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


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