e- mail us
Priest seeks help in ‘big battle’ with gays

Special to National Catholic Reporter

A Catholic priest who has made a career of opposing homosexuality and preaching that gays and lesbians can change has called Catholics to join him “in a battle with the gay movement.”

“Make no mistake about it. It’s a cultural war between Christianity and radical liberalism, and Catholics need to wake up to how serious the conflict is in the year 1998,” said 80-year-old Fr. John Harvey of New York City, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales.

“We’re in a battle with the gay movement. Believe me it’s a big battle,” he added.

Those remarks were part of Harvey’s 30-minute keynote presentation at the 10th annual Courage conference, held from July 30 to Aug. 2 at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass. More than 150 people attended the event.

Founded in 1980 by the late Cardinal Terence Cooke, then archbishop of New York, Courage is an “international community of men and women committed to following the magisterial teachings of the Roman Catholic church [on homosexuality],” according to a statement on the Courage Web page (http://CourageRC.net/).

The conference’s commemorative book lists nearly 65 chapters in 22 states in the United States and five countries -- Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, the Philippines and Australia.

The purpose of Courage is to provide spiritual support for people striving to live chaste lives “through service to others, spiritual reading, prayer, meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass and the frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and Holy Eucharist.”

To accomplish its purpose, the organization has adopted five goals: chastity; a life dedicated to Christ; fellowship for mutual sharing of thoughts and experiences; service to others as role models; and the formation of chaste friendships “necessary in celibate Christian life.”

Courage draws an analogy between addictions and illnesses such as alcoholism and homosexuality. Central to Courage’s spiritual support, therefore, is a 12-step program of recovery combined with Catholic traditions.

Within the last six years Courage has broadened its scope to “Encourage a spiritual support group for parents and relatives of persons with homosexual tendencies,” according to Harvey.

Opposing bishops’ letter

In his talk, Harvey continued his nearly yearlong crusade against the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letter, “Always Our Children.” He also discredited parish- and diocesan-based ministries that affirm gays, and he dismissed homosexual persons who identify themselves as gay or lesbian.

Harvey refused NCR admission to the conference. Following the event, however, NCR anonymously received tape recordings of talks given by Harvey and Peter LaBarbera, editor of the Lambda Report on Homosexual Activism.

Harvey opened the proceedings with a comprehensive critique of “Always Our Children,” which is addressed primarily to Catholic parents of homosexual children. The document was released Oct. 1, 1997, and was subsequently revised and reissued July 2.

The pastoral letter urges parents to love and accept their gay sons and daughters.

Harvey objects to the document’s use of “gay” and “lesbian,” as well as “homosexual orientation,” a phrase Harvey deems “a very heavy term indeed.”

Gay and lesbian are weighted with the connotation of lifestyle, with the idea of an active homosexual life, a condition that if not innate is permanent, according to this type of reasoning, and an ideology of claimed sexual genital rights among which is the right to same-sex marriages,” he said.

“All of those connotations are commonly accepted by the secular press,” he added. “And why are we using those words? The Sacred Congregation of Faith does not use those words. Why did the committee on marriage and family cling to this ideological terminology?

“Why does the committee fail to stress that same-sex attractions have nothing to do with the meaning of true personhood in the person who has those attractions. Indeed such attractions are a form of false identity, which a person may not have chosen and which he can control by the grace of God.”

Harvey’s point of view, however, seems to be contradicted by the Vatican itself. More than 20 years ago the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a statement based on insights of modern science. “According to contemporary scientific research, the human person is so profoundly affected by sexuality that it must be considered as one of the factors that give to each individual’s life the principle traits that distinguish it.”

According to Sr. Jeannine Gramick, who has been ministering to gay and lesbian Catholics for more than 20 years, “That statement was the first time the Vatican talked about homosexuality in terms other than sexual behavior. It recognized that a homosexual orientation is part of a person’s personality, broadening the teaching from [sexual] activity to orientation.”

In 1986, however, the same Vatican congregation released a letter that said the homosexual inclination “itself must be seen as an objective disorder.” Later documents from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith even justified discrimination against gays in certain circumstances.

Harvey, a moral theologian, is the author of two books, The Homosexual Person (1987) and The Truth about Homosexuality (1996). In these two works Harvey argues against homosexuality, gay sex and gay civil rights, an argument primarily driven by a profound and sincere loyalty to the magisterium, the teaching authority of the church.

Initially, Courage focused on providing spiritual support for men and women seeking to live chaste, celibate lives in accord with the Vatican’s prohibition against same-gender sexual activity, as well as committed relationships.

Now Courage also endorses “reparative” or “conversion therapy,” psychological attempts to change homosexuals into heterosexuals, in other words to “cure” gay people.

The organization’s Web site includes links to “ex-gay” and “conversion therapy” resources such as The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, Exodus International, Homosexual Anonymous and Stonewall Revisited.

The personal story-of-the-month for the Stonewall organization, for example, features the former drag queen John Paulk. John and Anne Paulk, a married couple, are “ex-gays,” pictured on the Aug. 17 cover of Newsweek magazine with a lead story about the Christian right’s national advertising campaign that portrays gays and lesbians as both sinful and sick.

“In the lives of some, one sees an effort to gradually move away from the homosexual feelings ... to heterosexual feelings and desires,” said Harvey at the Worcester conference. “Every man or woman has a right to make that effort if he so chooses, but no obligation to do so,” he said.

“No one may be morally required to come out of the condition. One should proceed with great caution. There is no guarantee that you will make it, despite your best efforts,” Harvey said last year in a telephone interview with this writer.

“But,” he added, “I’ve personally watched four people come out of the condition” during a ministry that spans 40 years.

Yet, the overall “cure” rate, according to the “ex-gay” organizations and even some conversion therapists themselves, is about 30 to 40 percent.

No scientific evidence

The American Psychiatric Association, however, has stated “there is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of ‘reparative therapy’ as a treatment to change one’s sexual orientation.”

Although a few studies have been conducted, none was a peer-review, published scientific study, rigorously conducted with random sampling techniques and control groups, demonstrating either the success of conversion therapy or its harmfulness.

One of the studies is by Ariel Shidlo and Michael Schroeder, both psychologists. They have interviewed 100 people who have undergone conversion therapy.

While the vast majority of people remain homosexual, say Shidlo and Schroeder, a “handful” seem to have changed their sexual orientation.

“They have gone through total existence changes in how they place their sexuality in the context of who they are,” Shidlo said in the July 27 issue of Newsweek.

“Many more, however, were psychologically harmed by the therapies, which can include powerful drugs and even shock treatment,” wrote Mark Miller in Newsweek.

Still, Harvey insists parents should seek help from reparative therapists and “therapists, Catholic or not, who agree with the church’s teaching on the immorality of homogenital activity.”

Harvey also took issue with the advice contained in “Always Our Children” to seek help from “special diocesan gay and lesbian ministries.” The term “gay and lesbian ministries” is an “oxymoron,” Harvey said.

“As our experience has shown,” he said, “such ministries do not provide a spiritual program for chaste living.”

“I see nothing of that in the National Association of [Catholic] Gay and Lesbian Diocesan Ministries. I see nothing of that in the New Ways Ministry programs. It’s simply not there.”

These ministries encourage individuals to “define their personhood by their homosexual attractions and label themselves according to an objectively disordered inclination,” he said.

“What the church calls an ‘objective disorder,’ people use as a label for themselves,” Harvey added.

Harvey also lashed out against P-FLAG -- Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. “Why don’t the bishops warn us about P-FLAG? They ought to. It’s a perfectly pagan organization,” he said.

No scientific evidence

The three-day conference included presentations, speeches, workshops, vespers, Mass, private confessions, testimonials and social time, according to promotional literature.

Other speakers who addressed the gathering included Joe Dallas, the founder of Genesis Counseling in Southern California; and Peter LaBarbera, editor of the Lambda Report on Homosexual Activism.

Published by Americans for Truth about Homosexuality, the bimonthly report is dedicated to “exposing and opposing the ‘gay’ agenda,” according to LaBarbera, the organization’s president. LaBarbera works out of the office of the Washington-based Family Research Council, one of the 15 organizations, along with Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, associated with the anti-gay national ad campaign.

LaBarbera, 36, a former Catholic and born-again Christian, delivered an address in Worcester titled, “The Gay Activists’ Movement in Politics and Culture.” LaBarbera critiqued the gay movement, covering everything from the idea of gay identity and personhood, to nondiscrimination policies and legislation, to gay relationships and gay families, to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth.

Like Harvey, LaBarbera voiced concerns about young people, expressing disbelief in the very idea of lesbian and gay youth.

LaBarbera’s presentation included the showing of a short video clip from the 6th annual Massachusetts gay/straight youth pride march and rally, held this spring in Boston. Addressing the crowd and identifying herself as a lesbian, one 16-year old high school student from Harvard, Mass., said: “I like girls. I’m gay.” The woman also said that she had an awareness of her sexual orientation since the age of 7.

“We need to assert that there is no such thing as a gay youth,” LaBarbera said at the Worcester conference, suggesting the need to “find a way to say to these kids, ‘Just say no to homosexuality.’ ”

On the other hand, Harvey, who seems to acknowledge the reality of gay and lesbian youth, said: “A young person who says he is gay or lesbian deprives herself or himself of a true vision of his or her own dignity as person, however strong same-sex attractions may be. ... He should try to say, ‘That’s not a part of my real personhood.’ ”

National Catholic Reporter, September 4, 1998