In July 2009, members of the newly formed Courage Group met and discussed what they would like the group to achieve over the following year.
They decided to first reach out to other Catholic people who experience same-sex attraction and show them that the Church loves them and has two support groups in place, with top priestly guidance, to give them a safe place and time to share their lives deeply and privately with sympathetic like-minded people. Spiritual and moral growth in holiness is the main aim, and peace of mind and heart the main goal.
To reach out, they decided, would mean connecting with Catholic parishes in a special way. They resolved to take a much more pro-active approach than in the past and, starting with the so-called "Pink Triangle" suburbs close to the CBD, they enlisted the help of all EnCourage members as well.
Each took responsibility for a deanery. Their tasks were:
* To personally contact parish priests and inform them about the Courage and EnCourage Groups, which are authorised agencies under the Archdiocese.
* To offer them a preview of our eight-page booklet Homosexuality and Real Hope and brochure Know Someone Struggling With Homosexuality.
* If they like them, to send them a bundle of each for their parishes.
Before launching our program, we contacted Melbourne's Archbishop Denis Hart with details and received his permission.
With a prayer and some courage we each started phoning the parishes in our designated deanery. And what happened? To our profound delight we received a hugely positive response across the board.
Priests have been variously pleased, enthusiastic and overjoyed to be getting some useful material on a vexed subject for their parishes so that people who wish it can be helped.
The Archbishop has written a letter to go with the material along with a notice for parish newsletters once a month where possible. The notice is a crucial factor enabling the presence of Courage and EnCourage to be kept before the Catholic population.
The following are some of the responses received:
* Archbishop Hart: "The little booklet Homosexuality and Real Hope is the best publication in brief that I have seen on the subject of homosexuality.
* Very Rev Denis Ward, OFM Cap: "One of the things that struck me, when I was chaplain to the Courage and EnCourage Groups, was how much these people were suffering. How the people of both groups handled their suffering, with great faith in Jesus and in the face of incredible obstacles, helped me in my own ministry as a Capuchin."
* Fr Laurie Leonard SJ: "Since being invited by Archbishop Hart to be chaplain to the same sex attracted (SSA) people and their families, they and I together search to find God's will and our Church's guidance for them. With the SSA people I have experienced a very real prayerful search to understand themselves and to know that through a relationship with Christ they can experience a belonging and peace in their lives.
"With the parents, and their desire to support each other as they desperately long to remain close to their children, I see another level of anguish and struggle which needs God's graced touch. It is a privilege to be invited into their lives".
* Fr Gregory Pritchard: "I am glad that this special outreach is flourishing here in Melbourne, and into chapters in many parts of Australia. Courage and EnCourage are vital apostolates in modern Australia. Their spirituality provides a way for those living with homosexuality to know they are loved by God, who calls all His children to holiness and virtue."
* Fr Brendan Dillon: "Glen Waverley parish is very willing to disseminate all the Courage and EnCourage material as I am most conscious of the fact that these groups were, for many years, under the guidance of that wonderful Capuchin priest, Fr Denis Ward, and are now in the capable hands of Fr Laurie Leonard. They can be relied on for help and privacy.
* Fr Paul Newton: "I have always found EnCourage meetings to be of tremendous support to all involved. They provide inspiration, much needed guidance, acceptance and affirmation, and I am very pleased to recommend them to anyone who might be in need."
* Fr John Walshe: "There is a real need for the Church to make a faithful and compassionate response to people who live with same-sex attraction, and also to support and minister to families who are affected by the choices other family members have made in this area of life ...
"The Courage movement is an excellent apostolate that addresses the needs of homosexual Christian men and women. It is a movement which is supportive and faithful to the teaching of Christ and his Church regarding sexual activity outside of marriage, whilst at the same time employing the insights of experience and spiritual theology to support homosexual people in their human need for friendship and understanding ...
"I wholeheartedly recommend this wonderful movement to other priests and members of the Catholic community. No members of the Church should be isolated in their endeavours to be faithful to Christ. In a warm and encouraging atmosphere Catholic men and women who are same-sex attracted can be assisted and supported by the local chapter of Courage".
Fr Paul Check, International Director of Courage and EnCourage will be in Melbourne for talks on 27-28 October. Accompanying him is Dr Timothy Lock, a clinical psychologist spec- ialising in unwanted same-sex attraction. For information on the talks ring me on (03) 9847-0713, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org