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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Colorado Diocese Offers 12-Step 'Leave Homosexuality' Program

By Steve Williams -

The Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs is borrowing and adapting the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program to create what it dubs pastoral care and support for gay men wanting to leave their same-sex attraction behind.

From the Colorado Springs Gazette:

“It’s not about therapy and not about activism,” said the Rev. Larry Brennan, diocese director of priest formation. “It’s about support.”
“The exercise of sexuality is reserved for marriage, and that can only happen between a man and a woman,” Brennan said.
Jim Fitzgerald, executive director of Call to Action, a national progressive Catholic group headquartered in Chicago, is skeptical of Twelve Steps of Courage because he contends homosexuality isn’t sinful.
“It restricts people’s freedom to be the kind of person they were created to be,” Fitzgerald said of Courage.
But Brennan says the program is not for people comfortable with their gay lifestyle. “The people we want to reach are those who experience this as a burden,” he said.
“This is a population that is underserved,” Brennan said. “They are not comfortable with the gay agenda and not comfortable with family oriented (events).”

This isn't new. The Twelve Steps of Courage program, as it's known, has reportedly been around for over 20 years, and has over 100 chapters worldwide, though its effectiveness — or lack thereof — is less well publicized.

The idea of offering pastoral care and support doesn't sound particularly threatening, and as the Rev. Larry Brennan points out above (if one overlooks his dropping the phrase "gay agenda"), the program is designed to offer support to those seeking it, and not to convert or cure.
Read the steps however, and one quickly sees how opportunistic and, in fact, dangerous this so-called Twelve Steps of Courage program is.
Here they are as featured on the The Twelve Steps of Courage website:

We admitted that we were powerless over homosexuality and our lives had become unmanageable.
We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
We made a decision to turn our will and our lives to the care of God as we understood Him.
We made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
We admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of our character.
We humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.
We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make direct amends to them all.
We made the direct amends to such people whenever possible except when to do so would injure them or others.
We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for the knowledge of God's Will for us and the power to carry it out.
Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The steps as rendered above blatantly reinforce feelings of self-loathing and shame that someone facing problems with their sexual orientation may have. It also implies being gay is a form of mental illness ("restore us to sanity"), something categorically rejected by the overwhelming majority of the medical community, and on several occasions makes remarks about the defects and moral failings of those being treated.

Never does the program (or Courage website) mention the fact that so-called "pray away the gay" therapy – or support as it is being called here – has a negligible success rate beyond anecdotal testimony, and never does it cite the serious concerns of the medical community over what damage attempting to change or mute a person's sexual orientation can have on that person's mental state.
The Human Rights Campaign, among other groups both secular and religious, have condemned the diocese for this move:

“The diocese should be ashamed for selling this snake-oil therapy that mental health professionals have denounced,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese.  “Programs like this say they offer hope but in reality they demean and denigrate LGBT people’s sense of self-worth.”
“Homophobia, bias and discrimination are what make it difficult for people to accept and be open about their sexual orientation,” said Solmonese. “Those who wish to give counsel to people struggling with their identities should offer acceptance, not rejection.”

The APA task force on appropriate therapeutic responses to sexual orientation notes that those seeking sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) are often from religious conservative backgrounds and stresses cultivating acceptance as being among appropriate responses to anxiety and depression over a patient's sexual orientation, saying on its website:

Thus, the appropriate application of affirmative therapeutic interventions for those who seek SOCE involves therapist acceptance, support, and understanding of clients and the facilitation of clients’ active coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, without imposing a specific sexual orientation identity outcome.

What the Twelve Steps of Courage program actually does is reinforce the notion that a person's non-heterosexual identity is wrong, against God and is destructive. The issue here is that the diocese is billing this program as appropriate and effective support for gay people when it clearly comes with an agenda. 

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