Dignity/Twin Cities Confronts Archbishop and Courage International Representatives in Protest

Below is the testimony of Brian H. McNeill, current President of Dignity/Twin Cities, and participant in a protest against the exclusion of LGBTQ+ voices during "clergy study day" in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis:

In many dioceses in the United States, Courage International is the official Catholic Church ministry to LGBTQ+ Catholics, but their message is a message of bondage, not liberation. Their website, Couragerc.org, describes their organization as, “a group of Catholics who experience same-sex attractions and who are committed to helping one another to live chaste lives marked by prayer, fellowship and mutual support.” They do not use the word “gay,” or the initials LGBTQ+. Courage stands by catechism language such as “objectively disordered,“ saying the term "objectively disordered” is a philosophical term. It is used to describe homosexual attractions because such attractions can never lead to a morally good sexual act.” They frequently use the term “chastity,” but for LGBTQ+ Catholics what they really mean is lifelong celibacy. Many Courage chapters use a 12-step model, most frequently used by other groups such as AA, to treat addictions. The founder of Courage, Fr. John Harvey, insisted that being gay was pathological, an illness or a disorder.

A friend of Dignity Twin Cities let us know in late March that the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ “clergy study day,” scheduled for April 7, was going to be taught by two chaplains from Courage International, which goes by the name Faith in Action in Minnesota. Not wanting to miss such a golden opportunity to spread the faith, delfin bautista and Jason Hernandez, who are with Dignity and Call to Action, another Dignity member and I, met at the sprawling suburban campus of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Mendota Heights. The parish campus sits across the river valley from the MSP airport. We showed up in time for their afternoon session, at 1:00 pm.

It was a raw April day with high wind and alternating blasts of rain and snow, and the temperature hovering in the low 30’s. Peering through the windows of the parish center, we could see Fr. Philip Bochanski, executive director of Courage International, at the podium in front of large picture windows that gave attendees a view of the woods and the valley behind the parish. I thought it was a perfect place to wave the pride flag. We walked to the back of the building where I discovered that the bottom of the windows came to the top of my head but with the PVC pole I attached to the pride flag I could get the flag right up into the middle of the windows directly behind Fr. Bochanski, where it proudly flapped away in the gusts of winds that blasted us from time to time.

The flag was in the window for no more than five minutes when a security guard from the Archdiocese came out the back door and told me that the flag was distracting to the priests, and that I would have to move because we were on private property. I replied that I was a baptized Catholic, standing on Church property, that the Church was not paying taxes for. Nevertheless, if they wanted to call the police to help decide the theological dispute between those inside the building and those outside, they could go ahead. I was not going to leave. I added that, if the priests were distracted, he should tell them to pay closer attention to the speaker; their distraction was their problem not mine. The security guard said he was not going to call the police and went back inside. However, the police did come by in the drive behind the church a half hour later, looked at my sign, waved, and drove away.

After the excitement with security, the other three went to the front door where they hoped to speak with some of the attendees. Father Bochanski did come out to speak to them and engaged in dialogue for about 20 minutes. They advocated to him for the ability for out and proud LGBTQ+ Catholics to dialogue, in the midst of such Archdiocesan trainings, with the personnel being trained. The request was made in the spirit of “Nothing about us, without us,” a phrase used these days by advocates for so many different underrepresented causes who wish to speak, not just be spoken about.

Archbishop Hebda then came out to say that such dialogue, in the midst of Archdiocesan personnel, would not be possible, at least on this occasion. They reported he seemed annoyed, and he would not agree to let them in to have additional dialogue with Archdiocesan personnel since they were not priests. To this Jason Hernandez replied, “with all due respect your excellency, you do not know that.” “Are you a priest?” asked the archbishop. “I am a priest in the order of Melchizedek,” Jason replied, but Hebda still refused him permission to enter.

While that exchange was going on, I was visited by Fr. Bochanski, who popped out of the back door during some kind of break to talk to me. I asked him if he was aware of the actions by the German bishops on LGBTQ+ issues. He replied that he was and had just published an open letter to Cardinal Marx (of Munich) complaining that he was creating confusion among the faithful. As he spoke with me he was staring at the sign I had that read, “LGBTQ+ Proud. We stand with the German bishops.”

He denied that Courage identifies LGBTQ+ people as sick or “afflicted” with same-sex attraction. I told him that it angered me that Courage does not refer to LGBTQ+ people as gay when they want to be identified that way. It is presumptuous and arrogant to pretend that they know better what is good for us. He said that he had never met anyone who thought that they were made gay and I replied, “Mister, you are looking at one.” We briefly discussed Paul’s writings in Romans and John Paul II’s Theology of the Body before someone came to the back door and called him back in, out of the wind and cold.

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