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.
“If the Church is a field hospital,” says Fr. Philip Bochanski, “then Courage is a hospital tent, far behind the battle.”
Fr. Bochanski is talking about Courage International, the Catholic apostolate he leads. Since its founding in 1984 by Fr. John Harvey, Courage has assisted men and women with same-sex attractions who want to live chaste lives in fellowship, truth and love. The parent organization, Courage, is a resource for those suffering with same-sex attraction. EnCourage, its offshoot apostolate, was organized in 1992 to help family and friends who love those with same-sex attraction. EnCourage helps its members to focus on their own spiritual development, with the goals of achieving peace and complete trust in God's Providence and His love for us and the ones we love.
Clergy Study Days
But while Courage reaches those with same-sex attraction, and EnCourage offers help to those who love them, there is another group who would benefit from the solid Scripture-based teachings of Courage. That group is those in pastoral ministry, who often encounter persons with same-sex attraction in their daily work.
In an effort to meet that need, several years ago Courage extended its services by offering “clergy study days” at which priests, deacons and others in ministry could learn how to offer spiritual counseling and how to compassionately present Catholic teaching regarding sexuality to same-sex attracted persons and to their concerned families and friends.
“When I first began doing these clergy study days,” Father Bochanski told the Register, “I wasn't sure what kind of reaction I would receive.” He was uncertain whether there was a need, and he was concerned that not every priest would be on board with what the Church teaches.
But in fact, the reaction to Courage's clergy conferences has been immensely positive. Priests reported that while they know the importance of having conversations about sensitive subjects with their parishioners and providing meaningful answers, they frequently felt unprepared, even afraid, because it seemed so dangerous to provide the wrong answer.
In the past few years, Fr. Bochanski has been invited to offer clergy conferences or student seminars on the person at six or eight seminaries in the United States, in Australia, and at the English College in Rome.
Reaching Beyond to Engage the Online Community
The success of the clergy conferences has been encouraging; but despite that success, Courage has not been able to bring the information to every diocese. Father Bochanski acknowledged that he could never hope to personally visit every seminary and every priest in the U.S.
Recognizing that limitation, Courage set a goal of reaching a wider audience of professionals – especially priests and other spiritual leaders – who need tools for compassionate, effective ministry to homosexuals and their loved ones. The new Truth and Love website now offers the same solid explanations of Catholic teaching regarding sexuality, in a forum which is available to clergy, lay professionals, parents and friends, and those with same-sex attraction.
At TruthAndLove.com, readers can access Church documents, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, scientific studies, videos, reports from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and pastoral letters from bishops to their dioceses. Articles explore a wide range of topics relating to human sexuality from the perspective of theology, psychology, pastoral care, and engaging with the culture. There are helpful discussions of gender ideology, the challenges faced by children growing up with same-sex parents, and the dangers of pornography. There are contributions from men and women who have struggled against same-sex attraction, and who have found joy in celibacy and in their relationship with Christ and his Church. There is a blog which is frequently updated with articles by Fr. Bochanski and others.
The Truth and Love website makes accessible related content about same-sex attraction, such as Fr. Michael Schmitz' new book Made for Love: Same Sex Attractions and the Catholic Church. Father Schmitz, director of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, is well-known for his homilies and his popular YouTube videos. In Made for Love, Fr. Schmitz presents Catholic teaching with a smile – engaging his readers with chapter titles such as “What-Is-It-Ness,” “The T-Word” and “Where Is That in the Bible?”
Pope Francis, in his first book published as pope, The Name of God Is Mercy, wrote,
“I am glad we are talking about 'homosexual people' because before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity. And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: Let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love.”
At the Truth and Love website, that conversation continues. Those who minister to persons with same-sex attraction are encouraged to welcome them as having great dignity in Christ. At the same time, clergy and other professionals – and all readers – will find at Truth and Love the tools they need to embrace the struggling person, and to offer Christ's love and strength for the journey.