‘Courage’ inspires call to holiness for those with same-sex attraction

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PROVIDENCE — St. Patrick Church in Providence will soon be hosting the second chapter of Courage, the international apostolate for Catholics with same-sex attraction, in Rhode Island.

Father James T. Ruggieri, the pastor of St. Patrick Church, wrote a letter to Bishop Thomas J. Tobin requesting permission to host the chapter. The bishop permitted the request and named Father Ruggieri to be the group’s chaplain.

Father Ruggieri said he decided to write the bishop after much prayer and discernment.

“This has been a topic on my heart for a while,” said Father Ruggieri, whose parish already hosts a chapter of Encourage, a support group for parents, siblings and friends of people with same-sex attraction.

“The goal is to help people live a chaste life, to see that as something that is not restrictive or burdensome, but really the way to true freedom and true happiness,” Father Ruggieri said.

Holy Ghost Church in Tiverton has hosted a Courage chapter for about 16 years, said Father Jay Finelli, the pastor and chaplain of that group.

“Courage isn’t there to change people,” Father Finelli said. “It’s there to help them, giving them Catholic teaching, the teaching of the gospel, to encourage them and to be there for them.

“The priest is not there to run the meeting or anything,” Father Finelli said. “He’s there to be available, if anyone wants to go to confession, and to be there for conversation, to lead them in prayer and to be there with them.”

According to its website, Courage members are men and women who experience same-sex attractions and who have made a commitment to strive for chastity. They are inspired by the Gospel call to holiness and the Catholic Church’s teachings about the goodness and inherent purpose of human sexuality.

Courage members receive pastoral support in the form of spiritual guidance, community prayer support, and fellowship. Together they pursue the “Five Goals of Courage,’ which were developed in 1980 by the first Courage chapter in New York City.

The Five Goals of Courage still guide the apostolate’s meetings and work:

1. To live a chaste life in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

2. To dedicate one’s entire life 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.

3. To foster a spirit of fellowship in which members may share with one another their thoughts and experiences, and so ensure that no one will have to face the problems of homosexuality alone.

4. 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.

5. To live a life that may serve as a good example to others.

“I think it would be good to have Courage chapters all around the state,” said Father Finelli, who was asked by a parishioner shortly after he arrived at Holy Ghost Church about 16 years ago to host a chapter.

Father Finelli said it was not too long after that the issue of same-sex marriage exploded onto the national stage — when the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 2004 legalized same-sex marriage in that state — that he decided to move ahead with having a chapter in his own parish.

“I was preaching and I heard strongly within the depth of my being that if we’re going to preach this message, we have to have something to support these people,” said Father Finelli, who added that anywhere from five to seven people, mostly men, attend the bi-weekly meetings at his parish.

Father Finelli described the members of the Tiverton chapter of Courage as “very inspirational and very filled with faith.”

“I find it to be a great group,” Father Finelli said. “They really look forward to meeting every month and enjoying that fellowship.”

Father Ruggieri, who reached out to Father Finelli before writing to the bishop, said he has already received inquiries from two interested people and hopes to launch the new chapter sometime in the next month.

“I believe there is such a need for this ministry,” Father Ruggieri said, “to support people with same-sex attraction to live chaste lives and to live actively in the Church. I’d like to create more chapters.”

Father Ruggieri said the message of Courage can also offer a valuable counter-narrative to the messages in contemporary society that say homosexuality and same-sex relationships should be embraced and celebrated.

“As Catholics, we need to present a new script that is valid and resonates in people’s hearts,” Father Ruggieri said. “It’s being willing to talk with people, walk with people and encourage people. I think we’ve been too silent on this topic, and we’re losing people, especially young people who are questioning their sexuality and feel like there is no place for them in the Church.”

Said Father Ruggieri, “We need to change the narrative.”