Courage Ministry Draws Fire at University

Well, maybe “fire” is the wrong word. It’s more like a slight irritating warmth, like the kind you get from a rash.

This story floated to the top of my News360 feed this morning like curdled cream. Canadian cub reporter Marco Chown Oved seems to have been buttonholed by a screeching hysteric named Stuart Graham and made a story out of–get this–a faithful Catholic ministry setting up shop in a Catholic Church. Shocka!

Graham is “a former liturgical minister and lector,” Chown Oved tells us, and no, I don’t know what that means. (I don’t like the phrase “liturgical minister” at all, but if we’re going to use it, wouldn’t lector be a subset of it, not a separate thing?) At the request of some parishioners, Courage–a support ministry for people struggling with same-sex attraction–came to St. Thomas Aquinas, the church of the Newman Center at the University of Toronto. Courage was created as a response to sham groups like Dignity, which pretended to be a Catholic ministry for homosexuals, but was in fact nothing more than a miserable group of malcontents and schismatics agitating to change 2000 years of Catholic sexual teaching.

Here’s what Graham says and Oved quotes without clarification:

“[Courage] indoctrinates . . . praying yourself straight.”

That’s a good old fashioned lie, Stu, and you know it. Courage has five goals, right there on the website that Stu visited with such horror:

  • To live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality. ( Chastity )
  • To dedicate our entire lives to Christ through service to others, spiritual reading, prayer, meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass, and the frequent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. (Prayer and Dedication)
  • To foster a spirit of fellowship in which we may share with one another our thoughts and experiences, and so ensure that no one will have to face the problems of homosexuality alone. (Fellowship)
  • To be mindful of the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in a chaste Christian life; and to encourage one another in forming and sustaining these friendships. (Support)
  • To live lives that may serve as good examples to others. (Good Example/Role Model)

Courage is actually the opposite of a “pray away the gay” ministry, since they make no claims to be able to change orientation, only to help people live their lives. In this way, and in their adaptation of 12-step language, they are like AA. See, not everyone suffering from same-sex attraction thinks it’s the bees knees. Some have chosen to walk a more challenging path.

Stu again:

“They’re telling young people who are confused and frightened that they’re damned.”

Another lie, and bad theology to boot from a “liturgical minister.” Courage is a support group, not Westboro Baptist, and Catholic understanding of the four last things is considerably more complex than Stu’s cartoon vision. Homosexual inclination is no more a sin than alcoholism, and the Church implores us to treat those struggling with temptation with charity, dignity, compassion, and love, not to say, “Sin, and sin boldly!” (The other guy said that.)

But wait! It gets dumber!

“I’m shocked we’re dealing with this in 2013.”

Dealing with what, Stu? Temptation? Sin? Immorality? Sexuality? Weakness? Human frailty? Help me out here. Is it that you found your particular sin, decided you really dug it, and expected time would make it not sin, but virtue? Cool trick. I have a few cherished sins myself. Since it’s 2013, can we just have them stricken from the books in the interest of making me feel better?

“The root of this group is not honourable. It indoctrinates false information… You just have to look into the fine print of the web site.”

He puts a lot of emphasis on the “fine print” (which must be written in code, because I couldn’t find it) of Courage, but none whatsoever in the giant house-sized letters comprising the clear and unchanging (and unchangeable) teaching of the Catholic Church on human sexuality.

It reminds me of what WC Fields said when someone once caught him reading a Bible: “I’m just lookin’ for loopholes.”

Stu wasn’t finished, however:

“Within 15 minutes [of visiting the Courage website], I started hyperventilating…. Courage tells people they’re defective.”

Oh, Stu: you were hyperventilating before you even typed “www” into your browser. You sound like a guy who’s been hyperventilating since he was 14. Maybe you should just take one deep cleansing breath and get over yourself, come to grips with the teaching of a faith you pretend to observe, and either work out your salvation in fear and trembling, or leave.

Stu chose Door #2: he packed up his rainbow sash and headed for the hills. No doubt he’ll find one of those inclusive parishes that tells him it’s just fine to indulge a particular sin as long as society gives you the green light. I’m expecting a parish with an inclusive attitude toward chronic onanism to sprout up any day now. (Maybe they should skip the sign of peace, if you know what I mean.)

A more balanced account of the nontroversy is found in the Catholic Register, where Courage International director Fr. Paul Check is quoted saying: “Why is a group that wants to meet quietly and is committed to the virtue of chastity, which is a virtue for all Christians according to their state in life, why would that be controversial?… If someone objects to the Courage group per se then logically speaking they are rejecting the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.”

I kind of imagine Fr. Check saying, “Like, duh” at the end of that sentence, but that’s just me.

Stu estimates that 50 people have left the parish, which means the actual number is probably about ten and, really, they hated waking up early on Sunday anyway, and were just looking for an excuse.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Dennis Mahon

    “Courage tells people they’re defective.”
    By that logic, AA must tell alcoholics that they are defective.

  • victor

    Yeah, and by that same logic any law or set of rules — speed limits, subdivision building restrictions, the spinner in Chutes ‘N’ Ladders — which attempts to guide human behavior (or even human behaviour, for our friends in the Great White North) is telling people that they’re defective. So, Timmy, you feel inclined to pass all the slides and go straight up the big ladder to square 100 on your first turn? You are a BAD PERSON, Timmy!

    But you kind of have to roll your eyes when you say “logic” in such cases now because logic ceased to be a factor of any consequence for these people right around the same time that the rule of law did.

  • Jo

    If you haven’t already discovered it, Melinda Selmys keep a tremendously thought-provoking blog on the subject too: She has mixed feelings about ministries like Courage, and explores some of the difficulties of the ‘SSA’ rhetoric. Very worthwhile read.

  • therese

    Melinda Selmys was a speaker at this last years Courage conference.

  • Alex

    I had the great privilege of knowing Fr. John Harvey, OSFS, founder of Courage, for many years during my undergraduate days. A kinder, gentler soul you could never meet, but he was a priest after Our Lord’ own heart, never fearing to speak the truth. In his later years, he would tell us of how he would be approached on the streets of a major US city (he was always dressed in his clerics), verbally abused, and even spat upon, by people seeking to promote the normalization of the SSA-lifestyle. Through all of it, he remained a perfect witness to Christ’s compassion and gentleness. I miss him! Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetuat luceat ei. And shame on Mr. Graham for casting such unfounded aspersions on the ministry Fr. Harvey dedicated his life to!

  • enness


    This belongs in Webster’s.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    I thought I made it up, but I found a couple other uses of it. Seems like a useful word.

  • Susan Peterson

    Agree with you about all this, but, that’s not what Luther meant by “Sin boldly.” And you know it. Or you should.
    Susan Peterson

  • William Reed

    Maybe Mr. Graham would like to start a group meeting and call it “Cowards” It would fit his attitude. : )

  • Melinda Selmys

    My feelings about Courage are only mixed in-so-far as Courage supports the “orientation change” tropes. As Therese points out I spoke at the Courage conference last summer, and I was generally impressed by the fellowship and support that I’ve found between Courage members. I do tend to disagree, however, with the emphasis on “orientation change” that does occasionally crop up with Courage — and I suspect that it’s the presence of NARTH materials and other SOCE related information on the Courage web-site that put Stu in a Stew.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Thank you for clarifying, Melinda. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by.