NEW ULM - Bishop John LeVoir of the Diocese of New Ulm will be a guest speaker Friday at the annual conference in Mundelein, Ill. for the Catholic ministry organization Courage Apostolate.
Started in the 1980s, Courage Apostolate argues that people with same-sex attraction must lead "chaste lives," or lifetime abstinence in terms of same-sex interactions, in order to lead a life following the Catholic Church's teachings. Support group meetings use a slightly modified version of the 12-step program from Alcoholics Anonymous, with the goal of same-sex abstinence. The group is open to all denominations.
LeVoir's speech is entitled "What Does it Mean to be a Human Image of God?" He said it focuses on man and women being "in God's image" and that Jesus revealed "sexual love should be expressed only between a man and a woman who are married to one another."
"[Jesus] taught that any sexual act outside of marriage is not an act of authentic human love," said LeVoir in an e-mail.
He said the mission of Courage and the Catholic Church is to be compassionate for those with same-sex attractions and to guide them to living according to Jesus' teachings.
LeVoir was involved in establishing Courage's Minnesota chapter. He served as its first chaplain through the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis from 1997 until 2007. He left that position shortly before being appointed bishop. In recent years he celebrated Mass for the Courage Apostolate conference in 2011 and hosted the Rev. Paul Check, executive director for Courage, for the Diocese of New Ulm's spring Pastoral Leader Day in 2012.
Courage Apostolate believes in life-long abstinence for its member unless they are in a marriage with a member of the opposite sex. Because they believe sexual activity is "God's gift" meant solely for reproduction, their expectation of "chastity" also extends to opposing masturbation or using contraceptives.
Courage neither requires its members to change their same-sex attractions nor encourages them to seek that change. Check said they do not address the controversial practices of "reparative therapy" or "conversion therapy," which seek to change a homosexual individual's orientation to heterosexual, and their policy prohibits facilitating members that seek these programs. These therapies are widely rebuked by gay rights organizations and by the American Psychological Association, which calls them "harmful."
Check said they believe same-sex attraction is not a sin, but acting on these feelings is a major sin. He said they believe this inclination is a symptom of the individual's disorder with nature.
Courage is controversial among gay rights groups for believing homosexuality is a disorder and for being unwilling to rebuke "reparative therapy." Courage's website lists these therapies as likely counterproductive, but states they worked for some members. The recommended books section contains "reparative therapy" books and the Courage Reparational Group is listed as a group of men and women "praying for the conversion and healing of those who struggle with same-sex desires."
Last year, Rev. Jim Livingston, the current chaplain for the Minnesota branch of Courage, wrote a letter to the Star Tribune entitled "Some people can make the gay go away," which argued that some people have been able to change their sexual orientation through prayer.
Check said Courage seeks to help people practice the Catholic Church's teachings, but its other value is in providing "peace of mind and heart" for people with same-sex attractions. He said these individuals know their actions and feelings are against their own nature, and they feel relief when they focus on living "chaste" lives.
Courage has up to 100 branches across the U.S. and other countries.
(Josh Moniz can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org)