Thursday, November 19, 2009

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Courage


. . . the Courage apostolate, that is.

This past Tuesday evening, approximately 50 people gathered at St. Martin’s Table Restaurant and Bookstore in Minneapolis for an educational forum hosted by the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) and entitled “Holding the Courage Apostolate Accountable: The Catholic Church, Homosexuality, and Reparative Therapy.”

As many Wild Reed readers would know, this event and the issues it focused upon were the subject of a (rather inadequate) piece in Tuesday’s Star Tribune. (To read this article, along with my corrections and clarifications, click here.)

I should also say that I’ve spoken to Jeff Strickler, the author of this particular article, and he has assured me that a correction will be published in Saturday’s edition of the Star Tribune. This correction will focus on the article’s quoting of me as saying that Retired Archbishop Harry Flynn had “came to us” (i.e., CPCSM) in the late-1990s and asked the organization to “serve as resource people for the church.” What I actually said was that in the mid-1990s the Archdiocese, meaning the Archdiocesan office known as Catholic Education and Formation Ministries (CEFM) had approached CPCSM, an independent, grassroots coalition, and requested that it share its experience and expertise in ministry with LGBT people.”

Why we gathered

So with that matter cleared up, I’d like to share a little about Tuesday night’s event, starting with why exactly CPCSM felt compelled to host this forum in the first place.

It’s important to know that almost 30 years ago Archbishop John Roach called for “competent and compassionate pastoral ministry” for LGBT persons and their families within the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis (
Catholic Bulletin, September 21, 1991). This ministry was subsequently built and maintained through the dedicated and tireless efforts of CPCSM leaders in cooperation with parishes and schools of the Archdiocese. Sadly, under subsequent archbishops we’ve witnessed such ministry efforts undermined and usurped by rigid doctrinal fundamentalism and pseudo-science discredited by all mainstream professional mental health and medical associations.

Over the past six years the Archdiocese has adopted and advocated the
Courage Apostolate of the Catholic Church as the only pastoral program that it recommends for Catholic gay men and lesbians (whom Courage prefers to label with the pseudo-scientific term of [men and women who have] “same-sex attractions”). (See Rev. Jim Livingston’s letter of 2-2-09 to all priests and deacons of the local Archdiocese.)

Recently, the American Psychological Association repudiated “reparative therapy,” i.e., attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation through therapy and prayer. Yet the Courage Apostolate, which employs a 12 step-like program to help their members “recover” from “same-sex attractions,” continues to support individuals who seek “reparative therapy.” Courage also maintains links on its national website to pseudo-scientific organizations that endorse and/or offer reparative therapy.

At our November 17 forum at St. Martin’s Table, we heard from two speakers who shared their perspectives on this situation and offered steps that can be taken to hold the Courage Apostolate accountable – both locally and nationally –for its support of reparative therapy.

The evening started with a delicious soup supper provided by the good folks at St. Martin’s Table. Although CPCSM has utilized the space at St. Martin’s Table many times in the past (see, for example, here), this was the first time we worked with the restaurant component of the establishment and served a meal. We’ll definitely be doing it again!

Our actual program got underway at 6:30 with my welcoming and introduction of our two speakers – Philip Lowe, Jr., and Dr. Simon Rosser, Ph.D.

Above (from left): CPCSM executive coordinator Michael Bayly;
Philip Lowe. Jr.; Dr. Simon Rosser; & CPCSM co-founder David McCaffrey.

A survivor’s story

Philip shared his experiences within the local chapter of Courage (known as Faith in Action in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis). Philip refers to Courage as “the ex-gay ministry of the Roman Catholic church,” and considers himself a “survivor” of this ministry. He was a member of the apostolate for 15 months before leaving it last year.

He noted that a typical Courage meeting takes place on a Friday night, at an undisclosed location known only to Courage members. One or two priests facilitate the meeting, which begin with a prayer followed by the reading of the
five goals of Courage. Then the facilitator asks, “How has Courage helped you during this past week?”, and each person takes turns talking about their struggles with chastity. Those who attend Courage are told that to be a good Catholic they must “carry the cross” of their same-sex attractions and do everything possible to avoid romantic or sexual contact with members of the same sex.

“At Courage meetings we were told to avoid any places of temptation that might exist,” said Philip. Such places include malls, parks, bars, athletic centers or “any where that might be a problem for us.” Courage members are also urged to avoid any and all levels of “inappropriate intimacy” that could lead us to any kind of sexual or romantic intimacy with the same sex. “Disinterested friendships” with people of the same sex, however, are supported.

Much of what Philip shared on Tuesday night has been documented in a powerful testimony he recently wrote for Beyond Ex-Gay, an “online community for those who have survived ex-gay experiences.” Following are some excerpts from Philip’s testimony.

During my time in Courage my attitudes towards myself, my family and others became very bad. The more I avoided intimacy, the more I hungered for intimacy. . . . I was hungering to be loved, but not allowing myself to experience love. I eventually started working with an ex-gay therapist and even a spiritual director. In both cases, the more I attempted to flee being gay, the more being gay smacked me in the face. When meeting with my therapist and/or spiritual director, I would be told that either it was because of all the rejection I had experienced or because I did not know how to manage intimacy with others appropriately.

. . . At my last Courage meeting one of the guys there made the remark that he was beginning to become discouraged by the fact that because he was a man who had same-sex attraction and was probably not going to overcome it any time soon, that he would never get married or have children.

There is a closeted Lutheran minister who attended Courage meetings to help him deal with his homosexuality. During the meeting that minister made a comment to the man who had [shared] the concern about never being able to marry or have children because of his sexual orientation. [The Lutheran minister told] him that there are lots of gay men who are in heterosexual marriages and that he saw nothing wrong with him wanting to get married to a woman and have children, even though he is gay. That comment made me so angry because I remembered [during] my days of being out . . . calling in on many phone date lines and hearing about the many bi/married men who just could not tell their wives about their sexual orientation and how painful that was for them. And here was a Christian minister encouraging this young man to marry with a mask over his face about who he is and what he is about.

. . . I started coming out all over again. I no longer went to Courage meetings, and I started making friends in the gay community again. I started going back to my old therapist who encouraged me to be a healthy gay man, and to seek out healthy relationships. The more I began to accept myself all over again, the better I felt. Though I was still struggling with the anger I experienced from Courage . . . I was becoming happier and finding a better sense of myself, because I was again accepting myself as I am, not as Courage thought I should be.

On February 7th of 2009, just two days after my 40th Birthday, I met Jason and we fell in love. My partner Jason’s life has also been affected by the religious right, but in a different way. But we have both been able to talk about our experiences and find companionship and intimacy with each other in a very healthy way. Since meeting Jason, we have both started attending a near by Episcopal Cathedral, where LGBT people are welcomed and affirmed.

To read Philip’s testimony in its entirety, click here.

Courage = homo-negativity = poor emotional and sexual health

The second presenter at CPCSM’s “Holding the Courage Apostolate Accountable” forum was internationally-renowned researcher Dr. Simon Rosser of the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. Simon shared a wealth of information concerning the impact on emotional, physical and sexual well-being as the result of organizations, such as Courage, that convey and foster homo-negativity (i.e., negative attitudes towards homosexuality).

I’ll write more about Simon’s presentation at a later date. For now I just want to share what he said about an important University of Minnesota study that he oversaw. This study, the results of which were first published in the September 2008 issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Homosexuality, shows that the degree of internalized homo-negativity among homosexual men is what predicts poor mental and sexual health – not the degree of homosexuality.

According to Simon, the results of this study help inform the debate of whether or not being homosexual is healthy.

“This particular study is a missing link in our understanding of the relationship between sexuality and health,” he says. “It provides new evidence that negative attitudes towards homosexuality, not homosexuality itself, are associated with both poorer mental and sexual health outcomes seen in sexual minorities. Conversely, positive attitudes towards homosexuality are associated with better mental and sexual health.”

Above: Dr. Simon highlights and discusses the four pastoral approaches to counseling on homosexuality.

Right: With my friend Freeman Wicklund.

Above: Philip Lowe chats with longtime CPCSM supporter Gerry Sell.

Above: Dr. Simon Rosser and Retired Lutheran Bishop Lowell Erdahl.
To read Lowell’s inspiring reflection, “Unlearning the Things
That Used to Be Obvious,” click here.

Taking action

After Philip and Simon made their presentations, I spoke on behalf of CPCSM and urged all in attendance to contact Courage and express their deep concern about our Church being linked to disreputable psychological theories and practices.

In particular, CPCSM is asking people to consider requesting, politely yet firmly, that Courage:

1) Publicly refute the pseudo-science of reparative therapy advocated by NARTH and other “ex-gay” groups.

2) Remove from its website links to any and all organizations offering such therapy.

3) Commit to actively dissuading its members from pursuing such therapy.

4) Educate its leadership and members on what the mainstream psychological establishment says about homosexuality and the impact of homo-negativity on psychological health, and be open to allowing reputable psychological knowledge to inform Catholic theology of human sexuality.

Courage’s central office is located in New York City. Fr. Paul Check serves as director of the apostolate in the U.S.

c/o Church of St John The Baptist
210 West 31st Street
New York NY 10001

Phone: (212) 268-1010
Fax: (212) 268-7150

Local chapters of Courage exist in various dioceses. Here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Courage goes by the name of Faith in Action. The Office of Marriage, Family, and Life sponsors the Faith in Action program. Kathy Laird heads this office.

Faith in Action
c/o Office of Marriage, Family, and Life
328 W. Kellog Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55102

Phone: 651-291-4488 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting 651-291-4488 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or 651-291-4438

After making contact with Courage/Faith in Action, please consider sharing with CPCSM how your conversation went by e-mailing us at or Thanks.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Holding the Courage Apostolate Accountable
The Cowardice of Courage
It's Official: APA Opposes "Reparative Therapy"
The Continuum Just Shrank
“Curing” Homosexuality
Debunking NARTH (Part I)
Debunking NARTH (Part II)
What Scientists in the UK Are Saying About Homosexuality
The Real Meaning of Courage
The Many Forms of Courage (Part I)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part II)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part III)
Beyond Courage


TheraP said...

I had an experience on Monday evening which suggests to me that one way the church seems to be handling its disagreement with psychological evidence and research is to discredit psychology and psychotherapy. As if psychotherapy and spirituality/religion were antithetical. And thus the church could simply discount people or facts coming from what it deems an anti-catholic or anti-evangelistic perspective.

This is an alarming new development, unless I am alone in having had such an experience recently. But if one attacks professional expertise as inherently heretical or something like that, then we're at a point where not only are gays intrinsically "disordered" but psychology and psychotherapy are anathema as well! And it's providers just another leper group to be marginalized by the church.

My experience happened at a meeting of Communion Ministers, when I made a point related to not interrogating people being visited in the hospital (who declined communion). And my advice to accept their "free choice" and not confront it was viewed, by one I take to be a right-wing zealot, as coming from what this person viewed as an inherently anti-religious bias, due to my being a psychologist. (even though it was a meeting of already functioning Communion Ministers!)

I honestly see the vatican reaching into all sorts of places and seeding mistrust of therapists, in the service of this doctrinal vendetta being perpetrated.

I may be wrong here. But it sure seems like the next step in trying to squelch psychological research results and legitimate treatment (aimed at the best interests of the patient, not at the behest of a dictatorial authority).

Mareczku said...

Thank you so much for sharing this, Michael. It is very important information and very helpful to me. I was moved by Phillip's story. Hopefully his experience with Courage was not typical. I think they want to help people but they need to be positive and affirming. They could be an important resource but they need to work with the gay community. Surely they want people to lead healthier lives and the gay community does also. It would be good if they could work together. Courage needs not to be afraid of those that look down on and despise gay people. They need to start standing up for us and against discrimination and prejudice directed against gay people.