A Catholic diocese in the United States is offering a twelve-step program for men "struggling with same-sex attraction." From The Colorado Springs Gazette:
The Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs is borrowing a page from Alcoholics Anonymous by launching a 12-step program that offers pastoral care and support for homosexuals.
“It’s not about therapy and not about activism,” said the Rev. Larry Brennan, diocese director of priest formation. “It’s about support.”
The Catholic Church views homosexual relations as a sin, but not homosexual thoughts. It expects those with same-sex attraction to be celibate.
“The exercise of sexuality is reserved for marriage, and that can only happen between a man and a woman,” Brennan said.
Jim Fitzgerald, executive director of Call to Action, a national progressive Catholic group headquartered in Chicago, is skeptical of Twelve Steps of Courage because he contends homosexuality isn’t sinful.
“It restricts people’s freedom to be the kind of person they were created to be,” Fitzgerald said of Courage.
But Brennan says the program is not for people comfortable with their gay lifestyle. “The people we want to reach are those who experience this as a burden,” he said.
A couple interesting points worth considering:
The article says that, "Participants admit they are powerless in overcoming same-sex attraction, ask God for help, and make amends to those they’ve hurt, among other steps." Surrendering oneself to God and seeking to repair broken relationships is probably good advice for all Christians to heed, but why are gay men singled out specifically through a 12-step program? Does the church believe there is something intrinsic in homosexual men that makes them more prone to hurting their family and friends? If so, what is it? Will these men counseled to apologize for being gay? Disappointing their families? Not living up to cultural ideals?
Also, Fr. Brennan says, “This is a population that is underserved. They are not comfortable with the gay agenda and not comfortable with family oriented (events).” This is a valid observation and one worth exploring. Some gay men may indeed be turned off by "the scene" and they may not feel welcome or comfortable at "family oriented" events. It is probably also true that some straight men don't wish to be a part of their scene, but they often find the communities they need in churches, fraternal organizations, business associations, or civic and volunteer groups. The church seems to recognize that some gay men don't want to participate in gay culture (is there such a thing?), but don't feel welcome in churches and sometimes in other venues. Offering a 12-step program may be one way to build community for these men, but are there others? Could family oriented events in our churches be retooled a bit to make all feel more welcome? Could churches reflect on better ways to make all feel as if they are part of a community, including young families with children, childless couples, widows and widowers, and even single and coupled gay people? Rather than offering programs for those who want something others than "their gay lifestyle" (again, is there one?), perhaps there are better ways to include people in communities that might be perceived as hostile or unwelcoming? There are probably many, many people who are tired of their circumstances and who long for something more. Are church's speaking to all those cohorts, in addition to gay men? Will we launch a series of 12-step programs for them as well?
What are some reactions to programs such as this? Rage that the church is equating homosexuality with certain destructive behaviors? A roll of the eyes and dismissal of the story as another example of a church painfully removed from the daily lives of ordinary women and men? Affirmation that the church must be counter-cultural? Questioning of the psychological soundness of such an approach? Worry for the emotional and spiritual well-being of participants? Acceptance of a response to individuals in need of pastoral care? An attempt to balance lofty Christian ideals with life on the ground?
Michael J. O'Loughlin