A controversy is brewing in Chicago this week, as the annual national conference of the Courage ministry opens today. Courage is a Catholic ministry to lesbian and gay people which stresses celibacy, and which sometimes has been accused of encouraging reparative therapy to change sexual orientation.
The controversy this week focuses on Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George, who is scheduled to preside at Mass for the gathering. Faithful America, an organization that describes itself as “a fast-growing online community dedicated to reclaiming Christianity from the religious right and putting faith into action for social justice,” has launched a petition campaign to ask Cardinal George not to preside at Mass because of Courage’s associations with reparative therapy.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports Faithful America’s Executive Director Michael Sherrad explained that the Courage program includes two speakers who are identified with the reparative therapy movement:
“. . . the forum includes Dr. Timothy Lock and Dr. William Consiglio, who is described on the conference website as a part-time ‘Christian Psychotherapist,’ specializing in the area of Sexual Orientation Resolution Therapy.
‘Consiglio also is the author of the book “Homosexual No More.” Lock’s presence at the conference is being highlighted on the website of the controversial organization National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality [NARTH], which identifies Lock as a member.
“The association’s website says ‘clients have the right to diminish their homosexuality and to develop their heterosexual potential. The right to seek therapy to change one’s sexual adaptation should be considered self-evident and inalienable.’ ”
Courage’s leader has denied that his group has any connection with reparative therapy:
“Executive Director Father Paul Check says the organization provides spiritual support for Catholic men and women with ‘same-sex attractions’ who desire to live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality.
“The conference plans to hold a ‘Therapist Seminar’ scheduled for Friday. But Check said while the Courage community has members of the mental health profession, ‘their work for us and with us is not directed towards a change of sexual inclination or desire’ and emphasized that’s not the organization’s mission.”
Sherrad feels that Cardinal George’s appearance at the conference gives credence to reparative therapy:
“. . . priests and therapists will be trained in dangerous and debunked techniques that don’t cure homosexuality but do contribute to suicide and depression.
“By appearing at this conference and celebrating mass there, Cardinal George is implicitly endorsing practices that cost the lives of gay and lesbian youth.”
Faithful America is not the only entity opposing the cardinal’s appearance at the meeting. Sister Maureen Fiedler, SL, who blogs at The National Catholic Reporter, wrote last week:
“Regardless of the Roman Catholic hierarchy’s teachings on homosexuality, Cardinal George should dissociate himself from these bogus and harmful medical techniques.
“In fact, he might tell Courage to get some real courage and cancel the speakers from NARTH.”
In response to the controversy, Cardinal George sent an email to the Sun-Times, explaining his decision:
“Courage is an organization of homosexually-oriented Catholics who support one another in their quest for holiness as homosexuals. I haven’t seen their program, but their literature speaks only of spirituality, not of therapy.
“When national Catholic organizations meet, the local Bishop is often asked to offer Mass for them. That’s the only reason I’ll be there. (It’s called loving your neighbor.)”
Cardinal George routinely goes to great lengths to distance himself from any group that supports marriage equality, because, he says, of his adherence to Catholic principles about sexuality. Since reparative therapy is not endorsed by the Catholic hierarchy or the Catholic laity, he should either avoid this conference or be willing to appear at Catholic conferences whose organizations support marriage equality. If “loving your neighbor” is what is motivating him to attend this conference, he should show the same love to those who approach LGBT issues from a more progressive perspective.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry