For more than a decade, Monsignor James Farmer has witnessed lives transformed through Courage, the Archdiocese of Baltimore’s official ministry to people with same-sex attraction.
Courage, an international apostolate of the Catholic Church endorsed by the Pontifical Council for the Family, emphasizes both the clarity of church teaching on human sexuality and charity to the person coming for help, Monsignor Farmer said.
Those participating in the ministry want to lead holy lives in accord with church teachings, Monsignor Farmer said, and they are looking to the church for support.
“What we’ve learned over the years is that when a person chooses to leave the same-sex lifestyle and lead a chaste life, there can be a void in their life,” said Monsignor Farmer, pastor of St. Thomas More in Baltimore. “What Courage does is let the person know that they are not alone.”
As New Ways Ministry prepares to offer a national April 14-16 retreat in Marriottsville for gay clergy, the Archdiocese of Baltimore recently notified all its priests that the Mount Rainier-based organization is not recognized by the Catholic Church. The archdiocese also shared previous statements from church leaders on New Ways Ministry.
In 2010, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement by then-president Cardinal Francis George of Chicago noting that “no one should be misled by the claim that New Ways Ministry provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice.”
“I wish to make it clear that, like other groups that claim to be Catholic but deny central aspects of church teaching,” Cardinal George said, “New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church and they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States.”
In a 1999 statement, the Congregation from the Doctrine of the Faith, led by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, declared that Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent of New Ways Ministry “do not faithfully convey the clear and constant teaching of the Catholic Church.” They were permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons.
Courage, with branches in 18 countries and nearly 70 percent of U.S. dioceses, invites participants to dedicate their 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 Eucharist.
Monsignor Farmer, who was invited to begin a Courage chapter in the Archdiocese of Baltimore by Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, said the number of participants has grown significantly.
“Strict confidentiality is maintained,” said Monsignor Farmer, noting that Courage is for adult men and women. “No one knows who the members are and no one comes to the meetings without being very carefully interviewed. We guard the person’s privacy.”
The local Courage ministry offers individual counseling with a priest and/or group meetings that assemble twice a month. There are also national events that occur annually.
“When a person first comes to join, it can be intimidating,” Monsignor Farmer said. “We are very welcoming and we provide support with prayer and fellowship.”
Part of what makes Courage effective is that participants form friendships, Monsignor Farmer said.
“They support each other with phone calls,” he said. “They contact each other for encouragement and prayer or when temptations may arise so they don’t revert to past situations.”
Many Courage members participate in an ongoing way – often for years, Monsignor Farmer said.
“Courage is first and foremost a spiritual opportunity for allowing God’s grace to touch lives,” he said. “We try to help the person where they are in life. We’ve very nonjudgmental and non-threatening.”
Four priests in the Archdiocese of Baltimore currently work in the Courage ministry. There is also a companion ministry called EnCourage, which provides support for the family members and friends of those with same-sex attraction.
Monsignor Farmer said his involvement in Courage has been inspiring to his priesthood.
“You see a person who arrives very hurting and frightened,” he said. “With the passage of time and God’s help, they leave behind a difficult past and try to lead a chaste life for the future. It takes a lot of courage.”
For more information, visit www.archbalt.org/courage
Email George Matysek at gmatysek@CatholicReview.org