I assume there can be “development of doctrine,” likely in the realm of encouraging and guiding people in chaste same-sex love. That would be a development, an addition, not a reversal. The pattern of Catholic witness and Scripture are pretty unambiguous, from what I can tell, on the morality of same-sex sexual activity. The Church is our Mother and Teacher, and it’s not my place to say what She “needs to” teach, but I can say that I don’t see any path for the development of doctrine that would lift the prohibition on same-sex sexual activity.
In your article, you implied (or stated) that conversion therapy is harmful. What is your definition of “conversion therapy”? Do all types of therapy that address underlying questions of sexual identity constitute conversion therapy? Do you believe that therapy of any kind addressing underlying questions of sexual inclination and identity can be beneficial? Is therapy the gravest danger that persons with same-sex attraction face or are there other dangers that are paramount?
To start with the last question, the biggest dangers I’ve known gay people to face are suicidality, violence, and despair. It is difficult to entirely disentangle the various dangers people face: When others reject you, or act as though you can’t be acceptable to God unless you become straight, that’s awful in itself and can also lead you to thoughts of suicide. When churches teach that being gay is a choice, that’s harmful in itself and also may lead parents to throw their gay children out of the house for “disobedience,” contributing to the horrific number of homeless LGBT teenagers.
I think the definition of “conversion therapy” that makes the most sense is that it’s therapy where one of the primary purposes is to reduce homosexuality and increase heterosexuality: a therapy in which “success” can be measured by degree of heterosexuality.
I didn’t use this as part of the definition for my article, but I think it’s important: I asked all of my interviewees whether their therapist had explored what a good life would look like for them even if their orientation didn’t change. With one exception, all of them said, “No.”
I don’t have an opinion or expertise on other aspects of therapy relating to sexuality.
When it comes to “celebrity priests” such as Father James Martin, what are your thoughts about using a platform such as America to influence the faithful? Does America profess to be in accord with the Church?
I think Father Martin’s book, Building a Bridge, is primarily directed toward straight people in the Church and gay people who are not now practicing Catholics. So I’m not the target audience. I have friends who are gay and practicing Catholics who found the book inspiring and helpful, and several of the prayer exercises in the second half are really good—I quote one of them in Tenderness. I wrote a bit [in the Washington Post] about what the book leaves out, but that isn’t a judgment on the book as a whole.
The position you strike in your article seems to agree with those who hope to ban any type of therapy that helps persons understand their homosexual inclination or that attributes any environmental influence such as trauma or abuse. With the exception of minors, the people who attend such therapy, including all those you interviewed, chose to participate in therapy themselves. Many others outside of the nine interviewed have had positive experiences with therapy. What was the premise of your article? Was the idea assigned to you or of your own pitch? What prepared you to speak on this topic?
I prepared to write the article through research (some links are included in the piece) and interviews. I also drew on the experiences of the many people I’ve interviewed for other projects, and people I got to know informally through gay Christian communities.
I think the article makes two contributions to the growing body of writing about conversion therapy. First, it quotes people who continue to live out the Catholic sexual ethic, even after rejecting the premises of conversion therapy. Most articles on the subject make it sound like everyone who leaves conversion therapy behind also leaves behind Catholic teaching. I knew that wasn’t true, and I’ve been very grateful for the chance to share the voices of people who have accepted themselves as gay and are seeking to live in harmony with the Church.
The second thing I was able to do, because of the thoughtfulness of my interviewees, is explore the reasons people do choose conversion therapy. Some of my interviewees were pressured or even tricked into it, but others sought it out. They were able to explain, better than I could, the way conversion-therapy narratives resonated with their experiences (and how they later reinterpreted those experiences), and the way conversion therapy seemed to offer their only chance at an obedient Catholic life.
If someone’s experience of orientation-change therapy has been very different from that of my interviewees, good! You are lucky! I’m not trying to convince you that I know your experience better than you do. I would simply hope that we can agree that many people will not experience orientation change, and, therefore, making it a primary goal of therapy is a bad idea. It’s better to focus on healing wounds, restoring trust in God, and growing in our ability to give and receive love, without expecting or pressuring people into orientation change. That approach will do good no matter how people’s experience of their sexuality shifts over time.
Can you list your specific criticisms of the work of Dr. Nicolosi and Fr. Harvey?
I don’t know that I have much to add to what is in the article.
Would you please share Your opinion on Courage—Do you think it is or it is not a valid alternative for Catholics with SSA?
My strongest opinion about Courage is that it shouldn’t be the only option. I know people who have found help there; I also know people for whom the Courage model wasn’t helpful. In general Catholics are pretty good at diversity in spirituality. We know that some people resonate with Carmelite spirituality, or Jesuit, or Byzantine, or Dominican. We need the same acceptance that people have diverse needs and spiritualities in ministries for gay and same-sex attracted Catholics.
What similarities and differences do you find in issues such as understanding SSA, compassion, outreach and doctrine?
You mean, with Courage? I don’t know that I have strong opinions here, especially since I’ve never been a Courage member and the people I know who have been members had quite varying experiences.
Do you have a group that works with same-sex attracted persons that you admire?
There are a few groups I’ve recommended to people, though none of them will be right for every single person, of course. Revoice is an ecumenical Christian conference; Eden Invitation is a Catholic group; and I’m involved with the gay and lesbian ministry at my church, which does a pretty good job at trying to grow in faithfulness, while welcoming people no matter what they believe.
How widespread do you believe homophobia to be? Have you had personal experiences with it? How would you define homophobia? What types of acts would constitute homophobic acts? In your opinion, is having a discussion on the morality of same-sex attraction homophobic?
I’d say if our actions lack the “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” called for in the catechism, that’s homophobia. At its most virulent, of course, it’s expressed in violence against gay people or people perceived to be gay. I’ve been spared that violence but many of my friends have been physically attacked for being gay. I have friends who lost jobs or ministry positions because they came out, or were outed by others—these are people who accepted their church’s teaching on sexual ethics, and sought to live by it, but simply being gay made them “unfit to serve.” I have friends who grew up hearing anti-gay slurs from their parents, or whose parents and priests described gay people as enemies of the Church. (I’m not sure I have friends who didn’t hear anti-gay slurs from their peers, growing up.)
The homophobia I’ve experienced in Catholic settings has mostly manifested as suspicion and unwillingness to listen: assumptions about my family background (for example, speculating on how my parents must have caused my lesbianism), sex life, or spiritual life; repeated interrogations about whether I “really” believe what I say I believe; and suspicion of anything I do to love either another woman, or gay communities.
As far as “discussion on the morality of same-sex attraction,” I think straight people wildly underestimate how much of this stuff we’ve all already heard. Some people are down for discussing intensely personal experiences with strangers. (I’m doing it now!) But if I’m in the confessional, I do not need a lecture on Church teaching, which I already accept, or “identifying as gay,” which is not a sin. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone post a deeply personal, heartfelt discussion of the spiritual struggles they’ve experienced seeking to be faithful to Christ while growing in self-acceptance and unlearning self-hatred… only to have somebody pop up in the comments to inform them that being gay is a sin. The people who brought me into the Church shared their own faith with me, answered my questions, and did not lecture me about what Jesus thinks of my sexual orientation. That approach helped me trust not only these specific Catholics, but the Church as a teacher. In general, if you’re discussing the Catholic sexual ethic with a gay person (or anybody, probably), it’s good to ask yourself what you have done to make yourself trustworthy in this person’s eyes.
Our obedience to Catholic morality is grounded in our trust that this is the Way Jesus teaches, and that He is Love incarnate. Why would we even care what the Church teaches if we didn’t trust that She can help us love? Restoring this trust, which has so often been damaged by Catholics’ misguided actions, is the first step in any attempt to provide moral guidance.