Hope For Persons Struggling With Same-Sex Inclinations

Gay
SAN ANTONIO – Since the issuing of the document, “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care,” by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Nov. 14, one ministry has risen to the forefront. Courage, a spiritual support group for Catholic men and women with same-sex inclinations, founded in 1980 by Father John Harvey, OSFS, at the initiative of Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York, was the only such ministry officially specified as an example in the bishops’ document as meeting the criteria of following Catholic teaching with regards to this ministry.
Courage has also received approval from Archbishop José H. Gomez, who notes, “This spiritual and pastoral outreach affirms the dignity of the human person.”
The local chapter of Courage meets every other Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, under the spiritual direction of Father Joseph Mary Marshall, SM, a member of the charismatic community, Brothers of the Beloved Disciple.
“Courage is a group that is really trying to help people to understand the church’s teaching on sexuality, the purpose of sexuality, and to provide also the chaste friendships that keep a person from being isolated,” said Father Marshall, “because isolation can be a very big problem for people and cause compulsive sexual acting out. When you have a support group, that can be really very, very helpful.”
Father Marshall, with more than 20 years experience in this type of ministry, took over the chaplaincy of the local organization in 2002. He was previously involved in the Courage program in New York and Boston and holds three master’s degrees, one in pastoral counseling.
Though the local group has, thus far, not numbered more than 12 members at a time, Father Marshall noted it has been of tremendous help to the men and women who have participated, ranging in age from 18 to 75.
Courage’s five goals are to:
• Live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality.
• Dedicate one’s life to Christ through service to others, spiritual reading, prayer, meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass and the frequent reception of the sacraments of reconciliation and holy Eucharist.
• Foster a spirit of fellowship in which all may share thoughts and experiences, and so ensure that no one will have to face the problems of homosexuality alone.
• Be mindful of the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in a chaste Christian life and in doing so provide encouragement to one another in forming and sustaining them.
• Live lives that may serve as good examples to others.
Meetings locally either focus on the 12 steps adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous (a format used nationally by all Courage groups) or Father Marshall’s adaptation of the 21-week, Protestant program, “New Directions for Life,” approved by Father Harvey for his use.
GayThe majority who stay with the Courage program, Father Marshall noted, have been convinced that the gay lifestyle is not fulfilling and are sincere in their desire to live according to the church’s teaching to live a chaste life. He noted that many come because an adult conversion experience has convinced them the active gay lifestyle is not acceptable.
He referred to a growing body of information and evidence that not only can people struggling with same-sex attraction live chastely, but that some are actually able to go on to marriage and he has seen this happen. Many who remain single, he related, find “that the love and support that they experience with chaste friendship is often what they were looking for in the first place and they don’t really miss the sexual aspect of it because, for many, they’ve been deeply wounded and hurt by that in the past, the sexually acting out.”
There is a support group, Encourage, for family and friends of Courage members, which meets monthly, allowing attendees to find support and advice in what can be a difficult matter to discuss. San Antonio is one of less than 10 dioceses to have an Encourage group.
National Courage conferences draw 200 to 300 attendees annually and offer nationally recognized speakers as well as personal testimonies from both single and married members. Nationwide, there are currently Courage groups in 75 dioceses.
Locally, Father Marshall, screens potential members before they attend a meeting to assess their sincerity and that their intent is not to be disruptive. “If that’s the case,” he said, “we would prefer not to have them come to the group, because we’re not trying to confuse people, get into those kinds of arguments.”
Memberships and testimonies are kept in strict confidence and persons wishing to set up an initial interview regarding joining the group are asked to call him at his office at St. Mary Magdalen Church, (210) 735-5269. Should anyone ask the nature of their call, they can simply state it is for personal advice or counseling.
Father Marshall is quick to point out that, while the church considers homosexual behavior disordered, it does not consider a person who experiences same-sex attractions as disordered. “When you talk about disorder, everybody deals with some disordered passion in their life,” he said, “whether it’s anger or lust or greed or whatever, and it doesn’t make the person themselves disordered. Every person is worthy of respect and dignity because they are made in the image and likeness of God.”
Testimonies to the help that Courage has afforded to members can be found on their national Web site, http://www.couragerc.net.
Members of Courage are encouraged to participate actively in their parish, and many do so. “How are people to find the alternative to living an active gay lifestyle,” said Father Marshall, “if they don’t have loving and caring support from the larger Christian community?”

from Today’s Catholic

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