Monday, November 23, 2009

Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis may still be attempting to change sexual orientation

Not long ago, the American Psychological Association said that mental health professionals should avoid telling their clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy. The APA did say that mental health professionals should recognize their clients' religious needs; for some clients seeking to reconcile their religious beliefs and their sexual orientation and/or identity, celibacy is a valid path, but others are not able to find fulfillment and struggle with depression and loneliness.

In light of those recommendations, it is disappointing to read journalist Jeff Strickler's anecdote in the Minneapolis Star Tribune showing that the Catholic Diocese in the city appears linked to programs that purport to help clients change their sexual orientation and treat homosexuality as a disease.

Gay and lesbian Roman Catholics who contact the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for spiritual guidance can find themselves directed toward programs aimed at helping them become celibate.

Called reparative therapy, the programs are provoking national -- and even international -- protests from critics who say they are ineffective at best and, in some cases, harmful.

Many see the programs as an example of the Vatican's swing toward conservatism, and an insulting blow to a decade of bridge-building between the church and the gay community.

"[Retired Archbishop] Harry Flynn came to us -- we didn't go to them, they came to us -- in the late 1990s and asked us to serve as resource people for the church," said Michael Bayly, executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM). "Then a new pope comes in. Now the archdiocese won't even take our phone calls."

So they are speaking out on their own. They're hosting a forum Tuesday at St. Martin's Table Restaurant and Bookstore in Minneapolis that they say will shine a spotlight on what they term the "pseudo-scientific organizations" that endorse reparative therapy.

Under the auspices of its Office of Marriage and Family, the Catholic church's programs are modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous and its sister program for the families of addicts, Al-Anon. The programs, called Courage (AA) and Encourage (Al-Anon), are intended to help gays remain chaste.

The chaplain of the local Courage chapter, the Rev. James Livingston, was out of town Monday and unavailable to comment. In explaining the programs, the archdiocese's website contains links to material that some gays find objectionable. That includes a Q&A with the director of Courage's national office, the Rev. Paul Check, in which he says, "People are relieved to know the condition [of homosexuality] is both treatable and preventable."


Check also was not available to comment, but a person in his office became angry when she heard about the forum. Although not an official spokesperson, she said, "We don't tell anyone what to do. We just try to help them live according to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church."

A decade ago, the CPCSM was asked to conduct sensitivity training sessions for the archdiocese. "That's how much things have changed recently," Bayly said.

He pointed to an article last November in the Catholic Spirit, the archdiocese's newspaper, endorsing the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). Describing itself as a nonprofit educational organization serving people with "unwanted homosexual attraction," it maintains that through therapy, homosexuals can "develop their heterosexual potential."

The rest of the article highlights how celibacy is not a possibility for some people. It interviews Philip Lowe, Jr:

Lowe spent 15 months in the Courage program in hopes of finding a way to reconcile his religion and his sexuality.

"I went to weekly meetings, I went to confession, I did everything you were supposed to do," he said. Through it all, he battled with the feeling that he was supposed to distance himself from who he is. "It wasn't a positive experience."

Again, there are two separate issues here. One is the notion that sexual orientation can and should be changed by religious efforts. This notion is completely and totally false. Any program that teaches celibacy for LGBT people must immediately abandon any reference to this notion.

The second issue is whether or not LGBT people should accept a life of celibacy to reconcile themselves with their religion. Christians disagree strongly over this issue. While I believe that LGBT people should not be required to be celibate, I urge people to recognize that some people do choose celibacy for the right reasons. Celibacy should not be chosen because of shame or it is ultimately self-defeating. Unfortunately, herein lies the problem: the churches that teach celibacy usually incorporate shame about homosexuality into their teachings.

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