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Homosexuals Can Change

BRIAN CAULFIELD

A recent position paper of the Catholic Medical Association and an article in the secular journal Professional Psychology, published last month by the American Psychological Association, make the same point. Both cite current medical research and clinical experiences to conclude that homosexuality is not a fixed characteristic and that motivated patients respond well to therapy.

David Morrison said he can personally attest to the truth of two new developments in the psychological world's attitude toward homosexuality: that it is not a fixed characteristic and that homosexuals can change their orientation.

Morrison can vouch for the developments because he is a former homosexual activist who has now embraced celibacy and the Catholic faith.

A recent position paper of the Catholic Medical Association and an article in the secular journal Professional Psychology, published last month by the American Psychological Association, make the same point. Both cite current medical research and clinical experiences to conclude that homosexuality is not a fixed characteristic and that motivated patients respond well to therapy.

Morrison, the author of the 1999 book Beyond Gay, said the studies track experiences he has shared: disgust with the homosexual lifestyle, pain, disillusionment and eventual acceptance of the Church's teachings on sexuality and celibacy outside of marriage. He does not consider himself heterosexual at least not yet but he knows people who have made the change and others who have experienced dramatic conversion and healing.

The American Psychological Association article, written by Warren Throckmorton, a professor and counselor at Grove City College, a Christian school in Pennsylvania, analyzed 11 studies conducted during a 20-year period.

Contrary to many in his field, Throckmorton contended that orientation-change therapy is not harmful, and he recommended psychologists work with patients who seek change in orientation or refer them to "ex-gay" counseling programs.

The article has caused a stir in the professional association whose leaders recently sought to have "ex-gay" therapy labeled unethical. As far back as 1973, another professional organization, the American Psychiatric Association, removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, and many mental health professionals seek only to have homosexual patients accept their orientation.

Root of the Problem

"Homosexuality and Hope," the statement by the Catholic Medical Association, claimed that same-sex attraction is an emotional disorder that stems from faulty familial relationships and peer problems. A copy of the statement and a letter from its primary author, Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, were sent to the bishops' meeting in Dallas last month to address the Church's sex scandals. Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist in Conshohocken, Pa., stated in his letter that the problem of so-called priestly pedophilia is almost exclusively one of homosexuals in the priesthood acting out with male adolescents.

Psychologist Douglas Haldeman, an American Psychological Association member in Washington, D.C., wrote in 1994 what his supporters consider a seminal article on the issue of the possibility of change for homosexuals. He concluded that an extensive review of data showed no evidence that "ex-gay" therapy is effective and suggested that it might be harmful. He quoted favorably a statement from a Washington state psychological association: "Psychologists do not provide or sanction cures for that which has been judged not to be an illness. Individuals seeking to change their sexual orientation do so as a result of internalized stigma and homophobia, given the consistent scientific demonstration that there is nothing about homosexuality per se that undermines psychological adjustment."

Rigorous clinical assessments of patients are lacking in "ex-gay" treatments, and individuals who claim to achieve healing give evidence of not having an exclusively heterosexual orientation, Haldeman wrote.

Challenging this argument, Throckmorton said: "None of the studies found widespread harm associated with the objective of reorientation ... Some clients will not realize the success they sought, but the potential for harm seems to be less than many detractors originally claimed."

He said his findings apply mainly "to strongly and conservatively religious people who have severe philosophical conflicts with identifying as gay or lesbian."

Celibacy Gets a Hearing

With the publication of Throckmorton's article in a major psychological journal, the position of the CMA might get a better hearing in Catholic circles, said the organization's president, Dr. Robert Saxer. He said he hopes more bishops will welcome into their dioceses the support group Courage, which promotes the Church's teaching of celibacy outside of marriage.

Fitzgibbons, who has treated more than 100 priests, said men with same-sex attractions should not be admitted to seminaries until they undergo successful therapy to resolve homosexual tendencies. Claiming that large numbers of individuals, including clergy members, have been cured, he said in his letter to the bishops that many priests "grow in holiness and happiness in their ministry as a result of the healing of their childhood and adolescent male insecurity and loneliness and, subsequently, their same-sex attraction."

In recent months, as coverage of the scandal has turned unavoidably to the issue of homosexuality, many experts have claimed that the problem is immature homosexuals who are locked in a period of sexual development that draws them toward adolescents. Mature homosexuals, on the other hand, are drawn toward adult males and therefore do not cause a problem, these experts said.

Fitzgibbons dismissed this distinction. "Almost every priest I've treated who was involved with a teen was previously involved with adult males," he pointed out. It is more difficult for homosexuals to observe celibacy because of the underlying personality conflicts, he explained.

Fitzgibbons criticized some of the treatment facilities where priests have been sent after being accused of sexual misconduct with minors. Often the goal of therapy has been to avoid illegal behavior, not to encourage chaste celibacy, he said.

Germain Grisez, professor of moral theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., made the same point in a letter last spring to the U.S. bishops. A treatment facility might be professionally competent but not try "to help clerics do what they ought to do: live celibately in perfect continence," he said. "Instead, the caregiver's aim is to help each client/patient obtain sexual satisfaction within the law."

Morrison, who runs a Web site for those with same-sex attraction (www.yahoogroups.com/group/courageonline), said, "For the longest time there has been a dogmatism among psychiatrists and psychologists that therapy doesn't work and that people shouldn't be encouraged to diminish same-sex attraction. That absolutist view can cause a problem."

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Brian Caulfield. "Homosexuals Can Change." National Catholic Register. (July 14-20, 2002).

This article is reprinted with permission from National Catholic Register. All rights reserved. To subscribe to the National Catholic Register call 1-800-421-3230.

THE AUTHOR

Brian Caulfield writes from West Haven, Connecticut.

Copyright 2002 National Catholic Register

 

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