The Word Became Flesh
COURAGE and ENCOURAGE in the Archdiocese

Archdiocese of St. Louis
November 22, 2002
Reproduced with Permission

For some time now the Archdiocese has been supporting an apostolate that ministers to men and women who find themselves attracted to persons of the same sex. COURAGE is a spiritual support group for Catholic men and women who wish to live chaste lives in accordance with the Churchs teaching on homosexuality. Courage was founded by Cardinal Cooke in New York in 1980, and now has more than ninety chapters in the united States, Canada and worldwide. The original members and the priest-chaplain appointed for them by Cardinal Cooke formulated the goals of Courage. These goals include: living chaste lives in accordance with Church teaching; dedication to Christ through service of others; spiritual direction; frequent attendance at Mass; frequent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Holy Eucharist; support of others who deal with issues of same-sex attraction through prayer and discussion and periodic meetings. In considering these goals, it strikes me that most of these are laudable goals for any Christian believer, regardless of his or her state in life.

I support the Courage apostolate in our Archdiocese to assist members of our local Church who find themselves to have a homosexual orientation. These persons are children of God and members of the Body of Christ. They are our brothers and sisters, and our Lord calls us to reach out to them in truth and respect. In 1976 the National Conference of Catholic Bishops declared, Homosexuals, like everyone else, should not suffer from prejudice against basic human rights. They have a right to respect, friendship and justice. They should have an active role in the Christian community. In another more recent statement the Bishops have reaffirmed this teaching.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that homosexual persons must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided (nos. 2357-2359). Sadly, in the past and in our own time, persons with same-sex attractions have been victims of harassment in speech and acts of violence. As Catholics we oppose anything that would disrespect human dignity or deny God-given human rights to any person or group of persons. Our Lord Jesus Christ commanded us to love one another and to treat others as we would wish to be treated.

We must indeed reach out in truth. The Churchs teaching on this difficult moral issue is clearly rooted in both the Old and New Testaments and in early Christian writings, and has been consistent throughout Christian history. As Catholics we believe, as the Catechism teaches, that human sexuality is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such (no. 2361). Scripture and Tradition proclaim that human sexuality is a wonderful gift from God and that the only appropriate expression of sexual activity is to be found within the covenant of marriage. The Churchs teaching on sexuality and sexual acts develop these truths.

When considering the morality of homosexuality, it is important to note the distinction between homosexual acts, and homosexual tendencies, or orientation. The Church as consistently taught that homosexual behavior, as distinguished from homosexual orientation, is morally wrong. The Catechism affirms that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered, contrary to Gods will, close the sexual act from the gift of life, and under no circumstances can they be approved (cf. no. 2357).

The Church has never taught that homosexual attraction, inclination, or orientation is a sin, but does teach that these tendencies can lead to acts that are contrary to Gods law. Homosexual orientation is disordered to the extent that it inclines a person toward an activity that is immoral. Every one living on the face of the earth experiences problems and difficulties, including tendencies and temptations to act in one way or another that is contrary to the will and law of God. People may have problems with anger, gluttony, envy, pride, lust, etc. Gaining control over these problems can be a difficult struggle. But the fact that we have temptations does not mean that we have to act on them, or does it give us permission to act on them. For the Christian, these difficult struggles are not to be cause for discouragement or despair. Jesus offers us the gift of hope. With Gods help these personal efforts and struggles can become great opportunities, challenges to growth, occasions for developing new strengths, talents, and gifts as well. With Gods help, they can be paths to true holiness. This is the real work of Courage: to assist people dealing with a very difficult problem to live chaste lives, to grow in personal holiness, and lead lives that will build up the family of God.

Many in contemporary American society do not accept this teaching. We know that several other Christian churches have recently changed their positions on various areas of morality, including their teaching on homosexual acts. Anyone who reads the paper or watches the news recognizes that a national debate about homosexuality is underway, including efforts by some gay socio-political groups to change the definition of marriage and family to include same-sex partners. It is important to note that many people who experience homosexual attraction reject this agenda. I am also aware that some groups and organizations who minister to Catholics with same-sex attraction take positions that contradict Catholic teaching on homosexuality. They hold that church teaching can and should be changed to allow persons of the same sex to live as conjugal partners with the Churchs blessing. Neither Scripture nor Tradition supports this view. It is incompatible with an authentic understanding of the purposes of human sexuality and of marriage as a divine institution. Surely some of these individuals or groups feel motivated by a sense of compassion for homosexual persons. But we do not help people by assuring them that it is permissible to act in a way that is contrary to Gods will, and His design for our human nature and thus, ultimately self-destructive.

Courage is modeled on the highly effective and spiritual 12 Step ideas found originally in Alcoholics Anonymous and now in other groups who assist persons struggling with other addictions. People who are helped by Courage and other 12-Step programs realize that they are not bad people, but good people who struggle with bad actions. These programs promote two great gifts: inner peace and a growing relationship with God. That is why I support Courage in St. Louis, and why I have asked one of our priests to be their chaplain. St. Louis Courage group meetings are currently held every other week.

There is now a chapter of a related group called ENCOURAGE. This is a Catholic support community for parents, family, and friends of persons who experience homosexual attraction. Encourage meets once each moth for prayer, discussion and mutual support for those who desire to reach out to their relative or friend in truth and compassion.

The phone number for Courage and Encourage in the Archdiocese of St. Louis is 314.633.2336. Confidentiality and anonymity are assured.

Please keep the efforts of these two spiritual support groups in your prayers. And let us all continue to support and pray for those who are dealing with the issue of homosexuality in their own life or in a loved one. These persons are called to fulfill Gods will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lords Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition (CCC, 2358). May these brothers and sisters of ours find strength, peace, and joy in Jesus Christ and in the truth that His Church proclaims.