Courage Ministry Instituted in Archdiocese of Louisville

October 21, 2012

The Archdiocese of Louisville, Kentucky, has instituted a Courage ministry which is intended to help gay and lesbian people lead chaste lives.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that the institution of such a group is not without controversy.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz

While Archbishop Joseph Kurtz maintains that the group’s goal is “both to promote the dignity of every human being and promote chaste living,” others see that Courage may hurt more than it helps.

The Courier-Journal notes:

“Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, a Louisville gay-rights group, said he’s a confirmed Catholic who has avoided the church for years because of its stance on homosexuality.’It’s repressive and really unhealthy for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, to suggest one can suppress an entire part of who they are,’ Hartman said.

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo is also quoted, noting that Courage does not employ a complete approach to the gay or lesbian person, but focuses solely on potential sexual activity:

“ ‘Courage views the homosexual orientation as a defect and as a burden rather than as a gift to be embraced and as an integral part of someone’s personality,’ DeBernardo said.

“Pastoral care, DeBernardo said, is ‘not about teaching’ but ‘about working with the person you have in front of you, in the situations they find themselves in.’ For many gays and lesbians, he said, their biggest struggles involve ‘alienation from family or integrating into society and church life.’ ”

The Archdiocese of Louisville has several gay-friendly parishes which take a more comprehensive approach to pastoral care.  The news article describes one:

“The Cathedral of the Assumption, for example, describes itself on its home page as ‘an oasis of prayer, a beacon of social justice, and a family where no one needs to be invisible because of their race, social or economic background, marital status or sexual orientation.’ ”

Courage as a ministry has been controversial because  it uses a twelve-step model to try to help people remain chaste, thus treating sexual orientation as if it were an addiction.

Moreover, even though Courage officially does not require a person to try to change his or her sexual orientation, some chapters have offered such “therapy” as an option. The Courier Journal reports:

“[Angelo] Sabella [assistant to the director of Courage] said Courage does not itself conduct therapy that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation — an approach that the American Psychological Association says is unlikely to succeed and poses ‘some risk of harm.’ The state of California in September prohibited therapists from using change therapy with minors.

“But Sabella said the group has invited advocates for change therapy to talk with Courage groups to let participants know about it. ‘It’s not for everybody,’ he said, but he did not rule out a divinely fostered change in orientation.

“ ‘If a soul really is desiring with his heart and puts forth the amount of effort and by God’s grace, maybe that person will experience opposite-sex attraction at some time, but who’s to say?’ Sabella said.

“But that view itself is harmful, DeBernardo said.

“ ‘By taking that negative view, they almost guarantee that people are going to come to want to change their orientation,’ he said.”

Bondings 2.0 commented previously on the Courage ministry back in January of this year when the Archdiocese of Hartford instituted a group.  The comment we made back then still applies:

“The main problem I see with the Courage ministry is that it primarily views lesbian/gay people in terms of sexual activity.  This approach does not consider lesbian/gay people as whole people, but narrowly defines them in terms of sex.

“Lesbian/Gay people are so much more than their sexuality, and ministry with them should address the totality of their lives.  For example, lesbian/gay people  have often suffered alienation, marginalization, and oppression, and these factors need to be addressed, too.  They are also people who have come to a remarkable and wondrous discovery about themselves that is very different from the majority of the population–a difference which should be celebrated.  Lesbian/Gay people may have experienced harsh messages from church authorities which may have affected their relationship with God which may need healing.  Most importantly, lesbian/Gay people have spiritual gifts which they long to bring to the church community, so ministry with them could focus on opportunities for them to share these gifts.

“In short, a ministry which primarily focuses on the possibility of sexual activity is a very stunted ministry.    It is a model of ministry which ignores a great deal about the human person and how they can be integrated into a community.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Marriage Debate Brings Out Deep Faith and Thought in Catholics

October 17, 2012

An amazing by-product of the marriage equality movement across the country has been the wealth of Catholics willing to speak publicly about how their faith empowers them to speak out for equal marriage standards for lesbian and gay couples.  Both ordinary people in the pew and church and political leaders have come forward to speak about the issue from the depths of their Catholic belief.

The National Catholic Reporter has recently profiled two such Catholics in Washington State. The marriage equality debate can seem harsh at times, and some times it seems like it brings out the worst in people.  In reading the stories of these two people, I think it is evident that God has found it possible to use this situation to bring out deep faith and integral spirituality in people.

Fr. John Whitney, SJ

The first article features Fr. John Whitney, SJ, pastor of St. Joseph’s parish in Seattle, who recently sent a bulk email to his parishioners, asking them to ponder carefully a recent statement from Archbishop Peter Sartain asking them to vote against marriage equality:

“Whitney asked parishioners to review the narrative dispassionately and ask themselves ‘if this referendum refers to the same object as does the Church’s understanding — that is, is the civil marriage to which the referendum is addressed, the same as the sacramental marriage described by the column?’ “

In his email, Whitney reminded parishioners that Catholics are

” ‘morally obliged to form our consciences well, through study and through practice’ and that ‘a person acts morally only when following his or her conscience, despite the sometimes opposite calls of public pressure, self-interest, fashion or authority.'” ‘That being said,’ he continued, ‘it may appear from the outside that Catholics are governed more by authority than by conscience. … The role of authority in Catholic conscience formation is, indeed, complex; but, authority never supplants conscience.’

“The ‘call of conscience’ is ‘the Catholic categorical imperative,’ Whitney wrote.”

Whitney cautions that his stance should not be seen as an opposition to the archbishop, but about ways of understanding the church:

“I very much do not want to make this about a clash of the archbishop and me. To me, this is not about persons but about visions of the Church. I truly believe that the movement of the Holy Spirit among the People of God can only work if people receive the tools to responsibly decide issues of public policy and personal morality.”

Senator Ed Murray

State Senator Ed Murray of Seattle, Washington, was the focus of the second article which focuses on this gay, Catholic legislator’s faith experiences.  His early formation came from his mother’s faith:

“Murray’s resilient faith and his willingness to speak out on complex issues can be traced to his mother’s love of dialogue, especially when related to Blessed Pope John XXIII (whom she adored), and her affinity for Catholic writers such as Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. At church and at school, Murray’s childhood was also infused with Catholic teachings focused on ministry to the poor. Beloved nuns and priests, representative of ‘a larger family in the best sense of that word,’ offered support and care, encouraging Murray and his six siblings ‘to grow in our prayer lives and our commitment to other people,’ he said.”

Murray’s adult spirituality has been nourished by a relationship with a Trappist monastery in nearby Oregon:

“There, Murray explored the contemplative and mystical traditions of prayer, structured his days according to the horarium, and read of John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila and Francis of Assisi, as well as Buddhist writers. He learned to listen in a new way, from within. ‘Through silence, solitude, prayer and meditation, you learn things about yourself — not always easy things about yourself — that help you become a more authentic person,’ Murray said.”

His mystical side is rooted in very earthly practicalities:

“Murray said three aspects of his faith keep him rooted: fellow Catholics who ‘continue to affirm me as a human being and continue to affirm my 21-year relationship with my partner, Michael'; the belief that followers of Christ are called to live with,

and love all people, regardless of other factors; and the fact that his prayer life and spirituality continue to be fed and challenged. Murray acknowledged, ‘My faith has helped me see people who strongly disagree with me as important and wonderful people, even when I can’t stand them and they can’t stand me.’ ”

Both the article about Whitney and the article about Murray are worth reading in their entirety by clicking the links above.  They are rich in insight, spirituality, and wisdom.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related Article:

National Catholic Reporter:  Same-sex marriage put to voters in Washington


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