Friday, January 25, 2008

"Conversion Therapy" and the Pseudo-Science of NARTH

Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) co-founder and current Board Vice-President, David McCaffrey, has recently been communicating with counselors, spiritual directors, local Catholic high school teachers, and various other pastoral professionals of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis, informing them of an important upcoming CPCSM-sponsored event.

Entitled “The Myth of Conversion Therapy and the Pseudo-Science of NARTH,” this event will take place from 7:00-9:00 p.m. this Tuesday, January 29, at The House of the Beloved Disciple (2930 13th Ave. S., Minneapolis), a recently established center for Catholics “dedicated to preserving Catholicism in the Spirit of Jesus.”

Tuesday’s program will feature presentations by Jeffry G. Ford, MA, Licensed Psychologist, and John C. Gonsiorek, PhD, Clinical Psychologist. (For more information about both presenters, click here.)

Following is an informative commentary that David McCaffrey recently wrote for the CPCSM website, in which he details the “background and need for” Tuesday’s program.


In the November 8 issue of The Catholic Spirit, Fr. Jim Livingston of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis claimed that the Church’s teaching on the immorality of “homosexual activity” can be scientifically supported by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH).

When serving as bishop in Detroit, Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt invited NARTH co-founder Joseph Nicolosi to speak as an “expert” on the issue of homosexuality at a conference for priests of the Detroit Archdiocese.

Furthermore, for more than 25 years, the local archdiocese provided competent and compassionate pastoral ministry with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons and their families in many of its parishes and most of its high schools and colleges. This primarily was the result of the committed work of CPCSM, which over that period provided training and consultation services to virtually all of the offices of the archdiocese during the administration of Archbishop John Roach. In some parishes and schools, this ministry was advertised publicly in weekly bulletins and on websites during that time and as recently as last year.

This statement by Archbishop Roach that appeared in The Catholic Bulletin –forerunner to The Catholic Spirit – on September 26, 1991, sums up his commitment to the quality of the LGBT pastoral ministry that occurred during his administration.)

Unfortunately, due to the conservative direction that the archdiocese has taken since Archbishop Roach’s retirement, especially concerning issues of human sexuality, the competent and compassionate ministry once enjoyed by local LGBT Catholics and their families has virtually disappeared.

Today, if an interested LGBT person, family member, or other ally calls the archdiocesan offices or views its website, he or she finds only the recommendation for a program called Faith in Action, which is the local name for the ex-gay group Courage and its sister group for families and friends, known as Encourage.

Yet what exactly is NARTH and what are Courage and Encourage?

How credible are these groups and how is their work viewed in the wider scientific community?

What do these groups teach about homosexuality (or, to use their terminology, “same-sex attraction”) and about conversion therapy – changing one’s sexual orientation through psychotherapy, which they advocates?

What do Courage and Encourage recommend for their members? Is it competent and compassionate pastoral care?

And what do the professional medical and mental health scientific communities have to say about these groups and about the nature and effectiveness of conversion therapy?

To learn the answers to these and other questions, join us for this special presentation sponsored by the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities featuring two outstanding national professional experts on these issues.

In the meantime, for an excellent summary about NARTH and Courage/Encourage and other “ex-gay” ministry organizations, from a mainstream professional point of view, see the following pages on the website of the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance: (about NARTH). (about Courage and other “ex-gay” ministries).

For more information, call 612-201-4534.

David J. McCaffrey
January 23, 2008

Above: CPCSM co-founder, David McCaffrey (right),
with me at a March 2006 meeting of the
Faith Family Fairness Alliance


As I mentioned in a previous Wild Reed post, the CPCSM board of directors has extended an invitation to Archbishop Nienstedt to attend “The Myth of Conversion Therapy and the Pseudo-Science of NARTH.” After all, he did say last April, upon his appointment as Coadjutor Archbishop, that: “I see myself as a learner. I’ll come here, I’ll listen, I’ll talk to people . . . This next year will be a sharp learning curve for me.”

Accordingly, part of CPCSM’s invitation to the Archbishop to “come,” “listen,” “talk,” and “learn” reads as follows:

It is our understanding that while serving as bishop in Detroit, you invited Joseph Nicolosi, co-founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), to speak as an “expert” on the issue of homosexuality. We have serious concerns about the credibility of NARTH, especially in terms of its advocacy of “conversion therapy” for gay people.

Accordingly, we invite you to join us on the evening of January 29 as we seek to understand the most current thinking of the scientific community on this particular issue. There will, of course, be an opportunity for you to share your perspective on this issue and to dialogue with other faithful seekers about their experiences and insights related to this particular matter.

I hope the Archbishop accepts CPCSM’s invitation.

One final point: the “The Myth of Conversion Therapy and the Pseudo-Science of NARTH” program has been approved by the Minnesota Board of Psychology for 2.0 continuing education hours (CEUs).

For more of David McCaffrey’s writings on The Wild Reed, see:
Far from “Innocuous”
CPCSM Co-founder Responds to “Not Catholic” Assertion

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
Former “Ex-Gay” Shares His Experience of NARTH
From Rome to Minneapolis, Dialogue is What’s Needed
What Scientists in the UK are Saying About Homosexuality
New Studies: Gay Couples as Committed as Straight Couples
“Gaydar,” “Gendermaps,” and the “Fundamentally Social Purpose” of Homosexuality
When Quackery Goes Mainstream
CPCSM’s Year in Review (2007)
CPCSM’s Year in Review (2006)

Recommended Off-Site Links:
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Fixing Frank


CDE said...


All of this doesn't seem compatible with the "info-ethics" that the Church is calling for in its new message for World Communications Day...

"Indeed, the media, taken overall, are not only vehicles for spreading ideas: they can and should also be instruments at the service of a world of greater justice and solidarity. Unfortunately, though, they risk being transformed into systems aimed at subjecting humanity to agendas dictated by the dominant interests of the day. This is what happens when communication is used for ideological purposes or for the aggressive advertising of consumer products. While claiming to represent reality, it can tend to legitimize or impose distorted models of personal, family or social life...."

CDE said...

I don't think there is anything materially different between the position articulated by Archbishop Roach and that of coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt.

Can you explain where there are essential differences? In particular, what do you make of Archbishop Roach's statement regarding activism vs. the Church's teaching as it relates to Archdiocesan staff?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

Thanks for stopping by The Wild Reed and sharing your thoughts.

As to your first comment, I agree with you completely: the ill-informed and dehumanizing ideology of organizations such as NARTH is incompatible with the “info-ethics” that the Catholic Church espouses.

With regard your second comment: If there’s nothing “materially different” between the positions articulated by Archbishop Roach and later archbishops, why then, in the words of David McCaffrey, has the “competent and compassionate ministry [that was] once enjoyed by local LGBT Catholics and their families, virtually disappeared”? And how do we know this? Well, just talk to LGBT people themselves and their families.

As to the “essential differences” between Archbishop Roach and Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt, perhaps these can be discerned in the following excerpt from the latest “Dialoguing with the Archbishop” column of The Progressive Catholic Voice online journal.

These monthly “dialoguing” columns are written by the editorial team of The Progressive Catholic Voice in response to various points raised by Archbishop Nienstedt in his weekly column in The Catholic Spirit (an “official” publication of the archdiocese that, incidentally, bars dialogue!)

To anyone familiar with the leadership style of the former Archbishop John Roach, they would know that the following would have never been directed towards him. It is, however, appropriately directed towards the leadership style of Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt, to whom it is indeed addressed:

“What puzzles us most is your emphasis on dividing people – those who go to church on Sunday and those who do not; those who confess to a priest, those who do not; those who believe particular faith propositions and those who do not. All faith propositions are attempts by humans to pin down the unfathomable mystery of God with us. Isn’t it important to acknowledge the inadequacy of all such human attempts at truth claims about God? Wouldn’t it be better to allow people more freedom to choose different forms within the sacramental practices of the church so that they could find unity in spirit rather than in uniformity of action and propositional belief?”

As I said, most Catholics in the archdiocese would not characterize the words and actions of Archbishop Roach as “divisive.” Nor would they have considered posing the above questions to him. Sadly, it’s a very different story with Archbishop Nienstedt.

The “difference” isn’t so much in “content” but emphasis and leadership style. Archbishop Roach (and for a while, Archbishop Flynn) “allow[ed] people more freedom to choose different forms within the sacramental practices of the church.” The wonderful diversity that resulted in this can still be seen in the archdiocese: in the fact that there exists both a St. Agnes parish and a St. Joan of Arc parish. For many Catholics, this range, this diversity is a sign of a healthy, living Church.

And these “different forms” weren’t restricted to “sacramental practices,” but also extended to pastoral ones. Thus an archdiocesan liaison sat on the CPCSM board, and CPCSM itself was invited to help inform and shape various pastoral initiatives relating to the gifts and needs of LGBT persons and their families. People felt that their experiences and insights concerning God in their lives and relationships were being listened to, respected, and honored. Not so now.

Of course, this all comes back to that critical question: “What does it mean to be Catholic?”

I appreciate Australian religious commentator Chris McGillion’s response to this question. As I noted in a previous Wild Reed post, McGillion observes that there are two ways to respond to such a question:

“One answer,” he says, “is to employ the faith to inform one’s decisions. That’s an understanding that is messy and uncertain but it is also creative and conducive to the development of responsible adults.”

And the second response? Well, it’s one that McGillion says folks like Cardinal Pell (and I’d say Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt) seem to prefer, and it says that “to be Catholic means having ready-made answers universally applied to the dilemmas that life inevitably invites.”

Such an understanding, says McGillion, “is neat and tidy but also potentially stultifying.”

“More worrying,” he writes, “is that this is an answer that betrays an acute doubt about whether God is involved in some ongoing sense in human affairs.”

Now, what do I make of Archbishop Roach’s remarks concerning the possible dismissal of archdiocesan staff who “seek to teach in ways contrary to church morality”? To be honest, I sense in such remarks an effort to be seen to be “toeing the party line,” which, for Roman Catholic bishops, can only ever be about that second response to the question on what it means to be Catholic.

And that’s the problem with the “institutional Church,” indeed, of any monolithic and stagnant structure*: people within them (especially those charged with maintaining the stagnation, such as bishops – unless, of course, they’re incredibly courageous and alive like Bishop Thomas Gumbleton) have to “toe the party line” regardless of whether they themselves believe this line. What a terrible price that must exact on a person’s soul!



* As Chuck Lofy reminds us: “The temptation for any form, image, or organized structure is to become monolithic; to become crystallized and to become an end unto itself. In some ways that is what’s going on with the church right now. The function of any monolith can become primarily to continue itself in its current crystallized, opaque form. Yet Jesus said the form profits nothing. It’s the spirit that gives life.”


CDE said...


Does this strike you as ill-informed and dehumanizing ideology?