Helping Homosexuals the Church’s Way
BY John Burger
August 22-28, 1999 Issue | Posted 8/22/99 at 1:00 PM
Father James B. Lloyd
He has hosted a popular TV interview program, directed a school of pastoral counseling, worked as a missionary and taught psychology, but for the past five years, he has run a chapter of Courage, the Church ministry to help homosexuals. He spoke recently with Register correspondent John Burger.
John Burger: The Vatican recently barred Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeanne Grammick, the founders of New Ways Ministry, from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons. Does this mean that the Church is against ministry to homosexuals?
Father James Lloyd: Absolutely not. On the contrary, the Church is deeply into it. Courage was founded at the request of Cardinal Terence Cooke, archbishop of New York from 1968 to 1983. The Church is asking us to get into the healing ministry with compassion, but with truth. The Church is concerned for anyone who suffers, and the person with homosexual tendencies suffers.
The Church is moved with the pity of Christ to help. An Episcopalian bishop, Bennett Simms of Atlanta, said it nicely: “Compassion does not mean endorsement.”
The Church is loaded with compassion, but the person who is truly loving and compassionate will sometimes have to be firm and demand certain boundaries. Cardinal Alfonso LÛpez Trujillo of the Pontifical Council for the Family said that to be silent here is neither pastoral nor caring. People like Father Nugent or those involved in Dignity say you're not supposed to raise the question of what the Church teaches, but focus on compassion.
I think there's a certain amount of hostility in that stance. It's like saying, “I don't care what you do, just don't bother me.” A truly loving Church says, “I have to guide you for your sake.” When people say the Church is uncompassionate, they don't know what they're talking about. The Holy Father has written beautifully about sexual problems, about human love, that the basis of society is the family.
I'm euphoric about the Vatican decision. Not mentioning Church teaching leaves the doors open for people with this problem, lets them keep doing it. It's such a disservice. So it will be very helpful to say, “This is the fact, this is the reality.” Living in a fantasy world is a problem.
In the pastoral care for homosexuals, how big is the role of teaching the truth about homosexuality?
Not to let people know the truth, to let themselves be blinded, is wrong. Truth is a jolt of reality. One of my Courage members said the other night, “I've been clear of homosexual acts for six months and I'm beginning to see things clearly.” It's the truth of Christ himself, which is freedom. If you say, “Do whatever seems natural to you; God will understand,” that's very hostile.
What made you want to get into this work?
I kind of bounced into it as part of my role as a psychologist. Some of the people I was seeing had sexual problems. I wasn't well informed about it; it was shadowy. I began to see the pain of these people, and I saw how pastoral counseling brought them great relief, how the sacraments and living chastely brought them a great deal of peace.
To be a Christian is not just to be comforted but to be in a place of transformation. I was teaching psychology at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers and brought in Father John Harvey, one of the founders of Courage, to give a guest talk. I was fascinated by what he was saying; for example, to see that the word “gay” is really a reaction-formation word, a defense mechanism the mind uses not to face something, to cover up anger, bitterness, loneliness, depression.
There is an enormous amount of sadness, alienation in the gay community. I found that by offering Christ in the Catholic manner, [this] gave them great relief, self-esteem. The Courage notion gave them friendship with people who had similar goals, rather than with people who were occasions of sin. I have 51 people on my list who come, 14 or 15 at a time, every Tuesday, all males. I'm convinced that the only way out is Jesus Christ. This is the real answer.
My group is made up of men ranging in age from 23 to 74 and has included a physician, a Ph.D., a J.D., a street prostitute, a computer programmer, an actor, a Russian Orthodox priest, Protestant ministers. One guy is a secular religious. I had a rabbi, but he had to drop out because the talk about Jesus made him too uncomfortable. He said there's no comparable group in Judaism.
How does Courage work?
Basically, on the model of Alcoholics Anonymous. It's group-oriented. We begin with prayer, a little reflection by the leader, who is usually a priest. Each person has a chance to speak without interruption. Before the meeting, there's a social, and some remarkable friendships come out of it.
It's a spiritual program with psychological adjuncts. I've got them going to Mass every day, saying the rosary, doing spiritual reading. Courage is a positive thing. We talk about developing in the love of Christ and learning to carry the cross of Christ. It gives people access to grace. Some will never be anything but homosexually oriented, and they've accepted that. Their condition and their suffering can actually be a platform for holiness, provided a person approaches it the Christ way.
One of the men who comes to the meetings is a lawyer, and he constantly quotes from Francis Thompson's poem “The Hound of Heaven.” The point is that when you give in to God you're happy, not when you deny the commandments, when you give in to the so-called gay abandon. The question is, “What is God's will?” The commandments are meant to give happiness. I'm not even talking about the physical effects, such as AIDS, but the interior—the lack of equanimity in your life. It's the same with heterosexuals who are promiscuous: They will also find distress and a lack of love, though researchers claim that the traumatic wound is deeper in homosexuals.
A heavy accent has been on chastity. There are some men who have the possibility of growing to the heterosexual level. Some people do that, but they're in the minority. One guy I knew got married and had kids, but that's rare. I'm pessimistic about change. I haven't seen that much. But I've seen enormous evidence of containment and holiness.
Changing is not a goal of Courage. We're encouraging people to go for the cross. Change is an option open to the person. It's chastity that is a requirement.
There is also Encourage, which helps families of homosexuals. When a 20-year-old says, “Mom, Dad, I'm gay,” they're devastated. It can be a terrible disappointment. But they can learn how to react healthily and holily to that.
To what extent is the problem one of promiscuity and a generally incorrect or incomplete notion of sexuality on the part of many young people?
Promiscuity is fairly rampant, especially in what they call cruising—going from bar to bar looking for a sexual encounter. Even when they've had a relationship, living together, they would have the privilege of fooling around with others as long as they had an emotional primacy. All they require is an emotional constancy, even if they have a little fun with others. A lot of homosexuals are almost infants about it; their concept of sexuality is physical. Masturbation is rampant, jousting with sexy jokes—casual encounters at parties. They can be very intelligent, artsy, verbal, creative, yet be infantile or juvenile on another level. They're also generally narcissistic, terribly self-concerned.
Will the Vatican action affect the many other New Ways groups around the country?
I suspect they will ignore it. The same with Dignity and so-called gay and lesbian ministries. They generally ignore Church teaching. They're more into a feel-good experience.
Has Courage caught on?
Yes and no. It could be more successful, though it's spread to New Zealand, Australia, England, Ireland and Canada. But the demands are tough. You have to be totally dedicated to be involved.
Do you encounter any difficulties promoting Courage? Is there opposition among other Catholics who minister to homosexuals? How do you deal with that?
Yes, even from some priests. I ask them, “Why don't you like it?” One reason, I think, is that it calls for self-restraint, discipline. The Church says homosexuality is an intrinsic disorder. Some people take that as saying homosexuals are sick, but it's not that. It's just that the Creator did not plan it this way. He meant for the male to seek the female, the female to seek the male, and for them to have children. I asked Father Harvey once why some priests are so opposed to Courage. He said they don't think chastity is possible. That's the keynote to the whole Courage thing.
We get difficulties from a lot of nuns: They allow the emotional to override the real and ask questions like, “How can you deny people love?” That's why people said the Vatican statement was severe. But I saw it as a long-suffering thing. They were in conversation with Father Nugent and Sister Grammick for 20 years, asking them to think it over.
I feel that if the Church says this, it has to be taken seriously. Rather than debate with people, I tell them, “This is where I'm coming from.” There's no way I can force anybody. But people keep coming to Courage because the need is out there. I have to go to people I can help. For alcoholics, we don't discuss the possibility of a drink here or there. We say, “This is toxic for you; it's evil, destructive.” It's a ruthless approach. We give no quarter to the enemy, the enemy being one's sexual deviancy or impulses to act out.
You've been a priest for 51 years. What has it been like?
Terrific. I've had more fun than I should have. It's been a very full life. I was on TV once and the gal asked me, “Why are you a priest?” I said, “Because I like it.” I know I wouldn't be content being anything else. It's been a lot of work, and I started some projects that didn't work out. There were disappointments, but that kind of thing pales in comparison to the larger picture.
What were the formative influences in your life that led you to the priesthood?
Strangely, probably my father, who was a Jewish agnostic. He was in the theater. I thought I was going to be a doctor. That's what he wanted. But I thought it would be great fun to spend life probing human beings, to try to move them to God. My mother was Irish, very simple. The Paulist priests in my parish were outstanding, very priestly guys, I thought, interesting, intellectual, fun. The Irish Christian Brothers who taught at my high school, Power Memorial in Harlem, put the cap on it for me. They were so totally devoted to Christ and the Church. It just struck me that this is a very attractive way to live.
Why did you get into psychology?
I was rector of a seminary during the Second Vatican Council, and a lot of priests were leaving to get married. Students were in an uproar. I thought I'd study a little bit about human nature to see what's going on with these guys. So I got a counseling degree, which was very helpful. Then I got a doctorate in psychology. My dissertation dealt with why men leave the priest-hood.
How has it helped you in your ministry?
I work mostly with priests and religious on the assumption that healers really need to be healed. The presumption is that those guys have it all figured out, and they don't. My primary identity is as a priest; I interpret everything through that lens. The whole human nature thing is hooked into Catholic anthropology. I take that, and it works for many people. It helps me to be priestly. I go to people who get busted up by life.
— John Burger
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