By Dan Russo
This is the second part in a three-part series on Courage/Encourage in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.
CEDAR RAPIDS — Bill, a native of Iowa who currently lives in Cedar Rapids, grew up in the 1970s and early 80s in a Catholic family. By the time he was a teenager attending a Catholic high school, he realized he was sexually attracted to men.
At that time, before St. John Paul II’s teaching on Theology of the Body began a wider dialogue, it wasn’t common for the church to reach out to people with same-sex attraction or for Catholics to openly discuss Catholic teachings on sexuality in general. It was hard for the young man to speak with his parents about the issue, so he didn’t tell them at first.
Bill became sexually active in his 20s. He continued to pray and believe in God, but a rift developed between his “gay” lifestyle and his understanding of his faith, leading him to stop attending Mass or being active in the church.
“I felt like it didn’t mesh together,” explained Bill. “I didn’t think the Catholic Church did a very good job of speaking to people with same-sex attraction then. To me, it was not talked about and shameful. That was one of the reasons I didn’t feel accepted in the church because it was really hard for me to understand what I stood for. I would vacillate back and forth struggling with same-sex attraction.
When I was heavy into the lifestyle and going out, you couldn’t do both. I didn’t feel like I belonged, honestly, in the church.”
“For many years, I tried to do the dating thing,” he said. “I tried many different relationships but they never lasted very long. Whatever I was searching for it was never enough … If I was with somebody, I’d want to be with somebody else, so it wouldn’t work out. I’ve had a couple of boyfriends in my life, but I honestly was more of a one-night stand kind of person, and I went through various periods in my life where I would go out a lot and mingle a lot, and there would be periods where I’d stay away from it.”
At points during his younger years, shame and confusion led him to depression, and he attempted suicide twice. With the help of family and God’s grace, he overcame those dark times.
“As I got older, those periods of staying away from homosexual activity got longer, and I was just searching for answers of what I do with this,” recalled Bill. “I could not understand why God gave me such a cross to bear.”
At age 38, Bill had moved to Kansas and fell in love with a woman who he had been friends with since his teenage years. Involved at that point with a Protestant ministry for people with same-sex attraction, he stopped going to that group and stayed in the relationship for 10 years, adopting his wife’s children from another partner. The marriage ended due to unfaithfulness on his part.
“I loved (the children) very much, and I loved her very much, and I just felt like okay, this is the next thing I’m supposed to do,” said Bill. “I don’t think that was the best choice. We decided to divorce. She knew about my struggles (with homosexuality), but that was something we never talked about in our marriage and we should have.”
After the break up of his marriage, Bill moved back to Cedar Rapids, with the goal of finding a boyfriend and settling down, but his soul still wasn’t at ease. He had never felt comfortable with engaging in homosexual activity, and he started feeling God calling him in a different direction.
“There was something that always pulled me away from that,” said Bill. “I just didn’t feel right about it. I just could not embrace that. I believe it’s because of the Holy Spirit and my relationship with the Lord.”
“I tried to jump back into the life style,” he said. “I would go to the bars often. I even tried meeting people online, but it was never a good thing. It never really panned out. I thought, ‘This is just not it.’ The Lord kind of pulled me away from the desire to go to the bars. A lot of times I went to bookstores, which is for cheap, quick sexual pleasure. He took me out of those and out of wanting to go to gay bars. I feel like the Lord pulled me away from that. I see that as a good thing now. I fought it when it was happening.”
While participating in a Bible study, Bill was referred to Father Jerry Kopacek, director of the Courage and Encourage Ministry in the archdiocese. The organization Courage, started in New York in the 1980s, is a Catholic apostolate that supports men and women with same-sex attraction that want to live out the church’s teaching that calls on them to live chaste lives. Encourage reaches out to the families of people with same-sex attraction. Explained in sections 2357-2359 of the catechism, the church teaches that same-sex attraction is not a sin, but acting on the desire is.
This doctrine is not popular among some people including some Catholics who identify as gay or lesbian. According to a letter sent to Pope Francis June 25 by Dignity USA, a group of Catholics who advocate for a change in doctrine, “Currently, our church’s teaching and pastoral practices surrounding LGBT people are causing an enormous pastoral crisis, as well as upholding systematic, institutionalized discrimination.”
Church teaching does not reflect this group’s interpretation. Church doctrine calls same-sex attracted people to chastity and says that “unjust discrimination …. should be avoided.”
“To the degree that any Catholic or anybody else is hateful to someone because they are homosexual, that is a sin,” remarked Father Kopacek in an earlier interview with The Witness. “That is un-Christian. But I would reject the idea that the church, by her teaching is hate-filled or homophobic … The church’s approach to the homosexual person is that they are a child of God deserving of the church’s respect, compassion and sensitivity.”
Despite recent studies that show a majority of American Catholics support the Supreme Court’s recent decision affirming marriage among people of the same sex, everyone in the U.S. church does not hold that view. There are many who accept church teaching. Bill is among the practicing Catholics who believe that chastity is part of God’s plan for those with same-sex attraction. For the last several years, with the help of Courage and Father Kopacek, he has been making that effort.
“The Lord has been actually, in the four years since I’ve been back in Cedar Rapids, slowly preparing me for the chaste life,” said Bill. “It has been something I did not want to embrace because I thought, ‘That’s not fair.’ It took a long time to accept that. And I still have days where I think, ‘Why?’ Sometimes I experience a little anger towards the Lord, but he’s been slowly bringing me along and I trust that. What’s happened is I’ve been building a relationship with the Lord. That’s what you have to have. That’s the only way you can ever do this is through a relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Bill attends Courage meetings monthly where he and others with same-sex attraction pray together and discuss their lives and faith. He finds this ministry helpful and hopes it expands in the archdiocese.
“(Catholics with same-sex attraction) should know that they’re not alone,” said Bill. “Especially after going to the Courage national conference, there were hundreds of people who are just like them that are living a chaste life and happily doing it. Knowing that there’s people in the Catholic Church that care for you, that you aren’t ignored (is important).”
Bill acknowledges that being chaste is not easy at times, but he has found fulfillment and is now more at peace than in the past.
“I think God makes rules not to be mean, but to save us from ourselves,” he said. “We don’t think that way because we want to be gods ourselves. People think God’s all about (being a kill-joy) because he wants to take our fun away. It might be fun in the moment, but in the long run, it’s not. Living a chaste life is really just letting go and not being focused on you. It helps you to be focused on others, and I think that’s what God wants us to be. A chaste life really gives the reigns to God. I don’t know if I’ll be chaste for the rest of my life. Maybe God has someone for me. God knows. I don’t. I can let go of that and not worry about it. My happiness comes from God. I get joy in that. I get joy in just being around others. It’s helped me open up and not be such a self-centered person.”
For those Catholics and others who are actively homosexual, Bill believes explaining to them what the faith teaches, but also loving them unconditionally is key.
“I think God wants us to tell the truth instead of ignore it,” he said. “You have to do it in a loving way. You can’t do it in a condemning way because they are where they’re at in their lives and God loves them where they’re at. There’s certainly a lot of people out there where God’s not in their life. They think that God hates homosexuals. Well, no. They’re wrong. He created that person. I think we have to focus on the fact that they’re a child of God first and not go with the labels of sexuality. Once you understand that God loves you and you build that relationship with Jesus Christ, he will take you where you’re supposed to go.”
For information on Courage/Encourage, email Father Kopacek at DBQSPXSD@dbqarch.org.
This story is provided courtesy of The Witness, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.