Part 1 Ministry Shows 'Maternal Solicitude' for Men, Women With Same-Sex Attraction

By Ann Schneible

ROME, 13 February 2014 (ZENIT)
Responding to the needs of a group of people who often feel alienated from the Church, the Courage apostolate ministers to men and women with same-sex attraction by helping them to move beyond the homosexual label and find unity with Christ.

The international apostolate, which serves half the dioceses of the United States and 12 other countries, aims to offer its members a support system whereby they can live chaste lives in fellowship, truth, and love.
Since 2008, Fr. Paul Check has served as the director of Courage, having assumed the position from its founder, the late Fr. John Harvey.

In a recent interview with ZENIT, Fr. Check spoke about the origins of the apostolate, and the importance of approaching the definition of homosexuality with care and attentiveness:

ZENIT: Could you speak a little about the history of the Courage apostolate?

Fr. Check: In 1980, the then Cardinal Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Terence Cooke, had a sense that there was a need for the Church to express her maternal solicitude and her pastoral charity for a group of people who often feel as though they are estranged from the Church, even hated by the Church, and have no place in the Church. He called upon Fr. Benedict Groeschel, asking for his assistance in beginning an apostolate, a ministry, to help men and women with homosexual inclinations know that they are loved by Christ, that they have a place in the Church, that they are called to live chaste lives, and that God will give them the grace to do so.

Fr. Groeschel knew of a priest who had been working on the question of homosexuality for many years, Fr. John Harvey, an Oblate of St Francis de Sales. Among priests in the United States, Fr. Harvey was a pioneer in this field.

By specialty, Fr. Harvey was a moral theologian. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on the moral theology of St. Augustine’s Confessions and had been teaching moral theology for many years to the Oblates in formation at the seminary in Washington, DC. Sometime previously, his superior had told him there was a need for someone to study the question of homosexuality and to prepare the seminarians to better understand this condition.

When Cardinal Cooke and Fr. Harvey met, they came upon the idea of forming a support group for men (and later for women), in order that in fellowship with one another, and with Christ at the center, those with same-sex attractions would be welcomed and spiritually supported by Mother Church’s maternal charity and pastoral care.  Each Courage chapter is to have a priest, appointed by his bishop, to serve as its chaplain.

In 1980, seven men met in lower Manhattan, under the care of Fr. Harvey, and formulated the Five Goals of Courage which address chastity, prayer and self-giving, fellowship in Christ, the need for chaste friendships, and setting a good example.

Since that beginning, the Courage apostolate has grown to include spiritual support groups in about half the dioceses in the United States and 12 countries overseas.

In following Fr. Harvey [as director of Courage], my principle work, in addition to helping begin and strengthen these support groups, is in the realm of clergy formation for priests and seminarians, helping them understand something about this particular challenge so that in their ministerial life and work, whether at a parish or in a special ministry or chaplaincy, they will be prepared and have some understanding of the complexity of homosexuality and of the challenge that men and women with these attractions face.

ZENIT: Speaking especially to those who live with same-sex attraction, how can homosexuality be defined and understood? How can those with these inclinations define themselves?

Fr Check: That question is very much at the center of our work. The question of vocabulary is very important because words convey images and ideas and sometimes very settled concepts. You and I may use a particular word in conversation, but in another setting – particularly in a cultural setting – the same word may be heard in another way. Having said that, I am aware that there are great sensitivities around vocabulary, the way people understand words, and therefore the way people understand themselves. At no time do I want to cheapen or attempt to denigrate someone’s lived experience or self-understanding, because I don’t speak out of their lived experience.

I try to approach this question of identity very carefully, from two perspectives, in the way that the Church, following the example of Christ, does. In the Gospel, we could say that our Lord engages people in two ways: one way is with regard to a particular teaching delivered to a group.  Let’s think of the Sermon on the Mount for instance, where Jesus puts forth what St. Augustine later called the “magna carta” of Christian living.  Christ offers rich teaching here about Christian identity, and He engages many people in a particular form of pedagogy.

But the other way Our Lord engages people is personally, where he encounters an individual soul and presents the some portion of the “good news” in a very precise, plain and intimate way, to guide them to a deeper self-understanding.
So, Jesus didn’t do both things at once, and neither can we. That’s part of the challenge we face, because the Church wants to announce her teaching, but she also wants to encounter individual men and women.

We should keep in mind that what we may intend when we talk about identity may not be the same thing that is perceived and heard.

That’s a long introduction to your question, but I hope a helpful one, so that what I say does not appear to be insensitive, thoughtless, or ignorant of the lived reality.  We can never say “your experience of yourself is not valid,” as if we know more about someone than he or she does.

Therefore the vocabulary of the Church is very carefully chosen and over the years has become more and more precise. By saying this I mean that the Church is very careful to measure all aspects of the human experience according to the order of their importance, and to give things their proper weight—not more and not less.

She avoids categorizing people according to a sexual inclination, at the same time not undermining, cheapening, or being insensitive to the understanding that someone has of himself or herself.  I think it is interesting to note that the most important question ever asked in human history is the question of identity.  Jesus asked the Apostles:  “Who do you say that I Am?”

When the Church speaks about homosexuality, she speaks about it in the larger context of chastity.  Chastity is the virtue that blocks false aspirations by regulating the sexual appetite according to right reason and God’s design for human nature.  A chaste heart is a peaceful heart, and one that gives itself, according to one’s state in life, and in that self-giving finds fulfillment.  One of the greatest challenges the Church faces today is proposing chastity as part of the “good news,” but Jesus did and we can, too. 

And so, the Church thinks carefully about who someone is, not simply as a person with same-sex attractions but as a child of God, who is redeemed by the Precious Blood of Christ, and invited to grace in this life and glory in the life to come.  She says: same-sex attractions may be a significant piece of your experience in life or even of your own self-understanding, however take care not to think of yourself first through the lens of homosexuality.

The Church speaks carefully and charitably when she speaks of the homosexual inclination or attraction, or of same-sex attraction, as opposed to using nouns like “homosexual,” “lesbian,” or “gay.”
Part 2 People with Homosexual Inclinations Not Excluded From the Church

By Ann Schneible

ROME, 14 February 2014 (ZENIT)
For more than 30 years, the Courage apostolate has been offering pastoral care to men and women with same-sex attraction, helping them to withstand a culture which increasingly demands acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle.

Courage was founded in 1980 by the then-archbishop of New York, Cardinal Terence Cooke, in response to the unique pastoral needs of those with homosexual inclinations. Over the years, under the guidance of the late Fr. John Harvey, the apostolate has spread throughout the United States and the world.  

In an interview with ZENIT, director of Courage, Fr. Paul Check, offered some clarification to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

Part 1 of this interview was published Thursday.

ZENIT: There are those who are offended by the Church’s teaching that homosexuality is disordered. How can the Church constructively convey this understanding of homosexuality?

Fr Check: Just to clarify: the phrase “intrinsically disordered” applies to the action—to the homosexual act—while “objectively disordered” applies to the inclination. That’s an important distinction in our anthropology.

With great maternal charity, the Church distinguishes three things: the person, the inclination, and the action. This distinction is necessary; we don’t want to create the impression that men and women with homosexual inclinations are condemned or excluded from the Church or that Christ has no place in His Heart for them.  On the contrary, God offers His love and mercy to all of His children, no matter their particular weakness or Cross.

The person is always good, created in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by the Precious Blood of Christ, invited to holiness by grace in this life and the promise of glory in the life to come. God doesn’t make mistakes when He makes people. He makes people in His own image. He prepares people for communion with Him, first to experience joy in this life through the action of grace in the soul, and then to be happy with Him in heaven.

Homosexual activity—like other sexual activity contrary to the virtue of chastity, for example, adultery—constitutes what is called “grave matter.” There are three conditions for mortal sin: knowledge, consent, and grave matter.  The violations of chastity as covered by the Sixth Commandment are always grave matter. Whether they rise to the level of mortal sin depends upon consent and knowledge.  I think we must recall that the Church’s teaching on chastity is coherent and consistent in itself, lest it appear that we are or appear to be focusing attention, and perhaps very severely, on only one particular sin.  Contraception, cohabitation, and pornography, for instance, must also be cause for great pastoral concern, because they do great harm.  Homosexual activity is “intrinsically disordered,” which means that no subjectively good intention can make it good.  It always contrary to man’s nature and therefore cannot lead to fulfillment or to holiness.  And so, the Church warns strongly and clearly against it.

Perhaps the greatest difficulty in discussing homosexuality is the phrase objectively disordered, which is the way the Catechism describes the desire for sexual activity with a member of the same sex. The term “objectively disordered” does not apply to the person, and therefore is not a moral judgment let alone a condemnation.  It means that this desire is out of harmony with man’s nature, because the desire cannot be fulfilled in a way consistent with our God-given design, as specified by the complementarity of the sexes and the procreative potential of the sexual faculty.

One of the great debates—not just now in 2014 but for many years—is whether there is such a thing as human nature. But the recognition of human nature—of those things common to the family of man with regard to basic human dignity—is really an essential part of our conscience, the capacity to judge right and wrong.  For instance, if someone were to say that that “all Jews are non-persons,” people of different cultures, religions, backgrounds, and ages would certainly find such a statement repugnant. And so they should. That feeling of repugnance is based on our innate understanding of basic human dignity.

Let’s take another example: How would you feel if you discovered someone has deliberately deceived you? We don’t have to appeal to the Eighth Commandment for people to understand that lying is contrary to the good of human relationships.  Everyone knows this.  Why?  Because a desire for the truth is part of our human nature.

But something strange happens when we enter into discussions regarding sexuality. Now, that kind of logic, that innate understanding of human dignity and right action, often suddenly stops at the door. The specific problem is not the human desire for love and affection, but how it is to be understood, expressed and properly fulfilled. One of the things that make a discussion of homosexuality challenging is that what everyone wants most of all, and what we are made for most of all, is to give and receive love.  If what I’m saying to a group of people sounds like: “You can’t give and receive love in the way you want,” it’s understandable that they would say to me: “Why not? And who are you to tell me that I can’t?”

In all honesty, I think that one of the reasons we have the struggle that we do right now is that chastity, as a virtue, is in many places, even within the “visible Church”, often not considered part of the Good News. Justice is part of the Good News. Mercy is part of the Good News. Redemption is part of the Good News. Hope is part of the Good News. And no one’s arguing about those. But whether people see chastity as part of the Good News is another matter. Those of us who have a vocation to represent the Gospel in priesthood or religious life have a special mission today to love the virtue of chastity and to strive to live it joyfully and faithfully, because chastity is a virtue that not only blocks false aspirations, but one that also liberates and leads to human happiness and fulfillment.  

ZENIT: One of the arguments frequently heard in the same-sex marriage debate is how those who oppose it do so solely on religious grounds. What relevance does a ministry, such as Courage, have for all men and women with homosexual inclinations, and not just those coming from religious backgrounds?

Fr. Check: 400 years before Christ was born, there was a very wise and intelligent man named Plato. He didn’t understand the Doctrine of Original Sin as you and I do, and he couldn’t give an account for the fall from grace, as you and I can.
In a work called the Phaedrus, he relates his “parable of the chariot.” Plato understood very well that there was a disjunction within him, that he could be at cross-purposes with himself. He said: “I have a chariot within me. One horse is pulling me this way, and one horse is pulling me in the opposite direction.”

Many years later St. Paul, in the Letter to the Romans, said: “The good I want to do I don’t do, and the evil that I want to avoid, that is what I want to do.” Plato and St. Paul, in their humble realizations, were explaining the effects of the fall from grace.

Much later, Chesterton, at the end of Orthodoxy, asks: “How does a man who is born upside down know he’s right side up?” This suggests that man’s normal, common condition, so to speak, is to be “abnormal”, meaning out-of-joint with the purposes of his creator…and that is why we need grace, so that we can live morally upright lives.

These three men were referring to the same thing, which is that there is something at work within us that can cause our desires and interests to be misdirected.  This is a common human experience. Christianity can explain it, and of course Christianity provides an antidote, which is grace.

When it comes to love, it is a common human experience that our affections, desires and certainly sexual urges can betray us, can set us at cross-purposes with ourselves. The virtue of chastity, of purity of heart, however, ensures that we will love and be loved in a way consistent with our highest aspirations and our greatest good.  This virtue helps us love another person for who he or she is and not for what that person can do for us, which is the way we all want to be loved. 

That is why the question of marriage, of human intimacy, as the Church looks at it, is not something unique to Catholics or Christians. It applies to all human beings. The Church, as our mother, says there are different ways that you can get in trouble and be at cross purposes with yourself: adultery, fornication, masturbation, contraception, pornography, homosexual activity. Any of these things will undo or undermine what it is you want most: to love and be loved for who you are. This is why the question of human nature and of the use of the sexual faculty, as governed by right reason, is of interest to all persons and why the Church’s solicitude, care and thoughtfulness extend to all of humanity.

ZENIT: What advice would you give to your fellow priests?

Fr. Check: I would like to encourage my brother priests in particular to study the question of homosexuality carefully, just as the Church studies it, because all priests want to ease suffering, and particularly the suffering caused by sin.  As much as the Church says “no” to legislation and court decrees that are contrary to the human good, she also says “yes” to individual people without approving of behavior that is at variance with their own good. As Pope Francis has told us, we have to get to know people, to walk with them, to be part of their journey to Christ, and to help them by first forming relationships with them. This “walking with” is certainly the mission of Courage and the vocation of all priests.

There is often a hesitancy to delve into the complexities of homosexuality because the topic is controversial in our society.  No one, especially a priest, wants to be misunderstood as hating a group of people—and in our society when one speaks against an active homosexual lifestyle that person is often accused of speaking against a specific group of people, rather than against their actions.  There is a special opportunity today for priests to represent the love of Christ and the Church to a group of people who feel as though they are out on the margin, unsure of where they stand—perhaps they are waiting for someone to extend a hand, and especially to reassure them of God’s love and mercy.

No matter what someone brings to the questions surrounding homosexuality, one thing I’m sure of is that we all share a desire to alleviate suffering and to bring peace to the heart.  Persons with same-sex attractions often suffer greatly in a great variety of ways.  They carry a difficult and persistent cross.  I know the Church has a great heart for them, understands their suffering, and wants to do something to ease it. I’ve come to love my work with Courage members, who are a remarkable and noble group of souls.  I’ve learned that those who struggle with homosexuality are individuals with a wide variety of stories and experiences.  But they hold in common the desire to love and be loved.  Courage understands this human need and can offer the help, hope and charity of Jesus Christ.

This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
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