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Courage and Encourage


Courage is the Catholic Church's only pontifically approved ministry which is specifically committed to providing spiritual support for persons with same-sex attraction who are striving to live chastely, offering help to grow in understanding with others toward living more fully the Church's teachings.

Notice to Reader: "The Boards of both CERC Canada and CERC USA are aware that the topic of homosexuality is a controversial one that deeply affects the personal lives of many North Americans. Both Boards strongly reiterate the Catechism's teaching that people who self-identify as gays and lesbians must be treated with 'respect, compassion, and sensitivity' (CCC #2358). The Boards also support the Church's right to speak to aspects of this issue in accordance with her own self-understanding. Articles in this section have been chosen to cast light on how the teachings of the Church intersect with the various social, moral, and legal developments in secular society. CERC will not publish articles which, in the opinion of the editor, expose gays and lesbians to hatred or intolerance."

Courage and Encourage are respectively two spiritual support groups helping Catholic men and women — and their families — to live in accordance with Catholic Church's pastoral teaching on homosexuality.

Courage was founded in 1980 by His Eminence Terence Cardinal Cooke, Archbishop of New York, and continues to be sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York. There are now approximately fifty chapters of Courage and Encourage through the United States, Canada, Australia, and Europe. Father John Harvey, the Founding Director of Courage, has listed the goals and purposes of Courage as follows:

  1. To live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality.
  2. 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 Penance and the Holy Eucharist.
  3. 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 have to face the problems of homosexuality alone.
  4. To be mindful of the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in celibate Christian life — to encourage one another in forming and sustaining them.
  5. To live lives that may serve as good examples to others with homosexual difficulties.

In addition to individual counseling, these support groups very often conduct their sessions with the assistance of the 12 Step format developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. Appropriate individuals are referred to Catholic therapists.

The group sessions are supplemented several times each year with insights from Catholic teachings published in the Courage Newsletter. The Courage Handbook — also available from the New York Office — explains the goals and procedures to establish and conduct Courage and Encourage group meetings.

Encourage is the affiliate support group for friends and relatives of men and women with homosexual feelings. This support group works and prays to develop a Catholic outreach to men and women who struggle with these feelings. Contact can be made through anyone of the chapters of Courage, or by calling the central office in New York City. Each year, usually during the summer months, Courage holds a national Conference where hundreds of men and women gather to pray, to study, and to support each other. Individual Chapters of Courage will also sponsor Days Of Recollection at different times of the year to assist the members of our support groups.

Catholic Teaching

"The human person, made in the image and likeness of God, can hardly be adequately described by a reductionist reference to his or her sexual orientation. Every one living on the face of the earth has personal problems and difficulties — but challenges to growth, strengths, talents and gifts as well. Today, the Church provided a badly needed context for the care of the human person when she refuses to consider the person a "heterosexual" or a "homosexual" and insists that every person has a fundamental identity: a creature of God, and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life." (Letter from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Oct,1986)

Erroneous Assumptions

The Society of Catholic Social Scientists has recently (1/95) alerted our American Bishops about a trend among some ministries to homosexual Catholics that contradict authentic Catholic teachings on homosexuality and are founded upon erroneous scientific assumptions. The Society highlights:

  1. False statements are being made about homosexuality being biologically determined.
  2. Catholic homosexuals are being told wrongly that sexual orientation change is never possible.
  3. The term "gay" is being used wrongly to describe people of a homosexual orientation who do not identify with the gay socio-political position.
  4. A separate "gay spirituality" regrettably is being encouraged, and gay ministries tell us that a person who suffers from the homosexual disorder has special "gay gifts" for the Church.
  5. Catholics are being informed wrongly that the homosexual condition is not disordered.

Official Statement American Catholic Bishops

Some persons find themselves through no fault of their own to have a homosexual orientation. Homosexuals, like everyone else, should not suffer from prejudice against basic human rights. They have a right to respect, friendship, and justice. They should have an active role in the Christian community. Homosexual activity, however, as distinguished from homosexual orientation, is morally wrong. Like heterosexual persons, homosexuals are called to give witness to chastity, avoiding, with God's grace, behavior which is wrong for them as non-marital sexual relations are wrong for heterosexuals. Nonetheless, because heterosexuals can usually look forward to marriage, and homosexuals, while their orientation continues, might not, the Christian community should provide them a special degree of pastoral understanding and care. (Excerpt from: To Live In Christ Jesus — National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1976)

Holy See Endorses Courage

Cardinal Lopez Trujillo, speaking on behalf of the Holy See, had the following to say about the work of Courage: "This Pontifical Council for the Family supports the organization called Courage which was founded by Father John Harvey, OSFS, for helping homosexual persons to live in accordance with the laws of God and the teaching of His Church." July 7, 1994 — Prot N216/93

Courage believes that with support, persons with homosexual feelings can choose to follow Jesus Christ according to authentic Catholic spiritual and moral teaching. With faith in Christ and His Church, it is more than possible to live a chaste single life in a healthy and happy manner. With the Church, we can develop a happy, grace filled understanding of ourselves and continue to grow into our true identity as maturing Catholic men and women.

Homosexuality is not a personal sin

It does not make a human person sick or perverse — however, homosexual acts are immoral and do not lead to a deeper life in Christ. The dignity and identity of a Christian person is not determined by their sexual orientation but by their relation to Jesus Christ through a developing faith, hope and love. Homosexuality is not the work of God — nor is it usually a person's choice — it is an aspect of an arrested sexual development resulting from no one simple factor. This arrested development will disorder a person's normal sexual feelings.

For those who really want it, reparative growth is a possibility and happens regularly. Men and women leave behind not only the homosexual lifestyle but also the very feelings of same-sex attraction. While all can investigate this option, teens and young adults are especially invited to consult competent therapists.

Encourage is a spiritual support group for family members and friends of those struggling with homosexuality and believes that all persons are made in God's image and by baptism are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ — as known, loved, and served in our Catholic tradition — is Lord, God, and Savior. Our Church, with the guidance of our Bishops, speaks with the authority of Jesus. Homosexuality is not the work of God — nor is it usually a person's choice. Homosexuality is an aspect of undeveloped sexuality resulting from no single simple factor. Homosexuality, of itself, is not a sin. It does not make a person sick or perverse. Homosexual acts, however, are immoral — and do not lead a person to deeper life in Christ Jesus. With the support of Christ, His Church — ourselves as family and friends — it is possible for our loved ones to live a single life in a healthy, happy manner.

We are not the cause of our loved one's homosexuality, but we are responsible to help them live and grow as Catholic Christians. Reparative growth to a fuller possession of heterosexuality is a possibility to those so motivated. This is never easy or over night — it demands serious commitment to emotional and spiritual growth. It is not to be forced on anyone but it is an option that can be investigated with competent help.

A Spiritual Growth Plan

  1. Develop the ability to RELAX — to slow down and be at peace in the presence of a loving God. Good exercise and/or a hobby can be very helpful in this regard.
  2. Practice an Examination Of Conscience that helps you see yourself as Christ sees you — with love, respect, forgiveness. Keeping a small journal can help you see the virtue in your life as well as any faults.
  3. Choose a Spiritual Guide — someone who can help you keep in touch with the forgiving and creative presence of Christ in you life. A regular confessor is the best starting place for personal spiritual direction.
  4. Read and meditate each day on the life of Jesus Christ and His teachings. A slow prayerful reading or scripture with the Lord is an excellent starting place.
  5. Pray each and every day — especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, if at all possible. But the Rosary and other devotions are also important aids to spiritual growth.
  6. Finally, Serve — volunteer your time and energy, your mind and heart, to help others come closer to Jesus Christ and His Church. Give of yourself — the value of a Christian life is not defined by sexual orientation.

Closing prayer on Courage and Encourage brochure:

Lord Jesus, in you I die and rise to New Life.
May I know your life so fully that
I would rejoice in all that I face.

Courage International, Inc.
8 Leonard Street
Norwalk, CT 06850

Phone: (203) 803-1564



Harvey, Fr. John. "Courage and Encourage." Courage (2001).

Reprinted with permission of Fr. John Harvey and Courage.

The Author

Fr. John Harvey is the founding director of Courage. Fr. Harvey is a member of the Advisory Board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center.

Copyright © 2001 Courage
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