The Roman Catholic Church in Maine has announced the formation of an “ex-gay” group.

On Thursday, Bishop Richard Malone, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, announced the formation of a local chapter of Courage, a support group which claims gay people should lead chaste lives.

“This service is being initiated in response to requests from people who desire the church's assistance,” spokeswoman Sue Bernard said in a statement.

“Courage offers hope and encouragement to men and women who desire to live in accordance with the church's teaching on homosexuality – specifically that the dignity and identity of every person is not determined by their sexual attraction, but by their relationship with the Lord and their striving to live the virtues of faith, hope and charity,” she added.

According to its website, Courage was founded in 1980 by the late Terence Cardinal Cooke of New York and claims more than 100 chapters. Its program likens homosexuality to an addiction.

The Rev. Mark Doty, pastor of Hammond Street Congregation Church, called the group's message “offensive.”

“In my view, it is presumptuous and wrong-headed to equate homosexuality with addictive behavior,” Doty, who is openly gay, told The Bangor Daily News. “Same-sex loving people reflect an orientation, a way of viewing the world. To my mind, what takes genuine courage is for people to love and serve God and openly acknowledge that they are also lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. I'm convinced that the cloak of anonymity of this 'ministry' seeks to protect heterosexuals from imagined evils and does no favors for the LGBT community, their families or society in general.”

The Rev. Kevin Martin, who serves St. Michael Parish in Augusta, has been appointed the chaplain of Courage.

Martin denied that the group's formation was a response to gay marriage advocates organizing a return to the ballot in November. The Catholic Church is strongly opposed to government recognition of gay and lesbian couples.

He added that the group was not for gay people who currently are in a relationship.

“I don't think that's what Courage is for,” he told the Kennebec Journal. “Is Alcoholic Anonymous for people who are currently drinking? If they have a desire to step away from that, Courage could be for them.”