For first time, Courage apostolate publishes chaplain's handbook online

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The Catholic apostolate Courage has published online the latest edition of its chaplain's handbook to better help clergy and others ministering to people with same-sex attractions and their families.

"Since we believe that the handbook can be helpful to many people involved in ministry, not only those who are formally serving as Courage or EnCourage chaplains, we wanted to make it as accessible as possible," Father Phillip Bochanski told CNA July 28.

The Courage apostolate aims to help people with same-sex attractions practice their Catholic faith and live according to Church teaching. It was founded in New York by Father John F. Harvey, OSFS in 1980 at the request of then-Archbishop of New York Cardinal Terence Cooke. This year will mark the 40th anniversary of the first Courage meeting, held Sept. 26, 1980.

The apostolate's goals are chastity, prayer and dedication, fellowship, support, and good example.

A partner organization, EnCourage, was launched in 1985. It aims to provide spiritual support for parents, spouses, and other relatives of people who have same-sex attractions or identify as LGBT. Its goals similarly emphasize prayer and dedication, but also formation, charity, unity and witness.

The 40th anniversary edition of the Courage and EnCourage chaplain's handbook is now publicly available at the Courage website, Previously, the handbook was only distributed within the apostolate.

Bochanski has served at Courage International since 2015, and as executive director since 2017. For him, the 40th anniversary year of Courage is a time to be "mindful of the rich legacy we received from our founding members."

Courage founder Father Harvey had invited the first members to compose the Courage goals themselves.

"The language and priority of the goals comes directly from the needs and desires of our founding generation," said Bochanski. "Revising and expanding the handbook, and structuring it on a discussion of the goals, seemed the perfect way to celebrate our legacy and to hand it on to the next generation of Courage and EnCourage members."

The handbook's latest edition is an opportunity "to present the insights we have received over the past four decades, both from the rich development of the Church's pastoral teaching, and from the shared experience of our members."

It is the first edition to have an entire section dedicated to the EnCourage apostolate. Despite the similar structures of Courage and EnCourage meetings, Bochanski said, their members have different experiences, questions and needs.

The handbook has a Jubilee prayer for the Courage and EnCourage apostolates. It discusses topics like establishing a Courage chapter, publicizing local chapters, guidelines for the use of personal testimonies, questions of sexual identity and gender identity discordance, and collaboration with other groups.

The handbook includes Catholic teaching on same-sex attractions and sexual morality: excerpts from the Catechism on the Catholic Church; documents from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' 2006 document "Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care." The U.S. bishops' document is included in the print edition of the handbook, but not in the internet version due to reasons of copyright.

Bochanski said making the chaplain's handbook public would help respond to false understandings of the work of the Courage apostolate.

He said "there are more than a few people in the Church and in the wider society who have misunderstandings, or have been told deliberate mischaracterizations, of our approach to ministry."

"Some individuals and groups opposed to the Church's teaching use such mischaracterizations in an attempt to discredit our apostolate or marginalize it," he continued. "I am hopeful that, by posting the Handbook online, we will have a greater opportunity to speak for ourselves to anyone interested in understanding our approach, and in doing so finally put these misunderstandings to rest."

The latest handbook edition was drafted with comment from Courage staff, members and chaplains of Courage and EnCourage, the apostolate's board of directors, bishops on its episcopal board, and diocesan staff responsible for granting church approval and imprimaturs.

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Bochanski characterized the handbook as "the work of many hands, minds and hearts."

"Fundamentally, our approach is based on the pastoral insights of our founding director, Father John F. Harvey, OSFS, whose memory is still quite vibrant whenever we gather, especially with our older members," he told CNA.

Each handbook has been shaped by the apostolate chaplains' insights, especially those of the second executive director, Father Paul Check, Bochanski said.

"As we gather with our members at chapter meetings and conferences, we learn from their experience and questions what techniques are most effective in pursuit of the goals," he said. "As we talk to clergy and others in ministry, we understand which questions are most important to those on the 'front line' of pastoral ministry at a given point in the life of the Church."

"As we encounter challenges and criticisms from others who take a different pastoral approach, we are motivated to present and express the Church's teachings more clearly," said the priest.

"As questions of sexuality and sexual identity become an increasingly important part of our discussions as a Church and as a society, I believe Courage International is well equipped to contribute to those discussions with a clear witness to the authentic teaching of the Gospel and the Church. Our new Handbook is an important part of our efforts to make such a contribution."

Courage International plans to translate the new edition of the handbook into Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, Polish and Lithuanian.

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The apostolate recently named a new assistant director, Father Colin Blatchford. The 36-year-old served for over two years as chaplain for Courage and EnCourage in the Diocese of Knoxville. He was ordained a priest in 2014, graduated from Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He received a bachelor's degree in philosophy from Ave Maria University in 2006.

"It is with zeal and a healthy fear of the Lord that I look forward to taking on this new role. I look forward to serving the apostolate and growing in my knowledge, understanding, and compassion for those whom it serves," Blatchford said July 27.

While he remains a priest of the Knoxville diocese, Blatchford will reside in Connecticut's Diocese of Bridgeport. His position will begin Sept. 8 at Courage International headquarters in Trumbull, Connecticut, a town just outside of Bridgeport.

Bishop Richard Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville praised Blatchford's devotion to sharing the Catholic faith and his "very compassionate heart."

"He possesses an ability to connect with people of all ages, but especially young people, with understanding and empathy," Stika said.

The addition of Father Blatchford will help the apostolate do more outreach to clergy and others in ministry through conferences and local presentations. It will help provide Bochanski with greater outreach to Latin America, where, he said, "there is increasing interest in the pastoral support that our apostolate provides."

The advent of the novel coronavirus and related restrictions on in-person gatherings has had the "biggest impact" on the apostolate's ministry, its ability to gather in local chapters, and its ability to hold local conferences, Bochanksi told CNA.

Local Courage and EnCourage chapters are now meeting by phone or by video, and this allows them to welcome members from other parts of the country without local chapters.

The apostolate had to move its annual conference online, after originally being set to meet at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois.

"There have been unexpected blessings from our response to these limitations, however," he said. "Both our conferences were held online, and we had more than twice the number of people register for each 'virtual' conferences than we typically are able to welcome in person."

The annual conference, held via Zoom webinar July 25-26, drew registrations from more than 30 countries, with several hundred participants from Latin America. Simultaneous translations to Spanish were available.

Speakers included Sr. Helena Burns, FSP; Fr. Sean Kilcawley, director of the Office for Family Life in Nebraska's Diocese of Lincoln; Father Glenn Sudano, CFR, a founding member of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal; Dr. Stephen Hopkins, a Nashville, Tenn.-based psychologist who produced the film "Portraits of Courage"; and Deacon Hilmar Pabel, the Courage and EnCourage chaplain in the Archdiocese of Vancouver.

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