Pope to Attend Major Catholic Gathering Featuring Supporters of Ex-Gay Therapy

It’s difficult these days to find supporters of so-called “reparative” or “conversion” therapy, a practice that is claimed to change gay people to straight. After all, the practice has been widely discredited and is opposed by all leading professional medical and psychological associations in the country.

In addition, three state legislatures have outlawed the practice for minors and in June, a jury found that the reparative therapy group JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing) based in New Jersey violated the state’s Consumer Fraud Act. The jury found that JONAH, its co-founder Arthur Goldberg and counselor Alan Downing made misrepresentations and engaged in “unconscionable business practices” in a lawsuit brought by young men who had undergone the therapy.

In light of this, one would think that a major religious gathering would steer clear of reparative therapy, especially since one group has already been successfully sued for consumer fraud based on its claims and practices, and also in the wake of legalized marriage equality across the United States.

Such is not the case.

Next month, the World Meeting of Families Congress (WMOF) takes place in Philadelphia, the first time this major event has been held in the U.S. The event, which is expected to draw upwards of two million people, was originally conceived by Pope John Paul II in 1992. The first took place in Rome in 1994. Since then, the international event is held every three years at various cities around the world. Its primary focus is discussions about the “Christian family’s role in the church and society, led by many distinguished speakers.”

Courage a Roman Catholic Apostolate

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is in charge of the WMOF, and it’s already made headlines for denying exhibition space to Fortunate Families, a group that supports the Catholic parents of LGBT people. However, another Catholic organization, Courage, was granted exhibitor status. Courage is an ex-gay ministry that promotes reparative therapy and insists that LGBT people remain celibate.

In addition, Faithful America points out that WMOF has several speakers on its roster who have connections to ex-gay ministries or organizations that promote and practice reparative therapy. These include:

  • Janet Smith, who is an official speaker for Courage and has a CD for sale in which she discusses how homosexuality is an offense to chastity. The accompanying PowerPoint presentation refers to homosexuality as a “condition” and promotes an anti-LGBT book by the Family Research Council (an SPLC designated anti-LGBT hate group), the work of psychiatrist Robert Spitzer (who has renounced his own study about conversion therapy), and “research” by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), one of the primary purveyors of pseudoscience about homosexuality and reparative therapy (NARTH has since renamed itself the NARTH Institute). Smith’s PowerPoint promotes a number of damaging falsehoods about LGBT people, including linking homosexuality to childhood sexual abuse, claiming gay people are overly promiscuous, and that gay people don’t live as long as straight people (a claim originally disseminated by the thoroughly discredited psychologist Paul Cameron).
  • Matthew Pinto, founder and president of Ascension Press, which publishes materials for “Catholic parishes, schools, organizations, and individuals.” Ascension Press also published Courage founder Fr. John Harvey’s book, Homosexuality and the Catholic Church, which promotes reparative therapy. In Pinto’s own 2003 Did Adam & Eve Have Belly Buttons? And 199 Other Questions from Catholic Teens, Pinto responds to a question about whether God will accept someone for being gay by citing the success notorious reparative therapist Joseph Nicolosi has had “in helping the homosexual person rediscover his or her heterosexuality.” Ascension is also the main publisher for the work of Christopher West, who sits on the board of reference of the Restored Hope Network, an ex-gay ministry that formed after the collapse of Exodus. Christopher West is also a speaker at this year’s WMOF.
  • Helen Alvaré, who was a guest speaker at the 2014 Courage conference and a guest speaker at a Legatus/Denver gathering. Legatus is an anti-LGBT group for Catholic business leaders that has published articles in support of reparative therapy in its magazine. Over the past couple of years, some speakers—including actors Gary Sinise and Bob Newhart, as well as the Molson Coors chairman—have backed out of the Legatus annual conference because of its anti-LGBT views. Alvaré has called same-sex marriage “a horrid natural experiment in our country” and claimed that “every time same-sex marriage proponents tell people that marriage is utterly unrelated to children but strictly about a feeling,” they are “destroying the poor, the uneducated, and the formation of their family lives.” In 2012, she released a book, Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves, that included a chapter by NARTH board member and current president of the anti-LGBT hate group American College of Pediatricians Michelle Cretella.
  • Msgr. Livio Melina, president and professor of moral theology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Lateran University in Rome. Melina will be contributing to a book slated to emerge from the 2015 Courage conference. Melina wrote in 1998 about the “intrinsically disordered” state of homosexuality. He has also claimed that the “homosexual personality” includes “pathological narcissism,” which leads to “great instability and promiscuity in the most widespread model of homosexual life.” In that article, Melina claimed that therapeutic programs demonstrate the possibility “in many cases of recovering a basic heterosexual identity.”

Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised about these participants, since the Archbishop of the Philadelphia Archdiocese is Charles Chaput, who celebrated the opening mass for the 2014 Courage conference. Chaput also sits on the Bishops Board for the Society of Catholic Social Sciences, which gave Joseph Nicolosi an award in 2010 for Catholic social action.

Chaput was Archbishop in Denver in 2010, where he supported the expulsion of two young girls from Scared Heart of Jesus parish school in Boulder. The reason? Their parents are lesbians. In 2011, Chaput claimed that, “we’re not against gay people,” but any sexual relationship outside marriage is “contrary to the Gospel, and so a relationship between two people of the same sex is not in line with the teachings of the church and the teachings of the Gospel, and is therefore wrong.” Just last month, Chaput praised Waldron Mercy Academy in Pennsylvania for firing a teacher in June because she is a lesbian. The teacher had informed the school in 2007 of her marriage to another woman and had worked there ever since.

Charles Joseph Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia
Charles Joseph Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia

Still, Chaput tries to come across as conciliatory. He said of the WMOF that “certainly people who have experienced same-sex attraction are…welcome like anyone else,” but, “we don’t want to provide a platform at the meeting for people to lobby for positions contrary to the life of our church, so we’re not providing that kind of lobbying opportunity.”

But lobbying opportunities for a discredited, pseudoscientific practice that at least in one instance has been found to be consumer fraud is a-okay at the WMOF.

Comments, suggestions or tips? Send them to HWeditor@splcenter.org and follow us on Twitter @Hatewatch.