Courage co-founder to speak in Toronto

  • January 6, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - It’s been 30 years since Courage co-founder Fr. John Harvey, OSFS, began his work counselling priests and lay people with same-sex attractions.

But Harvey, now 90, says it’s still a challenge to get some priests to support his program which promotes chastity and discourages a homosexual lifestyle.

“There are a considerable number of priests who don’t agree with the program,” he told The Catholic Register during a telephone interview from New York, noting there was even an incident a few years ago where Courage leaders were removed from a diocese in the United States.

A common criticism of Courage has been that it is “too strict” and that not everyone can be chaste, he said. But Harvey insists that’s not the case. The group is echoing the Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality by preaching chastity.

“People say to leave them alone, let them do what they want. That’s very bad teaching.”

Harvey will be in Toronto to speak on Courage at Precious Blood parish, 1737 Lawrence Ave. E., on Jan. 16 at 7 p.m. On Jan. 17, his talk at 1 p.m. will be for the youth of the parish. He is also scheduled to speak with seminarians, deacons and priests.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, people who self-identify as gays and lesbians must be “accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”

The church views homosexuality as contrary to natural law and teaches that homosexual individuals are called to chastity.

Harvey said the program isn’t about converting people from homosexuality, although if they did, that would be welcomed.

But gay rights groups  have objected to Courage’s belief that people can be cured of their homosexual tendencies. In 2003, protesters tried to disrupt a Courage talk in Australia. But Harvey said this was an isolated incident.

Courage dates back to 1978 when Harvey started retreats using the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. In 1980, a formal group began at the request of then New York Archbishop Cardinal Terence Cooke. 

Harvey said he is careful to use the term “persons with same-sex attractions” instead of “homosexuals.” It’s not about labelling people because everyone is “made in the image and likeness of God,” he said.

Fr. William Comerford, C.Ss.R, a Courage chaplain in Toronto, said the ministry helps people recognize that individuals with same-sex attractions need to be supported and respected like everyone else.

There have been recent challenges to the church’s stance on homosexuality on the political front. Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005. In California, a heated debate has ignited over same-sex marriage after voters rejected its legalization in November. And at the United Nations, the Vatican opposed a Dec. 10 proposal for a universal declaration to decriminalize homosexuality.

According to the Vatican, discrimination against homosexuals must be avoided, but it said approving a formal declaration with political weight could be used to put pressure on or discriminate against countries that don’t recognize same-sex marriage.

On  the success of the program over the years, Harvey said although the program doesn’t keep membership lists due to confidentiality issues, there are up to 300 people each year who attend annual meetings to testify that it’s possible to live a chaste life.

Courage has groups in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia and has chapters in 13 countries.

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