The following column was published in The Observer on Thursday, December 6, 2012.
Fr. John Harvey began the Courage Apostolate in 1980. Fr. Harvey was known as a man with great compassion and love for Catholics experiencing “same sex attraction.” Under Fr. Harvey, Courage has reached much of the American Church and has worked as a “spiritual support group” for “Catholic men and women with same-sex attractions who desire to live chaste lives in accordance with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.” It has been suggested that Notre Dame start its own chapter. Such a group could perhaps be helpful to some students.
However, Courage must be seen as only one small part of a larger work the Church must undertake for those who are “same-sex attracted.” The work of Courage is necessarily limited. It’s founder’s book, “Homosexuality and the Catholic Church,” seeks to “present the Church’s teaching in an objective and pastorally-sensitive manner.” The book begins with some “basic questions” on homosexuality, including the origin of homosexuality. This section roots itself in the work of the British psychologist Elizabeth Moberly, especially her essay, “Psychogenesis: The Early Development of Gender Identity.”
Moberly’s essay draws heavily from Freudian psychology. Moberly suggests that homosexuality occurs when “needs for love, dependency and identification which are normally met through the medium of an attachment to a (parental) love-source of the same sex, have remained unmet.” Fr. Harvey adopts this conclusion in affirming that “persons with same-sex attraction” have a “deficit in their relationship with their same-sex parent.” Thus, Fr. Harvey’s account of thepsychogenesis of homosexuality begins with a kind of childhood trauma.
This perhaps explains the approach of Courage, a twelve-step program based on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholic Anonymous. The steps include admitting “we were powerless over our homosexuality and our lives had become unmanageable,” and coming “to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Linking same-sex attraction with trauma and unnatural development, this solution seems to suggest that same-sex attractions necessarily manifest themselves in self-destructive and anti-relational behaviors.
No doubt, the ends of Courage are ends that all Catholics ought to pursue. Certainly, all Catholics are called to lives of chastity. However, I would like to suggest here that Courage and “Homosexuality and the Catholic Church” do not present a comprehensive picture of the Church’s understanding of and approach to homosexuality. This model may be subject to Pope John Paul II’s critique of Freud’s interpretation of the sexual urge. He calls this interpretation and other similar interpretations “erroneous, because [they are] one-sided and one-sidedly exaggerated.” In contrast to Freud, the Catechism states that homosexuality’s “psychological genesis remains largely unexplained” (2357). The claim that homosexuality stems from a relational deficit is not a claim that can be derived directly from official Church teaching.
It is possible that, for some, homosexuality may originate in forms of childhood trauma. However, to posit this as homosexuality’s only or primary psychogenesis is a claim that the Church has resisted to adopt even since Moberly’s article was first published 30 years ago. This claim considers only one aspect of man in a onesided and exaggerated fashion. Therefore, the “support group model” that Courage provides will be helpful to some men and women experiencing same-sex-attraction, but not to all. Thus, if the Church seeks to create structures and institutions for Catholics with same-sex-attraction, new and broader models must be conceived, and old and narrower models should be reconsidered.
With the recent announcement of Notre Dame’s “comprehensive review of GLBTQ student services and support,” Notre Dame finds itself in a position of great opportunity. Setting aside past prejudices, misunderstandings and misapplications of failed social sciences, this community now has the opportunity to work from a radical commitment to the Church’s understanding of the human person in considering new ways to aid our GLBTQ friends and family in flourishing as individuals and members of this community and, by extension, to aid in our own flourishing.
With such a commitment, we now see an opportunity to create much-needed new models that can serve as an example for the Church and the world. We, once again, see a way in which Notre Dame can seek to serve and love the Church, as any robust Catholic university should. We have not shied away from these issues, and we have thus found ourselves to be a much greater institution than many of our peers.
Christopher Damian is a senior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.