While I love being Mrs Sheepcat, being married to a husband with such an unusual background means taking on some unpleasant social and spiritual consequences. After all, the Sheepcat is a triple minority: he has experienced same-sex attraction (and continues to experience some); he's chosen chastity; and now he's happily married.
I don't, of course, mean to compare the pain and misunderstanding I've experienced to that endured by people with SSA and their loved ones, especially those who are pursuing chastity. And suffering in one's own life often points one to ways of serving others. Many members of Courage have survived bullying and isolation, and not just in the ways popularly portrayed. Even so, some become spiritual giants who have a lot to teach those like me who don't personally struggle with SSA. I'm not just a witness to the testimonies I've seen, I'm an ad-hoc ambassadress to those outside Courage/EnCourage who need to understand better how the Church can respond.
In my capacity as co-facilitator of EnCourage Toronto, I respond in the May edition of The Interim to an April letter-writer who misunderstood the purpose of Courage. (The Interim is Canada's life and family newspaper. If you or your parish don't already receive it, please consider subscribing. You can see most of the monthly past content of The Interim and its associated regular blog, Soconvivium, but letters appear only in the print edition.)
A well-meaning letter-writer suggested referring a young same-sex-attracted friend to Courage, to "help him reconnect with an attraction to the opposite sex and experience the rich rewards it is blessed with."
Please allow me to clarify two popular misapprehensions about Courage, a Catholic apostolate endorsed by the Pontifical Council for Life and the Family. Courage ministers to persons with same-sex attraction – and through EnCourage, to their loved ones. The Courage approach is rooted in our Catechism and carefully distinguishes between the person, inclination, and act. (If you're a non-Catholic reader, please bear with me. Any fair historian of Christian pastoral responses to SSA would acknowledge that, in general, other groups upholding traditional sexual morality have been improving their care of souls by moving in Courage's direction.)
First: if "Gordy" is a minor, he isn't eligible for an adult support group. His experience of SSA might be transient or deep-seated, and he would benefit instead from confidential assistance as he considers the question. But he and his family, school, lay group, or parish would be welcome to request spiritual direction, counselling referrals, and approved speakers through the local Courage chaplain.
Second: I'm the delighted wife of a well-known former gay activist and current Courage member. It's often easier for a married member to give public testimony, so if you're outside the Courage/EnCourage environment, you may be hearing stories like ours more frequently. However, the majority of Courage members are single and likely to stay so. They deserve the same gratitude and respect we show others who are celibate for the sake of the kingdom. They need well-informed support from the pro-life and pro-family movements.
Presuming a one-size-fits-all narrative of change could be deeply hurtful and disrupt a private discernment process. Please see couragerc.net to learn about the five goals of Courage: chastity, prayer and dedication, fellowship, support, and service as a role model. The first is for members "to live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality." Indeed, all of us are called to chastity, whether that is realized in marriage or in celibacy. Members seeking to explore heterosexual attraction are supported, just as are members who heroically struggle with ongoing SSA.
If you're eligible, please consider joining a support or reparational prayer group; participating in a retreat, sports camp, or ListServ; or attending our conference in Emmitsburg, MD this July 19 to 22. If your area has no group, please contact the central office at 203-803-1564 about getting started. And if you're not eligible but would like to learn more, please browse the website's numerous text, audio, and video resources.
Courage members start with surrendering to God, and they leave the outcome to Him.
The Sheepcat tells his story because he's grateful to God, and he wants to be like the leper who went back and thanked God. He was already doing a great job testifying as a single man. Since we got engaged in 2008, I've joined him in speaking out about same-sex attraction. We hope that our particular story may give inspiration to others, but we don't want it used as a template imposed on others.
I've noticed that the Sheepcat's testimony as a celibate-man-with-SSA was more interesting to some audiences, and his testimony as a married-man-who-continues-to-have-a-degree-of-SSA is more interesting to other audiences. Why that is the case is worthy of discussion in the Church. In any case, we're a happily married couple and our marriage is now part of the Sheepcat's story. That doesn't mean that anyone should expect that marriage is the only happy ending for people with SSA – far from it. We're the Church that celebrates celibacy, so we need to love and respect and support all our singles. For parents to force children in their state of life is a violation of the Fourth Commandment;1 and it likewise follows that anyone else pressuring someone in that area would infringe upon individual conscience and freedoms.
My husband and I will accept a speaking engagement only after making clear to the prospective host that we're not offering a program with the goal of getting everybody with SSA "fixed" so they can be married. And that's never been a problem yet. But given the lingering influence of programs that do seem to have that goal, or once did, it seems there's a lot of work left to do to clarify the Catholic pastoral approach, so we'll be even more explicit in future. That we love being married doesn't mean that anybody, anywhere should ever be pressured into marriage.