In November, 1978, the late Terence Cardinal Cook of New York invited me to come to the archdiocese to establish a spiritual support system for men and women with homosexual orientation who desired to live chastely. With the help of Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., and others, I began our first meeting in September, 1980 at the Shrine of Mother Seton in South Ferry. Five members were at the opening meeting. The group gradually grew, thanks to articles in Catholic New York.
In 1983, I set up an office at St. Michael’s rectory in mid-Manhattan, because there was so much demand for individual counseling, in addition to requests from other dioceses for information on Courage. I was given a secretary for two days a week, and each week I commuted from Washington, D.C. to New York. Courage began to expand into other parts of the New York metropolitan area, particularly as the result of strong support from Cardinal John O’Connor. Courage also emerged in Boston, Toronto, Vancouver, B.C., Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.
At present Courage is a national network with units in seventeen American dioceses, and five in Canada, and one in London, England. Plans to go to other dioceses are on the drawing board. This leads to the question, why has Courage spread?
I believe that Courage has grown because so many of the laity have expressed a concern that nothing was being done for them in the United States or Canada. At present, Courage’s secretary Maria Mesina sends information to all parts of the U.S., Canada, and England. Our greatest problem is finding priests or counselors, loyal to Church teaching, to volunteer to conduct Courage meetings in their diocese. As I say in a forthcoming book, it is the cry of the faithful seeking the truth about homosexuality, and wanting to know whether their diocese is willing to establish a Courage unit for interested members.
Early in the history of Courage the first members were asked to write down the goals and objectives of Courage, and they responded with the following five goals:
1. To live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality.
2. To dedicate our entire lives to Christ through service to others, spiritual reading, prayer, meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass, and the frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and of the Holy Eucharist.
3. To foster a spirit of fellowship in which we may share with one another our thoughts and experiences, and so ensure that none of us will have to face the problems of homosexuality alone.
4. To be mindful of the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in a celibate Christian life and to encourage one another in forming and sustaining them.
5. To live lives that may serve as good examples to other homosexuals.
While maintaining the above goals (read at every meeting), Courage has developed its programs over the years. At its weekly meetings the members use The Twelve Steps of A.A. adapted to the problems of the members. The members realize their need to share their thoughts and feelings with others who are in the same condition, and the Twelve Step format is conducive to an honest expression of one’s inner self. It is necessary that each member talk about himself, his disordered emotions, his pain and loneliness, and, as he does so, in the context of the Twelve Steps, he gains insight and support from the other members who can identify with his situation. If one does not have a framework like the Twelve Steps, the members tend to discuss issues not related to their specific problems.
While discussion of a particular step is the usual topic at each meeting, this is combined with prayer and spiritual guidance by the priest-chaplain. Besides the Twelve Steps other issues of a personal nature are discussed, such as the possibility of getting rid of the homosexual orientation itself. Indeed the Acting Director of Courage in my absence, Fr. Don Timone, conducts two meetings a month — beyond the usual weekly meetings — for members who desire heterosexuality. This is an option, not an obligation. Certainly, we encourage it, working along with several therapists in the New York area, but we also respect those members of Courage who prefer to develop an interior life of chastity without seeking to change their orientation.
After much consultation with experienced therapists, I have come to the conclusion that Courage should focus on the Five Goals stated above, while making room for those who are willing to undertake the spiritual-psychological process of change of orientation. It is a long and difficult process. The experience of the therapists with whom I work is that some individuals, particularly the young, can change orientation, while others are not able to make the transition.
I know three persons connected with Courage who have successfully become heterosexual; all three are now married happily. As I point out in my forthcoming book, there are many instances of persons who have made the transition among members of various Protestant organizations who come under the umbrella term, Exodus. It should also be noted that many individuals lead chaste lives for years, reaching a stage in the spiritual life where they are no longer subject to persistent temptations to homosexual acts. While Courage is grateful for God’s grace working in many lives, it struggles to spread its message despite indifference on the part of many Catholics, and covert opposition on the part of some. As the result of our six national conferences, in each of which over one hundred persons participated, and with the help of advertisements in Catholic newspapers, Courage has become better known, although it is still the best kept secret in many dioceses. We want to reach out to Catholic men and women with homosexual tendencies who live in fearful isolation, not knowing where to turn for help. We need priests and counselors to work with us; it is a matter of spiritual life or death. John F. Harvey, OSFS, Courage, do St. Michael’s Rectory, 424 W. 34th St. New York, New York, 10001; 212-421-0426.