Q&A with Father Philip Bochanski of Courage International Inc.: Omaha talk canceled but ‘radical invitation’ still offered
February 24, 2023
Important update: Father Philip Bochanski, executive director of Courage International Inc. has canceled his March 3 appearance at the St. John Paul II Newman Center because of a family emergency. The Newman Center hopes to be able to reschedule his talk soon. Please pray for Father Bochanski and his family.
Father Philip Bochanski extends a bold invitation – “a very radical invitation” – first offered more than 2,000 years ago by Christ Himself.
That invitation is for everyone, but Father Bochanski, executive director of Courage International Inc., offers it in particular for those who experience same-sex attraction and those who love and support them.
The Courage apostolate supports people with same-sex attractions, helping them to lead chaste, holy lives bolstered by the sacraments. EnCourage is another part of the apostolate which helps their loved ones.
The Archdiocese of Omaha has local chapters of both Courage and EnCourage. Deacon Robert Kellar serves as coordinator for both groups and can be reached at 402-557-5692 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Father Bochanski, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, agreed to a phone interview with the Catholic Voice:
Q: All of us have people in our lives who have same-sex attraction. How do we discuss this topic without turning them away from the Catholic Church?
I think we start with what Pope Francis has said a number of times about accompaniment, and I think it’s particularly about the first interview that he gave to Father Antonio Sagrado. He said: In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them starting from their situation. We must accompany them with mercy. So if we approach somebody to try and fix a situation or give them the truth, then oftentimes, it’s met with defensiveness. But if we can approach a loved one or a friend with really a desire to hear them, hear their stories, understand what they’re going through and how they’re feeling, what they’re looking for, then we can express our compassion, our desire to walk with them closer to God’s plan for them.
So once we’ve heard their story and taken their story seriously, then we can share the rest of the story, which is the Gospel message and the call to holiness and God’s plan for sexuality.
Q: The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” How do you interpret this to someone in light of our current culture?
Well, I think first of all, we don’t necessarily need to use that term the first time that we talk to someone, right? Because again, it’s going to cause people to be defensive and perhaps they’ll receive it as something hurtful or something offensive.
The reason we need to know what the term means is because it’s a very carefully chosen doctrinal explanation of why same-sex intimate actions are wrong. We use the word disordered not in the sense that medical professionals or psychologists or psychiatrists use it. It’s not meant to imply that someone who experiences same-sex attractions is ill or that everything about them is wrong. It’s certainly not what the Church teaches or believes.
When we use the word disordered in this particular context, what we mean is that there is a plan, there is a purpose, there is an order to sexuality. When we reflect on the word of God, we see that the proper ordering of sexuality includes a permanent, faithful relationship – marriage – between two people who are complementary in nature and equal in dignity – complementarity – and whose relations with one another have the possibility of transmitting new life – procreativity.
So there are many things that the Church would say are disordered in terms of sexual morality because one or more of those important parts of the ordering, the plan of sexuality, are missing.
Adultery is disordered because it’s an offense against fidelity. Fornication is disordered because there’s no permanence in that relationship. Contraception is disordered because it excludes the possibility of procreativity.
So what the Church is saying is that homosexual acts, they are not part of God’s plan for sexual union and the fulfillment of people in a relationship because they do not include complementarity or procreativity.
The reason for the word “intrinsic” is because by the nature of how the acts are carried out, intrinsic to the way that people are intimate, that complementarity and procreativity are excluded.
That’s what the Church means, and we have to know what the Church means so that we don’t tell someone something else, something different.
But I think we can approach it with someone by saying: “God has a plan for our sexuality. And just like God’s plan for the rest of our lives, it’s meant to lead to our happiness and fulfillment. In God’s plan, sexual relations should be permanent, faithful, complimentary and procreative. When one or more of those things is missing, then it’s not God’s plan. So the reason that we need to talk about the kind of relationship you desire or the relationship you’re in is because we believe that an important part of that plan is missing and that that will affect your relationship and your ability to find the fulfillment that you’re looking for.”
When someone is able to hear that, then you can refer to the catechism and refer to that term and say: “Well, this is what we’ve been talking about all along, that there’s a plan, and that same-sex intimacy is not part of that plan. That’s what intrinsically disordered means. We’ve been talking about that. You’ve accepted that even though we used some other language to get you there.”
Q: What is the “radical invitation” that the Catholic Church extends to those with same sex attraction?
Well, I think ultimately the church is calling everyone to live an ordered life, to live a virtuous life in terms of our sexuality, in terms of our relationships. Now, because a person who’s experiencing same-sex attractions is really, I think, in almost all cases just looking for the same kind of love and commitment and family life that other people are looking for, to ask people who experience same-sex attractions to live chastely, to live a properly ordered life in regard to their sexuality, it seems like a bigger burden, a bigger challenge than most people have to face.
It’s still an invitation. It’s still a call that the Lord gives because He knows it’s going to fulfill people, but it can seem very radical. It can seem kind of disproportionate or too difficult to achieve until we can share it with people in a way in which we’re committed to helping them to understand it, embrace it and carry it out.
I think the model here is the (Gospel) story of the rich young man. The rich young man was enthusiastic. He really wanted to know what God’s plan was for him, and he ran up to Jesus. And when Jesus gave him a simple answer, keep the commandments, he knew there must be more.
He asked: What’s my particular way to be holy? And Jesus gave him a very radical calling, a very radical invitation: If you want to be perfect, give away everything you have and then come be My disciple.
And that day, he walked away sad because as the Gospel writers tell us, he had many possessions.
But we don’t have to necessarily think that he stayed away permanently. The Gospel writer is going to leave it. It’s possible that with prayer and discussion and thought and willingness to accept that radical invitation that perhaps he was able to come back and to be a disciple.
Personally, I think that in that story, we’re not just hearing the story of a disciple, but it’s actually the story of the call of St. Mark the Evangelist because only St. Mark includes a very important detail, which is that before Jesus invited that young man to radical poverty, Mark says “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said” if you wish to be perfect, go sell what you have and give it to the poor.
So if a person can hear that invitation to a virtuous life, to a holy life, and in the case of sexuality, to a chaste life, then even if they can’t respond to it right away, even if their reaction at first is sadness or even anger or disappointment, even if they walk away that day, if we can convey that invitation from a place of really desiring to know them, to see them, to hear their story, to take it seriously, and to express our love for them, then we have hope that they’ll return one day ready to embrace and live out that challenge.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges for people with same sex attraction as they try to live chaste lives dedicated to Christ? How can friends and family members help?
I think it’s always been a challenge to live a chaste, single life in the world without support from friends.
I mean, I’m a priest, and so I made a commitment to live a celibate life long ago, and I had eight years of formation in the seminary to help me to do that. I live with other priests. Most of us live, or at least in the seminary, live in religious communities that take a vow of chastity. Their whole support for living that is the fact that they live together.
So when lay people are choosing to live chastely – which means at least for the majority of them, a freely chosen, chaste, single life for the sake of the Kingdom – they’re doing that in many, many cases on their own. This is why the support of family and friends is so essential.
It’s why our apostolate was founded and continues because we’re able to walk together with people in this situation and help them to know they’re not alone, and their desires and their concerns and their questions and their hopes are all things that they can share with others who understand where they’re coming from.
So I think that’s always been a challenge. It’s long been a challenge, too, that people who experience same-sex attraction but don’t identify with the community that would identify as LGBT don’t get supported from some of them, from friends that they used to have. If they’ve been kind of out and involved in same-sex relationships and then they decide to try to embrace chastity and come back to the Church, oftentimes they lose the friends that they had in that community, which can make it an even lonelier way to live out that commitment.
I think a relatively new challenge that they’re facing, but a very real challenge, is the feeling that they’re not supported in the Church, particularly by priests and bishops who would advocate and hold out hope or expectation that the teaching of the Church is going to change or ought to change. When you have very prominent cardinals saying things like the basis for the Church’s teaching about same-sex unions is no longer correct or that we shouldn’t focus on whether people are in sexual relationships or not, then people who are striving, often at great personal sacrifice, to live a chaste life, they feel all of a sudden that the Church doesn’t value that sacrifice, that the people that they’re looking to for guidance – priests and bishops and cardinals – are telling them that they’ve been fooled all along or that it’s not worth it or that they don’t intend to support them or say that what they’re striving for is important and worthwhile.
I think that’s a relatively newer challenge, but it’s the one that I think creates the biggest burden for many people who want so much to be faithful to the Church and want so much to be able to look to their spiritual fathers for support. And more and more in recent days, they’re not finding that.
Q: Why are support and fellowship important for those who are experiencing same-sex attraction, as well as for their loved ones?
Well, we look at Sacred Scripture, and on the very first pages of the Bible we see that we’re made for relationships, primarily our relationship with God. We’re made in His image and likeness so that we can receive His love and respond to it, and we’re made for each other.
Particularly in terms of sexuality, it’s clear that man and woman are made for each other to be a communion of persons. So everything about the human vocation is about being in relationship. We’re literally made for love and made for loving.
Now, when we idolize romantic or sexual love, as the modern world tends to do, and say that, well, all strong feelings must be sexual feelings and the only real relationships are sexual relationships, and if you don’t have a sexual partner then you really are doomed to live a lonely life, we’re doing a big disservice to people and forgetting about the other kinds of love: the divine love of charity, which is a foundational relationship with God and with most other people, the love of affection that we feel for family and people we grew up with and people who are in need, and then the very important love of friendship, which is different from romance.
I mean, just speaking as a celibate man, as an ordained celibate priest, I don’t have a sexual partner, not looking for a wife. I’ve already made a promise to live a celibate life, but I have lots of love in my life.
It’s just that there’s more than one kind of love. So the more that family can share those bonds of affection, the more that we can help people to form real, chaste, disinterested friendships, the more that the Church community has an attitude of charity and receptivity and accompaniment, the more full every Christian’s life can be, including people who by the nature of their attractions are being asked to give up that one kind of love.
We provide them with opportunities to dive deep into those other kinds of love with freedom and with a peaceful heart, with joy.