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Gay bashing a poor service to church

One of the major unsettled questions in the Christian world today is the status of homosexuals. The most aggressive attempts to bring some resolution seem to depend on a tormented view of the human person, on the one hand, and a hefty helping of tortured science on the other.

Fr. John Harvey, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales now headquartered in New York, has made a career of trying to make practical applications of the church’s teachings on homosexuality and its relationship with homosexuals.

Unfortunately, if the latest conference of his group, Courage, was any indication, he has bought into an increasingly shrill confrontation with the gay world and has hooked up with the least credible actors in the gay-bashing Protestant fundamentalist world (NCR, Sept. 4).

Even if one disagreed with Harvey’s views and conclusions in the past -- and we did -- his long years of quiet work and his attempt to organize support for homosexuals within the confines of church teaching were admirable. He at least provided a space for discussion and prayer.

Too bad that his efforts are turning at this stage to battle cries and pressure tactics. “Make no mistake about it. It’s a cultural war between Christianity and radical liberalism,” he said at the opening of the recent conference. “We’re in a battle with the gay movement. Believe me, it’s a big battle.”

Courage was founded to provide gays a way to commit to “following the magisterial teachings” of the church and to live chaste lives through spiritual growth and frequent reception of the sacraments.

It apparently has turned into one more strident anti-gay lobby that sees no good in any other attempts to understand or learn from gays and lesbians. Harvey has joined the extreme right critics of “Always Our Children,” a pastoral letter of the U.S. bishops urging parents to love and accept their gay sons and daughters. He criticized the national Association of Catholic Gay and Lesbian Diocesan Ministries, New Ways Ministry and P-FLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays).

Having cut himself off on this issue from his own bishops and from others in the church who have also been working for years to develop ministries with gays, Harvey has left himself in the company of such characters as Peter LaBarbera, a virulent and rather thoughtless gay-basher.

LaBarbera, a former Catholic and now born-again Christian, declared at the recent Courage conference: “We need to assert that there is no such thing as a gay youth.”

LaBarbera and his ilk trot out a few examples of “conversion therapy,” gays who claim they have become heterosexual through psychological counseling.

The evidence of the success of such efforts is thin at best, and the exceptions they trot out to prove the norm are at best questionable.

This aggressive approach is, in the view of the vast majority of psychologists, bad science dependent on a denial of a person’s basic sexuality. That denial would force Christianity to make extraordinary demands on gays and lesbians.

The claims of LaBarbera and others who deny the reality of homosexuality constitute not a credible scientific or religious position but rather a wish that gays and lesbians would simply disappear back into the myths and prejudices of past ages.

Neither the extreme right’s assertions nor retrograde declarations from Rome will accomplish that purpose. Gays and lesbians will not simply disappear. But our communities and churches will certainly suffer if the voices of intolerance and ignorance are allowed to go unchallenged.

National Catholic Reporter, September 11, 1998