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Deacon takes reins of little-known Catholic ministry

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Courage provides spiritual support for people with same-sex attraction
By Agnieszka Krawczynski

Photo: Deacon Hilmar Pabel.

A local deacon is working hard to give Catholics with same-sex attraction the spiritual support they crave.

“A lot of gay people think that God hates them and the Church hates them,” said Deacon Hilmar Pabel of St. Pius X Parish.

They often think this way “not because the Church teaches it, or because God revealed it to them, but (because) they have heard this from other people, maybe even people in the pews. God doesn’t hate them! The Church reaches out to them in love.”

Deacon Pabel is coordinator of the local chapter of Courage, an international organization that gives spiritual support to people with same-sex attraction through prayer and regular meetings. He stepped into the role this fall.

“As I see my ministry, I reach out to anybody, wherever they are on their journey.”

Deacon Pabel stresses the importance of listening to people with love while explaining the Church’s teaching about “the nature and purpose of human sexuality,” which “does not include same-sex intimacy.”

Courage, running in Vancouver since 1988, provides a safe space for people facing same-sex attraction to talk about their experiences and struggles.

“They have a right to feel at home. It’s their Church too,” Deacon Pabel said. “One big hope I have is that the people who come to Courage don’t think they’re safe only in the church basement. This is a ministry like any other ministry in the Church. We reach out, we love, we support, and we help each other.”

He has been spreading the word about Courage from Vancouver pulpits. It’s a topic, he said, that the Church doesn’t talk enough about.

“I think we’re afraid to talk about it. That’s the last thing that our brothers and sisters need: for people to be afraid and silent,” he said.

Deacon Pabel collaborates with Deacon Bruce Fraser, the coordinator of sister ministry Encourage, a spiritual support group for family members of people with same sex-attraction.

Encourage has a consistent following that meets on the third Sunday of the month, Deacon Pabel said. Courage has not seen the same success.

Father William Comerford, who was the previous Courage coordinator until he retired last year, said it is a challenging ministry. “It was hard to hold on to them,” he said of the handful of regular meeting attendees.

“Part of it is they hear the opposite, and it takes a lot of courage to follow the Church’s teaching in the face of other friends they have who do not follow the Church’s teaching.”

He stressed that same-sex attraction is an inclination and, in itself, is not sinful, as opposed to homosexual actions.

“There is the other side, the gay movement, pushing its agenda on society for total acceptance of homosexual acts,” he said. In the experiences of those he’s served through Courage, that approach “doesn’t bring any freedom.”

Courage offers a different way, said Father Comerford: encouragement to follow what the Catholic Church believes is best for sex and relationships.

“Jesus was always free and not judgmental and always welcoming. Courage is always welcoming. It doesn’t matter what they believe when they come.”

The need for Courage exists, he added. Researchers estimate that about two per cent of people experience same-sex attraction.

Father Comerford found Encourage bears much fruit. Family members gather to share their struggles in understanding and coping after a child reveals they have same-sex attraction. “They minister to one another,” he said.

“The main thing for Encourage is for the mothers and fathers to truly love their children and let them know they love them.”

Courage was first founded in New York in 1980 and came to Vancouver in 1988. It’s currently the only ministry of its kind here, Father Comerford added.

“Courage is the only Catholic group that’s really following the Church’s teaching with regard to morality in same sex attraction,” he said.

Vancouver’s Archbishop J. Michael Miller supports Courage and Encourage. He penned a letter to all local clergy Feb. 3, urging them to pray for and support these ministries and the deacons that run them.

“Courage and Encourage offer spiritual support to men and women of same-sex attraction and to their families within the context of the Church’s teaching on human sexuality,” he said.

“If, in the course of your ministry, you encounter people of same-sex attraction or their families, please consider referring them.”

More information is available by emailing or

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 14:12  

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