by Jessica Langdon
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — As a priest, Father John Riley never finds himself with a shortage of meetings to attend in the evenings. But the gatherings of one new group he makes a priority.
Father Riley, chancellor of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, serves as the Kansas chaplain of the recently launched local chapter of the Courage apostolate.
Courage Kansas City reaches out to men and women on both sides of the state line who have same-sex attractions, and a group for men began meeting in the spring of 2013.
Through this partnership between the two dioceses, the archdiocese offers two meetings each month, and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph holds two, so people in the Kansas City metro area who want to attend a meeting as often as weekly have one available.
And the meetings — which offer participants spiritual support as they seek to live chaste lives — provide a high level of confidentiality as participants pray, share their stories, and go to confession at the end of the meeting if they desire.
“We’ve found that the individual dealing with same-sex attraction truly needs to experience the freedom of interior chastity,” said Father Riley. “It’s through that freedom of chastity that they’re able to find the steps to living a fully Christian life in communion with God, with the church and with others.”
A chaste life
Sometimes it seems that the only socially acceptable way to show compassion to those with same-sex attractions is to encourage him or her to indulge those desires and feel free to engage in a gay lifestyle, explained Bill Scholl, archdiocesan consultant for social justice who coordinates the Courage apostolate for the archdiocese.
“Instead,” said Father Riley, “those who struggle with same-sex attraction and who want to experience freedom and the love of Jesus Christ and his church choose the path to live chaste lives in accordance with the teachings of the church on homosexuality.”
“And we offer to them,” he continued, “and all others who seek the truth, the love, compassion and support of the church.”
Chastity is a key goal Courage urges participants to attain.
“I really learned a lot,” said Scholl, describing the time he has spent preparing to launch the local chapter and helping to facilitate the meetings.
“I think if every Catholic had a chance to understand the subject better, they could see just how life-affirming and loving the church really is being, and that true compassion is reaching out and saying, ‘Hey, I want to help you live a chaste life,’” said Scholl.
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and other leaders in the archdiocese felt that as the issue of same-sex unions received more and more emphasis across the nation, it was important to have a pastoral response for people if they were going to have a political response, explained Scholl.
So work began to organize a local chapter. Clergy from Kansas and Missouri attended information workshops with Father Paul Check, executive director of Courage International, and other speakers. Local representatives even visited a Courage meeting in another city.
The local Courage meetings for men have been running for the past several months, and Father Riley looks forward to the start of a group for women in the future. And as with the men’s group, people from many different backgrounds and circumstances will be welcome.
“Many men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction, whether they are single or married, feel a sense of isolation,” said Father Riley. “But through the Courage apostolate the church offers support and encouragement.”
A person’s contact with Courage starts with a call to a local helpline at: (913) 428-9893. Callers might be asked to leave a name and contact number so a representative can get in touch with them.
People who want to attend a meeting go through a sort of pre-interview to see if the apostolate is a good fit for them.
Participants don’t have to be Catholic, but it helps if they’re Christian. And they need to be willing to embrace the Catholic teaching on chastity, said Scholl.
Every effort is made to assure confidentiality. Therefore, meetings are not open to walk-ins and times and locations are not advertised.
Meetings start with the Serenity Prayer and include time for reflection and discussion.
One rule is there’s no “cross-talk,” said Scholl, meaning members listen and support, but don’t offer one another advice on their situations.
Meetings close with prayer, and when Father Riley is there, he is available for confession.
Hope and grace
“We’re really about support and just bringing people closer to the Lord and helping them live the virtue of chastity,” said Scholl. “We offer accountability and prayer and support — and just a place to be real.”
Another group called EnCourage is also now meeting on a regular basis for parents, relatives and friends of people with same-sex attraction. Prayer, discussion and fellowship are also key parts of EnCourage.
Both Father Riley and Scholl have been moved by the spirituality they’ve found at work in the Courage apostolate.
“Believe me, the last thing that a priest wants is another meeting in the evening,” said Father Riley. “But I can honestly say that these meetings truly give joy to my heart, and I don’t say that about too many meetings. I’m amazed at the incredible gift of hope and grace that flow from this ministry.”
Interested in Courage or EnCourage?
Call the helpline (serving the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph) at: (913) 428-9893.
Information on the Roman Catholic Courage apostolate is available online at: www.couragerc.org, and on the archdiocesan website at: www.archkck.org/CourageKC