Dignity groups warn parents in Metro Detroit against participating in EnCourage 'ministry'

DETROIT (Feb. 14, 2022) – Three affiliated groups that advocate for LGBTQ+ Catholics are warning Catholic parents against participating in the EnCourage and Courage “ministries” that the Archdiocese of Detroit is currently promoting.

The groups are Families With Dignity, Dignity/Detroit and DignityUSA. In recent weeks, the archdiocese has sent notices to Catholic pastors asking them to invite “family and friends of people who experience same-sex attractions and/or gender dysphoria” to participate in EnCourage monthly “support” meetings. These invitations are also appearing in church bulletins.

Many Courage chapters invite lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (or the more commonly used LGBTQ+) Catholics to use an adapted 12-step program* originally created by Alcoholics Anonymous to fight against their sexual orientations and gender identities. The first stated goal of Courage is “To live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality.” The Roman Catholic catechism calls a homosexual orientation “intrinsically disordered” and contrary to “natural law.” Numerous church leaders have made statements saying that any attempt to deny the sex assigned at birth is problematic.

“A positive, life-enhancing celibacy is certainly a legitimate goal for those who freely choose it,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA. “But Courage rests on the belief that homosexuality and being transgender are psychological aberrations, emotional debilities.  Courage aims to have people restrain and control what they believe is a ‘sickness.’ Such a negative starting point, which ignores the bulk of current scientific opinion and decades of testimony from LGBTQ+ people can hardly foster personal integration, emotional well-being, or real holiness.”

“We in Dignity/Detroit are troubled by this latest campaign by the Archdiocese of Detroit,” said Carolyn Shalhoub, a leader of the Dignity/Detroit chapter of DignityUSA. “We stand with the majority of mental health professionals who believe this approach is harmful, unhealthy, and detrimental to the psyche and mental and spiritual health of those who identify as LGBTQ+.”

The Courage website says, “Acceptance of another human being does not necessarily mean that we will agree with all his or her decisions and choices.  Sometimes love requires us to make our disagreement known. For example, a practicing Catholic cannot in good conscience attend a same-sex wedding, as this would imply approval of a union that faith tells us is contrary to God’s plan for human beings.”

“Not attending a child’s wedding or denying a child the chance to live as God created them, is unthinkable to a loving parent,” said Linda Karle-Nelson, a leader of Families With Dignity. “EnCourage’s condemnation of their children’s non-heterosexual, loving, sexual relationships or authentic identity is cruel. It will lead to broken families, heartache and suicide.” Instead, she said, “We urge Catholic parents of LGBTQ+ young people who want support in their journey to seek it from a truly affirming group, such as Dignity, Families With Dignity, or PFLAG. There are many wonderful support groups for parents and LGBTQ+ people, but unfortunately, EnCourage and Courage are not among them.”  

Many voices in the Church, including bishops like Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, have called for change in the Church’s official teachings on homosexuality. Cardinal Hollerich, who leads the pan-European Bishops Conference, said recently, “I believe that the sociological-scientific foundation of this teaching is no longer correct.”

According to its vision statement, DignityUSA “envisions and works for a time when Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Catholics are affirmed and experience dignity through the integration of their spirituality with their sexuality, and as beloved persons of God participate fully in all aspects of life within the Church and Society.”

“It may be a long time before this truth is accepted by the wider Church,” Carolyn Shalhoub said. “But change does come.  In the meantime, we continue to pray for the local hierarchy and the people of the Church in Detroit.”