Bishop Vasa Defends the Courage Apostolate Speaker
Courage, an apostolate of the Catholic Church
By MARTIN ESPINOZA, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT – A former gay-porn actor who says his Catholic faith saved him from a world of pornography, homosexuality and the occult is scheduled to make a presentation in Santa Rosa to a religious group called Courage, an apostolate of the Catholic Church that ministers to people with same-sex attractions.
The program will feature Joseph Sciambra, an author and missionary who has said, among other things, that “gay identity is tantamount to imprisonment of the soul within the disorder” and that anal sex releases “into the world these rare demonic entities.”
The planned presentation has raised concerns among some local Catholics that the Santa Rosa diocese is sanctioning religious tactics that harken back to the days of reparative therapy, aimed at changing people’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.
The presentation comes amid a focus by Santa Rosa Bishop Robert Vasa on traditional Catholic teachings about homosexuality, birth control and abortion.
Vasa said Thursday that Catholic doctrine is clear on one point: homosexual behavior is sinful.
“The proper ordering of the sexual faculty is toward procreation,” he said.
Whenever people use the “sexual faculty” in ways that are not aligned with this order, “even in a vague kind of way, then we would say it’s not properly ordered, it’s out of order.”
Vasa’s strict interpretation of long-held Catholic doctrine has upset some parishioners in his generally liberal diocese, which has 165,000 members and extends north to the Oregon border. The bishop has acknowledged a need for church leaders to become more “pastoral” in their work following comments by Pope Francis that have been widely seen as conciliatory toward gays.
Vasa said that Courage’s teachings bear similarities to spiritual encouragement centered on chastity that is given to teens.
Other diocese officials dispute that the local Courage ministry resembles reparative therapy. They say the presentation, like regular Courage meetings, is aimed at offering prayerful support to those with homosexual inclinations.
“Courage does not do therapy. Therapy is left to the professionals,” said John Collins, superintendent of Catholic education for the diocese.
Collins, who is the coordinator of the local Courage group, said the point of the presentation, as well as that of regular Courage meetings, is to give people spiritual encouragement that, among other things, “leads them away from homosexual behavior.” That means helping them live chaste lives.
Those assurances do not assuage local Catholics and former Catholics who say the church is out of step with modern interpretations of their faith.
Bill Boorman, a 79-year-old gay Catholic who lives in Santa Rosa, said the church should accept that “homosexuality is a basic manifestation of human sexuality.”
Boorman, a retired naval officer, said that he’s long come to terms with his sexuality and that he feels compelled to live “as a full human being” who embraces others without judgment and who follows his conscience.
“I feel that as a homosexual man I have exactly the same responsibility as any other human being — to live a compassionate, responsible, caring existence. Living a moral life was foremost.”
Though it is sanctioned by the local diocese, Courage is not an official ministry of the diocese, and the nearest chapter is in San Francisco. Collins said the group has met about 50 times in the past seven years.
People are not not “forced” to attend the group, he said. The group’s main focus is chastity and the teaching of “truth” according to the official Latin text of the Catholic Catechism, which teaches “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” are inclinations that are “objectively disordered.”
“Chastity means you do take people where they are, you love them, you embrace them as persons” who are made in God’s image, Collins said, adding that chastity “will always help a person to treat himself and any other human being as a human subject, never as an object. In other words, the object of my sexual desire.”
Sciambra, the former porn star, said that he’s known John Collins since about 2001. Back then, he said, they tried to start a Courage group in Santa Rosa without much success.
He said the local priests and the diocese were supportive but that “it was hard getting the word out, getting people to know about it.”
Sciambra now lives in Napa, where he owns and operates a shop called St. Joseph Religious Goods.
The goal of Courage,
he said, is to give those with homosexual attractions “hope.”
“There are so many people that are gay and are in the gay lifestyle, and they don’t see a place for themselves in the Catholic church,” he said.
“What Courage tries to do is say, ‘Yes, you are welcome in the Catholic church and you can be in full communion in the Catholic church but you need to be chaste,’” he said. “You have to accept chastity.”
Vasa echoed a similar sentiment.
“Morally speaking, everyone is called to chastity and everyone is given sufficient grace to live a life consistent with the Commandments regardless of their situation circumstances or inclinations,” the bishop said.
Former Catholic Lin Campbell,
a facilitator for the Santa Rosa chapter of PFLAG, formerly known as Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays, likened Courage to “spiritual reparative therapy.” Campbell said she previously worked at St. Eugene’s Cathedral for 23 years but left the church when she realized that her gay son, a former eucharistic minister who attended Catholic schools through college, would not be accepted by church hierarchy.
Campbell said she drew the line when she heard Archbishop Wilton Gregory, former president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, say that gay priests were responsible for the church’s pedophile sex scandals.
“The day that I realized there was no place in the church for my son to be an authentic gay man in a loving, committed relationship — married, with three children — was the day I realized there was no place in the church for me, either,”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics and supporters, said many Catholic dioceses across the country are adopting Courage as their official ministry to the lesbian and gay community.
“I think of it as really the 1950s, when being gay was considered sick, sinful or criminal,” Duddy-Burke said, adding that organizations like hers are working toward changing literal interpretations of the Bible and ultimately church acceptance of gays and lesbians in every aspect of the church.
“What we’re working for is full inclusion and equality for LGBT people,” she said. “We’re not literalists. We understand that the Bible is symbolic and that God’s word needs to be interpreted and studied and mostly it needs to live in your heart and in your soul.”
For Sciambra, the idea of equality for gays and lesbians is an example of the “inherent demonic influence upon the modern homosexual mind-set.”
He said gays who are in a committed, monogamous relationship are a minority.
“There’s certainly a very small segment of the population that is monogamous, partnered and married,” he said. “The majority of gay men are very sexually active, very promiscuous, and that’s the world that I lived in.”
Sciambra said he is compelled to speak out against homosexual behavior because of the high rates of HIV among gay men. He cited extensive statistics from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show gay men disproportionately are infected with HIV.
“According to the CDC, 4 percent of the population is homosexual men,” he said. “They are 160 times more likely to contract HIV … In 2010, gay men accounted for 78 percent of all new HIV infections.”
Sciambra said he’s driven by his wish to keep people alive. He denied that he’s demonizing gays and lesbians.
Homosexual acts “are aberrations of nature,” he said. “That, I’ll stand by. Anal sex is not natural. That’s why we see these huge rates of HIV in gay men.” He added that condoms don’t always work.
Ryan Hoffmann, a spokesman for Call to Action, a national organization that advocates for a number of changes to the Catholic church including the ordination of women and the acceptance of gays and lesbians, said his group does not endorse the work of groups like Courage.
“It’s about getting people to repress their natural feelings of same-sex attraction,” Ryan said. “That’s just not something we believe is healthy.”
Sciambra himself said he no longer identifies as gay.
“I have same-sex attraction but I don’t identify myself as gay,” he said. “God didn’t make me gay, so I don’t identify as gay.”
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 firstname.lastname@example.org.