Ireland’s former president, Mary McAleese, recently issued a round condemnation of the anti-gay Catholic organization, Courage International. McAleese called the group, which believes all LGBTQ identities stem from psychological disorders, “Machiavellian, dangerous, and deliberately specious.”
Although the organization does not endorse conversion therapy, individual Courage chapters have been known to promote the practice which the psychological community has found causes much dangerous harm. For instance, Bondings 2.0 reported on a Scottish diocese which defended conversion therapy materials on its Courage website.
McAleese said it is the Irish government’s duty to protect young people from Courage’s programs. She has long been outspoken about the dangers posed by conversion therapy, saying it has caused “untold damage.” “I follow the coffins of young men who have gone through these bogus ‘conversion therapies’ thanks to the church,” McAleese said in the past.
A 2018 study found that 50% of young LGBTQ people whose parents had attempted to change their gender or sexual identity attempted suicide, which is double the rate for those whose parents had not attempted a conversion. When the parents involved a psychologist or religious leader, the attempted suicide rate rose to two-thirds.
Courage promotes celibacy as the only authentically Catholic option for LGBTQ people and uses the language of addiction when discussing LGBTQ identities. Although celibacy can be a legitimate choice for people of any sexual or gender orientation, many LGBTQ Catholics and allies take issue with the suggestion that it is the only way for them to authentically live their faith. In more extreme cases, some U.S. bishops have endorsed organizations that go beyond Courage in openly supporting conversion therapy. Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver, for instance, recently appealed for the start of local parish groups to help heal “sexually broken” people.
McAleese’s concern with Courage stems from her wider criticism of the Catholic Church’s engagement with gender and sexuality. Last year, ahead of Dublin Pride, she said the magisterium’s teaching on homosexuality was “evil” and has said previously that a homophobic church is “not the Church of the future.” She was a vocal advocate in favor of marriage equality during Ireland’s referendum in 2015, saying that the Yes vote would “right a glaring wrong.”
“Catholics worldwide are grateful once again for Mary McAleese’s forthright criticism of Church-sanctioned practices and teachings that deeply harm LGBTQ people,” said Robert Shine, Associate Director of New Ways Ministry. “She speaks with the authority of not only a political leader, but as a trained canon lawyer and, most importantly, the mother of a gay son. Church officials should listen to her carefully as they reconsider the role of conversion therapy-linked programs in Catholic pastoral care.”
—Jonathan Nisly, New Ways Ministry, May 21, 2019