The group consists of laymen and laywomen usually under anonymous discretion, together with a priest, to encourage its members to abstain from acting on their sexual desires and to live chastely according to the Catholic Church's teachings on homosexuality. Courage also sponsors an outreach program, Encourage, which ministers to relatives and friends of persons with same-sex attractions providing help by "supporting one another and their loved ones through discussion, prayer and fellowship." As a means of guiding homosexuals to a life of penance and chastity, the ministry uses the pastoral letters issued in 1986 by Joseph Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and later Pope Benedict XVI, and those issued in 2006 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The apostolate has merited the sanction of the Pontifical Council for the Family in July 1994 through the endorsement of Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo as part of an ecumenical effort to reconcile disaffected homosexuals to the Roman Catholic Church. Its goals are primarily grounded on chastity, piety and the promotion of compassionate and charitable works.
New York Archbishop Terence Cardinal Cooke conceived the ministry in the early 1980s as a spiritual support system which would assist same-sex attracted Catholics in adhering to the Church's teaching on sexuality and sexual behavior.
Cooke invited the moral theologian Father John Harvey of the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales to come to New York to begin the work of Courage with Father Benedict Groeschel of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal. The first meeting was held in September 1980 at the Shrine of Mother Seton in South Ferry.
In 2003, it became a member of Positive Alternatives to Homosexuality.
The five goals of Courage are:
- Live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality.
- Dedicate ones life to Christ through service to others, spiritual reading, prayer, meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass, and the frequent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist.
- Foster a spirit of fellowship in which all may share thoughts and experiences, and so ensure that no one will have to face the problems of homosexuality alone.
- Be mindful of the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in a chaste Christian life and in doing so provide encouragement to one another in forming and sustaining them.
- Live lives that may serve as good examples to others.
The four goals of Encourage are:
- To promote a spirit of compassion and acceptance among the members so that they may share with one another their thoughts and experiences and so ensure that no one will have to face the problems of homosexual loved ones alone.
- To foster the practice of service to others, spiritual reading, prayer, meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass, and the frequent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist.
- To encourage loved ones in the development of chaste friendships.
- To witness by good example to others who have homosexual loved ones.
In the United States, Courage International is commonly known as Courage. It is financially supported by the Archdiocese of New York and by donations. Individual chapters are self-supporting and exist with the permission of their diocesan Bishop. Courage was recommended as a support-group for Catholics with homosexual attractions in the 2006 document by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care".
In 2005, Courage International formed a Spanish-speaking branch, based in Cuernavaca, Morelos called Courage Latino. It currently extends to seven countries: Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Argentina, Colombia, Spain, and Venezuela.
DignityUSA compared Courage to the ex-gay organization Exodus International and stated that "While more honest and realistic in their expectations than Exodus, Courage still stigmatizes GLBT Americans, forces people to choose between their faith and sexual orientation and perpetuates prejudice in society."
- Homosexuality and Roman Catholicism
- Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination
- On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons
- Homosexuals Anonymous
- "Welcome to the Courage Community". Courage. Retrieved 2008-10-10.
- "Encourage". Courage. Retrieved 2008-10-10.
- "The Five Goals". Courage. Retrieved 2008-10-10.
- "Encourage Goals". Courage. Retrieved 2008-10-10.
- "Courage: Pastoral Care for Homosexual Persons". EWTN. Retrieved 2008-10-10.
- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, "Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care", released at the November 2006 bishops' meeting. Courage and Encourage are mentioned on p. 22 n. 44.
- Belgau, Ron. "Sodom and the City of God." New Oxford Review, June 2003. The author, spokesman for Courage in the Archdiocese of Seattle, criticizes the use of stereotypes and hate-speech directed against people experiencing same-sex attraction. 
- Harvey, John F. The Homosexual Person: New Thinking in Pastoral Care. Ignatius Press, 1987. ISBN 0-89870-169-4. Harvey is the founder of Courage International.
- Holton, Robert. "Homosexuals With the Courage to be Different". Our Sunday Visitor, vol. 81 p. 21, August 30, 1992. Profile of the group.
- Jacquet, Louis F. "Courage: a support group for Catholic Homosexuals". The Liguorian, vol 77, pp. 16–20, May 1989.
- Kenny, Joseph. "Catholic Church Has Room for Those Struggling With Homosexuality." Catholic News Service, August 9, 2006. 
- Morrison, David. Beyond Gay. Our Sunday Visitor, 1999. ISBN 0-87973-690-9. Morrison is the founder and moderator of "Courage Online", an online support group sponsored by Courage International.
- Nugent, Robert. "Courage Curbs Gays". National Catholic Reporter, vol. 21, p. 10, January 18, 1985. An article critical of Courage.