Founder of Courage, Catholic ex-gay group, has died

Timothy Kincaid

December 30th, 2010

I have a certain amount of sympathy for those individuals who decide that their religious convictions preclude them from engaging in any form of sexuality that is not within the confines of heterosexual marriage. Each of us must be allowed the space to determine for ourselves what gives us meaning and happiness, and some may choose to prioritize their spirituality over their sexuality.

So I am not opposed to ex-gay individuals or groups, per se, provided that they do not insist that other live according to their values, advocate for discrimination, or propagate lies. Sadly, most ex-gay groups have difficulty with strict honesty – probably because many of them are operating from a realm of “faith” in which empirical evidence can be ignored and hope can be given the imprimatur of TRUTH. But there are a few ex-gay groups that have managed to avoid overt political advocacy and who place less emphasis on miraculous reorientation and instead provide support and community for their same-sex attracted adherents.

One such group is Courage, the Catholic ex-gay organization.

While the Vatican and the Bishops have taken it upon themselves to use coercion, threat of eternal damnation, and machine politics to try and force the nations of the world to adopt their dogma on issues like gay marriage, Courage has been mostly apolitical. And while they do not discourage those who hope for eventual heterosexuality, their emphasis is on chastity as a life goal. Courage has given me very little about which to object.

In 1980, New York’s Archbishop Cooke invited Father John Harvey to develop a ministry to Catholics with same-sex attractions. And while I disagree with much that Harvey espoused over the years, I do think that he was a man whose intents were compassionate and who sought neither political power, prestige, or personal advancement through his ex-gay endeavors.

This week Father John Harvey died. (PilotCatholicNews)

Oblate Father John F. Harvey, who founded an organization for celibate Catholic homosexuals that now has more than 100 chapters worldwide, died Dec. 27 at Union Hospital in Elkton. He was 92.

His funeral Mass was scheduled for Dec. 31 at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington, Del., followed by interment in the Oblate Cemetery in Elkton.

An Oblate of St. Francis de Sales for 73 years, Father Harvey founded Courage, a spiritual support group for homosexual men and women, in 1980 at the request of Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York and served as its national director until his death.

Today, Courage has chapters in the United States, Canada, England, Ireland, Poland, Mexico, Slovakia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, Philippines and New Zealand.

“Father Harvey’s commitment to pastoral care in the church was tireless,” said Oblate Father James J. Greenfield, provincial of the Oblates’ Wilmington-Philadelphia province, in a statement. “Even in his later years, his travel would take him all over the country and world to offer a voice of compassion.”

I hope some day that the Catholic Church will find a path to full acceptance and equality for gay and lesbian Catholics (perhaps when they finally accept women as equal). But I do appreciate that in recent decades the Church has made the distinction between “inclination” and behavior (though the current Pope seems to conflate the two) as a small step in the right direction and I believe that Harvey may have played some role in that move.

joe kort

December 30th, 2010

Great article and I’ve loved every word.

I don’t have a problem with any of these groups either until they start bashing gay affirmative groups and insist that their way is the only way.

Lynn David

December 30th, 2010

I hope some day that the Catholic Church will find a path to full acceptance and equality for gay and lesbian Catholics (perhaps when they finally accept women as equal).

Never going to happen.

I for one wouldn’t be so concilatory towards Harvey. There have been times that his exposition on homosexuality has been downright mean. For instance he praised a new document of American bishops called “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care,” over and above the 1997 Church document, “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers.” Harvey said of the two:

The document is a definite improvement from the 1997 document “Always Our Children: A Pastoral Message to Parents of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers.” That document was written in a way that it could be assumed that there are two orientations: heterosexual and homosexual.

The fact of the matter is that there is only one orientation, the heterosexual orientation. The homosexual tendency is an objective disorder, and if a person has this objective disorder, it is because other things have happened.

From all the psychological studies of homosexuality, there is no scientific evidence that you are born with the homosexual tendency. There is no evidence. … From what we know today, the main factors leading to a homosexual tendency all have to do with environment: family environment, school environment, adolescent environment.

And indeed that is the teaching of the Catholic Church. It is written in the Catechism that is an “unknown psychological disorder.” But Harvey like those at NARTH was sure homosexuality is all environmental.

In that article Harvey went on to say:

Same-sex attraction is not normal. The disorder is a subrational inclination of the person. People with homosexual tendencies suffer with these desires.

And not all persons with homosexual tendencies are alike. Studies indicate that of those who have homosexual desires there are those who have the homosexual desires, but are able to control them. There are also those who have the desires, and are actually able to come out of the condition, to find the opposite sex attractive, to marry and to have children.

Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, in Encino, California, says it best when he says that there are no homosexuals, just heterosexuals with a homosexual tendency.

The big difference in this document and previous ones is that we know much more about the origins, and much more about treatment than years ago.

The most important person in this regard is Elizabeth Moberly, who in 1984 published “Psychogenesis: The Early Development of Gender Identity.” It’s only 100 pages, but it revolutionized the therapy we use with homosexual people in that she shows that the homosexual tendency can be overcome.

Yep! Subrational….


December 30th, 2010

Gay kids are taught to hate themselves by people like this.
In fact, the Catholic teaching on sex is cruel to everyone.


December 30th, 2010

I want to scream very time I read something to this effect: “…But I do appreciate that in recent decades the Church has made the distinction between “inclination” and behavior (though the current Pope seems to conflate the two)”

How can you find value in the tearing of a persons spirit apart? I think what these people are doing is spiritual violence, period. They brainwash their followers with threats of damnation and then claim those followers are willingly accepting to destroy an integral part of themselves.

Can someone become Ex-Anglo? Ex-black? Ex-Latino? How about if they abstain from the behavior of those groups? No more burgers, rock n roll, soul food, mexican food? Can you then make a distinction between their racial inclination and behavior?



December 30th, 2010

Just because someone’s not the worst, doesn’t mean they should necessarily get a pat on the back.

I do think that eventually the Catholic Church will come around. It may not be my lifetime though.


December 30th, 2010

I don’t see Harvey as compassionate either. That would have required understandings and appreciations that he simply did not have.

I also think you are downplaying how readily Courage has whispered in the ears of those who do engage in overt anti-gay politics. They are part and parcel of that coercion, threat of eternal damnation, and machine politics you mention; supporting the warped reasoning and an excuse for the impact on individuals.

Harvey was an ideologue to his core, committed to a religious organisation, who spent the last 30 years of his life promoting not only his side of that religion but also promoting a number of profoundly ignorant, profoundly false, views about non-heterosexual men and women. He also kept some very troubling company while doing so. (Gerard van den Aardweg being an early mentor, to name one).

If anything, Harvey is an example of how an inclination to obey one’s faith can also lead one to engage in ultimately uncompassionate behaviour toward others. Taken to the extreme, it leads people to purify the souls of sinners through death by fire. A ‘compassion’ for their everlasting soul as justification for inflicting grotesque indignity on the body.

Such inclinations I’ve little to say about, but the ancillary behaviour deserves challenge at every point.

Undoubtedly missed by many, but his legacy remains and continues to promote profoundly ignorant, profoundly false, views alongside conservative Catholicism.

Ben in Atlanta

December 30th, 2010

There is no distinction to be made between Courage and any other hetero-supremacist group. Or any other sort of supremacists.

I refuse to PC it up to heterosexual privilege. It’s bullshit. Call it what it is. There’s no such thing as ex-gay.


December 31st, 2010

I wonder if the Phelps family will be at his funeral?


December 31st, 2010

I used to be a part of Courage when I was trying to live celibately. I’ve met and talked to Fr. Harvey a few times, nothing really in-depth. I’ve also met Fr. Scalia-he’s quite a bit like his father, a strict interpretationist.

While Courage has always publicly stated that they don’t push people to go ex-gay, they certainly gave alot of support to those who did. I remember we had Robert Gagnon at one conference-he did not take kindly to attendees’ repeated attempts to explain the fine distinction in Catholic doctrine between inclination and action, calling both equally sinful.

Courage leaders tend to have a certain naivete-one conference was at a college campus in St. Louis-above the registration table were the campus fraternities’ engraved paddles. Way to go on not giving people ideas!

Philip Lowe Jr

December 31st, 2010

I also am an ex-gay survivor of Courage. You can read my narrative of my experience with Courage at After going to the web site, click on narratives and then look for my name, Philip Lowe, Jr. and clock to read my narrative.

Courage IS an ex-gay ministry that supports and recommends the material found at and by NARTH (National Association of Research and Therapy for Homosexuality). They do not oppose reparative therapy. The longer I stayed in the group the worse I felt about myself, my family and my relationship with God. Since I’ve come back out, started going to an Episcopal Church and got involved in a wonderful and healthy relationship, I have been much better off.

I do not find Fr. Harvey compassionate at all. His work is supported by the folks at EWTN and their therapists turn healthy gay and lesbian people into very unhealthy people. I know, I was there and I have been working really hard to bounce back from their damage ever since.

Happy New Year everyone.


January 1st, 2011

“But I do appreciate that in recent decades the Church has made the distinction between ‘inclination’ and behavior.” Yeah… basically they’ve gone from telling people they must refrain from homosexual behavior to telling people to either change or reject homosexual inclinations. In my mind, there’s not too much to get excited about in the new phrasing of their God-given prohibitions.

Priya Lynn

January 1st, 2011

Right Justsearching. That’s just another attempt to justify the “hate the sin, love the sinner” stupidity. The “sin” comes about because of the nature of the “sinner”. If you hate the “sin” then you hate the nature of the “sinner” and hating the nature of the “sinner” means you hate the “sinner”. People’s actions are not divorced from who they are, people’s actions are determined in large part by who they are.

Ken R

January 1st, 2011

Right Justsearching. That’s just another attempt to justify the “hate the sin, love the sinner” stupidity. The “sin” comes about because of the nature of the “sinner”. If you hate the “sin” then you hate the nature of the “sinner” and hating the nature of the “sinner” means you hate the “sinner”. People’s actions are not divorced from who they are, people’s actions are determined in large part by who they are.

BINGO! Couldn’t have said it better!


January 1st, 2011

“An organization for celibate, Catholic homosexuals”?

Isn’t that called “the priesthood”?


January 2nd, 2011

here we have another organisation that emphasizes the basic idea that being gay is inferior to being straight and wich is connected in many direct and indirect ways to other “ex-gay” groups and others of our political enemies.

in my opinion, to say that any of these organisations could be “mostly apolitical” is a basic misunderstanding of what “politics” are.

downplaying the evil political influence of any of these groups really doesn’t help the gay community in any way!

J. Philip Faranda

January 2nd, 2011

I concur that the Catholic teaching that gay people are “disordered” is a tragic error.

I recall in freshman theology class at Villanova how the professor, who had to be at least 70, had the intellectual honesty to say something to the effect that had St Thomas Aquinas gotten out much, then he’d understand that the “Natural law” he loved to invoke had different rules than he thought. There are examples all over nature of same sex relationships and plenty of other things Aquinas conveniently didn’t notice.

I am struck by the conciliatory nature of this post, however, and can say that from my perch that productive change will come from within. For now, I am at peace with the fact that I am a heretic for not believing that being gay is a disorder.


June 23rd, 2011

Good. I hope he Burns in Hell for all the suffering he caused.


January 19th, 2017

I met Father Harvey working at DeSales. I knew little of his background and even less about his professional resume. The few times I had the pleasure to speak with him, you left me profoundly changed in my heart. I was in awe of his unconditional love for everyone. This meek and humble man loves the Lord with the most joyous enthusiasm. He was near perfection in his care and compassion for anyone in need. His humor was infectious and you always walked away with a happier outlook of the world around you. I was so blessed to have met him and pray for him in eternity. If we could all be just a bit like him the world would be a better place.

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