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A dozen members of the organization that gives spiritual support to those struggling with same-sex attraction while living a chaste life within Church teachings met March 19 on the campus of Boston College.
“We did not ask for this orientation, but it is who we are,” said Phil, an active member of Courage, which was founded in 1980 by Father John F. Harvey, OSFS, at the request of the late Cardinal Cooke, then Archbishop of New York.
“We acknowledge the sacrifice of chastity, the struggle about going day-to-day and asking for help. But there is a peace with it that we otherwise would have never known,” Phil said.
Each member, who asked that only their first names be used, told of a different path that brought him to the same table that night.
Steve said he had already left the gay lifestyle in 1988, when he saw a notice in the National Catholic Register newspaper for Courage’s annual conference.
“I had just started a new job, so I couldn’t attend the conference, but I wrote to Father Harvey, who mailed me some materials,” he said.
“The next year, I went to the conference, and it blew my mind. There were people my age, and I was obviously younger then, willing to make a change in their lifestyle,” he said. “I haven’t missed a conference since.”
“Courage is a stepping stone, you’ve got to go to the meetings, attend the conferences and call members every day,” Steve said.
Manuel said he was stuck in a cycle of leaving the gay lifestyle, going to confession and then falling back into homosexual activity. He was frustrated by priests who seemed unable to relate to his same-sex attraction or give him productive feedback.
Finally, during confession at the St. Francis chapel at Boston’s Prudential Center, a priest told Manuel about Courage.
“Some members of Courage are still in the lifestyle, some have left it totally. I still have friends in the lifestyle, who want to change very badly,” Manuel said.
For young people tempted with same-sex attraction there is great pressure to come out and join the gay lifestyle, he said. “I didn’t think I had a choice.”
Jeff said 10 years ago, when he was 17, he entered the gay lifestyle, especially going to bars and nightclubs.
His mother was concerned about him, but she never approached him about his homosexuality, he said. Instead, she left a copy of Father Harvey’s book on an end table for him to find.
When he picked up the book, Jeff said he found it pathetic.
He said he certainly would not have imagined that 10 years later he would be a Courage member.
But, after four friends died of AIDS, he caught venereal disease several times and the drinking scene had run its course, he decided to give up the lifestyle for good, he said.
Outside of his old circle of friends, Jeff said he felt isolated before he joined Courage, and that isolation led to relapses.
For many members, Courage provides a comfort zone. It is difficult to find understanding in the mainstream Church, and as a result much of their spiritual life is centered on the group’s activities, he said.
One challenge is that Courage is criticized by some Catholics who misunderstand the group’s strict adherence to Church teachings, Jeff said.
John said a bishop once told him it is difficult to find priests to agree to be spiritual directors for chapters, because the priests are uncomfortable with the group.
Members of Courage offer a unique perspective on the current debate on same-sex marriage, Phil said.
“The mystery of creating life gives sexual relationships true depth,” he said.
“More than anything else, once I could accept that, I was willing to say, ‘I will yield and accept being celibate,’” he said. “It would never work if I didn’t have Christ and His Church.”
John said that when he sees homosexuals calling for gay marriage, he recognizes they’re craving validation.
Alan said gay marriage is just another step in an agenda. The “in-your-face” tactics of the gay rights advocates make him very uncomfortable, he said.
“The gay lifestyle is rooted in sin and cannot survive. It is wrong to bring a godly thing to something rooted in evil,” Manuel said.
“It is very common for men and women with a gay orientation to be the focus of hatred and abuse their whole lives,” Steve said.
It is understandable that they want to lash out, he mused. “It is interesting to me that the gay rights advocates have become everything they say they oppose when they say they want to overcome the hate.”
Phil added there is more to a person’s identity than how they experience personal intimacy. The gay rights advocates have tried to make same-sex attraction the central truth of their being.
A former member of a religious order, Curt said he never broke his vow of celibacy, but when others did it was devastating to the community. “It shakes everything up, but nobody talked about it.”
Now, as a layman, Curt said, “Courage helps me fill that piercing, piercing emptiness.”
“It gives me a closeness to God and enriches my life,” he said.
From its first meeting with Father Harvey and the five original members at Mother Seton Church in Lower Manhattan, Courage has grown to 95 chapters in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, Steve said. Most of the members are men, but there are women’s chapters and mixed gender chapters in major cities. New chapters must be approved by the local bishop, who assigns a priest to act as the spiritual director, Phil said.
The organization took its name from a quote from C.S. Lewis, “Courage is not merely one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means the highest point of reality.”
The group’s founders set forth five goals that call members to live chaste lives within the teachings of the Church, lead active religious lives, foster a spirit of fellowship, seek chaste friendships that are vital to a chaste Christian life and set good examples to others, he said.
Courage is different from the Protestant approach, which tends to take one on a journey of changing one’s orientation, Alan added.
The goals were intended to be sent to Rome for appropriate approval, but when Father Harvey showed them to Cardinal Cooke, the cardinal approved them at once, he said.
“We follow the same rules as heterosexuals, unless you are married, you can’t have sex,” said Dominic.
“Being called to celibacy, which is what the Church asks of us, is a good thing, and we want people who find they have a same-sex attraction — we love them as brothers and sisters,” Phil said.
“We pray for them every day,” he said.
[Editor’s note: Information on Courage is available at www.CourageRC.net or by calling 617-491-1297.]