Saturday, June 19, 2010

Notes from the “Laughable but Tragic” World of Courage

An exposé of the Courage apostolate has been published in the latest issue of the Minneapolis-based Lavender magazine. It’s written by John Townsend, who infiltrated the local chapter of the highly secretive “pro-chastity ministry” and attended several of its meetings.

Townsend’s resulting “
inside look” at Courage (known as “Faith in Action” in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis) offers an informed and insightful analysis of this shame-based “ministry,” offered as the only officially sanctioned support group by the Roman Catholic Church to its gay members.

Townsend’s exposé is reprinted in its entirety below with added links.


Courage, AKA Faith in Action:
An Inside Look at Catholic Gay Chastity Group

By John Townsend

Lavender Magazine
Volume 16, Issue 392
June 18, 2010

The change in public attitudes had a profound and lasting impact on European institutions and culture as a result of the permanent and official expression it achieved in thirteenth-century laws, literature, and theology, all of which continued to influence Western thought and social patterns long after the disappearance of the particular circumstances which produced them.

We’ve heard of righteous enterprises seeking to turn gay people straight through so-called conversion therapies that don’t work. Exodus Global Alliance, recently scandalized by its brutal Ugandan contacts, comes to mind, or methods to “turn gays straight” revealed so hilariously in the mockumentary Brüno.

However, the ministry known as Courage would appear to offer a more rational, humane approach. Tailored specifically to support persons with same-sex attraction, it is pontifically approved. As a Catholic organization, Courage supposedly loves the sinner, but not the sin.

Instead of “conversion therapy,” Courage’s first goal is to have participants live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality. “Chaste” is the preferred term over “abstinence.”

Support sessions, as Courage’s third goal states, “foster a spirit of fellowship in which we may share with one another our thoughts and experiences, and so ensure that none of us have to face the problem of sexuality alone.”

The Courage participants I was associated with referred to this so-called problem as a “disorder” and a “gender disorder,” even though the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973. To further reinforce this misconception, Courage directly borrows from the “Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous” in “The Twelve Steps of Courage.”

The word “gay” automatically is deflected, because it’s considered “a sociopolitical term.” Hence, any deeper discussion of gay folk beyond their sexual urges is ruled out. That deep love between men occurs and can bring social stability is shut out.

One man at a Courage session I attended said, “Gay men are not able to love other gay men. It’s just about sex.” That was the group’s standard view.

Toxic Myths and Messaging

Doug Jensen, a Twin Cities-based Clinical Social Worker, explains, “One of the core reasons why people stay closeted and internalize that same-sex attraction is negative comes from religious-based messages. Even political campaigns fall into this. It’s always based on religion, and that God thinks it’s wrong. There’s fear of repercussions—familially, socially, and occupationally. Messages are repeated and repeated and repeated from the day we are born that the only healthy role model is the healthy straight relationship. There are not nearly enough healthy role models for gay men, and I don’t think Will & Grace is a healthy role model. It’s very hard for anyone to challenge these pervasive and chronic messages, and there are layers and layers and layers in media, church, and family that transmit this.”

I Become “Courageous”

I was admitted into Courage, whose local chapter is known in Minnesota as Faith in Action (FIA), after contacting Kathy Laird, Director of the Office of Family, Laity, and Youth for the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul. I was put in touch with Father Jim Livingston at his North Memorial Hospital Chaplain’s Office in the suburb of Robbinsdale northwest of Minneapolis, where he interviewed me for 45 minutes.

Livingston seems an odd choice to advance homosexual abstinence. Middle-aged but well-preserved, he’s handsome and athletically built, stands more than six feet tall, and wears glasses without looking nerdy. He has a knack of making you feel like you’re all that matters.

Using an alias, I feigned a blue-collar identity as a man whose breakup with his girlfriend had surfaced unexpected attractions to men, making me worry that these feelings would lead toward my ruin.

Livingston sympathized, stating that my situation was not uncommon – and on that count, he was right. He stressed that FIA is not a program to turn gay men straight, but a space where, as the Courage Apostolate asserts, I might “experience the freedom of interior chastity.”

A few weeks later, I went to St. Charles Borromeo Church in St. Anthony, a suburb northeast of Minneapolis. I was met by Father Paul A. Fontaine, who buzzed me in to a sequestered area for FIA’s weekly two-hour rap session. Herein, closeted men share their success, or lack thereof, in their struggle to abstain from not only homosexual contact, but also homoerotic feelings that may lead to masturbation, since the last week or their last attendance. FIA or Courage are not listed on St. Charles’s website.

A different priest facilitates each week. La Fontaine, Pastor of St. Charles, is a middle-aged man who seems a bit world-weary. Father Jim Liekhus, from St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in suburban Hopkins, looks to be around age 30, and has an intense edge. Livingston, charismatic and comfortably low-key, is the most effective facilitator, who can sting with Biblical admonition, and then turn appealingly soft-spoken.

Bourne Is Not Porn

Two generational polarities seemed to define the FIA group, though all ages consciously, deliberately were on guard against that which would tempt them to homoerotic lust. Imagine a coffee klatch of matrons fretting about unbidden erotic feelings.

One man, who shared that he had watched a DVD of Matthew Bourne’s choreography, called it “pornography.” Then again, much is deemed pornographic by the group. Having interviewed Bourne, I stifled a laugh. His crossgender Swan Lake, an unprecedented global hit, supremely blended athleticism with grace. His family appeal is solid, with a dance version of Edward Scissorhands and his Broadway triumph, Mary Poppins.

Stigmatizing Physical Male Beauty

The group’s reflexive tendency is to label any image of an attractively contoured, athletic man ipso facto pornography.

One participant, quite fit, no longer goes to the gym because of other in-shape, naked, and tempting manly bodies to be seen there. He noted, “I have all my workout equipment at home now.” He had been attending FIA for years, yet it seemed that even though he had gotten everything else in his life in order – finances, good health, satisfying job, and social networks – he never could drive away his desires.

This man described it metaphorically: “I spend a lot of time shifting my focus onto green plants, rather than the elephant. The elephant is my disorder. Looking at the plants keeps my mind off the elephant.”

The fellow shared this struggle that just wouldn’t go away a few times, one of them being when Hope Lutheran Church Associate Pastor Tom Brock was a fellow participant. Brock himself made a point of saying that the man’s description of his struggle with abstinence dovetailed with what he, too, was going through.

Old Wives’ Tales of Aging Closeted Gay Men

Another man, a fair bit older, brought up the “what if” trap. He wondered out loud, “What if I had let that guy buy me a drink?” — 25 years ago. He thought he then might have turned to a life of sin. Regret masquerading as character?

This same person also carried a grandiose sense of guilt over a friend he had sex with decades ago who moved to San Francisco with his wife, contracted AIDS, and died. As if cautioning the others, he lamented, “If only I hadn’t had sex with him, maybe he’d still be alive today.”

Trans Does Not Equal Gay

That man also warned of someone who “spent a lot of money on porn and women’s clothes. It got to the point where he would have to travel all over just to hide it, so that nobody in town would know. It was destroying him financially.” The participant generalized that because the man crossdresses, he’s gay. But that’s not necessarily true. Straight men can and do crossdress, while countless gay and bisexual men have no interest at all in crossdressing.

The Illusion of Balance

On the other hand, talk about honorable aspects of gay politics was allowed, as long as it didn’t dominate discussion, and it did happen a few times.

A younger man who made the common group complaint of abject loneliness related that he had broken down, and gone to a barbecue hosted by gay friends. He thought they were courageous for facing discrimination, and being out in a homosexual-hostile world.

Two men expressed a fairly principled difference of opinion about the right of long-term gay partners and hospital-visitation rights in cases of serious and terminal illness. This issue recently took the form of Governor Tim Pawlenty’s veto of the Final Wishes Bill. One of the two is a senior citizen, and FIA is a social event he looks forward to weekly.

Heterosexual Primacy Versus Homosexual Demonization

However, these seemingly fair and balanced moments were ephemeral. Occasionally, childhood traumas surfaced.

One man observed with visceral anguish, “When my Dad found out, he said he hoped I wouldn’t molest kids.” That his father’s comment was brutal and unfair was acknowledged. But in FIA’s eyes, it’s to be expected and accepted as a cross to bear – because, after all, the son is “disordered.” No discussion took place about the father’s ignorance – where he might have gotten such destructive ideas, or where does one draw the line regarding the Commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

A very troubled man in his 20s – who had utter contempt for pro-gay activism – literally seethed with anxiety about social pressures he felt were out there in the world that wanted him to go the way of homosexuality — hence, away from salvation. He had visited various priestly orders on a quest for his life’s purpose. Although he clearly and naturally presented as straight and masculine, he was hyperconscious that others “would know.” It gnawed at him.

The younger men in the group utterly were tyrannized that they don’t have nuclear families, and make less money than other siblings. They severely were hooked into obvious patterns of sibling rivalry – comparison and competitiveness – that any therapist immediately would have honed in on. But no need to reckon with that in FIA’s eyes. Just stay “chaste.”

It’s the Media’s Fault! It’s the Culture!

Participants often groused about “the culture” – code for the endless train of signals in the media and outside world that make them think of hot men.

During the only time I heard the Catholic priest pedophile scandals mentioned, it was Catholicism that was being persecuted, not the kids. One middle-aged man insisted with great indignation that he was “sick of everyone trying to destroy my church!” The University of St. Catherine, St. Joan of Arc Church in Minneapolis, and President Barack Obama, along with a man who had defected from the group and started a pro-gay self-esteem website, were referred to with sarcastic derision.

Livingston told me at my interview that some men in the group ended up just “throwing away their computer” because of the cultural temptation it offered.

Participants felt computers were Satan’s playthings, because they led to Internet gay porn and man-to-man hookups. But even channel-surfing on television was treacherous, because one always would encounter images to trigger homoerotic desire. So, technology is Satan’s enabler. That the onus is on us to control technology, rather than letting it control us, is not considered.

Time Warp

Jensen’s view applies to the FIA group I attended, which definitely was layered in negative messaging about same sex attraction. In a metro area as multifaceted and multicultural as the Twin Cities, it seemed so odd that a group of men – mostly over 40, with college degrees – was so sheltered from information about the outside world.

These men were steeped in paranoid stereotypes of gayness reminiscent of the late 1940s — a Mattachine Society in reverse. Instead of a secret inquiry into the roots of gay oppression because homosexuality was unmentionable, the Courage group was a secretly convened reinforcement of that oppression in our comparably far more liberal time.

Bisexuality never was spoken of. Crossdressing sweepingly and wrongly was assumed to be a homosexual behavior.

Everyone in the group but one could pass as Caucasian. The only man of color who occasionally showed up complained that at past meetings, he had not been understood fully.

But then, Courage pelvis-gazes in a time warp. It was formed in 1980 under the aegis of Terence Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop of New York, with Father John Harvey as Founding Director. That was soon after Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign galvanized social conservatives, setting the tone for an anti-gay backlash exacerbated shortly thereafter when the AIDS crisis hit.

All that was a generation ago. Waves of new information and analysis since have influenced both GLBT consciousness and the hetero mainstream.

Nowadays, reasonable conservatives respect lavender thinkers such as Andrew Sullivan and Camille Paglia, both Catholics, and Bruce Bawer, with Catholicism in his background. But they’re of no interest to Courage, which is oblivious to straight allies being commonplace now. Even revered conservative columnist David Brooks of The New York Times at Minneapolis’s Westminster Town Hall Forum called same-sex marriage a conservatizing force.

Courage has erased GLBT historical heroes. No mention of Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, crucial in George Washington’s modernization of the Continental Army; Nobel Laureate Jane Addams of Hull House fame; pioneering sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld, exiled from Nazi Germany; or Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, subversively anti-Communist museum founder.

Religion Versus Science

In the anti-Copernican spirit felt even today in the anti-science Culture Wars, Courage does not believe that homosexuality is biologically determined. It cleaves to a belief that sexual orientation is disordered, and can be changed. However, most of the men in my Courage group long had been flummoxed and tormented about why after all the years they’d been attending meetings, they had not changed, but still had to fight off desires for men, homoerotic fantasy, and masturbation spurred by such fantasy. The group has a stated fear of ministries that see gays as having special gifts from God. Courage members attend Mass often, typically at more conservative parishes.

Chaste friendships are extolled as necessary in celibate Christian life, propagating the archaic myth that gay men are unable to have platonic relationships with other gay men, or that they constantly must be submerging nymphomanical passions toward straight men.

Those who see sexual suppression as noble, or a necessary evil, may think Courage’s abstinence position sounds healthy or “mature” – after all, promiscuity indeed can lead to self-destruction if not seriously tempered.

But Courage is a Lewis Carroll world where preoccupation with sexual abstinence paradoxically becomes a kind of sexual fixation. And, of course, who gets to define promiscuity?

Laughable But Tragic

If you chuckled over some of my observations as an FIA participant, that’s healthy. Overreaction to sexual issues certainly can be humorous. But remember that this is an essentially tragic situation, so check your wrath and scorn.

These men, drenched in all their unexamined notions, are chained in palpable fear of loss of public face and eternal damnation should they ever acknowledge their natural impulses even in their most singular private moments – much less act upon them. After each session, participants can go to confession down the hall with the facilitating priest.

The priests deserve some pity. They don’t know themselves. They supposedly always have held to celibacy, so the expansive nature of sexual awakening healthily channeled is shut off to them – arrested development. To read a variety of sexual literature and sexology rather than the draconian treatises on sex’s supposedly sinful nature or “unnaturalness” would subvert the blind, unquestioning obedience that the authoritarian realm of the Catholic hierarchy commands. In essence, these priests and their adherents have been emasculated.

Hunger and sex are two basic human drives. When they are satiated to excess, serious problems indeed do arise. When hunger is not addressed, we starve. When sex is not addressed, we unconsciously short-circuit that energy toward inappropriate and/or self-destructive behaviors.

Courage does not speak for all Catholics. Religions, by and large, can be interpreted toxically or splendidly. A wonderful thing about Catholicism, as well as Lutheranism, is that within their ranks is a willingness to look at their own warts – something any number of other Christian denominations and other faiths do not do. Both denominations were thought by some to have dropped the ball in the 1930s and 1940s. Thus, it’s natural that in the following decades, so many Catholics and Lutherans have returned to Jesus’ beautiful, loving teachings, and championed human rights and the virtue of compassion.

While attending FIA, I made a point of watching two wondrous classic films that wrestle with Catholic theology. Federico Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits wisely cautions that religious concepts misapplied can hardwire psychic damage in females. Franco Zeferelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon rescues Catholicism, reminding us how utterly colossal was the love of St. Francis of Assisi for all of God’s creation.

As long as members of any religion keep mean-spiritedness at bay, and incorporate new information in a changing world, they can be much-needed forces for human betterment and stewardship of the earth. With that frame of mind, timeless values put forth by religion can be revivified instead of being stuck obstinately in the 13th Century.

Jensen remarks, “People need to stop blaming God, and own their own insecurities and fears.”

Melik Kaylan warns from a Muslim perspective: “Arabian fundamentalists concluded that if post-medieval progress in the world made their values unworkable, then it was the world’s fault, and the world should be stopped in its tracks.”

One can argue that the same applies to certain – though far from all – interpretations of Christianity. Let’s hope the generation of moderate and progressive Catholics – and lots of them are out there – will stop the new Flat Earthers in their tracks.

As for those struggling with coming to terms with sexual orientation at variance to strict heterosexuality, non-judgmental, confidential therapists and counselors can provide individual help at whatever point of openness or closetedness one is at. It’s all about letting go of shame.

– John Townsend
Lavender Magazine
Jume 18, 2010

NEXT: John Townsend Responds to His Critics

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Courage
Gay Catholics, the Courage Apostolate, and “Reparative Therapy”
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
Holding the Courage Apostolate Accountable
The Cowardice of Courage
When Quackery Goes Mainstream
Debunking NARTH (Part I)
Debunking NARTH (Part II)
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace

Image: “Shame” by Paul Bradley.


Mareczku said...

I found that very depressing. I just can't buy that disordered crap. It seems that Courage seems to keep pushing on gay people how defective they are. It seems so non-affirming. I noticed in some of their conference information that they mention the speakers and say that so and so is married and has so many children. I wonder when the last time was that they had a gay speaker that was raising a family. To them it seems as if that type of people don't exist. What do they do in states like Massachusetts and Iowa where gay marriage exists? Can they just ignore that?

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB said...

As many of you may be aware, I was part of the local Courage group. I can attest to everything John writes in this article. My own story of my experience with Courage can be found at Click on Narratives and then on my name and you can read my own story.

It is very depressing what they do, and to say that it can be very damaging to an individual to go through that, is quite the understatement.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks for the link to your narrative, Phillip, and for sharing your story at last November's CPCSM event, “Holding the Courage Apostolate Accountable: The Catholic Church, Homosexuality, and Reparative Therapy.”



Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB said...

Michael, you are most welcome. I did talk a bit about the Courage Article in my own blog today. The blog is titled: Who Were The Eunuchs? Is there "Courage" to find out?
If it is okay, I would like to leave this quote in your comments today.

"During the only time I heard the Catholic priest pedophile scandals mentioned, it was Catholicism that was being persecuted, not the kids. One middle-aged man insisted with great indignation that he was “sick of everyone trying to destroy my church!” The University of St. Catherine, St. Joan of Arc Church in Minneapolis, and President Barack Obama, along with a man who had defected from the group and started a progay self-esteem website, were referred to with sarcastic derision."

If the line in bold is suppose to refer to me, as I am a guy who left the group and started writing this blog, I am very interested in how a blog that supports the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Church and society through the use of Bible readings is referred to a "pro gay, self-esteem website." If this is meant to suggest that those of us who are gay and for LGBT equality in the Church and society are seeking our own self-esteem because our sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression does not allow us to have any, it is very interesting to hear that from an ex gay ministry that encourages people who "have the disorder of same-sex attraction" to change it suggesting that it is low self-esteem that may have created it in the first place. Self-esteem can be very damaged by suggesting that if we are LGBT, the only way we can be happy is to abstain from all romantic and physical relationships. When we are told not to love other people in the way we are created and we suppress our feelings for people of the same-sex, low self-esteem is an inevitable and damaging consequence. It is also very interesting to me that a group such as the Courage Apostolate suggests that people like myself who are gay are so because of rejection by our parents, culture and the like. Yet, among the many things that group has been called together to do, is to "help" us reject that very part of ourselves that is the core of how we are created by God to love other people. Exactly how is an individual suppose to grow any level of self-esteem with a philosophy like that? If my blog which encourages LGBT individuals to seek out a relationship with the one Triune God who created us all out of love for love and find their self-esteem in the process, I am so honored by such a title. The fact that such individuals have to stoop so low as to refer to me or whoever they are referring to with sarcasm to make yourselves feel better about the whole thing, I think it is time someone in that group went out on a date to find some real happiness in their life. But to call yourselves a "ministry" when you encourage low self-esteem for LGBT individuals is hardly a group that leads people to a true understanding of yourselves and our relationship to God.

Terry Nelson said...

Michael, the article could be laughable if the subject matter were not so tragic. I often recommend Courage to those folks reading my blog who may be seeking to live a chaste and celibate lifestyle in accord with Catholic Church teaching. The fraternal support is often necessary for those men who struggle to live according to the teaching of the Church.

I only know one member of Courage - a man who reads my blog. However, I do know Fr. John Harvey as well as Fr. Benedict Groeschl - both instrumental in founding the apostolate. These men and their writings are very sound and instructive. I also know two of the priests mentioned in the article, although I doubt they know me. Both priests are also very sound, good Catholic priests - both very down to earth and deeply spiritual and compassionate men.

The tragedy in this article is how the participants involved in the support group have been presented. I've never been to a support group but from what I've seen in documentaries and heard from those who have, there is a candor amongst participants, a vulnerability expressed while speaking of their interior struggles which might otherwise sound laughable in other circumstances, or to an outsider who is convinced their struggle is unwarranted in the first place. In fact such scenarios work very well in sit-coms and stand-up. Nevertheless, such conversation and self revealatory dialogue must be assessed in context.

Additionally, people should understand there are many stages people go through in transitioning from any unwanted lifestyle or habit, especially from gay culture into faithful Roman Catholic culture. It takes great courage and the gift of fortitude to do such a thing, and is the stuff that saints are made of.

Conversion is an ongoing process and there are differing expressions or safeguards individuals employ. There are differing degrees of ascesis, as well as degrees of delicacy of conscience for each individual. Crazy as it sounds, maybe some guy really did have to throw out his computer or another fellow really had to stop going to the gym for awhile. There is something in the Gospel about that you know - "cut off your right hand..." No one is permitted to do that of course - but throwing out a computer isn't so radical a concept when compared to cutting off somethings else. Most likely the guy who did threw it out will eventually get a new one anyway - only to face the same issues until he learns how to deal with them appropriately. Maturity also takes a long time for many people.

Generally speaking, the article picks up on the foibles of the Courage movement very well. The author was successful in making it sound repressive and just plain dumb. I think if he studies the situation and concept of chaste celibacy more closely he would realize that it is the active homosexual who is more a victim of arrested development than a celibate priest - but that is a difficult reality for gay men to accept.

That sid, if anyone is genuinely interested in the apostolate they should read the books by Harvey and Groeschl - as well as the Courage handbook - they should be able to discern that the apostolate isn't a crazy idea at all. Nevertheless, Courage isn't a fix-it either. Which may be why some people denigrate it so. It's a support group, an outline, or guide to living chastely amidst a hostile culture.

Anyway - I'm convinced most Courage members, as all Christians today, are prepared to be ridiculed for their faith.

Sorry the comment is so long - now I won't have to do my own post. God bless!

Fr. Jim Liekhus said...

Michael, I’m relatively new to Faith in Action and your blog, and even though I disagree with most of what you say, I’ve admired your civility and basic respect for those who disagree with you. So it surprises me that you would endorse Mr. Townsend’s article, considering the method of his research.

Isn’t there is a difference between fighting the principles of Courage and violating the privacy of the local chapter? The men and women who come to Faith in Action meetings do so freely because they are trying to live celibately and find the support of others who face the same struggle helpful. Some of them have decided not to share their personal struggle with those around them, which is their right and I hope we can all respect that. That is why the date and location of the meetings is not published, to respect their privacy and ensure a safe environment for all involved.

Mr. Townsend pretended to be someone he is not in order to gain the trust of these men and women and find out what goes on at our meetings – why not just ask Philip? He gained no knowledge that he couldn’t have gained otherwise, but did succeed in casting a cloud of suspicion on any new members who may wish to join the group. Also, why publicize when and where our meetings are and expose our members to attention they don’t want? All that does is force us to find another date and location in order to protect our members from those who might decide to disrupt our meetings in protest, or take out their displeasure with Courage on them.

I sincerely hope our members will be left in peace by those who are fighting the Courage Apostolate.

Fr. Jim Liekhus

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB said...

Sadly, this last comment presents the possibility that Courage and those who have started it is really a good thing. Those who have been through it and have come out with all kinds of stories to tell, many of them told on Beyond Ex-Gay and Truth Wins Out, can attest to how damaging the anti-gay rhetoric and the suppression of our true selves really is.

The arch-conservatives Harvey and Groschel are papal yes guys, no matter how wrong the Pope might be. Courage is nothing more than a Catholic ex-gay ministry designed to turn people already struggling into people who channel that energy through the teachings of the Catholic church, and call it "obedience."

The feelings of personal shame, guilt, frustration and feeling of "this will never pass" that Courage leaves their members with, cannot in any way be considered a good thing.

As someone who was there and saw what goes on, and can say that everything in the Lavendar article is true, I would encourage all to stay away and find a good pro-gay psychologist at Family and Children's Service in Minneapolis or else where.

The Courage group especially here in MPLS/St. Paul feeds its group off of people who feel "hopeless" and in need of "help" and makes those problems that much worse. It is psychologically, Spiritually and emotionally damaging.

With groups like this it is no wonder why so many LGBT people give up on religion all together. Most of the suicides that occur for LGBT and questioning youth happen because many feel there is no place for them and God and their sexual orientation. Ex-gay ministries such as Courage that propose the idea that suppression of same-sex behavior can very much lead to self destruction. That is why it is really best to seek real help, not help from an ex-gay ministry.

Mareczku said...

Very interesting comments here. Mr. Nelson and Father Liekhus, what do you think of the characterization of Courage as an ex-gay ministry? I find it sad that a ministry has to put down the very people that it is ministering to.

Terry Nelson said...

Mareczku, It is my understanding that Courage was never formulated to facilitate change but to support men and women in their efforts to live chaste and holy lives in obedience to the Gospel and/or Church Teaching. Father can most likely answer your question better than I am able to do.

Unknown said...

I wasn't going to comment, but now I want to.

I never got the answer to this question that I asked in another comment on Michael's blog some months ago:

Just what is so offensive to homosexuals about men you don't know attempting to live a chaste life or, perhaps changing their orientation.

I would imagine that most homosexuals are "pro-choice" when it comes to the abortion issue.

Why aren't you pro-choice when it comes to chastity?

My thought is that it is very threatening to you to have to admit that your homosexuality might be a matter of "choice" rather than something that is genetically or environmentally determined.

Secondly, I find it interesting that the author of the article who obtained entrance to a Courage meeting fraudulently, made absolutely no reference to prayer, worship, Mass, the sacraments or any other practices that men who are in Courage might use in assisting them in their chastity.

I'll attribute it to the fact that his spiritual life might not be very active.

Basically, you believe that chastity is not possible.

I disagree with that. And I speak from personal experience. It took some time, and it took a lot of prayer, confession and sacraments. The better I became at prayer and the sacraments, the easier it became.

I suggest you try it, rather than criticizing those who are trying it.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Try what? Being chaste or abstaining from sex? They can be two different things. One can be sexual and still chaste, i.e., pure of heart in one's intentions and actions.

My sense is that whenever you refer to chastity, Ray, you're actually meaning celibacy. I have no problem with anyone choosing to be celibate. The problems arise when one is told one must be celibate in order to be in right relationship with God given that a core aspect of one's being is "disordered" and that expression of this aspect is corrupting and displeasing to God.

Such homo-negativity is profoundly damaging to people and leads to all kinds of dysfunctions and problems. It's this homo-negativity that's the real problem, not being gay.

The clerical leadership of the church and thus Courage is, I believe, in error when it says that being gay and loving gay relationships are wrong. Insights from the sciences and, more importantly, from human experience shows us that such relationships can be enriching, stabilizing, and life-giving. Those who accept themselves and live according to who they are - including perhaps by seeking and building a loving relationship with another of the same gender - flourish as individuals. And since Jesus was very clear that we are called to have abundant life, I cannot see how such a flourishing life of a gay person is at odds with God's desire for us.



Anonymous said...

I would have to at least partly agree in that I think COURAGE tends at times to be too closely connected to "reparative therapy" groups. From there onward, as a same sex attracted Catholic, I must disagree with most of this article. Father Jim however is correct in that, in order to even write this, the "infiltrator" apparently had no qualms whatsoever in revealing utterly confidental information about other participants, including names and locations of meetings besides, which are kept quiet mostly for the sake of removing, not adding to, the stigma which, whether right or wrong, fair or unfair, many participants feel and carry. And yet the article then speaks against that very stigma while feeding it. Somewhat hypocritical I think.

I find revealing those confidences to be utterly unethical and a rather cruel way of giving what should be an objective "expose." I respect that your friend Philip did not do so in his works but rather (both in person and in his writings) simply shared his own experiences without deliberately attempting to destroy others in the process. I am very disappointed in LAVENDER. I am also sad that you felt comfortable reprinting this.

Anonymous said...

I would also add, conversely, that I appreciate your attitude, Michael, towards those of us who choose celibacy and that it is between each person and God whether they can embrace this or not. But the article leads one to think that the Catholic Church would barely allow within the doors of her parishes those who are in relationships, and that is not the case. I do think that COURAGE has some dangers, but also some very real benefits as well, and the writer of the LAVENDER article seems totally unaware of those. One of the moderators of COURAGE ONLINE, David Morrisson, author of the book BEYOND GAY (published by OUR SUNDAY VISITOR) for example, lives with his long time partner, but they choose to live chastely, and I have not seen anyone kick him to the curb just yet. The Church has a long way to go in the dialogue here, to be sure. I just don't think an article such as this helps anyone's cause.

Fr. Jim Liekhus said...

My immediate concern is the privacy of the local chapter. Philip, we’d been anxiously waiting to see if you were going to publicize where and when our meetings were, or worse, take it upon yourself to decide that others should know who was in attendance and what they said; you didn’t, and we’re grateful for that. Wasn’t that intentional on your part? Weren’t you consciously deciding to respect the privacy of the group? That is all I ask from those who disagree with Courage, and that is what Mr. Townsend failed to do.

Michael, imagine if someone who disagreed with your principles lied to you, worked his way into one of your work/study groups under false pretenses, and then published in a magazine that is hostile to your work an article that named participants, caricatured their discussions and concerns, and reported when and where the meetings took place, in case anyone was interested? Even if nothing else came from such an effort, wouldn’t you be upset and concerned for the welfare of the group?

That is what Mr. Townsend did to us, and it wasn’t right. Of course, I am expected to object to this, so I am easy to dismiss. But if someone like Michael or Philip were to condemn such a thing, others would listen, and our disagreement could continue while the innocent are protected.

Fr. Jim Liekhus

Unknown said...

You have a right to your belief, Michael. And you are attempting to impose your belief on participants in Courage/Faith in Action.

The participants are not forced to attend these weekly meetings. They choose to. Why are you anti-choice? Why is that threatening to you?

Secondly, I picked up a copy of Lavender (it's free) to see if there was anything else of interest in it.

I was shocked to learn that in Lavender's current issue cover story, Townsend also appears to have "outed" a Lutheran minister who attends Faith in Action meetings and also has been very vocally opposed to policies adopted by the ELCA with respect to ministerial appointments.

"Outing" is not a crime. But it is a moral outrage when the reporter lies about who he is to gain entrance to a very private and confidential meeting and then reports confidential comments.

You may be proud that he did this and inflicted major damage on the credibility of Faith in Action. They probably will have increased difficulties in carrying out their ministry in the future because of Lavender and Townsend.

Skimming through the ads in Lavender, I was somewhat surprised to see that despite the professionalism of the production of the magazine, only three major advertisers had purchased ads, two of them being breweries, in an 84 page four-color magazine.

Apparently Lavender doesn't have a high reputation in the advertising and marketing world.

Mareczku said...

Excellent response to Ray, Michael. Ray, do you honestly believe that people can change their orientation? When it comes to reparative therapy, I think a lot of it comes down to training people to tell their therapists and families what they want to hear. Is it really that good to teach young people to lie so they don't disappoint their families? Perhaps Father Liekhus can explain why Courage is so cozy with NARTH, an organization which has been found to engage in harmful therapies.

brian gerard said...


Townshend and Lavender's actions to get this "story" are completly unethical. I am surpised and disappointed that you are promoting this story, Michael. As you know I am an out gay, former Roman Catholic myself. Several years ago I attended a couple of Courage meetings in Milwaukee. It was an honest part of my faith journey. While I would not recommend the Courage Apostolate as a healthy alternative for gay men, I think you (and obviously Lavender) spend far too much time thinking about them. A few hundred guys (gays) in the whole country are ever involved with this. Let it go.

brian gerard said...

Hi Michael,

Just re-read this comment and it seems awfully harsh. Sorry about that. I am glad we had a chance to talk this through last week anyway.