By Linda Smith
Courage is a Church-approved group for homosexual individuals who wish to receive support from the Catholic Church as they try to live according to the teachings laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, according to University of Dallas director of campus ministry Denise Phillips. The first chapter was founded in 1980 in Manhattan. Since that founding, over 100 groups have started up around the world. A Dallas-Fort Worth chapter was founded in the late 1990s by a group of people in conjunction with then-pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Waxahachie, Father Mark Sietz, who is now the bishop of El Paso.
The group carries out its mission through “The Five Goals of Courage,” which center around the principles of chastity, prayer/dedication, fellowship, support and being a good example/role model.
“People share faith, they share prayer life,” Phillips said. “It’s hard because they’re not ordained, they haven’t discerned a vow of celibacy, but it’s something that the Church calls them to as Catholic Christians. This group serves as kind of an oasis for those people who are serious about living out the Catholic Christian life, in a culture that would tell them that it would be okay to do otherwise.”
Because many members need privacy and protection, the group takes to heart the need for anonymity and secrecy. The DFW chapter chaplain Father Joseph Van House said that publicizing anything about any group member “can just be easily misunderstood.”
“There’s a risk of mistrust and confusion coming from a few different directions,” Fr. Van House said. “The Church’s teaching is pretty clear that people who have homosexuality as part of their lives are not evil people, are not unimportant, are not sinners because of their desires. It can become controversial on the right and the left.”
Members meet twice a month. Meetings begin with Van House or the director of the group discussing matters of business. There might be spiritual teaching as well, but most of the time is dedicated to conversation, prayer and fellowship among the group members.
“It is certainly a group where you can say, ‘This is who I am and these are my struggles,’ and people are going to say, ‘Let’s help you. We’ll help each other,’ instead of saying ‘This is who I am and these are my struggles,’ and having someone say, ‘Well, you’re just a sinner,’ and ‘There’s no hope for you,’ and ‘Don’t you know what the Church teaches?’” Phillips said. “This group is going to show you that there is a positive, constructive path to Christ through prayer and caring and being friends.”
Fr. Van House noted that the group’s members are diverse in several areas and are united by both their similarities and their differences.
“It is very diverse,” Fr. Van House said. “It does not mean they are all Catholic. It does not mean they are the same age, same ethnicity, same gender. It is a pretty mixed bunch, and they can all say, ‘We are all human, and we have all got some pretty important things in common, things we do not have in common, and we want to support each other with that.’”
The group, according to Fr. Van House, is not committed to reparative therapy, which according to oxforddictionaries.com is a psychotherapy aimed at changing a person’s homosexuality and is based on the view that homosexuality is a mental disorder.
“The goal of a Courage member is not to necessarily someday get married and have kids,” Fr. Van House said. “It is to live a chaste and pure life. Some may indeed really want to think about moving to another sexuality, and some do not think that is feasible for them and they are members [in just as] good standing as anyone else.”
More information, including how to join your local chapter, elaborations on the Five Goals of Courage, contact information and group history can be found at couragerc.org. Fr. Van House says he is also open to communicating with anyone in the community.
“That is a great place to do research, especially for people who are not quite sure that they want to get in touch with the group, or want to do it face-to-face,” Fr. Van House said. “But also if someone wants to reach out to me as a priest who has some experience with this, I am totally open to helping people where they are at and with what they want, if what they want is not to get together with the group, that is fine too.”
Fr. Van House says he sees this group as something that can be beneficial and something that can be appreciated by the Church.
“This is a population that can be really isolated, and can experience a lot of hardship,” Fr. Van House said. “They deserve and need, in many cases, support. It is sad that the Church has not done a better job so far of helping folks who are dealing with this, and making them know that they are important as children of God, and that they are legitimate, that it is good that they exist, that they matter. But it’s also exciting that it is a time where there are a lot of things to be tried out to help people.”