ST. LOUIS†- The church makes room for men and women who struggle with homosexual temptations, a priest and a psychologist told a group in St. Louis July 28 at the annual conference of Courage at St. Louis University.
Courage is a ministry that provides spiritual support for men and women with same-sex attractions who are striving to live chastely in accord with Catholic teaching. Father John Harvey, a moral theologian and founding director of Courage, and Peter Rudegeair, a clinical psychologist, addressed some 80 clergy and youth ministers from St. Louis during part of the July 27-30 conference. The speakers noted that a goal is to assist those who come to the church seeking help. They also promoted Encourage, an organization helping parents, spouses and children of people living in a gay lifestyle. "Courage is a support group," said Father Harvey, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales. "People need the help of God and the help of a group." He cited the Scriptures and teachings of the church -- including how Jesus reaffirmed the monogamous, heterosexual form of sexuality found in Genesis -- and noted that "God made man and woman physically different from one another so they can complement one another." Adding that the group makes no judgments on individuals, he said, "Our task is to help them be responsible in the future over tendencies which are out of control." The people who come to Courage are lonely, frustrated and have no one to talk to, Father Harvey said. The Washington-based priest told some of the history of Courage, starting with retreats he gave in 1978, using the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. In 1980, he began a formal group at the request of the archbishop of New York. Courage still uses five goals spelled out by participants. These include: -- Living chaste lives in accordance with the church's teaching. -- Dedicating their lives to Christ through service to others, spiritual reading, prayer and meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass and reception of the sacraments. -- Fostering a spirit of fellowship to share thoughts and ensure that no one will face problems alone. -- Being mindful that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary. -- Living lives that serve as good examples. Today, Courage is in 75 dioceses in the United States, including the St. Louis Archdiocese, and in many other countries. A recent study that has not yet been published will show that 74 percent of the people who have been Courage members have led chaste lives, Father Harvey said. Clinical psychologist Rudegeair, who is from the Philadelphia area, countered the homosexual lifestyle he said is promoted by secular media and by homosexual organizations. He pointed to an assumption that there is a genetic cause for same-sex attraction. Various studies prove this is not the case, he said. Same-sex attractions and behaviors are attributable to a combination of emotional, psychological, social and biological factors, he said. Sexual abuse or rape is a big factor, he noted. Also cited as a factor is a child's inability to attach to a parent. Both Rudegeair and Father Harvey addressed what is called reparative therapy, where people seek therapy to change their same-sex attraction. Rudegeair noted that people who want that are given referrals to therapists but that Courage does not focus on it. Father Harvey said Courage has supported men and women who desire to get out of the condition to do so, but the choice to heal the orientation is an option, especially since some who try are not able to change their orientation but are able to lead a life of chastity. Father Harvey, in answer to a question, said parents should not reject their sons and daughters even when they are living a homosexual lifestyle. "You should continue to love your son and daughter. At the same time, you don't approve (of) their lifestyle," he said. The priest said the son or daughter should be welcome in the parents' home, though regular invitations should not be made to the child's partner. They should, however, allow the partner to visit during special occasions rather than alienate the child from the family, he said. "That's not an approval of their lifestyle. And in no way do you allow them to stay overnight," he said. He also disapproved of clubs in high schools that focus on children dealing with same-sex relationships. He believes, however, that counseling should be available to help them. †
Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops