Courage Workshops Face Protests in Detroit and Santa Rosa

March 21, 2014

Catholics protest the Courage workshops at Sacred Heart Seminary, Detroit.

Catholics in Detroit braved the cold to protest Courage International’s presence at a local seminary, where the controversial ministry was offering seminars to discuss its view of homosexuality with priests, seminarians, and pastoral ministers. This protest is yet another incident where Catholics stood up for LGBT inclusion in the Church against Courage, which also drew criticism in Santa Rosa, California, recently from both conservative and progressive Catholics.

Courage was invited by the Archdiocese of Detroit to offer two seminars at the archdiocese’s Sacred Heart Seminary, according to the Detroit Free Press. About two hundred people came to hear about Courage’s 12-step style program for gay and lesbian people to live celibate lives.

Outside the seminary, Catholics witnessed against Courage’s harmful ministry and advocated for LGBT inclusion in the Church. PrideSource reports:

“When Tom Nelson and Linda Karle-Nelson learned that Sacred Heart . . . in Detroit was holding classes on how to minister to potential LGBT members of congregations by asking that they be celibate, the couple knew they had to do something. They rallied supporters through various inclusive faith-based organizations and held a prayer vigil in front of the church. The Nelsons also went inside for the class.

“Friday was for clergy and Saturday was for parents, educators and therapists,’ Karle-Nelson said. ‘We had 20-25 people each day doing a peaceful prayer out front. We had very positive signs and a very positive message “standing on the side of love.” ‘…

“[Nelson said,] ‘The reason Linda and I go to these things is because it is important. In our work with PFLAG and Fortunate Families we see the consequences first-hand. They are blind to how it affects LGBT people when they judge and discriminate.’

” ‘We see broken families. We see kids that are close to suicide and in depression. We see families that are torn apart. A large number of homosexual people do not come out of the closet.’ “

The Nelsons said that the seminar included psychologists telling participants that homosexuality was not natural, but the result of childhood trauma or bad parents. Karle-Nelson told the Detroit Free Press that Courage’s position demands lesbian and gay people deny who they really are. She believes these seminars were really an effort to build anti-marriage equality support in the Archdiocese if this issue arises in Michigan. The Nelsons were previously awarded for their advocacy as Catholic parents of LGBT children, and have helped lead protests in the past when the Archdiocese has failed the LGBT community.

Meanwhile, conservative Catholic media criticized Courage for hosting Joseph Sciambra at a program in Santa Rosa, California. Sciambra is a former gay pornography actor who no longer identifies as gay and endorses what many believe is a a form of ‘reparative therapy.’ According to The Press Democrat, he has said being gay is “tantamount to imprisonment of the soul within the disorder” and that certain gay sexual activities release “into the world these rare demonic entities.” Conservative voices criticized Courage for hosting someone formerly involved in the pornography industry. The news report on the program also contained local progressive Catholics who objected to the Courage approach.

In both Detroit and Santa Rosa, the Catholics standing for LGBT people’s dignity would likely the words of Tom Zerafa, who was part of the protests in Detroit and told The Times Herald:

“I’m out here this week on behalf of the GLBT community. Our relationships are valid. Our relationships are full, they’re life-giving, they’re affirming. Our sexuality is a gift of God and it should not be tampered with. Our sexuality is also not just a gift from God, but it’s a way that we give back our lives to God and to humanity.”

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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