After Conversion Therapy, Parents Blame Catholic Ministers for Lesbian Daughter’s Death

Alana Chen

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

10 replies
  1. Don E Siegal
    Don E Siegal says:

    Conversion Therapy and Suicide

    Indeed, the Colorado anti conversion therapy law only applies minors and has religious exemptions. However, it may be a real tort to engage in a practice known to be harmful and lead to suicide. For that reason, I believe that her mother, Joyce Calvo-Chen should have an interview with a reputable tort lawyer.

    The encouragement of conversion therapy may well be the next Church scandal.

    Reply
  2. Paula Mattras
    Paula Mattras says:

    How terribly tragic…..such a beautiful person whose life was destroyed by those who have no understanding of the broad spectrum of life. Ignorance is a weapon that kills. Education is available and everyone has access to it. May she now find peace among the angels, a peace which was denied her in her short life on earth.

    Reply
  3. Barbara Cotter
    Barbara Cotter says:

    I am so sorry to read of this death. It is so unnecessary if only religious people would stop scaring, criticizing LGBTQ persons. AND start as Jesus would have welcoming into the Church as they are loving, kind people. It is time to stop this kind of COUNSELING.

    Reply
  4. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    My heart breaks for this beautiful young lady. The attitude and ignorance of our church today over it’s LGBTQ members and this issue at large, is so very hard for any parent to accept even this cradle Catholic. All I can say now to this beautiful young girl’s mother and family is that I believe in my faith, that she is in God’s loving arms and she no longer knows the pain she suffered here on earth and is at peace, and know that you will see your beautiful, beautiful girl again one day. My heart just breaks for all of our kids who are going through these unspeakable times with the church’s attitude in all of this. The church is losing a lot of members. Priests and Bishops need to open their eyes and hearts and remember what the call they received from God was all about.

    Reply
  5. Steven Schaftlein
    Steven Schaftlein says:

    Unfortunately Alana is not the only young Catholic that has given into despair. Many young people have not yet developed the skill set to see through the letter of the law (church teaching and doctrine) and embrace the spirit of the law of love taught by Jesus. Consequently many young LGBTQ+ Catholics feel caught in a spiritual sand trap. They ask “How can I a Gay Catholic ever make it to heaven?” It takes the courage of a St. Paul to let go of the legalistic doctrine of the church and embrace the affirming and unconditional loving voice of God within our souls. Young people who love Catholicism and respect the institutional church have the longest and hardest struggle to find a positive answer to the question above. We should pray for and reach out to all who ask themselves this question.

    Reply
  6. Donna Butler
    Donna Butler says:

    This is a heartbreaking tragedy. I am glad her mother is speaking out and asking for others to respond to this crime being committed by the church. It is another form of sexual abuse and torture.
    The Denver Archdiocese is really promoting this so called therapy. But it is an issue in the church at large and the U.S. Bishops’ Conference is coming out hard against
    LGBTQ people in the name of religious liberty. Appalling.

    Reply
  7. Lindsey Pembrooke
    Lindsey Pembrooke says:

    Courage is the conversion therapy arm of the Catholic Church. It would seem that the Church condones Conversion Therapy. The Hartford Diocese loudly promotes Courage. Can you please do a piece on the role of Conversion Therapy in the Institutional Church?

    Reply

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