Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Holding the Courage Apostolate Accountable

As I noted in a previous post, I’m very interested in seeing how the Roman Catholic Church’s Courage apostolate responds to the American Psychological Association’s recent repudiation of “reparative therapy.”

About Courage

As I’ve documented previously (most notably
here), Courage seeks to help people move beyond “same-sex attraction” by encouraging a life of “interior chastity in union with Christ.” The apostolate labels itself a “pro-chastity ministry” and equates chastity with celibacy. Although Courage itself does not attempt to change adult homosexual orientation, its website has a link to the U.S.-based National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), a sham organization of “therapists” that teaches that homosexuality is a disorder not only chosen, but changeable through effort and therapy.

The Courage website also links to numerous non-Catholic so-called “ex-gay” conservative religious groups — such as, Exodus International, Homosexuals Anonymous, Hope Ministry, International Healing Foundation, JONAH, People Can Change, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays (P-FOX), and Straightway.

Important Questions

In light of the latest from the APA, why would Courage continue to endorse organizations that recommend and/or offer “therapies” aimed at changing people from gay to straight?

If the apostolate is going to link to resources offering psychological information and/or care, shouldn’t such resources be credible, i.e., in line with mainstream psychological thinking and practice?

Advocating celibacy for gay people, which Courage maintains is its main aim, is one thing. And for some gay people, such a response to their sexuality may indeed be appropriate* (although I question if celibacy is a serious option for healthy individuals with normal levels of desires). Yet aligning with questionable organizations that advocate “reparative therapy” is something altogether different, and something the Church should not be doing. And since the call to celibacy certainly doesn’t require such an alignment, why is it encouraged and tolerated by the Courage apostolate?

What You Can Do

The Minnesota-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (of which I serve as executive coordinator) urges you to join it in contacting Courage so as to raise and discuss these important questions.

Let us make contact as Catholics concerned that our Church is being linked to disreputable psychological theories and practices.

And please consider requesting, politely yet firmly, that Courage:

1) Publicly refute the pseudo-science of reparative therapy advocated by NARTH and other “ex-gay” groups.

2) Remove from its website links to any and all organizations offering such therapy.

3) Commit to actively dissuading its members from pursuing such therapy.

4) Educate its leadership and members on what the mainstream psychological establishment says about homosexuality and the impact of homo-negativity on psychological health,** and be open to allowing this reputable psychological knowledge to inform its theology of human sexuality.

Courage’s central office is located in New York City. Fr. Paul Check serves as director of the apostolate in the U.S.

c/o Church of St John The Baptist
210 West 31st Street
New York NY 10001

Email: NYCourage@aol.com
Phone: (212) 268-1010
Fax: (212) 268-7150

Local chapters of Courage exist in various dioceses. Here in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Courage goes by the name of Faith in Action. The Office of Marriage and Family Life, which administrates the Faith in Action program, can be contacted at 651-291-4438.

After making contact with Courage, please consider sharing in the comments section of this post how your conversation went.

Update: I just got off the phone with Fr. Jim Lloyd, a clinical psychologist who for the last ten years has facilitated a Courage group in New York City. Fr. Lloyd also serves on the Courage Board of Advisors. We had a very friendly chat about the issues and questions I raise in this post.

Fr Lloyd, a member of the APA and a self-professed
Freudian, does not believe that Courage will be adversely affected by the APA’s repudiation of “reparative therapy.” At one point he compared this repudiation to a mosquito bite. When I asked him if the apostolate will be removing from its website links to organizations that recommend and/or offer reparative therapy, he said that these organizations offer more than this particular type of therapy. There’s a lot of “picking and choosing” that goes on when it comes to psychology, he said. (Hmm . . . sounds like “cafeteria Catholicism”! Something of which I’m sure Fr. Lloyd wouldn’t approve.)

He reiterated Courage’s goal of helping people with “same-sex attractions” live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality, though concluded our conversation by noting: “Whatever position you take, as long as you believe in it.”


* On the issue of celibacy as therapy Wayne Besen writes: “It is true that in extreme cases, a lifetime of celibacy may lead to a happier existence than coming out of the closet. These rare people, unfortunately, are often so damaged by fundamentalism that they are unable to express their sexuality in healthy ways. Indeed, they are stricken by excessive guilt if they enjoy any form of pleasure that is not sanctioned by their church. In such instances of irreparable damage to victims of faith-based oppression, celibacy may work (sort of) as a last ditch effort to help these people find a small measure of peace.”

** In September 2008 researchers at the University of Minnesota published a study showing that the degree of internalized homo-negativity (negative attitude towards homosexuality) among homosexual men is what predicts poor mental and sexual health – not the degree of homosexuality. The study appeared in the September issue of the Journal of Homosexuality.

According to
Simon Rosser, Ph.D., a researcher in the School of Public Health and principal investigator of the study, the results of the study helps inform the debate of whether or not being homosexual is healthy. “This study is a missing link in our understanding of the relationship between sexuality and health,” he said. “It provides new evidence that negative attitudes towards homosexuality, not homosexuality itself, are associated with both poorer mental and sexual health outcomes seen in sexual minorities. Conversely, positive attitudes towards homosexuality are associated with better mental and sexual health.”

For more than 150 years, scholars and educators have debated whether homosexuality is an objective disorder or whether societal prejudice, not homosexuality, leads to the elevated rates of depression, drug use, and HIV/STD epidemics seen in studies of gay men. Rosser called this study groundbreaking because it directly tested both theories and found evidence that only one was accurate.

“Given the debates in many religious denominations about homosexuality, and in society about homosexuals and civil rights, it’s also timely,” Rosser said. “In particular, the old advice to gay men to fight, deny, or minimize their homosexuality likely only increases depression, greater isolation, and poorer sexual health. In short, viewing homosexuality as a disorder is not only inaccurate, it may be harmful as well.”

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
It’s Official: APA Opposes “Reparative Therapy”
“Curing” Homosexuality
Debunking NARTH (Part I)
Debunking NARTH (Part II)
What Scientists in the UK Are Saying About Homosexuality
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)
Beyond Courage

Recommended Off-site Links:
The APA Says “No Evidence” in Support of Ex-Gay Therapy - Wayne Besen (TruthWinsOut.org, August 5, 2009).
APA Passes Resolution Against Ex-Gay Therapy - Jim Burroway (Box Turtle Bulletin, August 5, 2009).
Exodus International Responds to the APA Resolution on Change Therapy - Jim Burroway (Box Turtle Bulletin, August 6, 2009).
NARTH Responds to the APA Resolution on Change Therapy - Jim Burroway (Box Turtle Bulletin, August 7, 2009).
Celibacy as a Therapy Goal - Wayne Besen (TruthWinsOut.org, August 6, 2009).


Phillip Clark said...

Perhaps the recent announcement from the APA will finally spur the USCCB to consider taking another look at homosexuality? Wait..that sounds too much like the right thing to do... =/ Wishful thinking I guess...

Well, if Pope Benedict continues to harp on his two legged stool of FAITH and REASON these scientific finding should only confirm why more debate, investigation, and analysis in light of current scientific findings regarding homosexuality should be launched by the Church. Unfortunately, fear will probably continue to prevail... I guess as always, all we can do is pray and hope...

Still, the news from the APA could be the first glimmer of light thats needed to begin a new era of understanding within the Church concerning this issue. At least I'd like to think so, but perhaps I'm too overly optimistic and naive...

colkoch said...

Phillip, I think you are being way too optimistic. The LCWR is being investigated in part because of their perceived stance on homosexuality. The perception is that their more open and compassionate stance is based in psychology and not natural law. They will be severly chastised for listening to the APA and not the Magesterium.

Mareczku said...

I have contacted Courage and am trying to discuss this with them. The people that I have talked to are very nice and have tried to hear me out. I am concerned about their cozy relationship with NARTH. I find this inapproprite. Dr. Nicolosi was a listed speaker at their annual conference. As a pro-life Catholic I find it upsetting that Courage seems to support therapies that lead some gay people to suicide.

Mareczku said...

I was concerned by this comment in an interview by Father Paul Check, the new director of Courage. He stated, "I'm concerned that because Courage is not yet in every diocese, Catholics are going to Protestant groups like Exodus, that do very good work in this spiritual ministry." Is he kidding here? Does he know the history of Exodus? Is he aware that some of the founders accepted their gay orientation and apologized for their work in Exodus? Some dioceses have Dignity chapters. Perhaps Catholics would be better served checking out this group than the fundamentalist Exodus.

kevin57 said...

I emailed my comments to Courage. I didn't ask that they publicly repudiate reparative therapy, but that they should remove any mention of it in any of their publications, and remove any links to any organization that continues to promote it. I drew an analogy to "bleeding." Any doctor or hospital that in any way endorsed bleeding or linked to anyone or any group that continued to bleed people for medical reasons would be mocked and shunned.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thanks, everyone, for your comments - and thanks Kevin for contacting Courage and sharing what you did. I'd be interested in hearing about any reply you receive.



Anonymous said...

I would be interested to know if the APA's announcement about Reparative Therapy regarding homosexuality is based purely on scientific method or a result of political pressure. There are many well meaning people of all faiths that have freely chosen to attempt to change their sexual orientation for many reasons. There are many well meaning people that are trying to help them with whatever methods are currently available. What is needed is more scientific research and study of more effective ways to help these people change. These people are entitled to their sexual freedom and liberation too. By no means should anyone that is happy with his homosexuality be forced to change. There should be support groups for both communities of people with same sex attractions.

Anonymous said...

Courage advocates chaste living. As for links to groups offering reparative therapy, that's purely the choice of the person in question. If there are successful cases of reorientation thru these therapies, then that is made possible by the grace of God. The grace of God is unlimited and boundless. Who's to say healing of sexuality does not take place through reparative therapy? Just my opinion. I think Courage works hand in hand with support groups offering other means of psychotherapeutic approaches.Has there been any conclusive evidence that these therapies are the direct cause suicides? If so, shouldn't these therapies be banned altogether? Rather, could it be these suicides are due to a lack of emotional support of the individual outside of the therapy? I am just questioning the rationality of such a conclusion and I do not claim to have the answers to these questions. After all, the field of Psychotherapy, just as the field of modern Medicine is probably an ongoing experiment and it depends on the individual if he chooses to subject himself to such practices and as such be prepared to accept the consequences. In any case, the general rule that Courage Apostolate seems to be following in including these links on their website is, "If they are not against you, then they are with you." Again that is just my opinion. I, personally, am contented with Courage Apostolate's call to chastity and celibacy. Peace.