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Online Courage conference looks at same-sex attraction

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Avera Maria Santo felt she couldn’t keep it in any longer. So she finally confided in a priest friend: she was attracted to women. The priest told her about Courage — a Catholic apostolate for those who experience same-sex attraction.  Santo now considers the members of the group family. 

“Where (my same-sex attractions) came from, I may never know, but the question that I deal with on a daily basis is, how am I going to respond?” she said. “Courage has allowed me to respond in a way that frees me, that liberates me, that allows me to be who God created me to be without having to succumb to what the world demands of me.”

Santo, 23, was one of the speakers at the virtual Truth and Love Conference, hosted by Courage International April 27-29. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the conference was scheduled to take place in Sterling. In a video message, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge greeted the participants. 

“Your courageous consideration of the truth in these matters and how it can be proclaimed assists the church tremendously in her proclamation of God’s plan. And contrary to popular opinion, your discussion here also helps the broader society,” he said. “Please know of my prayers for you in these next few days. May God deepen your appreciation of the truth and strengthen you to proclaim it with love.”

Keynote speaker Bishop John Keenan of Paisley, Scotland, spoke about the challenges of sharing the church’s teaching on same-sex attraction in the modern world. One is an unwillingness to dialogue. “We’re not in a search for the truth in our culture anymore. It’s my will that wants to be powerful, that wants to dominate,” said Bishop Keenan. “In the past, if someone made a proposition, you would disagree with it. Now, I say, ‘That’s offensive.’ ”

Another problem is different definitions of the same words. “Christians use the language of freedom, of equality, of love and dignity. Those who promote the LGBT agenda talk about freedom, love, dignity, all of those things,” he said. “We’re using the same language but we’re talking about really different things.”

All people want to have personal fulfillment, said Bishop Keenan, so Catholics have to understand the popular conception of what fulfillment is while being rooted in the truth that real fulfillment is in Christ. 

Humans desire eros, or romantic love, but the Bible and natural law reveal that sex is reserved for a marriage between one man and one woman. That doesn’t exclude those who are unmarried from having community or from experiencing great love. “Friendship is not less of a love than sexual love. Christ says there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend,” said Bishop Keenan. “Friendship is an incomparable love.”

While modernity espouses the idea that one’s spouse or soulmate makes them whole, both the married and unmarried can only find total fulfillment in God. “Psalms says only in God is my soul complete,” said Bishop Keenan. 

Celibacy is a real sacrifice, he said, noting St. John Paul II’s reference to the ache of solitude. But it’s a hardship that is ultimately more freeing, because it’s part of God’s plan for human flourishing. “Modern types say if you can’t be completely satisfied, you’re not satisfied at all,” said Bishop Keenan. “No one was more fulfilled than Christ on the cross, no one was freer than Christ on the cross, having willingly accepted the sacrifice.” 

After Bishop Keenan’s address, three Courage members, including Santo, shared their testimonies. She said that when she first began to think about her same-sex attraction, she found a lot of things about the LGBT culture unsettling. But she was drawn to finding a sense of belonging. 

“There was the community aspect, which I think is one of the things that the LGBT community unfortunately does exceptionally well. That was one of the swaying points for me — ‘I’m promised friends. So maybe I can just get behind all the (uncomfortable) stuff later,’ ” she said. “But Courage made me aware of the fact that there is community in the church. You can have friends, you can have family, you can have mentors.”

Witnessing older members of the group live holy, happy and chaste lives is what convinced her she could, too. “(As a teen), something I was trying to figure out was, is the church asking me to be lonely for the rest of my life?” she said. “And I think ultimately what has been the catalyst for me is seeing other people love Jesus, want a relationship with Jesus, want a relationship with the church, and being happy about it.”

Find out more

To learn more about Courage chapters in the Diocese of Arlington, email courage@arlingtondiocese.org. 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020