WASHINGTON (CNS) — For Catholic men and women who experience same-sex attraction, it can often be a difficult and confusing task to understand how they can live out their faith and participate in their religion.

Courage, an international apostolate of the church, attempts to support these members of the church by offering guidance and outreach in the form of meetings, online discussion groups and other resources to people around the world.

Founded in 1980 by Cardinal Terence Cooke of New York, Courage acts as a spiritual support system for men and women who experience homosexual inclinations. According to its website, http://couragerc.org, Cardinal Cooke’s goal in establishing the organization was to aid people in “living a fully Christian life in communion with God and others.”

Father Paul Check, the executive director of Courage, said the organization provides “an authentic and rich expression of the church’s pastoral care for men and women with the homosexual inclination.”

“Cardinal Cooke realized two things. One, I think, in the popular mind, the only thing that the church seems to offer men and women with the homosexual inclination is the word no,” Father Check said in a phone interview with the Catholic News Service. “And secondly, I think he realized that this was, in fact, perception or not, an underserved group of people who have as much claim on the heart of Jesus Christ as anyone else.”

Courage has nearly 100 chapters throughout the U.S. and 15 international chapters. Each contingent hosts regular meetings that provide fraternal support, prayer and service in the light of the Gospel, said Father Check, who is a priest of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The moderators of the meetings, usually a priest or chaplain, minister to participants through the use of Scripture, the beatitudes, parables or any of the various resources available to Christians “that are helpful for people to grow in self-knowledge,” Father Check said.

The organization also has adapted the 12-step program from Alcoholics Anonymous, though Father Check noted that does not mean the church views homosexuality as a sex addiction.

“I think we want to take care in saying that the 12 steps could be a useful tool for a number of different things, moving away from pornography, for instance,” he said. “But the presence of the use of the 12 steps is not to imply that we are forcing a template on people, or that we presume that homosexual attractions automatically become sexual addictions. We don’t believe that.”

Instead, “the real heart of the apostolate” and the main purpose of the organization, Father Paul said, is to achieve the “Five Goals of Courage” as outlined on its website: “chastity, prayer and dedication, fellowship, support and (being a) good example/role model.”

According to church teaching, homosexual activity is a violation of divine and natural law and any sexual activity outside of marriage — which is between one man and one woman — is sinful.

The church also teaches, however, that homosexual attraction itself is not sinful and that homosexual people “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.”

Father Check referenced the story of Genesis as a way to understand the church’s views on same-sex attraction.

“When God says after creating Adam, ‘It’s not good that man should be alone,’ that’s a recognition that as individuals we’re incomplete and we’re made to step out of ourselves and find fulfillment in different ways — in family life, in friendships and in love. Now, one part of that would be spousal love,” he said. “So, with regard to homosexuality, I guess I would say that to act on the homosexual inclination would be to leave someone incomplete because when comparing that attraction, that desire, to our story as it’s given to us in Genesis, it would seem plain enough that the fulfillment that is sought can’t come.”

Father Check said this doesn’t mean that people in homosexual relationships can’t experience real friendships and love.

“What I’m talking about is very particularly, can the erotic attraction to a member of the same-sex lead to a completeness that’s proposed to us there in Genesis 2? Well the story says … no, you can’t,” he said. “And … the church asks people not to act on those inclinations exactly for that reason. Because the fulfillment that they seek, they won’t find.”

In June, Courage premiered “Desire of the Everlasting Hills,” a documentary that tells the stories of three people who transitioned from living homosexual lifestyles to becoming connected to God and choosing to live chaste lives in accordance with the church’s teachings on homosexuality. Themes of self-understanding and faith pervade the film as the two men and one woman share what it is like to be a member of the church who experiences same-sex attraction.

Father Check said the movie’s purpose is to put a face on the issue of homosexuality within the church.

“We see homosexuality with a face,” Father Check said. “We’re trying to … perhaps suggest to people gently that the church’s teaching is not something sterile or severe, but rather takes into account human weakness as well, of course, as human greatness and virtue.”