By John Heuertz
Special to The Catholic Key
The late Terence Cardinal Cooke was always interested in expanding orthodox and effective pastoral care in the Archdiocese of New York. Father John Harvey was a moral theologian in Connecticut with an outstanding reputation for helping seminarians and priests struggling with same-sex attraction, or SSA.
So Cardinal Cooke invited Father Harvey to New York in 1980. Thus was born “Courage,” a Catholic ministry to adult men and women with SSA who want to live virtuous lives in chastity, fellowship, truth and love.
In Kansas City, Dino Durando was named director of the Diocesan Office of Family Life in June of 2012. He soon discovered, as Father Harvey had, that Catholics with same-sex attraction who wanted to live chaste lives often had to go it alone. By this time, Bishop Robert Finn had also taken a pastoral interest in their situation.
On the Kansas side, Archbishop Joseph Naumann thought the Catholic Church needed a political response to growing pressure to recognize homosexual unions as marriages under the law. But he also thought that the Church needed a pastoral response first.
Durando and Bill Scholl, Director of the Office for Social Justice in the Archdiocese, worked with the Bishop and Archbishop to craft an orthodox and effective pastoral response.
All four men knew of Courage and liked it. The Holy Spirit quickened things. And before long, a Courage chapter was launched on each side of the state line.
“So often SSA people think churches don’t want them, or people in the church think that people with SSA don’t belong there. But those ideas are contrary to what the Catholic Church teaches,” says Durando, a former Methodist and married Catholic father of nine.
“It’s very important that Courage is understood as an exercise in pastoral care and companionship and mercy.”
When Mark, a local Courage member, was 20 or 21 “and first starting to consider this whole homosexuality thing, the church I was going to confronted me about it. There was no offer of support. They just said that’s bad, and stop doing it.”
“I’d have to say the best thing about Courage is the support. It does take courage to deal with this. To show up with other guys, to talk through it, to deal with it. But I can talk freely about my SSA.”
Tim, another local member, says “There aren’t many people trying to understand why someone with SSA is trying to live a chaste life as a single person. I’ve pretty much given up trying to explain it.”
“So how Courage helps me is, you have a group of guys who understand what it’s like to try to live a chaste life as a single person with SSA.”
“Everybody has the same idea of where our paths should go in Courage.”
Courage borrows partly from Alcoholics Anonymous’ highly successful methods, but there are important differences between the two.
Of necessity, AA is both spiritual and nondenominational. It talks about a Higher Power.
“We’re clear that Courage is a Roman Catholic organization and we’re talking about God,” Durando says.
Like AA, Courage is rooted in kindred spirits. But unlike AA, Courage is deeply rooted in the Catholic Church’s prayer and sacramental life.
“People with SSA have a heavier cross to carry than most,” says Father Kevin Drew, a recent Courage chaplain. “But the grace of the Sacraments and the fellowship of Courage help members carry their crosses as Christ carried His first.”
Courage members can get complete spiritual care at meetings, including opportunities for spiritual direction and Confession. “For me, being able to offer members the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the end of every meeting is one of the best things about Courage,” says Archdiocesan Chancellor Father John Riley, the Kansas group chaplain.
“That, and seeing these brave and courageous men reject what society tells them about living a certain lifestyle, and embrace the teachings of the Catholic Church instead.”
At the same time, this Catholic ministry is not restricted to Catholics. “I’m really, truly grateful to be in it without being a Catholic,” Mark says, “because I think that’s the way the church should be.”
Durando emphasizes that Courage does not practice or endorse reparative therapy, and that perceptions to the contrary are mistaken.
Courage also doesn’t dissuade people who seek reparative therapy for SSA. But “Courage is not interested in ‘fixing the problem’ as though it were simply some kind of disease,” he says.
“Instead, Courage is interested in helping the individual grow closer to Jesus as a person and experience the joy and peace of being His disciple.”
“Most of us need some kind of help to grow in chastity,” Scholl says. “I don’t experience SSA personally, but I’ve grown as a person from exposure to Courage.”
Many Courage members keep a low profile, so exact membership numbers aren’t available. But Courage has grown from five people plus Father Harvey at that first meeting 34 Septembers ago to at least 1,500 members in 13 countries today. Courage is officially recognized by the Holy See.
About 15 or 20 people attend meetings locally. The Missouri and Kansas Courage chapters alternate biweekly meetings, making four meetings available every month in the metro.
A companion organization called “EnCourage” is for people whose lives are affected by others with same-sex attractions. It meets once a month in this area.
Courage and EnCourage chapters will come to St. Joseph in November, and a women-only Courage chapter is planned for Kansas City by the first of next year.
“Courage is for people who want to become saints, not people who are already perfect,” Durando says.
For more information, call the Courage Kansas City area hotline at (913) 428-9893 or contact Dino Durando at (816) 714-2371. Courage does not work with youth.