Have courage: Catholics with same-sex attraction find love, support in Church’s ministry

Metro Detroit — For many people, the word most closely associated with the Catholic Church in terms of homosexuality is the word “no.”

But Fr. Paul Check, executive director of Courage International, says this “no” is embedded in “a much more compelling ‘yes’ to individual people with same-sex attraction.”

“The desire of the heart for love and affection is the deepest of all desires,” said Fr. Check. “What distinguishes us as humans is the desire to love and be loved. The Church, following examples of the Lord, extends the invitation of mercy and grace to everyone. That is the ‘yes’ of Christ.”


What is Courage?

The Catholic apostolate of Courage was founded in 1980 by Fr. John Harvey, OSFS, who saw the need in the Church for a truly Catholic ministry to persons with same-sex attraction (SSA). He passed away in 2011, but his work has expanded across the globe to minister to those with same-sex attraction.

The apostolate’s website, www.couragerc.net, explains that Courage aims to help individuals “gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the Church’s teachings, especially in the area of chastity [and] extends the Church’s invitation to a life of peace and grace.”

Fr. Check, who has been a Courage chapter diocesan chaplain for 10 years, was made executive director of the international apostolate in 2008.

He said some of Christ’s teachings are widely accepted and non-controversial, such as telling the truth or seeking justice. But in terms of chastity issues, there is a large degree of sensitivity.

“Here is the Church saying to a large group of people that they can’t love and be loved in the way they are inclined,” he said. “So there’s going to be some resistance, misunderstanding.”

Fr. Check explained that to understand this situation, it is important to go back to the story of humanity’s identity as told in Genesis 1-3.

“It tells us the story of our identity, our origins, something that is common to us all in our shared humanity,” he said. “It shows the two expressions of human nature as male and female.”


A pastoral perspective

Msgr. Michael Bugarin, the Courage chapter chaplain for the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in St. Clair Shores, has ministered to the apostolate since around 2005.

“We don’t embrace the lifestyle, but we embrace the person, and help them in the midst of their sinfulness, like we do with everyone,” he said. “The support that members get from fellow Courage members gives them the hope that they need to continue their journeys.”

He explained that the Courage meetings held in the Archdiocese of Detroit, like all Courage meetings, protect the identity and confidentiality of Courage members, who may not wish to be public about their struggle.

“There is a lot of misunderstanding of the Church’s teachings and a lot of confusion in general,” said Msgr. Bugarin. “Once people read what’s available and they get involved in Courage’s ministry, they understand.”


A spiritual father

Tina, a member of Courage since 1994 who requested that her last name not be used, explained that she was visiting a local parish and found the information for a nearby Courage chapter in the bulletin.

After joining, she started attending the annual Courage conferences, and worked with Courage for several years. She began studying for her master’s degree in theology, and helped found a Courage chapter at her university for fellow students, but then she happened to meet Fr. Harvey, whose assistant was about to retire.

Becoming Fr. Harvey’s assistant for a period of time, she went on to later work for Courage from a remote location, and today continues to volunteer with the apostolate.

“Even in the Church, there are people who don’t agree with what the Church teaches, unfortunately,” she said. “That’s why Courage is important — Courage is wholly committed to what the Church teaches.”

She said Fr. Harvey was “like a spiritual father to me: he never undermined what the Church teaches.”

“The spiritual support system helps me live chastity, encourages me to fully embrace my Catholic faith, and provides good fellowship,” she said. “You know you have friends if you’re going through a hard time, or if you just want to hang out.”


Conversion through Courage

An active member since 2008 or 2009, Dan Mattson said Courage is the reason he reverted to Catholicism.

“My whole life I had prayed that my attractions would go away, or at least that they’d be enough that I could have a wife,” he said. “When this didn’t happen, it led to a crisis of faith in my late 20s and early 30s and turned my back on God.”

He said that he had a couple relationships, but in “a series of events surrounding those relationships,” God brought him back, and he became convinced that chastity is the way to go. He started attending a protestant mega-church, and reading and writing on the topic of SSA.

He learned that his godparents were involved in EnCourage, the group within Courage for family and friends of those with SSA, and after expressing his desire to live chastely, his godparents invited him to attend the Courage conference.

“I was so moved by the experience I had there to revert to the Catholic Church, and so had my first confession in 30-something years, and I have never looked back,” he said.

For personal testimonies of some of those involved in the Courage apostolate, pick up the next edition of The Michigan Catholic Newspaper.

Clergy, seminarian training

Two separate Courage Apostolate training sessions will be held at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. The first is a priest and seminarian training session on Friday, March 7, 2014. The second is a training session for deacons and their wives on Saturday, March 8, 2014. Fr. Paul Check will facilitate the training sessions under four lenses: theological anthropology, pastoral care, a witness talk and psychological sciences.

Registration information forthcoming. For further information, contact David Grobbel, L.M.S.W., the associate director of the Office of Marriage, Family and Pro-Life with the Archdiocese of Detroit, at [email protected]

Learn more about Courage

Visit Courage International’s official website at www.couragerc.net to found out more. To learn more about Courage and EnCourage in the Archdiocese of Detroit, call (313) 237-5900, or email [email protected], or [email protected]. All information shared remains strictly confidential.