Courage: it's a word that causes an individual to think of those figures from history who faced fear with love and tackled great dangers with even greater grace; however, for the Archdiocese of Hartford it now holds a very different meaning.
In a segment carried by WFSB Channel 3, it was announced that the Archdiocese of Hartford has launched a chapter of Courage, an apostolate of the Catholic Church that "ministers to persons with same-sex attraction and their loved ones." Sadly, lay people watching the WFSB segment may conclude that Courage is the only option for LGBT Catholics; however, this couldn't be further from the truth. Ironically, just over an hour from Hartford is Fairfield University (a Catholic institution), which recently hosted one of the sessions of "More Than A Monologue," a series which sought to foster conversations on the status of LGBT people in the Catholic Church. In addition, within a 100 mile drive of Hartford there are a number of Catholic communities that openly reach out and embrace LGBT Catholics knowing that God lives in them as much as anyone else.
As a gay Catholic, what saddens me about Courage is that it associates human sexuality with fear and views homosexuality as a "struggle" that needs to be overcome. By presenting homosexuality in this way, Courage poses a challenge to human dignity and creation itself. In light of this, Deacon Robert Pallotti of the Archdiocese of Hartford maintains "that a person's orientation is not wrong," he says that what is wrong is "how [LGBT people] act on it sexually." It is almost as if Deacon Pallotti and Courage perceive LGBT people as "less human" than heterosexual people by denying them the ability to love their partners in expressive forms that allow two people to unite their lives in an intimate way. Perhaps what Deacon Pallotti fails to witness is that being gay, as described by Rev. Ed Bacon, "is a gift from God."
It is precisely this understanding of seeing LGBT people as being a blessed people that has led a number of Catholic Churches to create environments that are welcoming and affirming. In his book, "Gays and the Grays: The Story of the Gay Community at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Parish," Donal Godfrey, SJ, offers a stark alternative to Courage. Instead of focusing on "creating a chaste kind of life" for LGBT people, a number of parishes, like Holy Redeemer in San Francisco, New York City, Rochester, Boston and other cities across the country, have created LGBT specific ministries that support gay Catholics by providing a safe and affirming environment to explore and grow in their spirituality. Further, organizations such as Fortunate Families have also provided valuable resources for supporting families with LGBT parents or children.
Having the courage to be an LGBT Catholic even in the face of movements such as Courage, and the hierarchy's contradictory views on homosexuality, is the realization of true courage. Realizing that being gay "is a gift from God" calls LGBT people to a closer relationship with God and those around them.
If we look back at history, we quickly realize that those who stood in solidarity with the marginalized, who preached a message of social justice and who lived the teachings of the Gospel are noted among history's most courageous individuals. Whether we consider the inspiring story of St. Damien of Molokai, Servant of God Dorothy Day, Archbishop Oscar Romero or Blessed John XXIII, we come to witness examples of people who exhibited great courage even in the face of adversity. I truly believe that one day we will look back on this period of Church history and it will be those bishops, religious brothers and sisters, and priests that stood up like Fr. John Unni at St. Cecilia's in Boston and proclaimed that all are welcome that will be counted among the courageous.
LGBT Catholics (and non-Catholics) need to know that Courage is not the church's only response to LGBT people. There are many candles amid the darkness, and with each new LGBT ministry, slowly a room that may once have appeared dark will be revealed as a place of great light. It is this very Light that calls all Catholics to live the Gospel and message of Christ -- a message that neither discriminated against nor condemned homosexuality, but calls all of us to welcome the least among us. By doing this, we will reclaim the definition of courage and live our lives not as a people denied love, but as a community committed to live our lives as an expression of Love itself.