Thursday, July 17, 2008

Beyond Courage

Last week the leadership of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) wrote to every deacon in the state of Minnesota, calling their attention to a serious moral and pastoral care issue presented by the Region 8 Deacon Conference, scheduled to take place this weekend at the University of St Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota.

Specifically, we expressed concern that the only person scheduled to speak on the issues of homosexuality and ministry with homosexual persons and their families, is Fr. Paul Check, the Chief Executive Officer of the Courage apostolate.

We noted that, like the vast majority of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics, their parents, loved ones, and allies, we have serious concerns about the ideology and message of the Courage movement. We then shared some of these concerns (along with alternative ways of thinking about and ministering to LGBT persons than those advocated by Courage) in a position paper comprised of “talking points” grouped under four headings: “Courage’s Mission and Philosophy,” “Courage and NARTH (National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality)”, “Alternative Catholic Perspectives on Homosexuality,” and “Church Teaching on Homosexuality.”

In the event that the deacons attend Fr. Check’s presentation at the upcoming deacons’ conference, we encouraged them to draw on these talking points to respectfully question and challenge the theological presuppositions and pastoral recommendations of Courage.

We concluded our letter by noting that:

It is our understanding that the diaconate ministry was developed, in large part, to provide pastoral outreach to persons on the margins of both the Church and society, and that this outreach places great emphasis on listening to where people are at on their journey rather than on preaching of doctrine. There is a place for, and value in, helping people discern where and how God is present and active in their lives – including LGBT lives. The Church itself can and has benefited from such discernment. The Vatican II document “Dei Verbum” says that the Catholic tradition develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit, and that this development of tradition occurs “through the intimate understanding of spiritual things [that believers] experience.” In this way, “Dei Verbum” states, the Church “constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth.”

This foundational teaching of Vatican II clearly teaches that the Church is still developing and growing. It’s a teaching that also refutes the idea that to be a good Catholic means, first of all, unquestioning obedience to those who have placed themselves over us and who declare that they possess truths that others do not.

Yet sadly, such an absolutist approach is exactly what the Courage apostolate advocates. From our perspective, and perhaps yours too, such an approach fails to embody those diaconate traditions and charisms of listening and openness to God in the lives and relationships of all.

We hope you will use the enclosed position paper as a resource, not only when engaging Fr. Check at the Region 8 Deacon Conference, but also in your future interactions with people in your life and ministry as deacons. A PDF version of this position paper is also available on the CPCSM website for downloading and distribution. We are also including with this letter a Catholic bibliography on gay issues – a list of books and DVDs that we hope you will find of value in your ministry with and for LGBT persons and their families.

Following is the position paper that was mailed to the deacons of Minnesota by CPCSM. (NOTE: The links within the text have been added.)


Beyond Courage to Authenticity

A Position Paper on the Courage Apostolate
prepared by the
Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities

1. Courage’s Mission and Philosophy

The Courage apostolate purports to help people move beyond “same-sex attraction” by encouraging a life of “interior chastity in union with Christ.” The movement labels itself a “pro-chastity ministry” and equates chastity with celibacy.

Although Courage acknowledges that the “inclination” of “homosexual attractions” is “psychologically understandable,” such attractions are nevertheless considered “objectively disordered” – a view that, though promulgated by the Vatican as church teaching, is widely questioned throughout the Church as the people of God.

Courage insists that it “does not provide professional therapy” while, at the same time, maintaining the discredited belief that “some people, especially young people, are able to further their psychosexual development [i.e., “move beyond homosexual attractions”] with spiritual and psychological aid.”

Courage shares with Protestant ex-gay/transformational ministries the belief that homosexuality is pathological, and not a natural, normal sexual orientation. However, unlike many of the other ministries, the Courage apostolate recognizes that adult sexual orientation is fixed and does not claim that adult gays and lesbians’ sexual orientation can be changed. Nevertheless, it still teaches that the only valid path for homosexuals is to seek celibacy.

2. Courage and NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality)

Courage discourages the use of the terms “gay” and “lesbian,” believing such labels reduce individuals to their “sexual attractions.” Given this rationale, it seems odd that Courage uses the term “same-sex attracted” when talking about the homosexual orientation. It’s important to know that the phrase “same-sex attracted” was coined by the largely discredited U.S.-based National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). It’s a term that is unrecognized by any professional health association. Following NARTH’s lead, Courage likens homosexuality to alcoholism, and conducts its “support group” using the 12-Step format developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. Some members of Courage even consider their “disorder” to be curable, and explain its origin using debunked psychoanalytic theories of dominant mothers, distant fathers, and abusive family relations.

NARTH, itself, is a sham organization of “therapists” that teaches that homosexuality is a disorder that is not only chosen, but can be changed through effort. Not surprisingly, NARTH’s findings and methodology are seldom, if ever, offered to peer-reviewed journals for critical analysis. In short, the group lacks any respect from the wider scientific community.

Despite this, the founder of Courage, Fr, John Harvey, frequently invited to his workshops, as a major presenter, the late Peter Rudegeair, a member of NARTH and a clinical psychologist who was a major proponent of discredited (by all mainstream medical and mental health professional associations) theories advocating reparative, or change, therapy for gay men and lesbians.

Since last November the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis has attempted to promote NARTH as a credible scientific organization. For instance, in the November 8 issue of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the archdiocese, Fr. Jim Livingston (lead chaplain to the local chapter of Courage) endorsed NARTH by citing the organization as a useful resource and by encouraging people to visit its website so as “to learn . . . about the emotional root causes of homosexuality.” Fr. Livingston also recommended an audio CD of a talk given by NARTH co-founder Joseph Nicolosi, an individual whom Archbishop Nienstedt, when he was a bishop in Detroit, invited to speak to the priests of the archdiocese as an “expert” on homosexuality. Many Catholics are concerned by the archdiocese’s increasing reliance on the discredited perspective and “findings” of NARTH to support and validate Church teaching on homosexuality.

Although Courage itself does not attempt to change adult homosexual orientation, its website has a link to NARTH’s website and to the websites of many non-Catholic so-called “ex-gay”conservative religious groups—such as, Exodus International, Homosexuals Anonymous, Hope Ministry, International Healing Foundation, JONAH, People Can Change, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (PFOX), and Straightway. Furthermore, Courage is yet to refute the pseudo-science of reparative therapy these “ex-gay” groups advocate. From the perspective of all mainstream medical and mental health professional associations, homosexuality is not a disorder requiring either curing or repairing. Furthermore, many of these professional associations even hold that to attempt such “cures” is unethical and verges on malpractice.

Yet Courage does not dissuade its members from pursuing such “therapy,” and links to NARTH’s and other ex-gay groups’ websites from its own website. We consider this to be not only unethical, but morally reprehensible. Courage is basically saying to its members that the unhealthy and damaging practice of reparative therapy is okay, but, under no circumstances are its members to consider pursuing and maintaining a loving committed same-sex relationship – relationships which, as a number of recent and reputable studies have shown, are “not atypical, psychologically immature, or malevolent contexts of development.” (Glenn I. Roisman, PhD, American Psychological Association media release, January 22, 2008.)

3. Alternative Catholic perspectives on homosexuality

CPCSM has always supported those who feel called by God to live a celibate life. Yet we have serious concerns when Courage and the hierarchical Church insist that all gay and lesbian people are called to lifelong celibacy as a result of their God-given sexual orientation. We believe that this reflects an extremely limited and ultimately unhealthy understanding of human sexuality and of God’s presence and call in the lives and relationships of LGBT people.

With the vast majority of LGBT Catholics, their parents, loved ones, and allies we recognize and celebrate human sexuality – gay and straight – as a God-given gift that we are called to holistically integrate into our lives. For the majority of people – gay or straight – such wholeness and authenticity means seeking and cultivating an intimate relationship with another – a relationship which by its love and commitment is pure in thought and conduct, i.e., chaste. Being authentic in this way – as many LGBT people will attest – requires great dedication and courage.

LGBT people, along with heterosexual people, can and do experience sexual relationships marked by justice, wholeness, and life-giving love. We believe that such experiences, along with current scientific understanding of homosexuality, can and should inform church teaching on human sexuality.

Recent data (2007) published by the Pew Forum in its study of Religion in America show that a majority of U.S. Catholics (58 percent) currently favor acceptance of gay people and relationships and that such approval is proportionately greater in the Catholic Church than in other Christian churches or in the nation as a whole. It would seem that many Catholics concur with National Catholic Reporter editor, Tom Roberts, when he states: “[Some insist] that current thinking that is tolerant of homosexuality [is] ignoring ancient wisdom. I happen to think that current wisdom that welcomes homosexuals is, more correctly, finally dropping centuries of ancient ignorance.” (NCR, January 2006.)

The editors of the 1994 anthology, Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources of Theological Reflection, suggest that this ignorance stems, in part, from the fact that “throughout most of Christian history the vast majority of theologians who wrote about sexuality tried to approach the subject from one direction only: they began with affirmations and assertions of the faith (from scriptures, from doctrines, from churchly teachings, and so on) and then applied those to human sexuality. Now, theologians are assuming that the other direction of inquiry is important as well: What does our sexual experience reveal about God? About the ways we understand the Gospel? About the ways we read scripture and tradition and attempt to live out the faith?”

Such questions, we admit, can be unsettling. But we think that it is not the Catholic way to shy away from them and to retreat instead into some fantasy world where, despite both scientific and experiential evidence to the contrary, we insist that we have all the possible answers (and thus knowledge) available to us about what it means to be sexual, what it means to be human.

4. Church teaching on homosexuality

In his November 1 column in The Catholic Spirit, editor Joe Towalski notes that homosexuality is a “hot button issue for the church,” yet he does not say why this is the case. We’d like to suggest that one reason why many issues related to human sexuality remain controversial is because the majority of Catholics intuitively sense that the teachings of the church about these issues lack credibility. The reason for this is simple: the laity has had no part in shaping these teachings.

The belief that the laity should be consulted in matters of doctrine, especially when teachings concern their lives intimately, is part of Catholicism’s rich heritage. For instance, the great English theologian, Cardinal John Henry Newman (1801-90) wrote that: “The body of the faithful is one of the witnesses to the fact of the tradition of revealed doctrine, and . . . their consensus through Christendom is the voice of the Infallible Church.”

With regards to the issue of homosexuality, the “body of the faithful” is still very much engaged in the journey towards “consensus.” (As noted above, recent data published by the Pew Forum shows that 58 percent of U.S. Catholics favor acceptance of gay people and relationships.) And in other areas, what can reasonably be viewed as consensus is actually at odds with the teaching of the hierarchical church. For instance, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops concedes that 96 percent of married Catholics use birth control. Clearly, the church’s teachings on a range of sexual issues are not set in stone. This shouldn’t be surprising, for as Jesuit Philip Endean reminds us: “Dogmas of tradition exist not as truths complete in themselves, but rather as resources for helping us discover the ever greater glory . . . of the God whose gift of self pervades all possible experience.” And “all possible experience” includes gay people’s experiences of love, intimacy, and relationship.

All of this should serve to remind us that truth is discovered through time and that tradition evolves. The Church is currently teaching in Section 2358 of the Catechism, that homosexuals should be treated with compassion and sensitivity. That, in itself, represents an evolution of the tradition. There is no reason why the moral teaching should not evolve beyond the “intrinsic disorder” of “homosexual acts,” and there is plenty of scientific evidence and moral/pastoral reasoning that it should evolve quickly.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Real Meaning of Courage
The Many Form of Courage (Part 1)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part 2)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part 3)
The Dreaded “Same-Sex Attracted” View of Catholicism
When “Guidelines” Lack Guidance
Be Not Afraid: You Can Be Happy and Gay
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Sons of the Church: The Witnessing of Gay Catholic Men - A Discussion Guide
Debunking NARTH (Part I)
Debunking NARTH (Part 2)
“Conversion Therapy” and the Pseudo-Science of NARTH
Former “Ex-Gay” Shares His Experience of NARTH
Far from “Innocuous”
When Quackery Goes Mainstream
No Place for Dialogue in Archdiocesan Newspaper
Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”: A Suggested Trajectory
What Scientists in the UK are Saying About Homosexuality
A Catholic Bibliography on LGBT Issues


Anonymous said...

I have the sense that I've been informally banned here, since a comment of mine on the Mary Hunt article vanished, but I would like to add three points to the cautions about Courage:

1. One good thing one might say about Fr Harvey in his defense of Courage is that he actually had to fight a number of his ideologues confreres on the issue of encouraging friendships between gay men in Courage (Harvey was strongly pro, his opponents anti - they drew from customary monastic practice, it would seem, in discouraging particular friendships, yadayada).

2. That said, Fr Harvey appears to have had real issues with what he viewed as effeminacy in gay men. It became one of his big memes. This approach is really noxious and also pretty ignorant. To wit:

3. Courage appears to rely on warmed-over Freudian theories of sexuality - which is actually very weird for a supposedly Catholic group. Those theories are not only highly dubious (they assume causation from what they see as correlation, but they never critique that assumption), but result in real harm. For example, a formerly close friend of mine entered the Courage realm after years of fitful living as an out gay man. What did Courage teach him: to blame his father for his "illness" (based on these lame Freudian theories). This introduced entirely new toxic crap into his parental relationships. Wow, this is "pro-family"? Whatever.

I realize there are people for whom their sexual orientation is misery and they want out of it and they find balm in Courage. I would caution people, however, about what can go wrong there.

kevin57 said...

I'll be interested to hear how many, if any, deacons respond, positively or negatively. Keep us updated.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Liam,

I need a break from the types of comments that have been left here recently – including yours. It’s really that simple.

It’s not so much what you and others say but the way you say it. Case in point: the comment about Mary Hunt. I was all set to respond to it the other night when, rereading it, I got totally pissed off by the almost sneeringly dismissive tone of it. I thought to myself, “I don’t need this crap!” And before I knew it I hit “delete.” (I admit it was late and I’d had a long day!)

I realize that so many comments left by those who are clearly opposed to the perspective of this blog, are not really attempts to dialogue but rather attempts to “correct,” to “set things right.” It seems like some have taken it upon themselves to be the orthodox police and, in so doing, simply use this blog as a platform for their own agenda. To which I say, get your own blog!

But seriously, there’s never any attempt to comment on things they don’t find objectionable, to engage me, for instance, on some of the more light-hearted topics and therefore actually get to know me as a person. There’s also rarely any real attempt to find common ground. I find the comments that are left to be, by and large, patronizing, demeaning and/or dismissive in tone. And after a while, that gets to be draining and oppressive.

Of course, patronizing, demeaning and/or dismissive is exactly how the hierarchical church treats LGBT folks. Quite frankly, I get enough of that in my day job. I don’t need or want it here. In fact, I’d like The Wild Reed to be a place where LGBT Catholics know they can come and get away from that; where they can read and reflect upon alternative ways of being Catholic and gay then those offered by the hierarchical Church, without being constantly told (often condescendingly and/or dismissively) that their experiences, thoughts, and ideas are incorrect and need to be conformed to the “correct” view. Believe me, LGBT people who are still in the church know all about this “correct” view. It has a very big platform out there in the wider Church. And that’s where the dialogue really needs to take place.

I’ve discovered that attempting to respond to your comments and the comments of people like Mark and Dan, diverts my time and energy from what it is I really should be doing – writing and engaging with the “movable middle” – those folks who are open to discerning (or who already have discerned) that the church’s teaching on homosexuality is impoverished and who sense that the church overall is in desperate need of renewal and reform.



Anonymous said...


You assume I am an opponent. You assume incorrectly. I've tried to make that very clear. I am coming at this from the perspective of someone (among many) whose lived through the implosion of more than one intentional community over the issues you raise here. So I raise questions from that perspective. I am deeply dismissive of the insulated protective bubble many intentional Catholic communities place themselves in, and I don't hide that. But it's coming from a *very* different place from where you think it is. It comes from the understanding that the impluse, however understandable, is the one of the biggest obstacles to your goals.

But it is your blog, and if you want it to be an oasis for the like-minded, so be it. Usually, most blogs welcome pungent counterpoint. I see you find that too wearying. If I were you I would just be clear that comments are moderated so that critical review of the party line (and yes there is clearly a party line now revealed) is not welcome. There are plenty of those types of blogs over in the traditionalist world, Lord knows, and I've seen some progressive blogs go and die that way too.

Michael J. Bayly said...


Thanks for your reply.

Could you talk more about these intentional communities that imploded. Were you an observer or were you part of these communities?



Anonymous said...


I was deeply involved in two of them, with very close friends having similar experiences in two other, and that's not counting parochial experiences. In the case of the last and longest one, I was asked to be involved in post-implosion mediation because I had relationships with the various factions.

One of my deep skill sets is observing people talk past each other, identifying it and getting them to engage each other. That involves naming things that are being kept very fuzzy and vague, or ideas that are obscured by feelings and feelings that are being obscured by ideas. Et cet. And on top of that are years in legal and communication editing, where I was every day paid to identify dozens of times a day how communicators got in the way of their own goals (which is normal but often left unmolested in church talk) and to help them refocus their rhetoric more productively - blogdom is rife with this problem.

Anyway, as you probably know, people often very much prefer to talk past each other. Especially many church folk - it's part of the passive aggressive side of Christianity. Woolly thinking and fuzzy speaking are as addictive (and counterproductive) as black-and-white thinking and grandiose rhetoric. Many church folk use both.

And for folk in intentional communities gathered round a sense of shared victimhood, the problem is exponential. (As a former rector of mine trenchantly observed, one can see many of the co-incidental patterns of addiction being worked out badly in churches, not just oppressors but oppressed - and those categories are not uni-directional.)

I will not provide identifying details of the communities to protect the innocent, but I come to these questions with the sense that much damage came from people avoiding frank engagement of their own communities dysfunctions and tendencies to replicate (often by inversion) the dysfunctions against which they complained. And I came to the sense that you cannot change other people (here, hierarchs) but you can change yourself (here, the local community) and your reaction to them. In other words, if you feel the Holy Spirit is demanding Chnage, you might first ask "How does She want *me/us* to change?" rather than thinking first about how They should change...

But that the most fruitful ways to do so are not the ones typically favored in progressive First-World Catholic climes. So understand that when I appear to be championing less progressive ways, it's because I think they may be surer paths to progressive ends than the more familiar paths often taken and ending in bitterness.

Just as an example: when a Catholic church community is in crisis, I am skeptical how well served it is by agitprop under the guise of prophetic witness. (Hey, I believe deeply in prophetic witness - it's just that the people who think they are being prophetic usually aren't really but are often laboring under the burdens of narcissism or grandiosity.) But there is great wisdom in recovering the idea that, where there is a cross, there is the Cross and therefore also the font of rebirth and the Empty Tomb. And in that we find solidarity with the saints and the Saints. So solidarity has more witness value that agitprop. So perhaps re-using the tried-and-true Catholic/Orthodox formula of fasting-prayer (how about 40 Hour's Devotion?)-and almsgiving become part of the initial reaction to oppression. Instead of focusing first on press releases, signage and marches. (Part of the problem is that press releases, signage and marches have been so overplayed for 40 years that their value has become deeply diluted.)

I am not "post-progressive" but I am of the general tragic life-view that, as with life in general, we are often the chief obstacle to our goals, even when we have genuine oppressors to confront and engage (which we do). It's very tempting to focus on the oppressor as Other. And that in the end is often (I will not say always and univeralize it) and loose sight of how we are not as different from the Other as we fancy ourselves and that much of the medicine we want to administer to the Other might best be sampled by ourselves first.... We have to model our own justice first before expecting it from anyone else - and we often fail miserably in doing so. I've seen more fruitful results from this realization than from the more typical approach. So I like to share that perspective and the questions and concerns that come with it.

My apologies for being snarky and dismissive. When I encounter rhetorical grandiosity that's self-serving or unfruitful, I usually like to mirror it inversely to reveal what's going on.

I also don't tend to cheer on blogs. Rah-rah reminds me too much of groupthink. As someone who was bullied a lot by practioners of groupthink, I am wary of group self-congratulation because it doesn't take much for the bullied to become bullies when they unite in their victimhood.

Anyway, thank you for asking. I hope this helps illuminate where I am coming from.

kevin57 said...


The frustration, fatigue, and sadness oozes from your post. I think much of what you say states a valid and necessary point. Your blog's purpose is clearly stated: it is principally for gay and lesbian Catholics who are struggling to find integration within the faith community of the Catholic Church. Unfortunately, there are more than a few who, yes, use this space not to seek dialogue with gays or even to understand us, but solely to preach and (I'll say it) "hate." Oh, of course, they would likely say they're saying what they do out of "love," that theirs is a Christian love, but as a gay man, I cannot say I have felt love from you, so what good is that sort of love (cf. Epistle of James). The more revelatory question is, do you LIKE gays? How many do you count as personal friends, people with whom you share a meal or a beer or invite to join your parish's ministries and organizations?

A gay therapist told me once, "Straight guys can't be trusted." Why? Because no matter how hard (they say) they try to understand and accept gay men, they just can't (or won't). I find that too cynical and dark for me, but there are times when I wonder if he was correct. I concur with you that several posters NEVER respond to 'non-churchy' items.

To you, Liam...I have not sensed the above in regards to your posts. In fact, I agree with your perspective about the pitfalls of intentional communities, as well as the facistic tendencies of many progressive movements. I've personally experienced it!

Frank Partisan said...

See this if you want to know what a real troll is. See Beakerkin's comments.

CDE said...


When I finish my screenplay, could I send it to you for review? I'm trying to unpack the very dynamic you describe, as it plays itself out in the Church.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

The focus of your screenplay reminds me of Chuck Pilon’s Waiting for Mozart: A Novel About Church People Caught in Conflict. Are you familiar with this book? The last two issues of The Progressive Catholic Voice have featured excerpts from it. They can be found here and here.



Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the tone of the statement posted here is exemplary of calm and reasoned dialogue such as the Catholic Church is dying for. I like it so much that I reproduce it on my own weblog,

CDE said...

Michael -

The Waiting for Mozart book looks interesting. I'll have to add it to my reading list. Thanks!

Michael J. Bayly said...


Thanks for your e-mails.

A couple of deacons have contacted us and thanked us for our letter, position paper, and resource list.

Most deacons that we know did not attend the conference, and one who was present reported that it was "poorly attended" - maybe 50 or so deacons. (There's about 300 in Minnesota - and more in North and South Dakota, which are also part of "Region 8")

This man also shared with me that Fr. Check's talk was "not controversial." By this he meant that Fr. Check, in his view, didn't hammer home the Church's teaching on gay sexuality and its expression, but rather focused on how important it is to treat everyone with compassion.



Jim said...


(bit late on this discussion I know)

I for one apologise for only ever writting 'negative' comments, or 'challenging' comments.

I was challenged by your challenge that people respond to the 'less serious' posts.

It's interesting isn't it how we as humans do that. Quick to criticise, but slow to encourage!

I'm all for learning more about your view point.

On a different note, I preached at church a couple of weeks ago. There is a link to the sermon on my blog, should you wish to listen!

Hope you are well,