SAME-sex attracted Americans rejoiced the day the United States Supreme Court legalised gay marriage.
Well, not all of them.
Some, according to Fr Phillip Bochanski, the executive director of an international Catholic ministry for same-sex attracted people, were, and are, looking for chastity.
As a chaplain for Courage, Fr Bochanski has journeyed with same-sex attracted men and women for seven years, firstly in his home diocese of Philadelphia, and now as head of the international ministry.
“Courage is the outreach that the Church provides to people who are experiencing same-sex attractions and have heard the Church’s teachings on chastity, especially in regarding to homosexuality and have decided to try to follow that teaching and live chastely,” Fr Bochanski said.
The men and women try, as the Catechism puts it, to have a “successful integration of sexuality within the person”.
“I’m always very impressed by the people that are coming to join the group because they’ve made a decision – by the time they come and say ‘I want to try this out, I want to live chastely’ it’s probably one of the biggest decisions they’ll ever make,” Fr Bochanski said.
“Whether they’ve been in relationships up to that point or you know have been involved in experimenting…or even if they’ve never been involved with another person, still they’ve made a decision, a big choice, to try and move away from one way of acting and take on a different way of life.
“It’s no small thing to say ‘I’m going to leave this relationship behind’, or ‘I’m going to leave the possibilities of this way of relating behind and try to live chastely, especially when the world isn’t supporting them,’ right?
“I think a lot of our members are very holy and they don’t really know it.”
Fr Bochanski was first introduced to Courage when the Philadelphia chapter lost their chaplain to a religious reassignment.
“And so one of the lay leaders of the group at the time happened to be a parishioner of mine and asked if I could help out,” Fr Bochanski said.
“So I never sought it out, never anticipated that this would be part of my ministry.
“I would say now it’s the part of my ministry where I feel most fatherly, most like a spiritual father.”
And while the Supreme Court ruling in June 26, 2015 has provided some new challenges to Courage and its offshoot group for parents and loved ones, EnCourage, things are not going downhill.
“We’ve had a spike in interest in our apostolate since the Supreme Court decision, I think almost 20 new chapters are in the works just since June 2015,” Fr Bochanski said.
This means Bishops in about half the Catholic dioceses in the US are helping same-sex attracted people who out of their free will have chosen to discover what it means to be chaste.
The growth is also catching on in Australia.
On a recent trip to Australia and New Zealand to speak with priests and seminarians, Fr Bochanski said he met with the Bishops of Hobart and Canberra to talk about starting the first chapters in their regions.
“The Bishops want to be ready, they want to be able to say to people, here is another option,” Fr Bochanski said.
“From a human perspective, things seem troublesome but God always has a bigger plan than we can imagine.
“So we’re glad for this new moment in the life of our apostolate.”
It’s an encouraging moment for a group that officially started in New York in 1980 under the leadership of Fr John Harvey.
As to be expected, not all Australians are convinced that chastity is a good thing.
Before arriving into Australia, Fr Bochanski stumbled across a story about a hostile Melbourne blogger who, at an event with Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner Ed Santow, asked what would the diplomat do “to protect LGBT Catholics from my message”.
The website reporting the incident also presented the story with a photo of Mr Santow giving a speech next to a digitally altered image of Fr Bochanski in an exquisite gold frame with superimposed devil horns.
“He didn’t ask me about it first, he didn’t ask me for comment, didn’t come to my talk,” Fr Bochanski said.
“(He) just assumed that because I’m talking about chastity I must be talking about hateful discrimination.
“What can you say except I really wish that people who make those assumptions would listen to the message, and that they would listen to the people who are living this life and finding it to be full of joy and freedom.
“I can say what the church teaches, I can tell people what chastity means for me, but our best ambassadors of our work are our members who are living this way and finding great joy and peace.”
Despite more than seven years of work in the ministry, Fr Bochanski still finds it challenging to convince people that same-sex attracted people have more love and freedom when they choose to be chaste.
“When I say to someone that my ministry, my approach, is to tell people that chastity is a call for everyone and that chastity sets you free, a lot of times people don’t really believe that it’s possible or that it would even be happy, because we live in a world, a culture that thinks that a life without sexual intimacy has to be a life without love,” Fr Bochanski said.
“And that’s just not the case.
“I mean just from a philosophical point of view, there’s different kinds of love, there’s charity and affection, and friendship, as well as the passionate love that spouses have.
“Some people are hostile to that message because they think we’re telling people who are experiencing same-sex attractions that they have to be false or change everything about who they are, and that’s certainly not the case.
“The Church says that it’s not a sin to experience same-sex attractions, but we have to make good choices about whether or not to act on those attractions.
“Because the Church teaches homosexual acts are closed to the gift of new life and lack that complementarity of the one-flesh union, (and so) are immoral, we can’t act on those attractions but it’s not a sin to experience them.
“It takes a lot of convincing for people to hear that and say that we’re not condemning someone to a very lonely life.”
In fact, Catholics had an obligation to welcome same-sex attracted people into their parish or church communities.
“So Catholics do have to welcome people the way that the Church welcomes all people and the way that Jesus himself welcomes all people, and the model that the Church proposes to us, especially at the Synod of the Family is a model of welcoming and accompanying,” he said.
“Which means we welcome people as they are, we start from their situation, try to listen to the story that they have to tell, and then we do our best relying on the Word of God and the teaching of the Church to show them the path that God has marked out for human lives and human sexuality and committed relationships because we believe it’s a path that’s life-giving and joyful.”
He said many people searching for love, fulfilment, and wholeness in homosexual relationships were “always looking for something but maybe looking for it in the wrong place”.
“And so when I’m talking to somebody who wants to live chastely then of course we have to talk about unchaste behaviours, but also I think it’s so important to talk about what a person has been searching for,” he said.
“Nobody chooses something bad because they think it’s bad, it’s because they misperceive it as a means of being good for them and bring them what they’re looking for.
“And so one of the things, very important things to do, whether from the perspective of a priest or parent whose son or daughter is living in same-sex attraction, or just a friend, or the person themselves, is really to listen to the desires of the heart.
“To be able to ask a person, ‘what is it that you’re after, that you’ve been thinking you’ll find in these kind of connections or these kind of relations’, because there may be another way to find what you’re looking for.”
Dismissing a person’s desire to live chastely is also unhelpful.
“I think what’s more common in the Church is we might call it a misplaced compassion, a desire among priests certainly and others, to not cause any hurt feelings and therefore sometimes a hesitancy to speak the truth about chastity and the judgements the church does have to make on homosexual actions,” Fr Bochanski said.
“And that doesn’t help a person who is coming to the Church and saying ‘I’m living with these attractions, I need to know what to do about it’.
“Generally speaking, when potential Courage members comes to the Church it is because they’ve already thought about this and they’re perceiving some conflict.
“And so if they come to the Church and the answer is, ‘Well don’t worry about it, it’s fine, you’re fine just the way you are, there’s nothing to worry about’, I think sometimes they walk away feeling they haven’t been listened to and that there really isn’t any clarity to be found from the Church, to say, ‘I came to you because I’m experiencing this as a problem and now you’re telling me that it’s not’.”
So what is Fr Bochanski’s advice for Australians facing a possible change to the Marriage Act?
“I think the reality is that a public moment like our Supreme Court decision or your plebiscite makes it very, very difficult for people to sit on the fence,” he said.
“You have to speak clearly about what you believe and I think our Bishops at home are realising that if we’re going to say people this is not the way, then we have to be ready to show them, ‘this is the way that will make you happy’ and be ready to accompany them.”
By Emilie Ng