A Catholic apostolic group that serves thousands of people with same-sex attractions is preparing to join “useful” conversations about homosexuality at an upcoming international meeting of Catholic bishops.
A primary goal of Courage will be to make sure the voices of such people who are living successfully — and celibately — are heard, said the Rev. Paul Check, executive director of the 35-year-old pro-chastity ministry.
“Our point is just to say ‘There’s a group of people that have a story. Let’s see if we can allow them to tell it,’” said Father Check, whose ministry serves about 120 dioceses and 15 countries.
Homosexuality will be a major topic in the 14th Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops on the Family, which will be held in Vatican City Oct. 4-25. Bishops will seek answers to questions about family issues such as cohabitation, divorce and remarriage, and how to give pastoral attention to people with homosexual tendencies.
“We are interested in and hopeful that we can provide some thoughtful reflection on two things,” Father Check said.
The first goal is to reflect on “the consistent teaching of the Church on sexual ethics and, in particular, on homosexuality over 2,000 years,” he said. The other is to begin “a useful conversation, a calm conversation” about “the lived experience” of many Catholics.
“We think that perspective, that voice — the Catholic with homosexual inclinations or same-sex attraction — is a valuable voice on this topic and deserves to be heard,” said Father Check, who has led Courage for 12 years.
Courage’s efforts were once praised by Pope John Paul II as “doing the work of God.”
“What makes this group interesting is that, quite counterculturally, they do believe that the Church’s teaching is what’s best and true, and leads to fulfillment even though the problem — let’s call it from their point of view homosexuality — remains,” Father Check said.
Courage follows Church teaching
Courage enters the fray over homosexuality and gay rights from a different angle than those who say homosexuality is normative and should be celebrated, and those who say it is unwanted and can or should be changed.
The ministry follows church teaching that nonmarital sexual acts are seriously sinful, and people who struggle with such desires will find peace and fulfillment by choosing to live a life without such sinful relationships, said Father Check.
However, despite claims to the contrary, Courage has “no interest” in trying to redirect someone’s sexual attractions, he said. “What we do have an interest in [is] helping people to live all the virtues well.”
That said, Father Check said he does not support laws banning sexual orientation change efforts for minors. Such laws “circumscribe the freedom of parents to raise their children,” he said.
Moreover, it’s an “unproven assertion” that such “change” therapy or counseling “does harm to people,” he said, adding that the origins of homosexuality are not understood.
“The claim or the assertion that people are born that way is unproven by science and medicine,” Father Check said, adding “I would never say biology or genetics have nothing to do with it. I don’t make that claim at all.”
Courage was founded in 1980 by the Rev. John F. Harvey at the request of Terence Cardinal Cooke, archbishop of New York. Harvey, who died in 2010 at age 92, served as executive director of the group for 27 years.
A separate group, Dignity USA, was founded in 1969 by Father Patrick X. Nidorf to meet the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Catholics.
Dignity USA today is an independent nonprofit group that seeks “change” in church teachings on homosexuality; it is part of Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic groups — such as Call to Action, Fortunate Families and New Ways Ministry — that seek “full inclusion,” including marriage rights, for LGBT people.
Gay rights supporters, such as Wayne Besen’s Truth Wins Out, say Courage stigmatizes LGBT people and encourages them to feel shame and self-loathing. Dignity USA is a “healthier” place for gay Catholics, the Truth Wins Out website says.
Homosexuality a topic at Synod
Homosexuality was a major topic at the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of Synod of Bishops on the Family, held in October in preparation for this year’s Synod. Initial news from that meeting seemed to promise “a seismic shift” in Church thinking about gays.
An early report said LGBT people had “gifts and talents to offer the Christian community,” said Christopher J. Hale of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. It also mentioned LGBT “partners,” which was “a dramatic new tone from a Church hierarchy that has long denied the very existence of committed and loving gay and lesbian partnerships,” Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said at the time.
A final report from the Synod issued a few days later, however, removed such language and dashed hopes.
“The respectful language of the midterm report is gone,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA. “Dignity USA remains committed to the truth that LGBT people are beloved children of God and deserve full inclusion in our Church and society,” she said, adding that her organization would be “fully involved” in discussions leading up to the international meeting this fall.
To the people in Courage, the initial report in 2014 caused “dismay, concern and some pain,” Father Check told the National Catholic Register.
“They count on the voice of the Church to keep them strong and reassure them that the choices they have made are true,” he said. “The Church gives them strength to persevere.”
In his recent interview with The Washington Times, Father Check, who serves in the Diocese of Bridgeport in Connecticut, said if he could correct one belief about Courage it would be that “the only word that the Church offers to men and women with homosexual attractions is the word ‘no.’”
“From my point of view, there is a ‘no.’ And that’s for behavior. No one’s questioning that or gainsaying that,” he said. “But that ‘no’ is part of a larger ‘yes.’”
Courage has released a documentary called, “Desire of the Everlasting Hills,” which shares the journeys of faith of two men and a woman who are now part of the pro-chastity ministry.
“We know — and I am certainly not excluding myself — that we are all part of the Church of the Striving,” Father Check said. “So what we are doing is reaching out with understanding, and trust and fellowship in the Lord and other people who would like to strive with us.”
“And if we can do that with joy and with peace, then I think we are doing our work,” he said.