I’ve had proponents of the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality tell me that the Church and groups like Courage aren’t into “conversion” therapy. Yet as Maier points out, as recently as 2006 the Catholic Medical Association cited Masters and Johnson to support its statement that science “counters the myth that same-sex attraction is genetically predetermined and unchangeable, and offers hope for prevention and treatment.”
Closer to home, Fr. Jim Livingston, chaplain of the Courage group here in the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese, stated in a February 2, 2009 letter to priests and deacons of the archdiocese that Courage (which goes by the name of “Faith in Action” in Minnesota) is “supportive of those persons who seek re-orientation of their sexual attractions through prayer and therapy.”
Courage also has an embarrassing and reprehensible connection with the largely discredited National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) - an organization that insists homosexuality is a disorder that is not only chosen, but can be changed through effort. 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. Despite this, the founder of Courage, Fr, John Harvey, frequently invited as a major presenter to his workshops the late Peter Rudegeair, a member of NARTH and a clinical psychologist who was a major proponent of discredited (by all mainstream medical and mental health professional associations) theories advocating reparative, or change, therapy for gay men and lesbians.
Since November 2007 the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis has attempted to promote NARTH as a credible scientific organization. For instance, in the November 8 issue of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the archdiocese, Fr. Livingston endorsed NARTH by citing the organization as a useful resource and by encouraging people to visit its website so as “to learn . . . about the emotional root causes of homosexuality.” Fr. Livingston also recommended an audio CD of a talk given by NARTH co-founder Joseph Nicolosi, an individual whom Archbishop Nienstedt, when he was a bishop in Detroit, invited to speak to the priests of the archdiocese as an “expert” on homosexuality. Not surprisingly, many Catholics are concerned by the archdiocese’s increasing reliance on the discredited perspective and “findings” of NARTH to support and validate Church teaching on homosexuality.
No doubt NARTH cites as foundational the “research” of Masters and Johnson when promoting its views on homosexuality – the Catholic Medical Association, as noted above, certainly does. Yet as Thomas Maier’s article shows, the “gay conversion” therapy pioneered by the couple and used by all manner of conservative religious groups has never been proved.
Can Psychiatrists Really “Cure” Homosexuality?
By Thomas Maier
April 22, 2009
By Thomas Maier
April 22, 2009
Masters and Johnson claimed to convert gays
to heterosexuality in a 1979 book. But did they?
to heterosexuality in a 1979 book. But did they?
A British survey published last month found that one in 25 therapists would assist gay and bisexual patients attempting to convert to heterosexuality. That’s despite the fact that many medical groups, including the American Medical Association, have for years condemned such practices, saying they don’t work and can actually cause harm.
It may not be surprising that Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson and televangelist pastor Jerry Falwell, among many others, have supported programs designed to convert homosexuals away from “sin” and into the arms of God-fearing heterosexuality. But what may surprise you is one of the research sources cited by the Catholic Medical Association in 2006 when it declared that science “counters the myth that same-sex attraction is genetically predetermined and unchangeable, and offers hope for prevention and treatment.”
That source? William Masters and Virginia Johnson, a husband–wife team who are perhaps the world's most famous sex researchers.
Back in 1979, on Meet The Press and countless other TV appearances, Masters and Johnson touted their book, Homosexuality in Perspective — a 14-year study of more than 300 homosexual men and women — hoping to build on their groundbreaking sex studies of heterosexuals that had helped ignite America’s sexual revolution. The results seemed impressive: Of the 67 male and female patients with “homosexual dissatisfaction,” only 14 failed in the initial two-week “conversion” or “reversion” treatment. (The 12 cases of attempted “conversion” were for men and women who had always believed they were homosexual and were troubled by it, while the 55 “reversion” cases were in people who believed their homosexuality was more fleeting.) During five years of follow-up, their success rate for both groups was better than 70 percent.
But were Masters and Johnson’s claims of “conversion” in those 12 cases – nine men and three women – even true?
Prior to the book’s publication, doubts arose about the validity of their case studies. Most staffers never met any of the conversion cases during the study period of 1968 through 1977, according to research I’ve done for my new book Masters of Sex. Clinic staffer Lynn Strenkofsky, who organized patient schedules during this period, says she never dealt with any conversion cases. Marshall and Peggy Shearer, perhaps the clinic’s most experienced therapy team in the early 1970s, says they never treated homosexuals and heard virtually nothing about conversion therapy.
When the clinic’s top associate, Robert Kolodny, asked to see the files and to hear the tape-recordings of these “storybook” cases, Masters refused to show them to him. Kolodny — who had never seen any conversion cases himself — began to suspect some, if not all, of the conversion cases were not entirely true. When he pressed Masters, it became ever clearer to him that these were at best composite case studies made into single ideal narratives, and at worst they were fabricated.
Eventually Kolodny approached Virginia Johnson privately to express his alarm. She, too, held similar suspicions about Masters’ conversion theory, though publicly she supported him. The prospect of public embarrassment, of being exposed as a fraud, greatly upset Johnson, a self-educated therapist who didn’t have a college degree and depended largely on her husband’s medical expertise.
With Johnson’s approval, Kolodny spoke to their publisher about a delay, but it came too late in the process. “That was a bad book,” Johnson recalled decades later. Johnson said she favored a rewriting and revision of the whole book “to fit within the existing [medical] literature,” and feared that Bill simply didn’t know what he was talking about. At worst, she said, “Bill was being creative in those days” in the compiling of the “gay conversion” case studies.
Until he died in 2001 Masters felt confident their book would be embraced eventually by the medical community, not just by purveyors of religious or political agendas. He believed the prospect of “conversion” therapy offered more hope, more freedom to patients than psychoanalysis ever could. “The criticisms are based on old concepts,” Masters replied dismissively to the press. “We’re reporting on 10 years of work with five years of follow-up—and it works.”
But despite his claims, the success of Masters’ “gay conversion” therapy have never been proved.
Thomas Maier is the author of Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How To Love, published by Basic Books.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Debunking NARTH (Part 1)
Debunking NARTH (Part 2)
“Conversion Therapy” and the Pseudo Science of NARTH
Former “Ex-Gay” Shares His Experience of NARTH
When Quackery Goes Mainstream
No Place for Dialogue in Archdiocesan Newspaper
Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology!
Far from “Innocuous”
The Dreaded “Same-Sex Attracted” View of Catholicism
The Real Meaning of Courage
The Many Forms of Courage (Part I)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part 2)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part 3)
What Scientists in the UK Are Saying About Homosexuality
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
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