The University of Toronto has distanced itself from a controversial program initiated at the Newman Centre (a Catholic Church at the St. George campus) called “Courage”.

Courage is described as an anonymous support group to help young adults struggling to resist homosexual urges.

On the Newman Centre website, Courage is described as “a spiritual support group for young adults who experience same-sex attractions and who desire to live chastely, in accordance with Catholic teaching”.

Some parishioners have stopped attending, and several have filed complaints to U of T about the program, in the months following its commencement.

The Courage support groups were started in the 1980s by Archbishop Terrence Cardinal Cooke, and they have since gained popularity.

“My understanding of Courage is it’s an opt-in program, an opt-in community, in which people are only involved if they really wish to be involved,” said Bill Steinberg, the communications manager for the Archdiocese of Toronto.

The goal of Courage is to encourage its members to abstain from acting on their sexual desires, in order to live in accordance with Catholic teachings on sexuality.

One of the five goals of Course listed on the Newman Centre website is fostering a spirit of fellowship to help “ensure that no one will have to face problems of homosexuality alone”.

A letter by the Canadian Council of Catholic Bishops states, “While homosexual acts are always objectively wrong, same-sex inclinations are not in themselves sinful or a moral failing.”

One parishioner who no longer attends the Newman Centre and opposes the support group, criticized “the harm and the damage [Courage] does, primarily to vulnerable younger people who are struggling with their sexual identity”.

U of T has openly expressed its disagreement with the program, and has requested the Newman Centre to end Courage and its promotions.

Angela Hildyard, U of T’s VP of human resources and equity, described Courage as “inconsistent with the university’s values”. She has also urged the Newman Centre to clearly state in its publications that the University of Toronto does not endorse it.

The Newman Centre’s website now states, “This program is not offered by or connected to the University of Toronto.”

Courage is a pastoral partner, which means that it has the church’s full support and is not in the jurisdiction of U of T.

The Newman Centre was formed at the request of a U of T community member, and  is funded privately by a local Catholic diocese. It is an independent parish and meeting place for some of U of T’s staff, faculty, and students.