Stories of same-sex attracted Catholics propel growth of Courage
“Persons with homosexual desires have always been with us,” and a fully-Catholic program aiming to assist those persons has been around now for more than 25 years. While new to the Archdiocese Cincinnati, the Courage ministry is growing.
The “About Us” section of Courage International’s website starts with the above quote. Courage is a Catholic outreach apostalate to men and women experiencing same-sex attraction. Founded in 1980, Courage came to the Archdiocese of Cincinnati in its current incarnation in 2014.
The growing ministry, which seeks to help members live chastely, is starting a second local chapter in the northern parts of the archdiocese. An EnCourage chapter, for family members of those living the so-called gay lifestyle, is also being started.
Courage isn’t new but is gaining new adherents as societal acceptance of same-sex relationships has hit an all-time high. The Pew Research Center reported that 55 percent of Americans supported gay marriage in 2016. Despite an environment where one could live out homosexual desires with relative public acceptance, many men and women with same-sex attraction, particularly Catholics, continue to seek out ministries like Courage.
Father Kyle Schnippel, chaplain of the Cincinnati Courage chapter, said the group makes a real difference in the lives of its members.
“As a priest it has been a real benefit to be a part of that group,” he said. “You get to see people in a vulnerable moment in their lives and you really feel you’re helping these men make a difference in their lives as Catholic individuals.”
The stories of men and women with same-sex attraction but living chaste lives often go unnoticed, but thanks to Courage, there are more stories to tell.
Two members of the Cincinnati chapter of Courage took the time to answer questions about living life as faithful Catholics with same-sex attraction in an age of pride parades and unprecedented acceptance. At their request, their names have been changed.
Mike, a man in his mid-50s, has been married to the same woman for more than 30 years. He has multiple children and grandchildren. A cradle Catholic, he left the church around age 18 and returned to it in his 30s. Mike dealt with substance abuse and lived a double life before discovering Courage.
“My wife had no Idea I had a secret life and my addiction had progressed to the point where in my mind, there was only way out, I would have to die be free of it,” Mike said. “When it seemed that God was ignoring my prayers I gave up on him and began to think of ways how I could make it happen myself. You could say I was at the lowest point in my life and I finally admitted to my self I needed help. Confession led to spiritual direction, then a psychologist, then a 12 step program which led me to Courage. Early in this process I had to tell my wife. There are no words to describe how it felt to tell my wife that not only had I been unfaithful in our marriage and had an addiction to sex that was out of control, I also thought I was a homosexual.”
Don a single, middle-aged man from the northwestern part of the archdiocese, was also raised Catholic. He left the church for a time, choosing instead to live out his feelings of attraction for other men.
Rather than finding peace in that life, Don said he knew all along something wasn’t right.
“I kind of always knew,” Don said. “I believe that I did have a personal relationship with the Lord. I knew what the truth was, but I couldn’t reconcile what I knew from the scripture and the church’s teaching versus my feelings, and that’s why I decided to live out my feelings because there was a great incongruence. Everything has changed these days because of the way society is, but back then it could be a very lonely life.”
Neither man identified themselves primarily by the term gay and both remain primarily “in the closet” regarding their same-sex attraction.
“Coming out,” the name given to one’s public reveal of their sexual orientation, is now something celebrated in many circles. Even so, Don doesn’t believe his colleagues or the general public would be as supportive of “coming out” as chaste.
“Now groups like (Courage) are particularly important because society has taken a 180 degree turn,” Don said. “Now those of us who are convinced of the truth from the scriptures and the church are swimming upstream but for a different reason. Because now society licenses the lifestyle. My life in some ways would be easier if I just lived my feelings. Instead this group is helping me to have the courage and spiritual strength to remain true to what I know to be true in the face of a society that says ‘go for it.’… If I were to publicly stand up with my full story and tell people that I’ve lived it and it is not right or not true, I’d face more opposition than I would have 20 years ago.”
While public acceptance of “the lifestyle” is high, Mike pointed out that self-acceptance is a major part of the struggle with same-sex attraction. Courage isn’t like some organizations that aim to “pray away the gay” or engage in reparative therapy to change a person’s sexual desires. Mike has been attending Courage meetings for more than 15 years and says his orientation hasn’t changed, but his relationship with God has.
“Why did God make me the way I am, I can honestly say I do not know,” Mike said. “I can tell you I spent the first half of my life trying to reshuffle the deck. I just could not accept the hand I was dealt.
“However through it all I now have a relationship with God I know I never had before… I have decided to trust God on this one. In Texas Hold’em it is know as, going all in.”
“I think the biggest mistake is to assume that there is only one response to SSA. ‘I accept myself as a gay man or a gay woman, therefore the gay lifestyle is my destiny,’” Mike added. “At Courage we want all men and women to realize no matter what they call themselves gay or same sex attracted, we can accept ourselves for who we are however our lifestyle is our choice to make. Same sex attraction does not dictate who we are, our Lord does.”
Don echoed the position that God, not man, defines the role of human sexuality.
“When it comes to things with sexuality, people want excuses,” Don said.”They want to feel good about the way they’re living. They want to have a justifiable reason to live the way they want to live. They don’t want to deal with the fact that homosexuality, same-sex attraction does not reflect God in his wholeness.
“Nobody is discounting the emotional feelings they have for each other,” Don added. “Nobody is discounting any real love they may have for each other, but the sexual part of their relationship still does not conform to absolute truth that it is male and female together that represent God’s wholeness.”
As someone who grew up with same-sex attraction, Don has advice for parents of family members of those in the same struggle today.
“If you’re a parent, love your child no matter where he or she is at because God loves us where we’re at,” he said. “God loves us and God accepts us where we’re at, but God loves us too much to leave us where we’re at. Make sure they know they’re loved and accepted, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept all of their behavior.”
With a place like Courage, where he can be accepted for who he is while working on becoming the person God wants him to be, Mike now has a feeling of happiness and freedom he didn’t have before.
“What makes me the happiest is realizing that to act on or not act on SSA desires is a choice,” Mike said. “While I was lost in my addictions I became a slave to my sexual inclinations. Breaking free from addiction left me to deal with my SSA self on a more even playing field. We may not have a choice on who we are and it may have been a hard-won battle for me, but we are not helpless victim’s to our orientation. Happiness is the freedom to just be me.”
This feature first appeared in the August 2016 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.