Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gay Catholics, the Courage Apostolate, and Reparative Therapy

Ahead of this evening’s CPCSM educational forum, “Holding the Courage Apostolate Accountable: The Catholic Church, Homosexuality, and Reparative Therapy,” Jeff Strickler has an article in today’s Star Tribune in which I and CPCSM-co-founder David McCaffrey feature. Following is Strickler’s article – with added links and some important corrections and clarifications.


Gays Reject Catholic Church’s Attempt to “Cure” Them

Gay and lesbian Roman Catholics who contact the Archdiocese
of St. Paul and Minneapolis for spiritual guidance can find themselves
directed toward a 12-step program aimed at changing their behavior.
Australian-born Michael Bayly, who is the executive coordinator of the
Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, has organized a protest
Bayly, who is a member of Spirit of St. Stephens Catholic Community,
believes the Catholic Church
needs to be “more accepting of diversity.”

By Jeff Strickler
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
November 17, 2009

Gay and lesbian Roman Catholics are protesting
a therapy aimed at helping them become celibate.
The programs are provoking national –
and even international – protests from critics.

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. [Strickler makes quite a jump here. Neither the Roman Catholic Courage apostolate or CPCSM consider “programs aimed at helping [gay people to be] celibate” as examples of “reparative therapy.” For CPCSM’s concerns about Courage and reparative therapy, click here. As you’ll see, the Church isn’t actually attempting to “cure” gay people - so the article’s headline is erroneous, which is unfortunate for all concerned, i.e., something false is said about the Church and we look like we don’t know what we’re talking about! It should be noted, however, that the Courage apostolate, does not discourage its members from attempting so-called reparative therapy endorsed and/or offered by other organizations (such as NARTH). In relation to our program this evening at St. Martin’s Table, that’s our issue with Courage, not that it or the wider Church are themselves trying to “cure” gays.]

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.” [Okay, for the record, I don’t recall this being a direct quote on my part. For a start, the whole “late 1990s” time frame is wrong. By that time CPCSM was already “on the outs” with the chancery as a result of the Catholic Parents Online-orchestrated backlash to our Safe Schools Initiative within a number of local Catholic high schools. Plus at no time did Harry Flynn personally approach CPCSM. I’m misquoted, plain and simple. A more accurate statement of the relationship between the Archdiocese and CPCSM - and you can quote me on this - is that throughout the 1980s and ’90s CPCSM, an independent grassroots coalition, worked with various parishes and archdiocesan agencies and was approached in 1995 by the archdiocesan education administration office – then called Catholic Education and Formation Ministries (CEFM) – to share its experience and expertise in ministry with gay people in designing and implementing a Safe Schools Initiative for Catholic high schools. A need for competent and compassionate ministry with gay youth in Catholic high schools had been identified by school administrators and brought to the attention of the head of CEFM. Archbishop Flynn was aware that CEFM had approached and was working with CPCSM. This collaboration took place in the mid-late 1990s. For more of CPCSM’s relationship with the Archdiocese, see here and here.]

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.[In the Arcdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Courage goes by the name of Faith in Action.]

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.”

“Homosexuality is not an illness,” objected David McCaffrey, one of the people who founded CPCSM in 1980. “You shouldn’t be treating it because there’s nothing to treat.”

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.”

In 2006, the American Psychological Association (APA) issued a statement challenging reparative or “conversion” therapy: “The APA’s concern about the positions espoused by NARTH and so-called conversion therapy is that they are not supported by the science,” it said. “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”

NARTH does have its supporters, however. In 2003, Psychology Today magazine ran an editorial citing data “which suggests that sexual orientation conversion therapy is at least sometimes successful.”

NARTH is not connected to the Catholic Church and is endorsed by some Protestant denominations, also.

Minnesotans aren’t the only ones objecting. There have been protest marches outside NARTH meetings in Dallas and London, and there’s a NARTH protest page on Facebook.

A Courage drop-out

Tonight’s forum features a panel that includes Bayly; Dr. Simon Rosser, a professor in the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, and Philip Lowe Jr., a former member of the Twin Cities chapter of Courage.

They will present an APA report that recommends that therapists address the distress of Catholic homosexuals “but not aim to alter sexual orientation,” which it says “has the potential to be harmful.”

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.”

He quit the group and the church a year ago. He has since found a partner and a new church home, St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis.

“We’ve been embraced by that community,” he said. “I wish that everyone could experience that.”

So, why don’t other homosexuals leave the church?

“We identify the church as the people in it, not the hierarchy that runs it,” McCaffrey said. “Besides, we’ve been Roman Catholics all of our lives. It’s part of our lives. It's who we are.”

Bayly doesn’t expect the forum to change the church’s stance on homosexuality, but he does hope that it might open a line of communication.

“All we’re trying to do is start a discussion,” he said. “We’re trying to do a little consciousness-raising about the needs and gifts of the gay and lesbian community.”

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392


Holding the Courage Apostolate Accountable:
The Catholic Church, Homosexuality, and Reparative Therapy

When: Today. Soup supper at 5 p.m., program at 6:30.

Where: St. Martin’s Table Restaurant and Bookstore, 2001 Riverside Av., Minneapolis.

Cost: Supper is $5; program is free.

UPDATE: A Report on CPCSM's 11/17/09
"Holding the Courage Apostolate Accountable" Event

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Holding the Courage Apostolate Accountable
Beyond Courage
The Real Meaning of Courage
The Many Forms of Courage (Part 1)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part 2)
The Many Forms of Courage (Part 3)
The Many Manifestations of God's Loving Embrace
Debunking NARTH (Part 1)
Debunking NARTH (Part 2)

Recommended Off-site Link:
Reflections on the Churches and Pastoral Outreach to Gay Persons in Light of the Ex-Gay Movement - William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, November 18, 2009).

Image: David Joles. (Note: The image pictured behind me is of St. Sergius and Bacchus).


Terence Weldon said...

Among the few specific suggestions coming out of Fr James Martin's question at America blog, "What is a gay Catholic to do?", were repeated observations in the comments thread simply recommending joining Courage (for gay Catholics), or extending its "ministry" (for the pastors).

This does not in fact answer the question, but avoids it, as it does nothing to resolve the five problems listed by Fr Martin.

The courage approach at best teaches its members to endure with fortitude active discrimination and hostility; at worst it can be psychologically damaging. Congratulations on your continuing efforts to hold Courage accountable. May they be crowned with eventual success.

Br. Anselm Philip King-Lowe, OSB said...

As the individual who experienced Courage, I am not fond of being labeled as a "Courage Dropout". In my own opinion this gives a negative impression of me for having left. A better title for that section would have been "An former Courage Survivor." This would have put a more positive appearance of actually leaving the Courage group.

Furthermore there was a ton of information I gave the writer of this article that was not included here, including my partners name. I have phoned him and asked him to print a new article that contains the fuller version of the information I gave him and that will correct much of the information.

Terry Nelson said...

Michael - I hope your correction appears in the Strib.

When Archbishop Flynn arrived in this Archdiocese one of the first things he did was establish a Courage group, with (now) Bishop LeVoir as director at the time.

TheraP said...

As a Clinical Psychologist and a Catholic, I first of all question the use of the term "therapy" for whatever this "change attempt" means. And just for example, let's imagine the church had an Apostolate to reach out to Menopausal Women: The Menopause Apostolate. And let's suppose that part of the therapy was to convince them that "menopause" was not real. That indeed, they could actually conceive again! (And failing that, should remain celebate.) Or... at the very least they could be "taught" (via this outreach effort) to resume the "docility" and "submission" which "ought" to be the "true role of women". They could "abstain" from asserting themselves (a sin so many menopausal women are guilty of!) - since assertiveness leads to independence from authority, which puts their immortal souls at risk.

I know this is an extreme example (and snark of course!). But honestly, as a therapist, it would be simply unethical to engage in such a "therapy" or "apostolate" - which placed the interests of institutional obedience above its task of bringing the Good News of God's Providence among us! It makes the Communion of Saints, the Body of Christ into one bent on depriving adults of their God-given identities and normal development. Which, to my mind, is INSANITY!

For therapists I would deem this unethical. But for religious authorities, you have to call it simply immoral!

Mareczku said...

Philip, I am very interested in your comment and perspective. I have had some experience with Courage and wish that the group would do more to fight discrimination and hostility. I have asked some in the group what they do to fight homophobia (a term they dislike) and haven't really gotten an answer yet. From reading what Michael wrote, it seems that Courage helped to drive you out of the Church. It makes me sad that people feel that they have to leave the Church due to their orientation.

Mareczku said...

This is extremely interesting to me, Michael. I am waiting to here more tomorrow. I wish that I wasn't 1000 miles away because I would have loved to attend this. I was stunned by Father Check's comment, "People are relieved to know the condition is both treatable and preventable." Who is he trying to lie too? Shouldn't this guy know better? How does he tell people to prevent it? Give their kids drugs? Castration or chemical castration? Shock therapy? I think Courage could be a valuable ministry if they told people the truth. It seems to me that they spend too much energy trying to kiss up to people that dislike homosexuality and gay people. I will again mention what Terence said about courage teaching its members to endure with fortitude discrimination and hostility. Why doesn't Courage fight discrimination and hostility towards gay people? Do they encourage their members to be docile victims who feel that they bring such ill treatment upon themselves? Or do they teach their members to stand up for themselves and others?

colkoch said...

Mareczku, I too was stopped dead in my tracks by Fr. Check's comment. It's a lie, plain and simple and it's a viscious lie to promote to parents and family members--not to mention gays themselves.

I'm still trying to figure out why the group is called Courage because it takes none to more or less stay in the closet and paste chastity over your sexual identity.

I'm beginning to think some of the Church's bizarre attitude towards homosexuality is rooted in that percentage of males who fall into Kinsey's bisexual portion of the sexual attraction curve. These are basically straight men who have had attractions to other men and can not process that fact in any healthy way, but it does give them the notion that sexual expression is choice for everybody, just like it is for them. They then feel free to jam their experiences down everyone's throat as the norm.

Catholic gays would do well to comptemplate the effects of the scared and misinformed Bisexual segment of the GLBT equation. It seems to me it's their experience which is dominating the theology.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Terry,

I've spoken to Jeff Strickler, the writer of the article, and he said there'll be a correction notice in Saturday's edition.



bobfett11 said...

Courage appears to be in transition. Are they going more in the directing of "fixing" the "same sex attracted" and encouraging them to marry partners of the opposite sex? Mark

SugarloafPaul said...

I just removed myself from the Courage online group hosted by Yahoo. In my opinion the group is very dangerous and many of the commenting members should be in therapy. I have even been censored when trying to prevent members from seeking heterosexual marriages while still admitting they are attracted to men. NARTH is a dangerous group and much of their so called statistics are not supported by fact. My biggest beef is that Courage is a 12 step program, something which the Courage Facebook group has denied but which both Fr. John Harvey and Fr. Paul Check have publicly stated. To see Fr. Check since he is the national director of the Courage Apostolate in the United States pull up Life on the Rock Courage on Youtube. EWTN has the whole program online.

SugarloafPaul said...

Again, many of the so called members who engage in spiritual direction live in places like England and Guatemala. They never issue their real names and the advice they give, while initially appearing to be sound often leads people in damaging directions. Since these people are not certified in any way, including the monitors of the online discussions, they should not be incharge of anything.

Therese said...

the fact is that Catholic teaching for everyone - not just gays- is to live a chaste life. that means that as a Catholic - unless you are sacramentally married to a person of the opposite sex -( as the Church has always understood marriage to be - something that isnt going to change -) we are not supposed to be expressing love for another person in a sexualized way . thats not hate , its just a fact.

Anonymous said...

I am Catholic and afraid of going to Courage. I'm afraid that the basis of the program is narcissistic abuse. How many ex gay gurus have been exposed for living the life they despise? This is projection at its finest. The Church is saying that SSA is ok, only acts are a mortal sin. To me, it is saying it's ok if you are hungry, just do not eat, and it's ok if you have wings, just don't fly. Someone, please tell me, how can anyone who takes this to heart not end up depressed or downright crazy.

Faith said...

even married people are expected to live chastely, and this is the call that Courage is responding to--chastity is not easy but does lead to human thriving over the long run