October 21, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Courage International, Inc., an international apostolate helping those who experience same-sex attraction, announced September 27 that Fr. Philip G. Bochanski has been appointed their third executive director by the unanimous decision of its Board of Bishops.
Fr. Bochanski, a priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, succeeds Fr. Paul N. Check, who has led Courage since 2008. Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, OFM Cap, released Fr. Bochanski from service in his home archdiocese effective January 1, 2017, to work with the Courage International apostolate, which was founded 36 years ago.
Fr. Check will serve as rector of the St. John Fisher Seminary residence in Stamford in the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, beginning in January 2017.
Fr. Bochanski agreed to an exclusive interview with LifeSiteNews to discuss his appointment and his vision for Courage.
LifeSiteNews: Would you please briefly introduce yourself to our readers, Fr. Bochanski?
Fr. Philip Bochanski: Sure. I am a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, where I was ordained in 1999 and where I worked as a Courage chaplain from 2009 until the end of 2014. That is when I began in our Courage office, which is located in Connecticut, where I have worked alongside the former director, Fr. Check.
LifeSiteNews: You have collected experience and have been active in Courage for a long time. What originally attracted you to the apostolate?
Fr. Philip Bochanski: So it was not something that I went to on my own. I knew a little bit about Courage, but it is not something that I thought I would be involved in. The local leaders of the chapter in Philadelphia needed a new chaplain and the lay leader of that time was a parishioner and a friend of mine. He invited me to get involved. So I did. I started out slowly and got more and more involved in the group. I often do say to priests that it is part of my priestly ministry where I feel most like a spiritual father. It has been extraordinarily rewarding for me to meet the people that we work with and to walk their path with them.
LifeSiteNews: What success have you experienced while working in the apostolate?
Fr. Philip Bochanski: The invitation that the Church extends to live a chaste life is first of all not an invitation to only people that are experiencing same-sex attraction. That is the call of the Gospel and the call of the Church for every person. So our priority is to help people to hear that invitation and to understand what chastity means and to live it out. A lot of the work that we do is to help people understand their identity and to understand their attraction and to identify whatever obstacles there may be to live a chaste life and then to hand it over to the Lord and to strive to holiness each day. I don’t see how any person can measure his or her success any given day until their judgment before the Lord. Every person throughout their life is a work in progress still moving forward and growing deeper and deeper in holiness and their understanding of God’s call to holiness and how to carry it out. That is what we are doing — trying to meet people where they are and trying to mark out their way and walk that way with them.
LifeSiteNews: Is the Courage apostolate an initiative that wants to “heal” same-sex attraction?
Fr. Philip Bochanski: I think the aim of the Church and also of the Courage apostolate is to be a minister of the mercy of Christ that is extended to every person to heal our wounds and to guide us on the right path. Every human being is in need of healing. Every human being is wounded by original sin. Every human being is wounded by the history of his or her personal sin and the healing that we extend to the people that we happen to be serving can’t be different than the mercy of Jesus himself. Yes, I think we are on a healing mission in so much as the image that Pope Francis uses of the Church as a field hospital to identify the wounds that each brother and sister carries and to reach out with mercy. The expectation of the Church is not that any person is obliged to change his or her personality or his or her sexual desires any more than they are able to. It is obviously especially difficult in the area of chastity. We have to move away from unchaste relationships to more and more holy love and relationships. That is our priority.
LifeSiteNews: What has been your understanding of the “Who am I to judge?” statement of Pope Francis? He is often brought up by people defending living a homosexual lifestyle and somebody that does not call to conversion away from it. Do you agree?
Fr. Philip Bochanski: Pope Francis has made comments about people with homosexual tendencies in different contexts. The most extensive so far has been made in his interview book that came out in the beginning of 2016 called The Name of God is Mercy. In this interview with Andrea Tornielli, he talks a lot about his experience hearing confessions and being a spiritual father himself. And he was asked about how that applies to people with same-sex attractions. He responded by saying multiple things, but first of all he reiterated the teaching of the Church, which he took from the Catechism. That teaching is what is behind his comment about judging [“Who am I to judge”]. That teaching pertains to the fact that the mere experience of same-sex attraction is not in itself a sin. We do not condemn any person because of the attraction that he or she feels. Then he goes on talking about something more important and said that he is glad that we are talking about homosexual persons because the human person comes first. He added that persons should not be defined by their sexual desires. Every person shares the same value in that he is created in the image and likeness of God and receives His love. He goes on to say that he wants people who experience same-sex attraction to come to confession. He wants his priests to pray, to understand God’s words, and to pursue holiness. Speaking to priests, he tells them to show good will, to accompany these people — and that is exactly what we have been trying to do, to extend God’s mercy, to understand God’s mercy and the path He has marked up for us. I take a lot of comfort in how he understands where our identity comes from and to help people where they are.
LifeSiteNews: Could you explain the apostolate EnCourage that is affiliated with Courage International?
Fr. Philip Bochanski: I will be acting as director of the full Courage apostolate, which includes Courage, for people who experience same-sex attractions themselves, and EnCourage, our outreach to parents, spouses, siblings and other loved ones, people who are related to those who experience same-sex attraction and are possibly in a relationship with them. This was an initiative thought of by Fr. Harvey having met parents whom he thought in need of special support because they are striving in their faith and trying to understand what God’s will is for them and their families while at the same time keeping their families’ ties intact. We are teaching them why the Church teaches what she does and how they can cope with experiencing their sons and daughters having same-sex attraction, how to be compassionate in conversations, how to set boundaries, and how to help the whole family have a healthy relationship with their loved one. In almost every place where we have a Courage apostolate we also have an EnCourage chapter. I keep learning about it since I began my time here in the Courage office and I am very impressed at our EnCourage parents who have been at it such a long time supporting those who are just coming through. It is a great thing that we have these chapters.
LifeSiteNews: Where do you see the Courage Apostolate in 10 years?
Fr. Philip Bochanski: I think we are already on a trajectory to grow the apostolate, maybe at a greater rate than we have had so far in our history. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage for the whole country, we have had almost 20 dioceses just in the U.S. reach out to us with interest in starting a Courage or EnCourage chapter and asking to provide their priests with information explaining why the Church teaches what she does. I am not discouraged since I see that in the situation we are in, the bishops and priests understand that we are not a Church that says no. If we are going to say, this is not the way, then we have to provide some kind of formation and support to tell people what God’s plan is for them. I think the Courage apostolate is well situated to respond to that growing need and, because we are an apostolate of the Church and we are in accordance with Church teaching, we can provide a great service to individuals and to communities. I think that over the next decade we will have more opportunities to enter the discussion within the Church and with secular society on topics of sexual attraction and sexual identity by the day. We have done a lot of development of resources and we will have a chance to shape the conversation in respect to everybody involved.