Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
In today's popular culture, homosexuality and sexual promiscuity are front and center: The Supreme Court's decision last month in Obergefell v. Hodges legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states. The Boy Scouts have now accepted gay troop leaders. Parades of rainbow flags march along city streets, and Hollywood stars celebrate “coming out” as a brave expression of one's true self.
But one voice is not heard amidst the cacophony of voices in support of same-sex marriage and homosexual “rights.” That voice, says Fr. Paul Check, is the voice of the man or woman with same-sex attraction who trusts that what the Catholic Church teaches is true and leads to fulfillment. Father Check, executive director of Courage International, considers himself an advocate for this much misunderstood population.
Thirty-five years ago, at the urging of the late Terence Cardinal Cooke of New York, Fr. John Harvey established the Courage Apostolate. Courage had as its mission to help individuals dealing with same-sex attractions to experience the freedom of interior chastity, and in that freedom, to find the steps necessary to live a fully Christian life in communion with God and others.
Father Check spoke with the Register as the organization geared up for two important conferences this summer: for same-sex attracted persons and their friends and family, the 28th annual Courage Conference on July 30-Aug 2 in Mundelein; and for clergy and pastoral staff and those who work with same-sex attracted people, an international conference on August 10-12 in Plymouth, Michigan.
Father Check often encounters individuals or families who are frustrated or angry. Conversely, he meets people who acknowledge the challenge of celibacy, who see it as difficult and counter-cultural, and yet who trust that what the Church teaches is true. Courage International exists to offer information, direction and support to each of these groups.
Father Check teaches moral theology at St. John Fisher Seminary in Bridgeport on ethics and medical ethics, and for the past twelve years, he has offered a course on moral theology for the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta. In his classes, he discusses the encyclicals of St. Pope John Paul II, especially his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor. Father Check considers Veritatis Splendor to be among the most important of the saint's works, and particularly points to Chapter 3, “Lest the Cross of Christ Be Emptied of Its Power.” The central theme of that chapter, he explains, is that Christians in a fallen world must be prepared to suffer for their faith.
When Father Check invited three same-sex attracted people to help Courage to develop a new film, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, each was quick to respond affirmatively. He praised the courage of the three Catholics featured in the film who try to navigate the waters of self-understanding, faith, and homosexuality: Dan, a gregarious artist who spent his life hiding a deep sense of isolation from those who loved him; Rilene, a successful businesswoman who realized that twenty-five years with her partner did not provide the fulfillment she had hoped for; and Paul, an international model who, after a life of self-indulgence, found grace in the last place he expected. The one-hour documentary is available for viewing online in its entirety.
In light of the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing the marriage of same-sex persons, Father Check has confronted the troubling dilemma facing Catholics whose loved one might choose to enter into a homosexual marriage. As a moralist, Father Check expressed concern regarding the scandal that participation would cause. Scandal, he pointed out, remains scandal even when society has welcomed same-sex marriage and when the shock value is gone. “Every family,” he said, “will have to work this out for themselves; but the occasion of joining two lives together into one is normally considered to be a great cause for celebration. It means that the one who was alone or incomplete has now, in a certain sense, been completed or fulfilled. It seems to me that if someone is attending a ceremony at which he cannot share in the joy, he is really coming into collision with himself; so in deciding whether to participate, one must take into account the possibility of scandal.”
There is no such thing, Father insisted, as a “private Christian.” By virtue of our baptism, we are all public people. Everything that we say and do must be for the Kingdom. He urged families facing the challenge of remaining in relationship with a same-sex relative to reflect on this, before deciding to join in celebrating what cannot be true in the eyes of God.
Today, the Courage apostolate is a rock of strength and truth, helping same-sex attracted men and women to recognize God's will for their lives, trying to get their needs met in ways that ultimately bring God's grace and satisfy the desires of the heart.
Two Upcoming Conferences Offer Guidance and Practical Helps
Courage is gearing up for two important conferences this summer: first, for same-sex attracted persons and their friends and family, there is the 28th annual Courage Conference in Mundelein; and secondly, for clergy and pastoral staff and those who work with same-sex attracted people, there is an international conference in Plymouth, Michigan.
On July 31-August 2, the 28th Annual Courage Conference will be held at the University of St. Mary on the Lake in Mundelein. The Courage Conference is intended for members of Courage who are themselves same-sex attracted, and members of their companion organization EnCourage, for friends and family of same-sex attracted persons. Father Check was proud to report that this year for the first time, six prelates will attend. Featured speakers this year include Cardinal Edwin O'Brien, Archbishop Blase Cupich and Bishop John Levoir, along with other renowned speakers who will address issues of identity, friendship, vocation, discipleship and forgiveness.
On August 10-12, Courage will hold an international conference, “Love One Another As I Have Loved You: Welcoming and Accompanying Our Brothers and Sisters with Same-Sex Attraction.” The conference will be held at the Inn at St. John's in Plymouth, Michigan. In the year of the Synod and the World Meeting of Families, Father Check felt that his organization should offer a unique event, something to bring together people involved in pastoral care. This international conference is intended for clergy and religious, rectors of seminaries, educational administrators, family life ministers, and persons involved in pastoral ministry.
The faculty for the leadership conference will include prominent experts in Christian anthropology, natural law, the psychology of homosexuality, Scripture, and chastity, including Cardinal Thomas Collins, archbishop of Toronto; Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit; Fr. Paul Check; and Dr. Janet Smith, professor of moral theology who holds the Father Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary. The agenda will include discussions on how pastors, family and friends can best love those who experience same-sex attraction; practical recommendations on and tools for communicating the Church's teaching on homosexuality to schools, parishes, and students as an integral part of the New Evangelization.
Father Check was grateful for the support he'd received from Archbishop Vigneron in the Archdiocese of Detroit. He expressed his hope that at some point, he might introduce Pope Francis to the three people—Dan, Rilene and Paul—whose personal stories were featured in Desire of the Everlasting Hills. The work of Courage International, Father Check believed, is supportive of the pope's view that the Church must be a “field hospital” and must “go to the periphery” in search of its sheep.
He hopes that Pope Francis might soon give his official blessing to the Courage apostolate. “It would be such a boost,” he said, “to people who look to the Church for guidance and fraternal charity. They need to hear that voice of their shepherd saying, 'I know you are there. Persevere. I know it can be difficult with what's going on culturally, but with Christ, you can do it.'”