Annunciation Parish in Melrose and the Courage chaplain for the Archdiocese of Boston, said that support for those with same-sex attractions is crucial. He attended the Courage conference and holds meetings with local members twice a month, where they can share their experiences and struggles. Father Sullivan said that it is important for priests and seminarians to be informed about how to welcome people with same-sex attractions into the Church.
“One of the biggest sufferings is the isolation and loneliness that people with same-sex attraction feel and for them to find a place for support and to be in communion with us is essential. It is important for these men and women to know that there are resources available and that there is a community who supports them,” he said. “People with same-sex attractions are important and they are a part of our Church. They are in every family, whether it be a brother, sister, daughter, or even a mother or father. Through Courage we can provide a ministry of hope and encouragement.”
For more information on the local chapter of Courage and Encourage, a support group for families of people with same-sex attractions, contact Father John Sullivan at St. Mary of the Annunciation Parish at 781-665-0152. Information is also available on the Courage Web site at www.couragerc.net.