The parents of a 24-year-old lesbian who died unexpectedly are blaming Catholic church ministers for what the family claims was a death by suicide because those ministers attempted conversion therapy on their daughter.
Alana Chen’s body was found near a Colorado reservoir recently, prompting her mother, Joyce Calvo-Chen, to share on Facebook about her daughter and the ways Catholic ministers allegedly harmed the young woman. The mother said that though she was “deeply grieving,” she decided to share so “no other parent or child has to go through this.” She wrote:
“This is Father David Nix’s blog (www.padreperegrino.org), the first priest who destroyed my daughter, Alana’s life. He is very responsible for her depression and ultimately her suicide. Alana trusted him and came out to him when she was 14. He responded by telling her to never tell her family, because we would accept her and love her unconditionally. He was manipulating and brainwashing Alana from ages 14-21. Nix’s beliefs are not of God and Jesus. He told her it was a mortal sin to be attracted to woman and would refer to it as SSA (same sex attraction). In the blog below, Denver’s Bishop Samuel J. Aquila (extremely conservative) approves Father David Nix becoming a ‘hermit priest’, whatever that means. The Bishop had to relocate Father Nix to several different Churches in Colorado and other states because he was outrageous and causing harm to each one. For years, I’ve reached out to the Bishop to have Alana protected from Nix and to help my daughter from the religious abuse. The Bishop personally never returned my calls or emails.
“Father Peter Mussett, the Pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas mentored Alana in the same harmful way after Nix left. Mussett presents himself as very loving and inclusive in his homilies and appearance, and many CU Boulder [Colorado University Boulder] students are attracted to this Church because of that. But Mussett also taught Alana that LGBTQ were not allowed to receive communion if they were in relationships. My daughter had to go to confession with male priests weekly if she wanted to receive communion at mass. Mussett never responded to my emails.
“While Alana was attending CU, the Bishop sent a group of nuns called the Sisters of Life to administer mentoring and Spiritual Direction to churches nearby college campuses, clearly targeting the youth. They talked her into conversion therapy, asked for my permission, and I absolutely refused.”
Calvo-Chen said these years of “emotional and religious abuse” caused Alana to become “depressed, distraught, and suicidal,” leading to hospitalizations at times. But despite her mother’s pleas for church ministers to leave Alana alone, they allegedly continued to contact her and even show up at treatment centers. Her mother concluded:
“Within the last year, Alana went to see Father Mussett. She was shaking and could not tell him what she felt: the pain, the abandonment, that she was not good enough, and explain the false rumors a girl named Rachel spread about her. So Alana handed Father Mussett a letter she wrote and left. He never reached out to her and still hasn’t reached out to our family. Alana was a saint, she did so much service for that church, and she tried so hard for all those years to listen to those two priests.
“All of these people contributed to my daughter’s passing. Please call them and flood them with responses, phone calls, and emails. They don’t know Jesus. His teachings were on Unity and Oneness. He was outraged by these kinds of ‘holy men’ of His time.”
ABC 7 reported that Chen was a devout Catholic, involved with her church since her early teens and at one point had a desire to enter religious life. But after distancing herself from the church in her early twenties, Chen began to speak out more about her experiences with those from whom she sought help. At one point, Chen’s sister, Carissa, said Alana wrote, “I have a compelling story to tell. No one will listen.” People, however, were starting to listen. Chen spoke to The Denver Post about the attempts priests and women religious had made to do conversion therapy on her, saying:
“I felt a lot of shame and anxiety. . .I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Was I going to hell? But I was still extremely faithful, and I felt like the church and the counseling was the thing that was saving me. The worse I got, the more I clung to it. . .I think the church’s counsel is what led me to be hospitalized. . .I was feeling so much shame that I was comforted by the thought of hurting myself. I’ve now basically completely lost my faith. I don’t know what I believe about God, but I think if there is a God, he doesn’t need me talking to him anymore.'”
The Archdiocese of Denver and the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center in Boulder are denying they had any role in Chen’s death. The Catholic Center said it rejected “any practices that are manipulative, forced, coercive or pseudo-scientific.
The Denver archdiocese has been a hotbed of conversion therapy advocacy. At the beginning of 2019, Archbishop Samuel Aquila hosted ex-gay speaker Andrew Comiskey for a conference co-sponsored by the ex-gay-linked ministry Desert Stream/Living Waters Ministries, which Aquila endorsed in a promotional video. Comiskey was quoted in a banner advertising the event on archdiocesan property as saying, “There is no such thing as a ‘gay’ person…That is a popular myth.” At least two speakers at the Denver conference spoke about how they allegedly altered their sexual orientations and became heterosexual. Aquila appealed to Catholics in the archdiocese to begin local groups practicing conversion therapy while claiming such practitioners would be “persecuted” by the wider society. Several dozen priests in the archdiocese have either undergone trainings by or met with Comiskey.
Despite Colorado’s ban on conversion therapy involving minors, which was passed earlier this year, the religious exemption in that law is wide enough that clergy are able to continue the dangerous practice. A Denver priest testified against the law, only later clarifying that he was speaking in a personal capacity and not as a representative of the church.
Whether or not Catholic ministers are directly implicated in Chen’s apparent suicide, her testimony makes clear that their actions caused her immense suffering. Bondings 2.0 reported last week on a new Irish documentary that further elucidates the harm and dangers of such practices. There are countless more LGBTQ people who can attest to conversion therapy being equivalent to torture. But despite this reality, church leaders have remained ambivalent for the most part, refusing to condemn publicly what is so clearly wrong (with an exception in Pope Francis who expressed his concern to a lesbian activist last month). I wrote a few months ago that U.S. bishops needed to fraternally correct those bishops like Aquila who actively promote conversion therapy. I reaffirm that remaining silent in the face of such damage is to be complicit. Could there be a more stark call to action than Alana Chen’s death?
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 17, 2019