Thursday, November 15, 2007

When Quackery Goes Mainstream

The Catholic Spirit’s November 1 editorial that I referred to in my previous post, reflects what could be described as the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis’ long-standing pastoral approach to homosexuality – one that was endorsed and articulated by the past administrations of both Archbishop John Roach and Archbishop Harry Flynn.

That approach has, however, been replaced by a very different one – as demonstrated by various statements made by incoming Archbishop John Nienstedt, and by Fr. Jim Livingston in his “My Turn” column in the November 8 issue of The Catholic Spirit.

For both Archbishop Nienstedt and Fr. Livingston, it seems that the only valid pastoral response to “persons with same-sex attractions” is the national apostolate Courage, which for the past ten years has had a branch in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis that goes by the name of Faith in Action.

The endorsement and support of Courage/Faith in Action by the incoming administration, though disappointing, is certainly not surprising, especially given John Nienstedt’s reputation for being a “conservative hardliner,” in the words of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Yet there’s more. For as well as promoting Courage, both Nienstedt and Livingston rely on the “research findings” of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). This should immediately raise a red flag for anyone remotely aware of the legitimate scientific consensus on the complex issue of sexual orientation.

Why? Because NARTH is a sham organization of “therapists” that teaches that homosexuality is a disorder that is not only chosen, but can be changed through effort. Not surprisingly, NARTH’s findings and methodology are seldom, if ever, offered to peer-reviewed journals for critical analysis. In short, the group lacks any respect from the wider scientific community.

Sadly, the quackery of NARTH lends itself to the Catholic Church’s scientifically uninformed teachings on homosexuality. Not surprisingly, some reactionary elements within the Church frequently employ terminology and “statistics” concocted by NARTH to bolster the institutional Church’s crude and erroneous “truth” claims about homosexuality.

For instance, Livingston wrote that people can learn more about the “emotional root causes” of homosexuality by visiting NARTH’s website. Yet, in the real world, no credible scientific body is talking about “emotional root causes” of homosexuality!

Livingston serves as lead chaplain to the local chapter of Courage (which, as I noted above, goes by the name of Faith in Action in the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese). Courage purports to help people move beyond “same-sex attraction” by encouraging a life of “interior chastity in union with Christ.” The movement labels itself a “pro-chastity ministry,” and equates chastity with celibacy.

Although Courage, which, along with NARTH, Livingston enthusiastically promotes in his November 8 commentary, acknowledges that the “inclination of homosexual attractions” is “psychological understandable,” such attractions are nevertheless considered “objectively disordered” – a view promulgated by the hierarchical church.

Courage often substitutes the words “homosexuality” and “gay” with the NARTH-coined phrase, “same-sex attraction disorder” – a term unrecognized by any professional health association.

Writes Livingston: “[The word] ‘gay’ often connotes a lifestyle inconsistent with the pursuit of chastity. Persons with homosexual, or same-sex attraction may or may not consider themselves ‘gay.’ Those who believe in the church’s teaching on SSA [same-sex attraction] often are actually insulted by being called ‘gay’” Oh, really?

It gets worse. Following NARTH’s lead, Courage actually likens homosexuality to alcoholism, and conducts its “support group” using the 12-Step format developed by Alcoholics Anonymous. Some members of Courage even consider their “disorder” to be curable, and explain its origin using debunked theories of dominant mothers, distant fathers and abusive family relations.

Livingston’s commentary in The Catholic Spirit is clear evidence that the quackery of NARTH is actively endorsed and encouraged by some within the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church.

I’m sure that you’ll agree that as Catholics we can do better.

Recommended Off-site Link:
Debunking NARTH

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Real Meaning of Courage
The Many Forms of Courage (Part I)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part II)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part III)
The Dreaded Same-Sex Attracted View of Catholicism


Anonymous said...

The homosexual desires in a person are not, in my view, usually chosen consciously. However, the decision to act on them is chosen. This is an important distinction.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Let's substitute a single word in Anonymous' comment:

"The heterosexual desires in a person are not, in my view, usually chosen consciously. However, the decision to act on them is chosen. This is an important distinction."

I think it's obvious to most people that any actions we undertake result from the making of conscious decisions. Why does Anonymous emphasize this fact only in relation to gay people?

The reality is that some heterosexual acts (and the decisions that lead to them) are loving and life-affirming/giving, some are not. Some homosexual acts (and the decisions that lead to them) are loving and life-affirming/giving, some are not.

I think the Church should be actively seeking to acknowledge, affirm, and celebrate those decisions that lead people to engage in sexual relationships (note my emphasis on "relationships" and not simply, and narrowly, "acts") that are loving and that facilitate human flourishing.

We are sexual human beings. For the vast majority of people, their growth as human beings involves the seeking and building of a loving sexual relationship - one that mutually benefits both partners and the community within which the couple dwell. I yearn for the day when the Church recognizes this and acknowledges and supports the decisions people - gay and straight - make so as to be in loving and life affirming/giving relationships.