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Holy Ghost Parish offers ‘Courage’ group for homosexuals
Church support group provides fellowship to those who struggle with same-sex attractions
BY EMILY DONOHUE, Staff Reporter

TIVERTON – Elaine's journey was not easy. But, she says, “I never look back.” The road from her troubled childhood to her current life as a hermit reaching out to Catholics with homosexual …

TIVERTON – Elaine's journey was not easy. But, she says, “I never look back.”

The road from her troubled childhood to her current life as a hermit reaching out to Catholics with homosexual tendencies was long and arduous.

As a young girl, Elaine, who asked her last name be withheld, was raped. She and her mother were both deeply affected by the incident, and their relationship irreparably damaged. This, she thinks, was the beginning of her downward spiral.

Her parents showed none of the love and affection that she craved, and she often felt that they didn't love her. She was "starved for maternal love," she said. As she grew, she developed an aversion toward the opposite sex, an aversion that eventually grew into a same-sex attraction.

At the age of 21, while a member of the United States Air Force, Elaine became actively homosexual. For many years, she said, she lived a lifestyle fraught with self-loathing and alcohol abuse.

"I knew innately that what I was doing was wrong," she said in a recorded testimony for Rhode Island native and Catholic activist Dale O'Leary's series of seminars called "Truth and Compassion."

The drinking and the homosexual relationships were all an attempt to fill a deeply-felt desire for human connection, one she did not receive from either of her parents. "I had this hole, this starving to be loved," she said, adding that her drinking was an effort “to numb those feelings that what I was doing was wrong."

For years, Elaine said, she struggled with feelings of being abnormal and sinful. Finally, she began to pray to be healed. "I wanted to be normal. I wanted this curse out of me."

At this point in her story Elaine loses her calm demeanor. The memories of the struggle seem to overwhelm her and tears fill her eyes. She prayed constantly, traveled on a pilgrimage to Medugorje, where the Virgin Mary is believed by many to have appeared for years, and attended Mass daily; "I had started begging God to heal me of this," she said.

And, she says, he did.

"Within a year or two I was totally healed and never looked back," she said. The transformative experience for Elaine came during a private moment in church when she felt compelled to speak to God and announce her forgiveness for the boy who raped her as a young girl. She spent time in the church crying for her past sins and praying for her future. When she finally left she said she felt somehow different, as though "a switch had been flipped." She realized God had answered her prayers and healed her. She has never been tempted to return to her old ways, "I don't want to put my soul in jeopardy," she said.

Since that time, Elaine's life has been devoted to her Catholic faith and to helping others with similar struggles.

At first she thought that perhaps God was calling her to live her faith in a Catholic marriage. But she soon began to discern a call to the religious life She spent two years in a Franciscan convent, but left while still a novice because her health began to deteriorate. She began to live as a hermit, leading a prayerful life governed by personal vows. She has lived a chaste life since then, anchored by her prayers and relationships with friends from her church.

"As I was developing friends in the church, I saw what real friendship is," she said, "It's a reward, in my opinion."

She recalled that "one of the crises I was facing when I was pulling away from the homosexual lifestyle is I felt like I was betraying my friends.” She describes a trip to Provincetown, Mass. as a turning point. The Cape Cod town is a known haven for many who lead homosexual lives. But, when she traveled there after her healing, she realized that she was completely uninterested in the lifestyle; the people and places she used to lean on had been replaced by a complete reliance on her faith.

Today, Elaine lives out her faith as a hermit and participates in a group named Courage at Holy Ghost Parish in Tiverton. The group, founded in New York City in in 1980, ministers to Catholics who struggle with same sex attractions. According to its web site, the group currently has more than 100 chapters worldwide, including the one in Rhode Island.

At Holy Ghost Parish, the Courage chapter meets about once a month and has between four and six regular members, along with others who have attended meetings or come occasionally.

Elaine is careful to point out that the goal of the group is not to "heal" anyone, but to provide a safety net for those struggling personally. "There's a misconception that this is a therapy group," she said, "It's not; it's a support group."

At the start of every meeting members recite the five goals of Courage: "To live chaste lives, to dedicate our lives to Christ, to foster a spirit of fellowship ... so none of us will have to face the problems of homosexuality alone; to be mindful ... that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary, and to live lives that may serve as good examples to others." The Courage literature, goals and methods are reminiscent of Alcoholics Anonymous groups. In fact, the 12 steps of Courage are drawn directly from the 12 steps for recovering alcoholics.

Along with Father Jay A. Finelli, pastor of Holy Ghost and chaplain of the Courage group, Elaine conducts these meetings for people who may feel ostracized from the church because of their homosexual past.

The members of Courage are "people who really want to live a dedicated Catholic life," said Father Finelli.

He was hesitant at first to begin the group at Holy Ghost. After Elaine approached him with the idea he took some time to pray and consider it.

At the same time, however, nearby Massachusetts was considering legalizing same-sex marriages, a debate that became the topic of Father Finelli's homilies on more than one occasion. He realized, he said, that "if we want to preach the Gospel we have to be there to help (individuals) live the life."

So, he and Elaine began the Courage group. Although their membership is small, the members are devoted. It is the only group in the area — the next closest is in Boston — so many of the members travel long distances to attend the meetings in Tiverton.

Father Finelli has found that the mere presence of a group and his position as its chaplain has opened the door for many people to discuss with him privately their own struggles with sexuality. "You don't know who among you is struggling," he said. "The Lord blesses those who work in this ministry. To see the goodness of these people, it's a blessing."

For Elaine, participation is not only essential to maintaining her own life, but she also cannot imagine how anyone could struggle alone. "Without a prayer life and without receiving the Sacraments, I don't see how anybody could move forward. There's just too much out there against us," she said.

She considers her ministry to be one on one. She shares her witness with people and, she says, often is able to affect their life if they are struggling with homosexuality or have a family member who is. "The Lord places somebody right in front of me, one at a time, (to whom) I have the urge to tell my witness," she said, "I can tell them the truth about the lifestyle."

Elaine and Father Finelli understand how difficult the struggle to understand one's sexuality can be if a person feels alone. "When they don't have the support, they backslide," said Elaine. "People need one another," added Father Finelli.

Elaine urges anyone struggling with their own sexuality to seek out support from God, "If a person is struggling they need to have a prayer life. God calls us all to the same standard. He wants us to remain chaste; the world doesn't."

Pressures are particularly difficult for someone struggling to live in accordance with Catholic law, she said. The Internet and the political-correctness of American society promote the homosexual lifestyle, she said. She added that "the schools are so infused now with the homosexual agenda." She sees a young generation of people being pressured into believing that homosexuality should be accepted or even applauded.

"I think people are afraid to offend people nowadays," said Father Finelli. "They don't want to say you have to live your life one way or another."

For Elaine and Father Finelli, combating these perceptions is another goal of Courage, and its sister group Encourage, formed for the families and friends of those struggling with same-sex attractions – it's mission is comparable to that of Al-Anon, the group for the families and friends of alcoholics.

"It was hard, but the Lord gave me graces," Elaine said of her transformation.

Without a doubt
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