Courage International moves 2020 Truth and Love Conference online

Praying bible Credit Unsplash CNA Unsplash.

In the face of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Courage International has announced that it will host online its upcoming conference to support Catholics who minister to people with same-sex attraction.

Courage International is a Catholic group for those who experience same-sex attraction and are seeking to live chaste and faithful lives. Its Truth and Love Conference seeks to provide practical and spiritual guidance on the topics of homosexuality and sexual identity to pastoral ministers and lay professionals.

While it was originally scheduled to take place in the Diocese of Arlington, the conference will instead take place for its several hundred participants on the online platform Zoom on April 27-29.

Ann Schneible, communications director for Courage, told CNA that when people register for the conference, they will be given a secure code and detailed instructions on how to participate.

During each talk, she said, participants will be able to type questions directly into Zoom. These questions will then be answered by the speakers during the Q&A period at the end of each presentation.

All of the participants will be invited to Monday's keynote address and the following plenary sessions on Monday and Wednesday. On Tuesday, registrants will be able to choose talks from one of three tracks - pastoral care, mental health, and sexual identity.

The theme of this year's conference is called "Be not afraid: Affirming the truth about sex and identity." It will mark the 100th birthday of Pope John Paul II and declare him the official patron of the Truth & Love initiative, the section of the Courage ministry focusing on providing resources to those who minister to people with same-sex attraction.

Schneible said the title is inspired by the beginning words of his 1978 inaugural homily: "Do not be afraid. Christ knows 'what is in man.' He alone knows it."

Schneible explained, "This theme is relevant to our work because whenever we are ministering to someone who experiences same-sex attractions or questions about their gender identity, the compassion we show cannot be separated from the truth about human dignity and authentic happiness. With Pope Saint John Paul II as our patron, we pray for his intercession as we continue to speak the truth fearlessly and with love."

Father Philip Bochanski, executive director of Courage International, told CNA that the writings and messages of John Paul II are important to the Church's understanding of human dignity, sexuality, and the human body. He said the pope also had a way of sharing the truth with an essence of love.

"He was able to perceive the trends in the way that the culture looks, and how to answer those kinds of cultural misunderstandings with the perennial truth that comes from the gospel through the Church," he said.

"He did it with such compassion. That's [why] he's going to be our model. Not just what to say, but how to say it. How to speak the truth in love."

The list of speakers at the virtual conference will include experts in pastoral care, theology, and mental health. Speakers include Bishop John Keenan of Paisley, a Courage chaplain in Scotland; Helen Alvaré, a professor of law at Antonin Scalia Law School of George Mason University; and Suzanne Baars, a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist.

[Bishop Keenan will] talk about his experience over the last few years as a chaplain and how that has affected his understanding of pastoral ministry. We're going to have Helen Alvare... talk about some of the legal implications of the legislation that's being passed … about sexual orientation and gender identity and how that might affect parishes and schools and other institutions," he said.

Bochanski also highlighted some of Tuesday's talks, which will be divided into three separate categories: pastoral care, health care, and gender identity discordance.

He said the first track, pastoral care, will look at conveying Church teaching and creating a welcoming environment in parishes and schools. It will also examine how those in pastoral ministry can come to understand the experience of those with same-sex attraction.

The second track, on mental health care, will be directed toward health professionals. He said it will review a psychological experience, involving family dynamics, relationships, and self-identity, of those with same-sex attraction.

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The third track will analyze gender discordance - when people view themselves as a different gender than their biological sex. The talks will include insight from healthcare professionals on genetics and body chemistry, as well as a philosophical perspective, Bochanski added.

"I think it reflects the reality that people, in general, are multifaceted and need to be supported and nourished on different levels simultaneously. We tried to keep in mind all those different aspects of pastoral care and family life and just the different ways that we're going to encounter people so that the folks who participate are going to be equipped for all of those," he said.

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