Sept. 4-10, 2003
Courage to be Faithful
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
Father Jeffrey Keefe, OFM, Conv., offers reflections on this year’s national Courage conference
By Father Jeffrey Keefe, OFM, Conv. SUN contributing writer
(St. Paul, MN) — By coincidence, or more likely, Providence, this year’s annual Courage Conference was slated for St. Paul, Minnesota, overlapping the meetings of the House of Bishops and House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church. In an unprecedented decision the Episcopalian Church in the United States voted by a margin of roughly sixty to forty percent to accept an actively homosexual candidate for bishop and approved a blessing ceremony for committed same sex couples. Courage is the Vatican-approved outreach to persons with same-sex attractions who struggle to follow biblical and Church teaching which calls all unmarried persons to celibate chastity.
This year the fifteenth annual national Courage Conference was the largest to date with 245 delegates, including members of Courage, and EnCourage, the support group for parents and relatives of persons with same-sex attractions, in addition to a couple dozen priest-directors. Members came form the 100-plus chapters in the United States and a half dozen other countries. Individual delegates from Ireland, England, and Africa also attended. The number of participants swelled to 380 for the “clergy track,” special sessions for the clergy. Archbishop Harry Flynn of Minneapolis-St. Paul, had sent a letter urging his priests, deacons and seminarians to attend this one-day event within the weekend conference. Conference organizers anticipated perhaps twenty five additional members. They were happily stunned when 135 priests, deacons and seminarians came from the local diocese, as well as some from “neighboring” Sioux Falls, South Dakota which is about three hundred miles distant.
Some unexpected persons appeared at the conference site, St. Thomas University. Pickets came from Dignity, an organization professedly Catholic which favors homosexual relations between monogamous, committed homosexual couples, as well as a contingent called “The Rainbow Sash”, and a third group, the Catholic Committee for Sexual Minorities. These groups declare themselves Catholic but reject the official Catholic teaching on this issue. Their presence reflected that Courage is making a dent in the public square and presenting a difficult witness to a decidedly difficult moral teaching of the Church. The pickets were respectful, carrying banners, offering prayers and singing hymns, while campus security personnel kept them from disrupting religious services or conference meetings. One picket insisted that Pope John Paul did not approve the latest Vatican document which opposed homosexual unions, claiming that the pope had been kidnapped and the document had been written by the Vatican gardener. However, she was not typical of those picketing. Archbishop Flynn was unable to offer the opening Mass due to scheduling conflicts. The auxiliary bishop, Most Rev. Frederick Campbell (a native of Horseheads, N.Y.) celebrated both the opening and closing Masses and preached the homilies, commending Courage members as witnesses to the faith.
Among the speakers were Christopher West who gave an enthusiastic presentation of Pope John Paul’s Theology of the Body, and Dale Leary who spoke on forgiveness and its potential for healing psychological as well as spiritual wounds. Fr Benedict Joseph Groeschel C.R. spoke on dealing charitably and prudently with homosexual persons not yet ready to hear the biblical and Catholic message on sexuality. Father Jeffrey Keefe OFM, Conv., the director of the Central New York Courage chapter, gave one of the workshops: its topic, Interior Chastity, which Fr. Jeffrey distinguished from the “white knuckle” variety. As is customary, a man and woman member gave testimonies of their struggles in returning to the sacraments and told of the help they receive from Courage. A married couple also related how the husband’s pull to the gay lifestyle almost brought their marriage to collapse until he became involved with Courage. Conference members volunteered to stay one hour with the Lord during two all night periods of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. On the final evening members relaxed at a social gathering and an amateur hour provided much appreciated entertainment.
Father Keefe is the director of the Central New York chapter of Courage for the Diocese of Syracuse. For confidential information, phone Fr. Keefe at (315) 422-6233.