Friday, June 22, 2007

Dignity and Courage Compared as Ministries to Homosexual Persons

Several years ago, in the Paulist Fathers parish in New York City, there were two different groups ministering to Homosexual persons. One was a Dignity-like group sponsored by the parish in the liberal pastoral care mode. The other was Courage founded by Cardinal Cooke and developed by Fr. John Harvey OSFS with the assistance of Fr Benedict Groeschel and Archbishop Edwin O"Brien of the Military Ordinariate. Perplexed by what looked like unnecessary replication , some interested persons wondered 1) why were there two groups ministering to the same population and 2) was there any real difference between the two apparently competing groups.

In fact, there are important and obvious differences. An immediate framework for understanding the differences can be found in the Five Goals of Courage which were formulated by the Same Sex Attracted1 members themselves. The first and most important goal reads as follows:"Live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality."

A member of the Parish Council had asked me, the facilitator of the local Courage chapter, the direct question: What is the difference between the two groups?" My reply created a flurry of activity when I said: "Courage is the Catholic one." The rationale for that statement is, hopefully explained in the following paragraphs.
Dignity was founded by John McNeill, an ex-priest and ex-Jesuit who had been personally involved with a same sex lover for approximately 20 years. His intention (garnered from his own writings) was to create a support system for those Catholics who, like himself, being homosexual and Catholic, wished to maintain active participation in both areas. This meant some kind of selective and subjective Catholicism. However, Catholicism insists that Chastity (as described in Galatians as gift/fruit of the Holy Spirit of God) is the obligation of all, including "Gays."2

They, however, argue that since they usually lack the option of marriage with the opposite sex, they should be "excepted" from this Catholic teaching which, they admit, legitimately applies to everyone else.

Stripped of any possible obscurity, the teaching basically says that human sexual behavior is limited exclusively to a man and a woman united in lawful marriage. Sexual behavior outside of this state of life (which probably encompasses most of the human race) is considered not only inappropriate but sinful, in se. That many persons consistently violate such an ideal does not destroy the teaching and belief of the Catholic Church. It is intact and basic to the Catholic stance. Obviously, there is much dissent on this point. Indeed, Dignity is listed among the dissidents, arguing that God would not impose such a cross as chaste celibacy on those who have strong sexual drives and needs. Yet, two years ago, in Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago stunned a conference of "Gays and Lesbians" with a counter point. He said: "Anyone who says that chastity cannot be practiced, in effect, proclaims that he does not believe in the Resurrection of Christ." He received an applause which was polite but largely muted.

Fr. John Harvey takes a similar position. In a New York Vicariate meeting of priests, I asked him publicly why he thought there was opposition to the teachings of Courage among some clergy. He replied, "Because they don't believe chastity for SSA is possible." The Dignity-like group which previously functioned in the Paulist parish was facilitated by a layman, an attorney. He was quoted in Chelsea-Clinton News, a small newspaper operating in a heavily Gay area, on the West side of Manhattan, as saying that he never surfaced the Catholic position on chastity but preferred to keep the teaching unarticulated. Each member could decide for himself, with some in "relationships"3, and others not. In the face of such a policy, it is interesting to note that the present Pontiff, as Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote in the PCHP4 that silence, in dealing with Homosexual Persons, is neither pastoral nor caring. He skillfully challenges evasive and non-verbal positions as being "studied ambiguity." Such unarticulated policies are contrary to the very nature of Courage. This contrariety conflicts with the support group as an organization and the very etiology of the word itself. Courage believes that chastity (in the Catholic sense) is all about Love which is open and giving.
The Catholic Church (and, by extension, Courage) holds that only the tendency5 itself is considered to be disordered because it tends towards that which, in itself, is sinful.6 The tendency is towards that which, in itself, is wrong (sex outside of marriage)7 and at least objectively sinful. It is important to note immediately that, in a Catholic view, it is the tendency which is disordered and not the person. Superficial reading or misunderstanding of this point, has, for some people, been translated into a false perception that the Church is saying that homosexual (SSA) persons are disordered. The distinction seems to be difficult for some SSA persons to fathom but, psychologically, the distinction is profoundly comprehensible to many students of the human psyche.

In any event Cardinal O'Connor, the Archbishop of New York, like so many other American Bishops, banned Dignity from his jurrisdiction, forbidding any use of Churches or Church property by that Organization. At the same time, the Cardinal established Courage, publicly, as the only official ministry in his Archdiocese to minister to the Same Sex Attraction Problem. Some Dignity people moved their meetings to welcoming non-Catholic Churches, sometimes attended by priests who motivated either by misplaced compassion or disobedience, conducted underground Masses and the like. Others, unwilling to move out, invented a simple but brilliant solution to their dilemma. They changed the name of the group, dropped the name "Dignity", kept everything else and technically, no one has disobeyed Christ's representative. The word of the Law was kept, if not the Spirit. Hence, McNeill's "vision" can be carried on as "The ministry to gays and lesbians."

It has been my experience of almost 40 years of ministering to SSA persons that most do not want to leave the Catholic Church, their real spiritual home. It is often with bitterness that some leave to join more "inclusive" groups, like the Episcopalian Church which offers them the "Eucharist" asking only a single requirement. Simply the "desire" to receive. Most Dignity people do not want such a switch of religious loyalty. Many are aware of the Catholic hesitancy to accept without qualification the validity of Anglican Orders.8 This conflict means much suffering for these people. Reception of the Eucharist as Catholics requires chastity which, in turn, means foregoing all sexual behavior outside of marriage as defined above. Such a conflict does not exist for Courage members who with clear consciences receive their Divine Lord in Holy Communion, regularly and often. They have submitted to God's will and, by His grace, live lives of peace and good humor. The struggle with temptation is real but manageabble. For the most part, Courage members who work the Program do remarkably well and even achieve high levels of healthy spirituality.

Courage has been accused of damaging human psyches and leading "innocents" into lives of misery. This accusation stems from some kind of wild claim that Courage tries to "rehab" or change people's personality and basic nature. The implication is that the goal of Courage is to make everyone heterosexual. It is difficult to know where such a perception originates since it is totally antithetical to the goals, literature and operation of Courage. The main goal of Courage is a main goal of Catholicism. That is to assist people, with the help of God, to achieve interior chastity. Anything beyond that is not the primary work of Courage. If a member of Courage feels called to Married life, he might well pursue that personal goal. But to hold that Courage tries to change every SSA into OSA [1] is absurd. This Frankensteinian perception must have come from hearsay, ignorance or someone’s personal agenda. The accusation is totally false. Clearly and even clinically, Chastity does not destroy people. It integrates them with themselves. It makes people whole, not splintered.

Courage does not accept the idea that self control or self command is an unhealthy form of repression on anyone’s part, homosexual or otherwise. This is particularly true if the motivation for sexual continence is spiritual. But simply because I desire something does not equate with my right to have “it” whatever it might be. Call it Spiritual exercise or healthy suppression but it is not destroying people’s souls to teach the Virtues of Continence and Chastity. Sigmund Freud used to say that Id behavior (or infantilism) translates into “I want it now. Do not obstruct my desire” but also that adult ego behavior says: “Wait and delay your gratification until the proper time.” It is not unhealthy to re-direct behavior if it is destructive.

Courage believes that homosexual behavior is toxic for the human being and inimical to the Catholic spiritual way of life. Real Adults sense that we cannot have everything we desire because Maturity means adaptation to reality which means some personal limitation for “most people”. So, Courage challenges the trendy notion that because a person has the SSA tendency, he will become neurotic unless he “gives in” to that temptation. The data suggest otherwise. His self esteem rises to the extent that he, the Catholic, can, with God’s great help, fulfill the Christian call to chastity. He, like the Lord, accepts and carries the Redeeming Cross.

In effect, Courage believes that there is a large dimension of the immature and the underdeveloped in the unrestrained SSA person as in any other unrestrained person. Courage believes that re-directing any inappropriate sexual desire into productive and positive channels is psychologically healthy. And perhaps more importantly, spiritually correct. The desire of SSA people for intimacy, friendship and love is normal and right. They, like everyone else, have a right to such riches. However the correctness of their goals, their means to achieve them are highly problematic. Hence Courage strongly encourages friendships which are chaste believing that friendships are not only possible but necessary for fulfilled living. The Courage members of the Paulist Residence group have formulated the term “Platform of Holiness” to describe their growth in holiness and wholeness by working through their “thorn in the flesh” in the Catholic manner. This is done by God’s grace, group support and deep chaste friendships. They have achieved under God, much of the appropriate intimacy and masculine bonding they have sought.

The Catholic “manner” also impacts on anthropology. Specifically on the question: What is a person? Dignity thinking says “I am Gay” as if this were an equation. This implies a personhood deeply colored by “gayness” which views the external world through the homosexual “lens.” The person is defined in terms of “gayness” or sexual terms. The Courage person says more deeply, in a more Gestalt style: “ I am a child of God first. I have a disordered tendency which does not define me as a person. I am more than my sexual drives, desires gonads and tendencies. I am a person –called by God to be holy.”

Still, Dignity people claim to have been "born that way", i.e. homosexual, and hence it would be God's will that they should act in accord with that "destiny.” Rather, says Courage, God’s ideal will is that all people live according to His plan as outlined in Genesis. Obviously, the ideal is not always achieved. So, chaste celibacy is the Catholic resolution of this conflict. Surprising to Dignity people, such a resolution does not annihilate one’s capacity for happiness but enhances it.. There is life after chaste celibacy! [2] Basically, Courage, believes (granting possible predispositional hormonal influence during uterine life), that SSA formation is largely influenced by environmental and familial factors. Any hormonal or genetic factor would have to be triggered by some kind of “other” catalyst for it to become determinative in the formation of an identity.

There have been, up to this time, no credible scientific demonstrations for a biological or constitutional causation of SSA. Many gay researchers have made valiant efforts for such demonstrations but none has succeeded as of now. LeVay, Bailey, Pillard and Hamer all have done extensive studies and trials, none of which is conclusive. It is too simplistic to proclaim that genes, for example, are the sole cause of homosexuality. Neuroscientist, Dennis McFadden of the University of Texas says: “Any human behavior is going to be the result of complex intermingling of genetics and environment. It would be astonishing if that were not true for homosexuality.” In my opinion, SSA is the result of both nature and nurture but it is largely “nurture” or lack of it which is responsible.
Nevertheless Courage follows the “Sentire cum ecclesia” rule. Go with the Church!

It is highly probable that by following the Catholic church’s teaching, one is following the holy Will of God which means peace of soul in this life and everlasting joy with Him in the next. Catholic interpretations of Scripture in this area are consistent. Every Biblical reference to homosexual behavior is pejorative. See Genesis [3] [4], Judges, Lev., I Tim., I Cor. and Romans. Official Catholic Tradition has always seen homosexuality as a negative. The Magisterium which Courage respects as the teaching mode of the Church uniformly teaches the Homosexuality is a disorder. 2,000 years of the common sense in the Judeo-Christian world has seen the homosexual lifestyle as inimical to holiness and God’s will.
Perhaps, the -most telling factor, from a visceral point of view, is observing the miraculous re-direction of so many of the Courage people’s lives. There is real joy, self respect and inner peace in those who had previously been trapped in the homosexual lifestyle for some years. Their description of life in that drab underworld is anything but “gay” (in the older sense of that word). Indeed, It almost seems that the word was conscripted as a reaction formation (or mental mechanism of defense) from facing the brutal truth of acting “gay.” It strikes one as a kind of tergaversation [5] as the gay tries to convince himself that all it well and life is optimal. Young, angry gays shout how happy they are and how “Gay is beautiful.” Do they really believe that? Robert Stoller, MD of the APA writes in his powerful book “Perversion: the Erotic Form of Hatred”that the gay, way down deep in his psyche, agrees, at least in part, with straight society. After these 40 years of listening to SSA interior pain, I see the Gay world as gray, melancholy, lonely, guilty, angry and pain filled. Courage members report , perhaps as an understandable correlation, a heavy use of alcohol in that world. Understandable at least for those Catholic gays who know that homoerotic acts are characterized by the Catholic Church as “never approved.”

Pragmatically, were there no spiritual dimensions involved, choosing the “Gay” or Dignity lifestyle would appear, prima facie, to be absurd and ultimately self destructive if one listens to the depressing accounts from the “aging gay.” But there is a possible way out. It is the Catholic way and consequently the Courage way. It is the path of Jesus who taught that He is the Way highlighted by His Love. One remembers His insistence: “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Courage believes that Chastity is commanded and required by the Lord for real love and fulfillment.

However, there is no 100% resolution to the question of Comparing Dignity and Courage. Obviously, people will stoutly embrace their own insights regardless of data. A young gay priest acquaintance tells me that even though he rejects his own Church’s teaching on this matter, he will remain in the priesthood for “prophetic” reasons. He intends to work to “change” Catholic views on homosexual behavior. Reality would clearly tell him that he is bashing his well intentioned head against a “truth” wall. This might exemplify the life of fantasy so rampant in the Gay world.

Jesus said that we could know “them” by their fruits (meaning not sexual orientation but results or lack thereof). In the line of the old theological dictum—“Raro fit cum tigris”[6], rarely can anyone get AIDS by practicing chastity. Anyone who really wishes to see the truth in this matter might visit a Courage meeting to evaluate the work of the Holy Spirit. Beyond that, attacks on Courage are sheer deconstructionism. Of course, Courage has its own stone wall. Hence, both groups might not be able to listen to each other. But instead of scolding and debating, Courage members might use their time more properly by praying for the sad Catholic Gays and for their liberation from the Dignity equivocation into the bright world of His freeing truth. Did He not promise that Truth would make us free?
Does Dignity bring gays closer to the Church? It is highly improbable. Recently, in a large eastern city a group of “Liberal” priests had operated a center for Dignity type Catholic gays who ignored the Church’s teaching on sexuality as irrelevant. The priests, with great Christian compassion (even if misplaced) felt that they were keeping these dissident Catholics close to the Church and in the Faith by tolerating their illicit behavior. When, however, the Center closed for financial reasons, the Gays were urged to continue their Catholic life in the local Cathedral. The suggestion was declined since the Archbishop of that Archdiocese did not support Gay Marriage. They refused to attend any Mass he celebrated. This, in my opinion, is not vibrant and loyal Catholicism. The well meaning priests were analogous to well meaning but ineffectual parents. This is no way to develop Catholic spirituality and freedom.

Courage members believe that the Catholic Church, founded by Jesus, gives the Map to freedom by her teaching. Dissenting from Catholic teaching and practice, in the long run, is, probably, the basic criterion of difference between Dignity and Courage. But the choice is not merely intellectual and logical. It is also obviously emotional. Therefore, only by the Grace of God can one make the correct choice. Ultimately, Prayer and fasting is the prescription for this situation.


1 Same Sex Attraction, abbreviated to SSA, is the term used by Courage in the belief that it is more respectful and accurate than the more activistic term of "Gay. This will be expanded in the body of this paper.
2 Chastity is threefold: 1) chaste celibacy for those under religious vows or profession 2) chaste single life and 3) chaste
married life, obviously non-celibate
3 Relationship in this context means complete sexual behavior
4 Pastoral Care for Homosexual Persons
5 the drive to have sex with persons of the same sex
6 the sex drive between the opposite sexes is not sinful or disordered, in se, but planned by God for marriage whereas sex
between those of the same sex is disordered and counter to God's plan. Identity wires have somehow become crossed
as with all paraphilias.
7 Sex outside of marriage for anyone is sinful. SSA persons are not being singled out
8 Leo XIII decreed on the Invalidity of Anglican Orders leaving a residual of doubt about the Eucharist in the Dignity

[1] Other sex attracted
[2] Courage members invite any priest who has questions about the Courage program to judge for themselves as to the emotional and spiritual health of the members.
[4] Some interpreters claim that that the Lot story is only about inhospitality whereas others claim that it could also mean homosexuality as well as inhospitality. The townsmen may have also sought sex with the attractive male visitors. Inhospitality and homosexuality are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
[5] in reference to “turning things around” or to reverse.
[6] Rarely does this happen with tigers.

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