Treating Homosexuality: Catholic Speakers Anger Australian Activists

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - A visit by two American Catholics who argue that homosexuality can be treated has caused a stir in Australia, with activists questioning their ideas and the support given by top national bishops.

Small groups of protesters demonstrated outside public meetings in Sydney and Melbourne against the views of psychologist Dr. Peter Rudegeair of the Catholic Medical Association and Fr. John Harvey, who heads a Catholic lay organization called Courage.

Marita Franklin, a spokeswoman for Sydney's Catholic archdiocese, said about 150 attended the meeting at the city's St. Mary's Cathedral. About 15-20 people gathered outside the grounds to protest.

Michael Kelly, spokesman for the Rainbow Sash Movement - a group campaigning for the church to give full recognition to homosexual Catholics - visited both venues.

Kelly complained afterwards that the archbishops of Sydney and Melbourne, George Pell and Dennis Hart, had lent their support to the meetings.

"Not all bishops in Australia or elsewhere endorse the views or methods of Harvey or Rudegeair," he said. "There are bishops who will not invite Courage into their dioceses."

Kelly said many clergymen and theologians displayed a "new readiness" to listen to scientific insights that called for "a new understanding of homosexuality."

But those like Pell and Hart, he said, were strongly opposed to "openness and dialogue."

Kelly accused the two American speakers of being "heterosexist."

"They believe that deep down everyone is truly heterosexual - and that homosexuality is just a defect or a problem or an illness."

Such a belief, he added, denied "the diversity and richness of God's creation" and rejected the insights of anthropology, psychology, biology and genetics.

Kelly also complained that, at the Melbourne meeting, the panelists only answered written questions, while "no engagement or discussion from the floor was allowed."

A Sydney newspaper catering to the homosexual community, the Star Observer, published an article last week saying that the bishops' endorsement of the visit "upped the ante in its [the church's] campaign against gay men and lesbians."

The report prompted reader responses, including one that called Rudegeair a "trader in ancient stereotypes" and another that railed against "so-called Christians peddling hate against poofs."

"How dare these b******s tell us that we are a 'condition' that can be cured," another reader wrote. "Years of sexual abuse in the church, and they insist we have the problem!"

Attempts to get detailed information from Courage Australia's representatives about the meetings and presentations were unsuccessful.

But in a letter to Catholic bishops last year, Rudegeair and two Catholic Medical Association colleagues tackled the question, "What could bring on same-sex attraction in boys?"

They challenged the argument that homosexuality was genetically-determined, saying this was part of a 20-year misinformation campaign by activists determined to influence social acceptance of homosexuality.

No proof of a genetic link existed, they wrote, pointing out that numerous studies had discounted this by finding that identical twins do not always have the same sexual attraction pattern (which would be the case if orientation was genetically-determined.)

Factors that could contribute, they said, included a weak masculine identity, loneliness, peer rejection, or a poor body image.

"Men and women experiencing same-sex attraction may rightly feel that they 'have always felt different,' but that doesn't mean they were born that way. Children are born either male or female, but they have to learn what it means to be a man or a woman."

'Moral freedom'

What most angers the homosexual activists is the argument that same-sex attraction can be successfully "treated" or "cured."

They point to a landmark decision almost three decades ago by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to remove homosexuality from its influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The APA, under pressure from the homosexual advocacy lobby, held a rare vote of its members in 1974. The vote was about 58-40 percent in favor of the view that homosexuality was not a pathological psychiatric condition in itself.

Nonetheless, in a document called "Homosexuality and Hope," the Catholic Medical Association provides data on positive results from a number of therapists who have offered "treatment for unwanted same-sex attractions."

A statement by Archbishop Pell, sent by his office in response to queries about his support for the event, highlighted Courage's aim - "to help those who want to do so to live chaste lives in accordance with the traditional Christian teaching on homosexuality."

Pell stressed that no one was compelled to participate in Courage's programs of providing fellowship and support.

"Courage does not aim to change a person's sexual orientation, or require its members to seek this," he said.

When someone wanted professional assistance, Courage would refer that person to a reputable therapist.

Pell said Courage offered an "alternative" that should be freely available and openly discussed.

Chastity, he said, was "not white-knuckled self-denial, but a form of moral freedom."

"For those people of homosexual orientation who want to embrace this freedom, Courage is at their service."

Pell, an outspoken conservative, has been condemned by Rainbow Sash Movement activists before for his refusal to give them communion.

Last August the Australian Catholic Church was rocked when an anonymous complainant accused Pell of sexually abusing him as a youngster more than 40 years ago.

An independent inquiry headed by a retired judge cleared him in October.

See also:
Catholic Bishops Refuse Communion To Homosexual Activists (May 20, 2002)

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow