In January, the
Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut announced it was becoming the latest
diocese to launch a chapter of Courage, the Catholic apostolate that helps men
and women struggling with same-sex attraction live in accordance with the
teachings of the Church. Deacon Robert Pallotti, director of the office of the
diaconate for the archdiocese, helped develop the program for Hartford. He explained that Courage helps people “who need our care and
love. In some cases, they have been rejected by society. They need to be
accepted, affirmed, and supported as Roman Catholics trying to remain faithful
to Church teaching.”
founded by Cardinal Terence Cooke, former archbishop of New York, and led for
many years by Father John F. Harvey, OSFS. In 2010, Father Harvey died at age 92;
the apostolate is currently led by Father Paul Check. There are more than 100 Courage
chapters and contacts nationwide; there is also an outreach for spouses,
relatives, and friends of persons with same-sex attraction called EnCourage.
Courage makes a distinction
between homosexual attractions or feelings and the behavior of acting on those
feelings. The feelings themselves are not sinful, the organization notes, but
homosexual acts are. Deacon Pallotti continued, “Courage will not reduce a
person’s identity to their sexual desire; [those with same-sex attraction] are
people with full human dignity not defined solely by their sexual desire.”
Some of the
deacons of the archdiocese initially objected to the program because they
mistakenly believed Courage condoned homosexual behavior, but were reassured it
did not. Pallotti noted, “Through support and spiritual intervention, we can
help people with same-sex attraction lead moral and fulfilling lives. These
people are hurting and so are their families. Doing nothing would be a lack of
into Hartford was not celebrated by all. Phil Attey, executive director of the
gay rights group Catholics for Equality, complained in the Connecticut Post that “…at [Courage’s]
core it’s still rooted in dangerous, harmful, and barbaric thinking. The idea that you can suppress someone’s
sexuality and still have that person develop into a happy, well-adjusted
person, well, there’s very little evidence that that’s possible.”
But many Courage
members in established chapters object to characterizations made by critics,
and counter that Courage has been an effective tool in helping them become
happy, well-adjusted people. Three such members recently spoke with CWR.
Dan, a Michigan resident who works in the entertainment industry, has been a Courage
member for three years. He decided to join the group after attending a Courage
Dan grew up in
Michigan, and was part of a devout Catholic family. He was the youngest of four
sons. The family left the Catholic Church, however, and joined an evangelical
Christian community. “We thought we were doing the right thing,” Dan explained.
“We still studied the Scriptures, and didn’t compromise on morality, including
the belief that sex is for a married man and woman.”
Dan recalls his
first same-sex attractions as early as age six. He was awkward around girls,
and thought himself different from other boys. He also had “body issues,” and believed
he was unattractive.
He describes his
father as emotionally distant. His father’s father had committed suicide when
his father was only three, which left him emotionally scarred. His dad loved
him, Dan believes, but was not nurturing.
The primary male
activity in the household was working on cars. His three brothers took to it,
but he did not. Dan recalled, “I’d rather be cooking in the kitchen with mom.”
Rounding out the
psychological profile, Dan said he has a “sensitive spirit” and a creative bent,
and had an overprotective mother, who “lived her life through me.”
In high school
and college, Dan’s efforts to date women were unsuccessful. He became addicted
to pornography, and found himself more interested in the men than the women.
The Internet emerged in the late 90s, and he found himself a regular viewer of gay
porn. He joined online chat groups, and found himself corresponding with other
men with same-sex attractions.
He finally told
his parents he was struggling with same-sex attractions, assuring them, “I want
to do the right thing.”
Dan joined an
evangelical group which helped men with sexual problems, but found himself
lonely and unhappy. He even recalls going to a strip club to look at naked
women in hopes that he would feel arousal. He didn’t. In fact, he recalls
sitting with a naked woman talking about gardening.
Dan believed the
gay lifestyle was wrong, but reasoned, “I may risk hell, but I’m living hell
He found a
boyfriend and lived with him for a year. Dan enjoyed the friendship, loved the
man, but found the sexual relationship “unfulfilling.” In fact, he came to
believe, “We were not loving each other when we were having sex.”
He was angry at
God at this time. In fact, whenever he drove past the Catholic cathedral in
town, Dan says he would “flip it the bird.”
unexpected happened. He met a woman at work he found attractive. He said, “It
stirred up the old thoughts and desires I’d once had for women.” It also
reminded Dan of his deeply felt desire to marry and have children of his own.
He told his
boyfriend, and to his pleasant surprise, the man “did a Christ-like act of
“He told me, ‘If
you can have that life you want, I’ll let you go,’” Dan recalled.
When Dan shares
his experiences with others, he stresses that just because a person is living the
gay lifestyle, he is not “totally depraved” and is capable of
Dan enjoyed a
relationship with the woman at work for more than a year. They ultimately
separated; she didn’t want to have children and Dan did.
meanwhile, had returned to the Catholic Church. Additionally, one of his
brothers became a priest. Dan began a
period of intense reading of Christian authors, and eventually also returned to
the Catholic Church. He has come to believe that his same-sex attraction is a
cross that can help him become closer to Christ. He said, “God has allowed me
to suffer with same-sex attraction so that I can ultimately become whole and
long for heaven.”
were involved with EnCourage, which led to Dan’s introduction to Courage three
years ago. He has since shared his testimony at the 2010 and 2011 Courage
conferences, and has received invitations from bishops to speak to priests in
their dioceses about the issue of same-sex attraction.
Dan is grateful
for the support Courage offers him. When he’s struggling with a temptation
(“I’m not over the hurtlechastity is still a daily battle”), he sends a text
message to other men in the group requesting their prayers. He receives
immediate encouragement from fellow members, who text him back, “You can do it”
or “Call me any time.”
“We’re in this
battle togetherwe’re like a band of brothers,” Dan observed. “I’ll help you
one day, you help me the next.”
Those who have
never had an experience of same-sex attraction often are unable to relate to
the struggle in the same ways fellow members of Courage are, Dan said. He also
gets annoyed by those who proclaim that people with same-sex attractions must
identify themselves as homosexual and live the gay lifestyle.
“The truth and
dignity of man calls us to something far greater,” he said. “Who I am is not my sexual attraction.”
He also rejects
the notion that if he is a good cook, a talented photographer, or a gifted
musician, it is because he has same-sex attraction.
he’s in a much better place than he was a decade ago, when he believed God had
abandoned him. He’s open to marriage, “if it’s God’s will.”
with gay activists, who he says have labeled him “a gay Uncle Tom.” Dan has two
responses to his critics in the gay rights movement: “I don’t care what they
think about me,” and “I am not limited or identified by who I’m sexually
attracted to.” Many gay activistshe specifically mentioned the writer Dan
Savageencourage promiscuity, including for couples in committed relationships.
Dan opined, “That’s not a path to happiness.”
committed himself to chastity, although he says it remains a daily struggle. “I
remain chaste by the grace of God, and the support of my family and friends,” he
says. In order to remove the temptation to look at online pornography, Dan
removed his home Internet connection last year. To combat loneliness, Dan
socializes frequently with friends who understand his struggles.
He’s working on
a memoir about his experiences, and hopes to go public to a wider audience in
Andrew, 31, has
been a Courage member since 2009. He is a teacher and lives in western Canada. Born
and raised Catholic, he left the Church in his teens and immersed himself in
New Age philosophies.
experiencing same-sex attraction as a boy, and was particularly troubled by an
experience he had as a teenager. He went to a massage therapist, and, while
receiving a massage, was inappropriately touched by the male masseuse. Young
and scared, Andrew was upset that it aroused him, and thought to himself, “Oh
my gosh, I’m gay.”
In an effort to
prove to himself that he was not, Andrew became promiscuous with women. He has
come to regret this, explaining, “My behavior was selfish. It was exploitive of
also drew him into viewing pornography, which soon became an addiction. His
focus shifted from women to men and transsexuals. “I had made sex the center of
my life,” he says.
today that his life was a “continuous cycle of seek-and-not-find”“I never
found the love I knew I desired,” he explains.
When he was in
college, gay rights groups pressed students such as Andrew to “come out,”
identify themselves as homosexual, and openly live the lifestyle. At the time,
Andrew accepted various positions that gay activists were taking, such as that
people are born homosexual and that 10 percent of the population is homosexual.
Andrew had previously held back from coming out, for fear of hurting his
family. But by 2007, he thought it was his only road to happiness.
week he decided to come out, Andrew went to Mass and heard a homily by a
“very wise, humble” priest who challenged many of the statements put forth by gay
activists. Andrew decided not to come out, and began to read voraciously. He
discussed his situation with his bishop, who suggested Andrew get involved with
Courage. It was not like other Christian ministries that try to “pray the gay
away,” he said, but focused on helping the individual develop “a life-identity centered
on Christ, the side effect of which is that one gradually disengages from a
life-identity that is sexually-centered.”
It has been a
long process, but Andrew has come back to the Church and regularly receives the
sacraments. He still struggles with same-sex attraction, but noted, “I don’t
want to be gay. I don’t want to self-identify as a homosexual person. I’m not a
homosexual. Yes, I experience
homosexual attraction, but I am first a human being; a human being who
has been permitted the
experience of same-sex attraction.”
Today, Andrew has
found peace like “none I have ever had before,” which he compares to the “hopelessness”
he felt as he prepared to come out. He’s never told his family about his same-sex attraction,
as he knows it will be difficult
for them to understand and accept. Instead, he enjoys the fellowship of other
men in Courage who can relate to his experience. Like Dan, he has authored a
personal testimony, but has only
shared it privately with clergy who support the Courage mission. He hopes one
day to go public with his message, so that “people will come to understand their brothers and sisters with same-sex
attraction who are truly in need of their love.”
Pete, 62, is something
of a rarity among Courage members in that he’s been married for 39 years,
has an adult daughter, and, although he’s struggled with same-sex attraction,
he’s never acted upon it.
Pete lives in
Philadelphia and works as an accountant.
As a boy, he was taunted by his classmates for his perceived effeminate characteristics;
they called him “Mary” and many worse epithets. He had a passive father and
overprotective mother, and suffered from a “weak masculine identity.”
When he first
experienced same-sex attraction as a youth, he said, “I didn’t want those feelings.
I didn’t want to be gay. Nobody does.”
At age 18, in
the late 1960s, more than a decade before the establishment of Courage, Pete
went into counseling. Advice he received ranged from encouraging him to join a gay
rights group, to “go get hooked up with a girl.” Even Pete’s father, trying to
help in his misguided way, suggested Pete hire a female prostitute.
both suggestions because he was a practicing Catholic, and wanted a loving,
heterosexual, married relationship like his parents had. He never acted on his
same-sex attraction, and ended up marrying a woman when he was in his 20s. Pete
is glad he never explored homosexual relations, remarking, “If I’d acted it
out, I would have become a homosexual.”
But, at age 50, Pete’s
same-sex attraction “came back with a vengeance.” He was so troubled by the
temptations that he had what he called a “nervous breakdown,” manifested in
panic attacks and obsessive thinking. He quit his job and his marriage suffered.
He returned to counseling, this time with Richard Fitzgibbons, a Philadelphia
psychiatrist supportive of Courage. He even had a few opportunities to share
his struggles with Father Harvey, Courage’s founding leader.
“Father Harvey was a kindly, saintly man, who had great compassion for people
with same-sex attraction. He understood sexual brokenness, but was blunt about
Pete joined Courage
six years agoone of the first married men to do so. “The goals of Courage
should be the goals of any man: chaste living, regularly performing spiritual
exercises, enjoying fellowship and mutual support, and offering one another
good example,” he says.
Courage has been
a great support for Pete, because his fellow members “walk with you, and they
understand your struggle.”
Pete also offered a reflection for critics of Courage:
“We’re not here to argue with or harm anyone. For people dealing with the pain
of same-sex attraction, we have a remedy based on Scripture, the sacraments,
and fellowship. Courage’s intent is not to get you out of the condition, but to
help you develop a relationship with Jesus Christ. He has a plan for you.”