Church officials in Scotland are defending the posting of “ex-gay” therapy resources on a diocesan website, raising anew many Catholic leaders’ problematic and ambiguous stance to this disreputable practice.
The Diocese of Paisley’s page for its Courage chapter, its ministry to LGBT people, links to several resources promoting falsehoods and negative stereotypes about LGBT people, including hints and even outright support for dangerous “ex-gay” or reparative therapy.
In an e-booklet titled “Mom & Dad I’m Gay – How Should a Catholic Parents Respond, authors David Prosen and Allison Ricciardi make claims which suggest “ex-gay” or reparative therapy may be effective:
“Another common misconception is that homosexuality is intractable and that change is impossible. The truth is that many people who experience same sex attraction and have lived a gay lifestyle do change, sometimes without any intervention. Others may not experience change in their attractions, but learn to live chaste lives in accordance with Church teaching.”
Commenting explicitly on efforts to ban “ex-gay” therapy, Prosen and Ricciardi wrote that trying to change a child’s sexual orientation is akin to helping them “heal from their Same Sex Attraction.” They list Courage, EnCourage (its affiliate for parents), and NARTH (National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality) as organizations to help parents. The latter of these is closely tied to “ex-gay” therapy proponents and considers homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder, reported Pink News.
Another resource on the diocese’s website is a report from an LGBT-negative conference on “pastoral approaches towards men and women with homosexual tendencies,” largely focused on speakers from Courage. That document clarifies the organization’s position on “ex-gay,” saying Courage “does not promote nor does it discourage ‘reparative therapy'” but defers to individuals’ choices.
A third resource is an allegedly-scholarly article from Fr. James McTavish who promotes disproven theories that homosexuality is caused by childhood traumas, sexual abuse, poor parental relationships, or that lesbian and gay people have higher rates of psychological distress.
Yet, when pressed by media outlets to explain why Bishop John Keenan and the Paisley Diocese would link to such resources, officials said in a statement, reported by The Times:
“The diocese of Paisley carries links to Courage, which may signpost other links or resources. This does not represent an endorsement or recommendation. While these resources have been commended, they would be reviewed should anyone raise a concern about them.”
That explanation from diocesan officials is insufficient and irresponsible, but not unique in the wider Catholic Church.
First, there is diocesan officials’ simple contradiction in their claims that no endorsement is being made, yet the resources are to be commended. A simple Google search yields the definition of “recommend” as “to present as suitable for approval or acceptance.” It is common sense that hosting a resource on one’s website without an explanatory note to the contrary is to suggest approval.
Second, if indeed diocesan officials are merely providing resources for Catholics to discern their engagement with homosexuality, then why are LGBT-positive resources not made available? There are plenty of guides for parental support and pastoral care easily available (for instance, New Ways Ministry’s page on sexual orientation). Yet the Diocese of Paisley omits this positive approach entirely.
Officials in Paisley are not unique in their ambiguous stance regarding “ex-gay” therapy, which has been roundly condemned by credible experts in psychology and medicine. Most church leaders will not openly support such abhorrent practices, but they likewise refuse to condemn them and suggest it should be left up to individuals to decide whether such treatment is right for them. For instance, British bishops “declined to comment” when a ban on “ex-gay” therapy was being debated. And there are questions about whether demands for mandatory celibacy by lesbian and gay people is simply a new form of oppression similar to “ex-gay” therapy.
But complicit ambiguity is a path which many Catholics have rejected, including some bishops. Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta apologized for the Church’s initial opposition to legislation which would ban “ex-gay” therapy on the island nation. He explained in 2016:
“Any conversion therapy which forces someone to go against their decisions or their life choices is just a no go – a no go – and I want this to be absolutely clear.”
As the recent film Boy Erased helped showcase, “ex-gay” therapy is a horrendous practice to which many people, in particular children and adolescents, have been subjected. It is time for Catholic leaders to stop wavering and be clear with explicit condemnations of a practice which is form of torture, not treatment.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 22, 2019