Priest-pioneer for pastoral care of homosexuals dies at 92

"He understood very well the human condition in both its vulnerabilities and in its nobility"
By Patrick Craine

By Patrick Craine

ELKTON, Maryland, January 4, 2010 ( - The pro-family movement is mourning the loss of a great advocate for authentic sexuality, as Courage founder Fr. John F. Harvey passed away December 27.

The priest, 92, died at Union Hospital in Elkton, Maryland; a funeral was celebrated on December 31 in Wilmington, Delaware.

Fr. Harvey founded the Courage apostolate in 1980 at the request of Cardinal Terrence Cooke, then-Archbishop of New York, and served as director until 2008.  The ministry offers a spiritual support system to men and women struggling with same-sex attractions, and promotes chastity and the development of an integrated sexuality.  They now run over a 100 chapters in a dozen countries, and have been endorsed by the Vatican.

“For Fr. Harvey, homosexuality was not a cultural issue or a topic to be debated,” said Fr. Paul Check, Fr. Harvey’s successor at Courage.  “It was a reality in the life of individual people, who came to the Church with the hope of finding some understanding, some maternal love and solicitude, some compassion, some mercy, and, of course, truth.”

“He understood very well the human condition in both its vulnerabilities and in its nobility,” he added.

Fr. Check called him a “remarkable” yet “undervalued” man and a “pioneer” in authentic pastoral care for homosexual persons.  He said the late priest was characterized most by “fidelity to the Church, humility, cheerfulness, great generosity of heart.”

“No matter how much resistance or misunderstanding he encountered - which was a great deal over a long lifetime of dealing with a very controversial subject - he was always very charitable,” said Fr. Check.

The priest was born in Philadelphia in 1918, and ordained for the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales in 1944.  He held a doctorate in moral theology, and a graduate degree in psychology.  He began teaching theology in 1948 and continued until January 2010.

He wrote over 45 articles for theological and psychological journals related to human sexuality and counseling, and was a frequent lecturer and media commentator.  He is the author of The Homosexual Person: New Thinking in Pastoral Care and The Truth About Homosexuality: The Cry of the Faithful.

Though he faced great obstacles even within the Catholic Church, his work won strong support from the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  In the words of the late Cardinal John O’Connor, in a foreword to The Truth About Homosexuality, “Few people in the United States have dedicated themselves more generously or wholeheartedly to the pastoral care of homosexual persons than has Father John F. Harvey, O.S.F.S.”

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