Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 8, 2004
Courage offers hope for homosexuals
Group a meeting place for lesbians, gays who seek to follow Church
By BILL GLEN
WCR Staff Writer
Joseph was a happy teen growing up in an active Roman Catholic family. He faithfully followed the Church.
Then, during a night of partying as a 17-year-old, Joseph (not his real name) had his first homosexual experience. It devastated him emotionally not only because of the reality he might be gay, but because he felt he would be forsaken by God.
"It was a different era than today," said Joseph, 50. "It was not something you could talk about. When I did start to discuss it with men in my university years - and one man in particular whom I trusted - I was seduced. It just turned bad."
At 27, Joseph entered into a committed, seven-year relationship with a man. He felt living that kind of life and following the teachings of the Church were mutually exclusive. His parents accepted the relationship, but never approved of it. He felt condemned, yet he continued.
"I could not differentiate that the Church was not condemning me, it was condemning the acts of physical, genital sexuality. It was never the teaching of the Church that I was going to hell because I was a homosexual man, but that is what I felt like."
Joseph sought validation from his parents, his partner and God. He was entangled in an ideological morass until he met a priest who told him the doors of the Church are always open to him.
That was when Joseph realized it was he who was rejecting God.
"I was dying deep inside. As a child, I had a strong, personal relationship with the Lord. I began to want it back. The priest told me the Church loves me; God loves me; my family loves me. He said that if I wanted to come back into the fold, I was welcome."
Within six months, the relationship ended and Joseph left behind the gay community. He changed his life, and has remained celibate.
"I'm very happy now. I have better friends and a more fulfilling life. My relationship with God is deepening every year. I know that as a person who struggled with this, there is a life to live that is full and wonderful."
Joseph is one of three active members of Courage, a new apostolate that has the approval of Archbishop Thomas Collins. Formatted like a 12-step program, Courage offers a meeting place for gays and lesbians who struggle with same-sex attraction and the teachings of the Church. It also provides an opportunity for homosexuals, who are often ridiculed and tormented by society, to discuss their lives in a caring and safe environment.
Franciscan Father Jeffrey Keefe, from Syracuse, N.Y., is a psychologist who has worked some 40 years with homosexuals and their same-sex attraction. He has worked closely with Father John Harvey, the founding director of Courage, which was established in New York in 1980.
Keefe was invited by John MacDonald, associate director of family life and health care for the archdiocese, to come and speak about Courage, after they met during a U.S. Courage conference in 2003.
"Homosexuality today is certainly a controversial topic. It's hard to say anything without someone being mad at you," Keefe told a gathering of a dozen chaplains and Edmonton Catholic Schools department heads Nov. 2.
"Even though it is so openly discussed, there is a great deal of confusion and a lot of misinformation. We need to establish fact from propaganda and myth. I would hope that you foster the Courage movement, in your own lives and the lives of people you meet. It is the only Catholic outreach for homosexuals approved by the Vatican."
Homosexuals are often the recipient of tasteless jokes, yet they have a right to respect and freedom from prejudice like anyone else, Keefe said. They can be treated like pariahs. But they have the same problems and struggles as heterosexuals.
Homosexuality is not a choice, but when sexual desire does not meet sexual anatomy, something is not functioning correctly, he said. Sexual development is complex, affected not only by genetics, but by outside influences.
As far as we know, there is no "gay gene" so the causes, or reasons, for homosexuality remain undetermined.
Can a homosexual change? Keefe said some 20,000 ex-gays say it is so.
"But critics and gay advocates claim the Church is lying."
Keefe stressed the mandate of Courage is not to change, or convert, homosexuals. Courage is meant to encourage members to live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church. Courage wants members to dedicate their lives to Christ through service and prayer; to foster a spirit of fellowship to share thoughts and experiences; to be mindful of the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in Christian life; to live their lives that may serve as good examples to others.
"Determination is extremely important," Keefe said. "Chastity is a response to the love of Jesus. Courage is a fundamentally spiritual program. It is the first step towards therapy."
Joseph joined the local Courage group to be part of a community that would help him, and he in turn helps others lead a chaste life. He was not looking to become heterosexual and he knew Courage would not attempt to convert him.
"I still struggle with same-sex attraction. I have not been in a same-sex relationship since 1987. I try to live chastely exteriorly, but also interiorly. I have been doing a fair job, but I want to do a better job," he said.
"People in Courage totally rely on each other's encouragement, presence and companionship to walk the walk," MacDonald said. "It is very much a group in-step with each other and with Christ. There is powerful spirituality there - freedom and safety to share their sexual struggles with their peers, who give a damn. There is genuine compassion. Members feel they are being listened to."
MacDonald and Courage members currently meet every two weeks.
Anyone who wishes to join the group, or obtain more information, is encouraged to call John MacDonald at 469-1010.
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