Courage apostolate helps those struggling with same-sex attraction

| December 20, 2011

The following is an edited interview with Father Paul Check, Courage apostolate director, conducted by Catholic Spirit News Editor Pat Norby. Courage is an apostolate for people who struggle with same-sex attraction. Father Check, who was in the archdiocese to make several presentations, also directs EnCourage, for family and friends of those with same-sex attractions.

What ministries do Courage and EnCourage provide in the U.S.?

Father Check

Courage and EnCourage are at the service of the church throughout the world. The apostolate has a presence in half the dioceses in the U.S. and many places overseas.
The church has to raise her voice, especially in these times, in defense of the natural and sacramental bonds of marriage. And in doing that, she has to say “no” to things that are at variance with the divinely willed order of marriage. As she says no to certain things that are contrary to nature and revelation, she must also say “yes” to men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction.

The strength of the Courage apostolate is that we address the question of homosexuality not as a cultural or political issue or debate but as a lived reality in individual lives of men and women or their family members.

Encourage is our apostolate to fathers mothers and sometimes spouses — not unlike Al-Anon — providing support to people. In this way, we make a three-fold distinction — person, inclination and action.

The person is always good, created in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by the Precious Blood of Christ and invited to grace in this life and glory in the life to come.

Then there is the inclination, which the catechism describes as objectively disordered. That is not a moral judgment of the person, although I realize those words can fall very heavily on ears. But rather it is an anthropological judgment. That means it is a look at same-sex attraction within the context of the use of and the design of the sexual faculty. The church says that this is one of the aberrations, one of the departures from that natural order — the purpose of the sexual faculty, of course, being reflected in the complementarity of spouses and its procreative power. . . . When the church says that the inclination is objectively disordered, she is not talking about the person, she is not condemning the person, but rather she is saying that that appetite is not consistent with action in accordance with human nature.

The third distinction is the activity itself, the “action” that is gravely contrary to the moral law and, therefore, is that out of which mortal sin is made. Whether it is mortally sinful also depends on use of reason and the choice of the will but will nevertheless be a grave matter. Those are the three distinctions that must always be made and kept in mind, and EnCourage preserves those distinctions.

Need information?For information about local chapters of Courage and EnCourage in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, call the Office for Marriage, Family and Life at (651) 291-4488. For more information about the national organization, visit http://www.couragerc.net.

Tell me a little bit about the resources that you offer to parishes to help people

The work of the Courage apostolate is really [twofold] — the first is education, so helping people to understand something of the nature of homosexuality or its origins . . . as well as situating it in the context of our understanding of a human way of acting. . . . So, we give talks on that as well as provide information from mental health professionals who understand this anthropology and share it but who also have the clinical experience of working with men and women who have the attraction.

One of the things that is very effective is the witness talks or testimonials that are part of our presentations from men or women who themselves have same-sex attractions, or perhaps have lived the so-called gay lifestyle and are now members of Courage. They can give what might be called an insider’s look at this from the standpoint of the person — a lived reality.

Then we provide direct information about the support group that is Courage or EnCourage. The choices that men and women with same-sex attraction are faced with, or think they are faced with, are sometimes reduced to two:

One is radical isolation, in which the person thinks “tell no one, say nothing,” even to people who are very close to them, to family members “about their feelings, about their struggle.” That is even worse than loneliness; it’s more than loneliness. [It’s] isolation.

The other choice they think they have is to declare themselves, “gay,” “homosexual,” “lesbian” and enter into the lifestyle and live that life.

Courage says neither of those alternatives are good, neither of them are healthy, neither of them are in keeping with the Gospel, neither of them are in keeping with a sound and proper understanding of our humanity.

It says “look, you have to have friendships, you need people who understand this.” Courage gathers men and women together under the care of a priest, and with the guidance in the mind and heart of the church, helps them to understand themselves a little better, as we all must — to understand that Christ loves them and that their struggle is not outside God’s providence and that the friendship of other members of Courage can help them to live chastely and to grow in all Christian virtues.

How many parishes across the country or the world have Courage chapters?

We are in half the dioceses in the United States and there are 200-some dioceses.   Recently, I went to Guadalajara for a Courage Latino conference and there were well over 200 people participating.

On your website it says the five goals of Courage include chastity, prayer, fellowship, support and setting a good example. How would you say these goals differ from the way all Catholics are encouraged to live their lives?

In a strict sense there is not difference at all — it’s just given its particular setting and I think that in 1980, Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York, who we consider to be our founder, received a grace for the charism that we consider the five goals to represent.

In his pastoral charity, Cardinal Cooke said that there’s a group of people who have a particular struggle that need a special expression of the church’s pastoral charity, and that’s how the Courage Apostolate begins. The goals themselves would be consistent with the Gospel for anyone. It is the particular care that is given at a time in which the culture is very confused, very promiscuous, very suspicious of what the church teaches, especially with regard to sexual morality. So, it would seem that it is necessary at this time to have a unique and special expression of the church’s maternal solicitude for these good men and women.

I also read on the website that the Courage Apostolate has “a desire to express the church’s care and affection for people with homosexual desires.” Can you tell me, specifically, what parishes in the U.S. and the Catholic Church are doing to welcome people with same sex attractions?

First: We don’t use the word homosexual or lesbian or gay as a noun. Courage doesn’t believe, and I don’t think the church believes, that someone’s identity should be collapsed into [his or her] sexual desires or appetite. As a result of that, we are very careful with the question of identity — then there is the matter of trust and confidentiality. Unlike A.A., which has open meetings and you can find out where and when A.A. meetings are in a given location, we don’t advertise the location or times of our meetings.

There is contact information that is made available and then a person would come and meet the priest responsible for the group, but we don’t openly advertise in that way because I think it is very much the desire of our members not to be public in that way and not to be known in that way.

The church is careful and thoughtful and respectful of privacy and confidentiality — that’s how I think we are reaching out — mindful of that desire and wish on the part of the people we are trying to serve.

It must make it a little more difficult to be able to reach out and minister to people with same-sex attractions.

In a sense it is, because of all the cultural reasons that would be evident. We are very dependent on parish priests who have bulletins, parish announcements, vestibules to hang flyers in, who preach, who conduct RCIA classes, and classes in Catholic teaching, who give sermons. We are very dependent upon them, as spiritual fathers, to make the work of the apostolate known. It’s certainly true that people come to us all the time and say, “we never heard of this, we are not aware that such a thing existed.” So, we’re working hard to help overcome the challenge of making people more aware that the church does have something special.

What are you and the Catholic Church doing to make that information more accessible?

We have a couple of media projects that I think will be very effective tools, using the same technology that can be a very effective medium for propaganda, but can be a channel for light and truth. So those things will be forthcoming in the New Year. I think they will be a very good means to reach many people and help them understand a little bit better about what the church teaches.

For example, [I talked] with the archdiocesan youth leaders to give them some assistance, to give them some encouragement, to give them some materials, because they’re encountering this kind of struggle all the time amongst young people, at least in regard to misinformation and misunderstanding. We spend a good deal of our efforts on trying to educate and inform those who have the care of souls, whether as clergy, teachers, youth group leaders, counselors and the rest.

What would you recommend that individual parishes do to welcome people with same-sex attractions, and are there any parishes that would offer a good example of that?

Because of the question of confidentiality and the question of identity . . . the effect of putting too much emphasis or the wrong emphasis on someone’s sexual attraction will exactly produce the result that we don’t want, which is to confirm them in an identity that is not really theirs.

We are children of God and we all have particular struggles. I think it’s not something that is consistent with  the mind of Christ and the mind of the church to put people in certain categories. I think individual Christians and Catholics need to be alert to the very real struggles and painful struggles that men and women with same-sex attractions have.

There are a number of good books, often written by men and women who have the condition, that can alert them to the felt reality of this. If people would come to our website, they can learn a great deal about why the church teaches what she does and that will better equip them as Christians to know how to encounter people and to respond to them in a good way.

The Courage Apostolate is a diocesan apostolate, it is something the chief shepherd, in this case the archbishop, makes available to people within his archdiocese. With the confidentiality issues, we think it’s best that this be handled in that way rather than something at the parish level.

Would you have two or three books that would be good for people to read?

The Truth About Homosexuality” by Father John Harvey is a good collection of essays.

Same Sex Attractions: A Parents Guide” is also a collection of essays that was edited by Father John Harvey and Doctor Gerry Bradley from the University of Notre Dame Law School.

Beyond Gay” by David Morrison . . . is a memoir of a man who has same sex attraction.

I read that you had been in the military until you resigned to become a priest.

I’m a former Marine officer and many people ask me about how [I went] from the Marine Corps to the seminary. I like to say my Marines were my sons and the Marine Corps taught me a great deal about how to try to be a good “Father.”

My role as a priest is very much one of spiritual fatherhood. There were things that the Marine Corps gave to me in that way that were very preparatory and important for my life as a priest today.

Would you say that is true for this particular ministry?

Oh yes, I consider my role of national director/international director to be very much one of spiritual fatherhood for men and women who have same-sex attraction, and family members. This is certainly the way I approach it.

Interview transcribed by Mary Gibbs, The Catholic Spirit administrative assistant.

Tags: ,

Category: Local News

Comments are closed.