People gather near the US Capitol during a gay rights demonstration in Washington in October 2009. (CNS photo)
Augustine is famous for having prayed, “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” Father
Paul Check, the director of Courage, suggests that chastity, like justice and
mercy, is indeed part of the Good News of Christ and to ignore it is
Courage apostolate ministers to people with same-sex attraction who want to
live by the Catholic Church’s sexual teachings, providing self-governed
and anonymous group meetings around the country.
Check, who served as an officer in the Marine Corps prior to being ordained to
the priesthood in 1997, spoke recently with Catholic
World Report about the Church’s wisdom in not reducing persons to an
identity based solely upon their sexual appetites, and how the average Catholic
can respond to the aggressive social agenda of the gay lobby.
Father Paul Check, director of Courage
Within Courage, you make a clear distinction between same-sex attraction and
the gay lifestyle. Can you clarify the difference?
The most important question ever asked in human history was asked by Our Lord
when he said to the apostles, “Who do you say that I am?” It is the question of
identity, because it is from an understanding of identity that we then know how
to live in a way consistent with that identity. I won’t say that it is always
easy, because we have concupiscence, but in order for us to understand the
proper way of asking, we first have to clearly answer the question of being.
regard to the human person, the question of “Who am I?” is best answered with
the understanding that we are children of God redeemed by the blood of Christ
and called to be his disciples, and we are invited to grow in this life of
grace and glory in the life to come. There is the foundation of the most
important or essential part of our identity.
there are other things that make up our identity as well. Our human family, and
where we are from geographically. These things are also important but not as
important as the fundamental question of our identity, our being children of
are created as sexual beings and this story is told to us in the book of
Genesis, which is not a science book, of course, and does not tell us in
precise terms how man came to be but rather precisely who we are and who we are
intended to be and to whom we are to look for an understanding of our identity.
In that Genesis story it is made plain that God in his wisdom divided the human
race in such a way that human nature is expressed in the masculine and the
feminine. This is a very rich theological and anthropological question. But for
our purposes here, while there is such a thing as human nature, that nature is
always expressed very concretely in a persona person that is either masculine
or feminine, so that sexual identity is also something that is integral to who
the person is. And in order to know who we are and how that sexual identity is
properly expressed we go back to the Genesis story and learn about the union of
man and woman, the fruitfulness of God in his plan, and how his gifts of
fertility are associated with the sexual faculty and are inherently bound up
with sexual intimacy.
that preamble, the reason that the Church, it seems to me, avoids the labels of
“gay,” “homosexual,” and “lesbian” as nouns is because in her maternal wisdom
and charity, and in following the story of who man is, she does not want to
collapse someone’s identity into only their sexual appetite. That seems unjust
and uncharitable. It takes a bit more charity to say that a person has same-sex
attraction than to use the labels that are very popular in the culture today.
saying this, of course, I am not in any way minimizing the strength, the
intensity, the duration or the frequency of the feelings of same-sex attraction
and how important these feelings are to someone’s self-understanding. We only
want to give same-sex attraction its proper label. Not too much, but clearly
not too little.
As a result of that, what do you see in the gay lifestyle that then defeats the
ability to have a life of authentic happiness?
Any action that is contrary to the design or the gift of our humanity is going
to put us at cross-purposes with ourselves. Some things are easy to see and
they are not at all controversial…for instance, if someone consistently tells
lies. Not only are they doing an injustice to the person to whom they are
lying, but they are also at cross-purposes with their own humanity, in the
sense that the power of communication and speech has been given to us to
establish trust, and to form relationshipsrelationships of friendship and
relationships of love. So, if I am consistently lying, then I am at
cross-purposes with myself and I will frustrate the very desires that I have
for human intimacy and for human affection and to know and be known in a
personal way. It is easy to see this with regard to speech. It is also easy to
see it with regard to eating. If I’m hungry and I eat an entire chocolate cake
and wash it down with a bottle of red wine, it is going to put me at
cross-purposes with myself. There is something self-defeating about my own
analogy, I want to suggest the same thing about the sexual realm. It is very
easy for our sexual desires to become misdirected because the fundamental
desire of the human heart is for affection, to love and be loved in a personal
way, to be known in a personal way. Because that drive is so strong, as it
should be, according to the wisdom of God, then we also have to give our own
actions and feelings a proper reflection to make sure that we are not engaged in
a self-defeating search for happiness in this way. And what makes that
difficult, of course, is that the drive for intimacy is strong within us and it
is also, like all of the other human faculties, touched by concupiscence, that
weakness in the will that can lead us to attempt to fulfill our desires in the
I speak about this, of courseand most of my work is to present to priests and
seminarians on the topic of homosexualityI try to situate it fully in the
context of the virtue of chastity. I think that we have to ask the question: do
we believe that chastity is part of the Good News? I know we have it
magisterially, but do we have that conviction personally and institutionally,
I think that people believe that justice is part of the Good News, and mercy is
part of the Good News, and salvation and eternal life are part of the Good News,
but what about chastity? Do we see and understand that as a virtue chastity is
essential, not only for our salvation, of course, but for our human fulfillment
consistent with the Genesis story? The way that we have been told we have been
made? So that opens up the question widelyand we can then speak about
contraception and cohabitation and many other things related to the virtue
of chastity, and indeed we must, in order to situate the topic of homosexuality
in its proper context.
From your research, what is the link between same-sex attraction and parenting,
particularly the father’s role especially in men?
Here I very much want to speak as a layman. We are entering the realm of the
natural and social sciences and I’m happy to try give some perspective based on
my experience but it is not in a strict sense my competence. I’m guided by that
by the Church’s own reflection.
the three paragraphs in the Catechism of
the Catholic Church on homosexuality, the Catechism speaks of the psychological genesis of homosexuality,
thereby locating the question within nature, as some disturbance in nature.
Therefore, in God’s providence, the reflection on this question properly
belongs to the human sciences, in particular the psychological sciences. And we
have to think a bit carefully about that word today, because up until very
recently in history if we used the word “psychology,” people didn’t immediately
think of those suffering with some sort of malady that needed to be cured. If
you said that to St. Thomas Aquinas, that wouldn’t come to his mind.
Classically, when we think about psychology we think about the powers of the
human soul and what is the nature of man, so we are not immediately speaking
about therapy or people needing counseling, but about human nature. We are
thinking about what is the gift or the design of the person or the human soul
in such a way that he or she can realize those deep desires for goodness, truth,
and beauty that are imbued.
the psychological genesis suggests there is something in the human order that
has not yet reached its proper fulfillment. I think we can discern from the
context that whatever it is that has not reached proper fulfillment is
something not good. Here is what I mean by that. We live in a world that is
governed by cause and effect, so things don’t come out of nowherethey have
something that precedes them logically and temporally to bring them about. The Catechism describes the same-sex
inclination as objectively disordered. Now, we need to be plain, those words
fall very hard on some ears because when they are heard it immediately sounds
as if, or can sound as if, we are talking about a personthat a person is
somehow disordered, not whole, not complete. But from the context of the Catechism, we can see that is not what
is being said at all. What is being said is that the appetite, the erotic
attraction to a member of the same sex, is out of harmony with human nature, it
is misdirected. And because it is misdirected, and because we live in a world
governed by cause and effect, then perhaps with some careful reflection we
might be able to ascertain what it is that has caused that disordered
the complexity and very personal nature of this make it difficult to draw
straight lines and say what the reason is someone has the homosexual
inclination or desire. There are patterns that tend to repeat themselves, but I
think what we can say is the tree is known by its fruit, and as Our Lord tells
us, bad fruit is going to come from a bad tree. So the objective disorder has a
provenance in something that has not been in harmony with the proper
development of the person in the affective sense. It doesn’t mean that the
person has less value.
it is true that when it comes to the development of the masculine character the
role that example plays in a boy’s life, i.e., the role of adult men in his
life is something that is very, very important. I love St. Paul’s words to
Timothy about fatherhood. He says it is strong, loving, and wise (2 Tim 1:7).
And that is exactly right. It is all those things. Strong is protection,
discipline, sacrifice, leadership, holding to standards. Loving is benevolence,
warmth, compassion, forgiveness, kindness, the proper kind of male sensitivity.
And wisewisdomis really the virtue of prudence, how to live well. All of us
want that from our fathers and we do also from our mothers, but in a different
are born male and female, but we grow into a masculine or feminine character
based on a number of different things. I think, in some ways, the most
important and really the first one is the way our fathers love our mothers and
our mothers love our fathers. Many priests will come to me and ask during a
clergy conference, “What can we do about this situation?” Well, we have
to do more and better pre-Cana. If we help couples understand more about the
sacrament into which they are about to enter, then not only do we perhaps
forestall a number of problems we can see from sociological data and the rest,
but we enrich the lives of the couple, and therefore of their families. And I
think that will also help forestall some of the difficulties we are seeing.
boy very naturally wants the joy of his father and to be able to see in his
father’s eyes that his existence, the son’s existence, is able to produce that
joy. I would say one of the common themes among our Courage membersand I’m
being very careful not to paint with too broad a brush, but I’m just suggesting
a pattern that tends to repeat itself and is therefore of interestis that a
lot of our men didn’t have that sense. And I’m not trying to demonize their
fathers. I am not trying to say that they were bad fathers or didn’t love their
sons. A lot of the work that I do and that Courage does addresses the issue of
perception and how a relationship is perceived. And perhaps someone with a
certain type of temperament could perceive something that was not entirely
consistent with the reality of the situation, but nevertheless, that perception
could have left an acute wound.
There is general discussion of a “Peter Pan syndrome” in our culture among both
homosexual and straight men, of not wanting to grow up. Do you see a
relationship between these two groups of men?
This addresses the issue of manhood in general. There are a number of things
that would bear on this impeded development of the human person such that
adolescence is prolonged. As an aside, it is an interesting statistic that the
average age of a video-gamer in the United States is a 33-year-old-man. I’m not
on a campaign against video games, although I have a lot of reservations about
them, but a 33-year-old-man, it would seem, according to nature, would have
others things engaging him at that point in his life.
ready availability of pornography which is accessible, anonymous,
affordable, and addictivethe four A’sretards the emotional and moral
development of the character and, like video games, turns the person in on
himself, where he becomes the center of attention and of action. You can see we
are at cross-purposes with ourselves again. I love the phrase from J.
Budziszewski, a splendid natural law philosopher who was our keynote speaker at
the Courage conference this year, who describes the human person as being “blessedly
incomplete.” I like that very much and think it’s right. What it means is that
in order to find fulfillment we have to possess ourselves, forget ourselves,
and give ourselves in a way that is the exact opposite of the tendency to
selfishness and self-preoccupation.
What are your thoughts on the recent decision by the Boy Scouts to allow openly
homosexual scouts, but not leaders? How will this affect them and how should
My first concern is the boys who self-identify as “gay” or “homosexual.” And
the question is: why are they doing that? If we go back to our prior discussion
about identity, the Church is reluctant to label people in this way, and I
think we want to do anything we can to avoid encouragement of that label,
particularly for adolescents. The teenage years are a period of discovery and
adventure in a certain sense and a time of coming to know oneself. And that has
to be guided properly so that self-entanglement doesn’t take place. Many
different things are happening at this age and it seems, at best, premature in
that stage of development for someone to take a label for himself that is not
reflective of his entire being.
are a couple of Church documentsone is from the Congregation of the Doctrine
of the Faith and the other is from the United States Conference of Catholic
Bishopsthat address the question of identity. With regard to young people,
those documents state that they should avoid the label and that they could
receive the proper spiritual counseling as well as the help of a mental health
professional who has a sound Christian anthropology in order to investigate why
these feelings have arisen. Again, I think the reliable research indicates that
same-sex attraction is a symptom of, or a response to, a kind of emotional
wound or deficit. This wound could also be sexual abuse. There is very good
data indicating that those with same-sex attraction are seven times more likely
to have been the victims of sexual abuse than the population at large. Now, I
must quickly say that not everybody who is a victim of sexual abuse winds up
having a homosexual inclinationclearly that is not the case. However,
that should be of interest to us because if a young person is self-identifying
as having same-sex attraction, that may be, may
be, an indication that there was an introduction into the very special and
unique realm of sexual intimacy that was either forced or was entered into,
clearly, unknowingly and unwillingly, because the emotional development of the
person was not ready for such intimacy at that a delicate age. A lot of that
does happen, unfortunately, and can misshape someone’s understanding of who he
Is seems from what you have just said that same-sex attraction is not a fixed
reality, but it is more fluid than it is made out to be by the gay lobby.
Another reason that I think the Church has been very prudent in the way she
avoids using the words “gay,” “homosexual,” or “lesbian” as nouns is that there
is not one profile.
Church document, the
2005 text from the Congregation for Catholic Education in Seminaries,
addresses this distinction between deep-seated and transitory homosexual
feelings. This suggests that the Church recognizes there are those for whom the
question is a bit more settled, or is not fluid, but clearly that is not true
for everyone. There is the question of fluidity and particularly with regard to
adolescence. In Veritatis Splendor,
Blessed Pope John Paul II says that we are in some degree changed by our actions,
although we have a fixed human nature. The more a young person self-identifies,
the more he is already making a choice in order to firm up that identity in his
mind. The better hope is to caution a great reserve in this and to charitably
and prudently establish trust with the young person and see what may lie behind
the same-sex attraction, so that very real help can be given. But encouragement
to act out, even if it is just self-identificationcertainly encouragement to
act out sexuallyis not going to be good, but is going to reinforce what is in
fact a false identity which can only lead them to unhappiness. The point is
that the same-sex attraction or desire can never be acted upon consistent with
our human nature and therefore it will always put the person at cross-purposes
with himself or herself.
One can conclude that your thoughts on gay marriage and the recent DOMA ruling
of Windsor v. United States follow
along these lines.
Yes, law has a pedagogical purpose to it. And one of the things the law does is
to instruct us about natural relationships in the community. So if a law adopts
a position that is contrary to human nature, contrary to the law and gift of
our nature (to what the philosophers call the natural law), because of human
weakness and concupiscence it is likely to have a very bad effect because it
will encourage some to make choices that are contrary to their own good. This
has proven to be true with regard to contraception, it is true with regard to
abortion, it is true with regard to divorce, and it is true with regard to
As the gay culture continues to make headway in our society, particularly
through judicial over-reach, what can Catholics do to stem the tide?
The first thing is to find great strength, consolation, and hope in the words
of St. Paul: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more” (Rom 5:20). And secondly, “God works good in all things for those
who love him” (Rom 8:28).
first response must be a response of faith. Nothing is outside of God’s
providence. That is not the same thing as saying that God directly wills
certain things, because clearly he does not. But for reasons we may not always
be able to see or understand right away, mysteriously God permits certain
things to happen, but even those things are not outside the reach of grace. So
we need a response of faith in order to trust in the presence of the Lord.
the final Mass of the Courage conference this year, the sermon I gave was about
the Lord being asleep in the boat. Our Lord slept three times: he slept in the
crib, he slept in the boat, and he slept on the cross, but on all three
occasions he was with us and knew well the circumstances by which we are
influenced for good or ill. So a response in faith is very important.
have to want to live chastely, cheerfully, and joyfully. The problem of
pornography and the problem of contraception are things that are wide-spread
within the Catholic community, including Mass-going Catholics. We have to
examine our own conviction that chastity is essential for the joy of human
relationships. We cannot expect that other people are only going to do what we
say they should do, such as, “Don’t marry someone of the same sex.” We can
hardly expect to be a compelling voice if we are not already convinced of the
veracity of all that the Church teaches us, so we have to live that virtue
cheerfully and joyfully. And if we do, other people will see it and be
attracted to it.
have to return to that kind of thinking of the early Christians, knowing full
well that the current culture will be hostile. It gives us a spirit of purpose.
We know it will be hard. Chesterton said, “Christians go gaily into the dark.”
Now maybe we have to change that to “Christians go cheerfully into the dark”
because of the way that word has been distorted, but Chesterton was right. A
down-faced, angry Christian fulminating at the world is not going to be a good
instrument of evangelization. We need that trust and confidence in God that St.
Thérèse had and showed us so magnificently. We need that now and to try to live
it, and we can! God’s grace will make it possible.
Love,” February 13, 2012
Victories,” December 2010