Courage's Response to the Contemporary Challenge of the Worldwide Gay Movement.

Rev. John F. Harvey, O.S.F.S.
Reproduced with permission

Early in July, 2000, during the Jubilee year, thousands of "gays" and "lesbians" made a March on Rome despite the protests from high officials in the Italian government and from the Vatican, including the Pope. John Paul II said: "In the name of the church of Rome, I cannot but express bitterness for the affront of the Grand Jubilee of the year 2000 and for the offense to the Christian values of a city that is so dear to the hearts of Christians across the world.... The Church cannot silence the truth, because it would not live up to its faith in God, the Creator, and would not help discern what is good from what is evil." Reminding his audience in St. Peter's Square that "homosexual acts go against natural law" he added that "this inclination, objectively disordered, (emphasis mine) is for most of them a trial," and that persons with same sex attractions should be accepted with "respect, compassion, and sensitivity." (N.Y Times-Rome,7-9)

Sadly, this "gay" festival had strong support from a Democratic candidate for the presidency of the United States. It was also proclaimed by its organizers as a demand for same sex marriages, which has become a priority for the gay agenda.

Already, in the spring of 2000, the Supreme Court of Vermont had given to people of same sex attractions the legal right to marry in that state, and individuals with same sex attractions are entering into such " marriages". Needless to say, the majority of citizens of Vermont know that these unions are not marriages in any true sense, but like many others in our country, they are frustrated by the Vermont's Supreme Court's arbitrary assumption of power.

These false teachings, moreover, have spread not only in the United States, but in many parts of Western civilization. In the United States, gay and lesbian propaganda continues to penetrate both the public school systems from grade school to the university level, and some parts of Catholic schools and universities. It takes two forms: (1) The Gay-Straight Alliance which began in Massachusetts. It is an attempt, tragically effective, to get heterosexual men and women of high school and college age to accept the active homosexual life style as normal and morally good. (2) The second form is known as P-FLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Speakers from these groups make presentations in schools in which they advocate not only tolerance of the active homosexual lifestyle but approval of such activity as morally good. A Catholic high school for boys in a particular archdiocese had speakers from P-FLAG regularly despite the strong protests of both priests and laity.

Supporting all these gay and lesbian activities are the policies and ideology of the American Psychology Association and the American Psychiatric Association. The leadership of these and other professional organizations have no understanding of objective norms of morality. Their only criterion, if it may be termed such, is the emotional state of the person, how he or she feels about their sexual-genital acts. Unfortunately, a whole generation of priests, morally and intellectually misinformed in the sixties and seventies, tend to agree with the secular professionals, and regularly tell men and women with same-sex attractions to accept their so-called homosexual orientation as natural for them, and to form a "faithful and loving relationship" with one other person of the same sex.

Yet there is one hopeful sign which has arisen in the last decade. A new organization of about six hundred professional therapists has devoted its resources to the investigation of the origins of homosexual inclinations with a view of developing programs to help men and women with same sex attractions to move as far away as possible from homosexual attractions. It is known as NARTH (The National Association for Research and Therapy for Homosexuality). It's Executive Director is Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D., Encino, Ca.

While NARTH has had an impact on many persons with same-sex attractions, it is really up against very strong opposition and even the threat of legal prosecution by the vast majority of therapists who regard the homosexual lifestyle as a natural alternative to marriage. In this hostile milieu, Courage is found.

Courage: A Serious Program for Chastity of the Heart

Courage has developed a serious program of interior chastity, which includes, but goes beyond abstinence from illicit sexual activity. Abstinence is restraint from internal or external acts of lust. It is sometimes called continence, or an imperfect virtue leading to chastity.

Interior chastity, on the other hand, involves the gradual process of purifying the affections, leading to purity of heart. It is not easy to attain. It is really a gift from God, and for many it comes only after a long struggle with various forms of lust which are sometimes addictive, like pornography and masturbation. In the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, one first learns to practice the imperfect virtue of continence before attaining the interior virtue of chastity. All through one's progress from continence to chastity there is prayer and dependence upon the grace of God. This can be shown by explaining the five goals of Courage. Each one of the goals is a step towards chastity.

Goal number one states that the members of Courage will live in accord with the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on homosexuality. Both the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in its 1975 and 1986 statements, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach that homogenital acts are intrinsically evil, that is to say, immoral by their very nature. For this reason the person who wishes to be a member of Courage must fully assent to this authentic teaching of the magisterium. It may be that he needs further instruction on the sources of this teaching, and that is why the priest present should offer the sources of this doctrine to new members.

The magisterium of the Church also teaches that the very inclination to homogenital acts, while not a sin, is an "objective disorder" (Persona Humana, CDF, sect 3, 1986), because, if one gives in to the inclination, he commits an intrinsically evil act. In ordinary language, there is something deficient in the direction of same-sex attractions. On the other hand, an erotic attraction to someone of the other sex is natural, God-given, and meant, in the majority of individuals to lead to the commitment of man to woman and vice versa, resulting in lifelong physical union and the hope of children.

Some authors, however, tend to minimize this unpopular teaching by adding that everyone has disordered inclinations. They say, for example, when a man lusts for a woman, or vice versa, this is a disordered inclination. Not so. The deliberate act of lusting is a serious violation of the law of chastity, but the inclination for physical union with a person of the other sex can be rectified by refusing to consent to lust, and by cultivating a genuine erotic affection for someone whom one chooses to marry.

Perhaps we need to look at the context in which we consider "objective disorder". Certainly, the concept does not apply to a young boy or girl before the age of puberty who longs for an intimate relationship with a father or mother figure, because of a deprived family situation; but it would apply to the adolescent boy or girl who seeks out members of the same sex for sexual genital satisfaction. This young man or woman is seeking such satisfaction without being fully aware of the meaning of one's choices. Their fantasies are concerned with physical satisfaction, while their deeper yearnings, often unconscious, are to identify with a father or mother figure. As Elizabeth Moberly notes in Homosexuality: a New Christian Ethic, we need to identify the gender identity problem, rather than the sexual acting out problem. When a person, male or female, fails to identify with a same-sex parental figure, he/she leaves oneself vulnerable to sexual acting out in the period of puberty.

As Moberly points out, gender identity is distinct from sexual identity . At birth, one is either male or female with the physical-genital endowments of either sex. Gradually, the infant recognizes the body as different from the other sex; one comes to perceive oneself as boy or girl. This is sexual identity. Gender identity, however, is more complex. It is a process that begins at birth and continues into adolescence, concerning itself with more than sexual endowment. It is the attitude which one has towards one's own body, by which one seeks to be masculine as well as male, or to be feminine as well as female. In developing his masculinity, the male child seeks to be like a father figure, and the female child seeks to identify with a mother figure. This is what usually happens, but sometimes the process of gender identity is arrested, and in the opinion of many psychologists, this is an important factor in the development of same-sex attractions.

To get back to the discussion of goal one, the person who screens new members should read to the new member all five goals of Courage, and if the individual expresses doubt about the immorality of homogenital acts, he should not be allowed to join Courage until he resolves his doubt about the authentic teaching of the Church. In our culture some individuals think everything is open to debate. But this teaching is not open to debate, as teachers in Courage meetings point out. At the same time our priests show empathy to newcomers in their struggle to be chaste, providing for them helpful suggestions for the practice of chastity. The first suggestion is learning how to pray.

The second goal of Courage, written by the first members, is designed to develop an interior life of prayer with Jesus Christ: "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 Reconciliation and of the Holy Eucharist." All these exercises are meant to develop within the individual an interior life of prayer with Christ. If the person prays regularly, if he is conscious of the presence of Christ, he will be able to handle temptations to lust more easily. He has begun to practice interior chastity, or chastity of the heart. Having a real relationship with Christ through daily prayer, he is able to control flights into fantasy, or escaping into the unreal world of sexual temptations. He comes to realize that he has a purpose in life.

This brings us to the third goal of Courage, namely, "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."

This is the heart of the group support system. When persons are willing to talk about their own life in the presence of others with similar difficulties, they begin to live in the real world instead of the fantasy world of homosexuality, where a man is searching for the perfect man, and a woman for the perfect woman. Before I worked with Courage, I gave intensive five day retreats to priests and male religious who suffered from same sex attractions, and I learned the value of a spiritual support system. While individual spiritual direction and, in some cases, one on one therapy is necessary, it is not enough to overcome strong sexual temptations, or addictive tendencies. The wisdom of spiritual support systems was first demonstrated by Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A). Group Support systems help not only addictive persons, but non-addictive individuals as well. There is a good reason why this is so. In discussing temptations to homosexual acts, members come to understand that homosexuality has very little to do with sex, and everything to do with various emotional problems, such as inability to relate to the same-sex parent, feeling inferior to other boys in matters of sport, called "the sports wound" by Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, or suffering from emotional abuse by the parent of the other sex.

Sometimes adult men and women remember the extreme loneliness of their adolescent years when they were not able to identify with other members of the same sex, to whom they were attracted physically. They often remain with the unresolved emotional conflicts of that period of life until they begin to gain insight from group discussion. They begin to see the connection between their current temptations to act out, and their adolescent feelings of inferiority in terms of masculinity and femininity. They begin to understand that they have a gender identity problem, finding its expression in some form of lust. In brief, the leader of the discussion should help the individual talking about his same sex attractions to look deeply into his past, making use of the method of St. Augustine, as found in his Confessions. It is the method of prayerful introspection which should be joined with regular discussion about one's personal life within the group.

That is why the 12 Step program of Sexaholics Anonymous (S.A) is so beneficial to persons suffering from various forms of sexual addiction. In Courage discussion groups, each person realizes that he is supported by the other members present, who, in turn, identify with his situation. He is no longer alone, since he has persons with whom he can safely share his inner feelings, particularly in informal discussions after the meeting. Usually, Courage members have a snack in a diner before going home. The more one communicates with other members of the group, the less intense are his feelings of inferiority and loneliness, and the less vehement are sexual temptations. Be it noted that the members of Courage promise absolute secrecy concerning what is said in the discussion period. Their right to anonymity is also assured by the members of the group. But Courage is far more than a 12 Step Program.

Courage meetings begin and end with prayer. After the Five Goals are read, the priest chaplain may give a very brief exhortation to encourage the members to continue to witness to the truth of the Gospel teaching on chastity. Sometimes, for example, I will mention that another diocese in the United States or elsewhere has started a Courage chapter. In some Courage chapters, the members compose the closing prayers. In most places, members join hands in the final prayer, the Memorare to our Blessed Mother. The support group, then, fosters chaste friendships among the members. It should be pointed out that there are alternative formats to the twelve steps, including the following from the Courage Handbook:

This brings us to Goal Four which is concerned with friendship. Goal Four teaches us "to be mindful of the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in a chaste Christian life and to encourage one another in forming and sustaining them." The first members of Courage were well aware of the profound loneliness and spiritual emptiness of the homosexual way of life, and they realized that the human need for friendship was deeper than the desire for sexual gratification, however strong it may be. Together with the need for intimacy with God through prayer of the heart, goes the need for intimacy with other men and women.

The question, however, may arise whether Courage meetings have lead to chaste friendships among the members. In 1980 when Courage began, there lingered in many minds the idea that if a group of persons with same sex attractions came together, they would be to one another an occasion of sin. But that did not happen in Courage meetings in the early days or in any period since. I believe the reason that I have known of only one individual who used Courage meetings to seduce someone is the spiritual motivation of those who have joined Courage. I grant that there may be other instances of individuals who abused the Courage meetings, but I have not heard of them.

On the contrary, I have seen many beautiful friendships ripen not only among men and women in a local group, but between members in different cities. Every year at our annual conference, which includes Canada and visitors from other countries, one observes friends warmly greeting one another. One should not, however, get the impression that friendships with heterosexual persons are not encouraged. At our annual meetings, we have the presence of Encourage members, that is, parents who have grown sons and daughters who are in the homosexual lifestyle. These parents are encouraged by the members of Courage. At regular meetings, moreover, Courage priests relate as heterosexual men to the members, and the members find strength in relating to the priests, whom they regard as spiritual fathers.

Naturally, one asks, what are some of the reasons that lead to solid friendships among men and women who have same-sex attractions? I believe that the first motive is that members of Courage realize that they share the same ideals of virtue. They are not so much gazing at one another, as they are moving in the same direction toward Christ. The second reason is that they are no longer hankering for the "gay" lifestyle. To be sure, fantasies from the past do arise, but that only causes the member to realize that he needs to get in touch with another member for moral support. This sense of being part of the group leads members to have meals with one another, to go to various social and religious events, to have summer cookouts, yes, to go to sports events together and to make weekend retreats. Usually, there are more than two members involved in all these activities.

How different this way of living is from the homosexual lifestyle. In "gay" activities, there is no real sharing of the virtue of chastity. Many are obsessed with fantasies of sexual satisfaction. In any "gay" bar, men are evaluating one another in their preoccupation with sexual pleasure, although it must be said that in lesbian gatherings, there is not the same intensity of pursuit of sexual pleasure.

On the other hand, members of Courage are learning to live in a real world with real relationships with real people. This is certainly more conducive to the practice of interior chastity than the world of sexual fantasy, in which many heterosexual and homosexual persons live. Once again, having a spiritual goal makes a difference.

The idea that chaste friendships preserve the person from corrupting influences in the culture is not new: In my doctoral thesis, the Moral Theology of the Confessions of St. Augustine, I point out that the cumulative force of good example from so many friends penetrated gradually the heart and mind of St. Augustine, goading him on to conversion. Immediately before his conversion, lust tempted him to remain as he was, but the strong memory of so many men and women who had embraced the practice of chastity asserts its power once again under the personification of Chastity as a beautiful lady surrounded by a multitude of men and women of every age and condition of life. When added to the powerful influence of his mother, St. Monica, St. Ambrose and the good example of whole groups, this had a tremendous persuasive power over the unsettled mind of Augustine. (Rev. John F Harvey, OSFS, The Moral Theology of the Confessions of St. Augustine, 1951, Catholic University Press).

This reference to St. Augustine takes us to the fifth goal of Courage: To live lives that may serve as good examples to other homosexuals. (In more recent times, we do not talk about homosexual as a noun, but rather, persons with same-sex attractions.) The first members of Courage were aware of the power of good example, as illustrated in the Days of Recollection which they began, and later in the Annual Conferences which, each year draw many members of Courage and Encourage throughout the U.S. and Canada. Likewise, our website with its listserve involving 300 persons also reveals the power of good example. The listserve provides an opportunity for Courage members, especially those who have no access to group meetings, to connect with one another for moral support and fellowship. Particularly for those who are not at regular meetings, it is a Courage meeting in cyberspace. One can sign up for the listserve through our website (

Over the years, the members of Courage have known that they were a small minority among homosexual people. They have known that they were witnesses to the truth of the gospel. They prefer to remain anonymous, trusting in the confidentiality which binds all the members of Courage.

Regularly, Courage members seek advice from their chaplains for emotional problems and often they are advised to consult with clinical psychologists and psychiatrists who are in accord with magisterial thinking on homosexuality. With permission of the members, the chaplain may speak with the therapist. Since therapy is so expensive, however, many are not able to afford it. These individuals can get valuable insights from the Courage meetings, as well as from Sexaholics Anonymous (SA). In some instances Courage members want insight into the origins of their condition, and they seek it from approved psychologists and psychiatrists, or by following programs in some Protestant organizations who are in agreement with the Catholic Church on the morality of homosexual activity. This leads me to discuss in greater detail the relationship of Courage to various non-Catholic groups.

Courage & Its Relationships With Non-Catholic Groups

Already in The Homosexual Person, I have described the early relationships of Courage to other groups with whom we share certain fundamental Christian values. Courage continues to cooperate with both Protestant and Jewish groups. all of whom regard homogenital acts as always immoral. These groups, however, place greater emphasis on coming out of the condition of homosexuality than Courage does. This may lead to misunderstanding of the work of Courage. While we encourage men and women who choose to seek help to move beyond same-sex attractions, we do not make it an obligation to enter into professional therapy to come out of the condition of homosexuality because, in the present state of empirical evidence, we do not have moral certitude that a given person, well motivated, with the best of spiritual direction and professional therapy will succeed in recovering his natural heterosexuality. The most recent NARTH study revealed that one out of three undergoing therapy came out of the condition. Leaders in those non-Catholic groups with whom I am in contact, agree with me that one should not make coming out of the condition an obligation. We all agree that homogenital acts are serious violations of the law of chastity, as found in Holy Scripture and in the natural moral law. We also agree that there is something seriously deficient with same-sex attractions and that the pioneering work of Elizabeth Moberly and Leanne Payne has led psychologists, psychiatrists and clergy to a deeper understanding of homosexuality as a gender problem which can be properly addressed in both therapy and spiritual direction.

Actually, there are many Courage members -- a significant minority -- who are regularly at Courage meetings and who seek to develop a genuine erotic attraction to the other sex, understanding that the first step in that direction is the practice of chastity, to which everyone is obliged. They know this is an option. With regard to this question, Andy Comiskey, a Protestant author, warns about preoccupation with change in the sense of becoming heterosexual.

In making such a warning, Andrew Comisky, affirms that union with Christ in prayer is more important than change of orientation (Pursuing Sexual Wholeness, Creation House Lake Mary, FL 32746, 1988). Indeed, conversion from a lustful lifestyle to chastity is the more important form of change. In saying this, I do not diminish the importance of moving as far away from the lure of the homosexual lifestyle as possible; nevertheless, individuals who do not succeed in regaining their natural heterosexual nature should not be disturbed; they are indeed capable of living chastely with the help of God's grace.

Courage leaders keep their minds open to the latest research on questions concerning the origins of same-sex attractions and the possibility of change of orientation. Every year at our annual conference, we invite at least one speaker to present the current research on these questions. My 1996 book, The Truth About Homosexuality, addresses a whole series of contemporary issues, including same-sex marriages.

Courage and Teenagers

In more recent years, Courage has challenged the very language in which the public speaks about men and women with same-sex attractions. Parents, for example, will call in to tell me, "My 19-year-old daughter is lesbian", or "My 20-year-old son is gay". I reply that we need to stop giving our children a false identity or, more precisely, persuade them to stop identifying the mystery of their personhood with a sexual tendency, or gender confusion. I treat this point in my second book The Truth About Homosexuality and in a critique of "Always Our Children", a statement of a sub-committee of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in October 1997.

How to communicate this truth and the teaching of our Church to a western culture which lacks basic knowledge of moral principles and which accepts uncritically the "gay" lifestyle is our challenge. Courage accepts the challenge and turns to all of you for help. We may not succeed in reaching the majority of those whom we address, but, with the help of God, we can lead many to a life of chastity. As Cardinal Francis George said last October 7th, 1999, "To doubt that we are capable of living chastely is equivalent to denying the resurrection of Christ from the dead."


The practice of the five goals of Courage leads a person to a life of interior chastity and union with Christ. During the last twenty years, Courage has reached into all parts of Western civilization, while relating with both Christian and Jewish groups, who share our ideal of chastity, an ideal which is really an obligation upon every human person. On the other hand, Courage continues to meet opposition not only outside the Church, but often within the Church itself. It is strange that Courage has been able to work more closely with other Christian groups who share our values than with groups within the Church who fail to teach that homosexual activity is an intrinsic evil, and the inclination, though not a sin, is an objective disorder. With the help of God, Courage will continue to spread the message of truth concerning the chaste life.


Select Bibliography, Including Church Documents