In a recent article for the Catholic Herald of London, Eve Tushnet argues that the Church has a stark choice. Either she must accept out-and-proud gay men and women as they are or, failing that, she must risk losing them to apostasy or suicide.
Ms. Tushnet asserts that any efforts to help men to deal with unwanted sexual thoughts, attractions, and behaviors are doomed not only to failure but to causing harm. She says, “The alternative to conversion therapy is not a better psychiatric theory or a more traditional prayer regime. The alternative is offering gay people a Catholic future that does not depend on becoming straight.”
In this way, Ms. Tushnet says the Church must support “gay Catholics who come out.” She then invokes the friendship of David and Jonathan as models for gay Catholics. (Gays have a habit of claiming historical figures for their cause.) Underscoring the tendency of gays to misunderstand the institution, Tushnet says such a friendship for gays can be “as beautiful and committed as marriage.”
One of the more preposterous claims made by Ms. Tushnet is that while “gay” and “straight” are social constructs, they are “only one way of organizing our kaleidoscopic array of longings.” A “kaleidoscopic array of longings” points to the nutty Kinseyian notion that human sexuality is a continuum from exclusively homosexual to exclusively heterosexual and all stops in between. With the introduction of transgenderism, the continuum has grown exponentially—or, as Tushnet might say, kaleidoscopically. But it should be pointed out that the man-woman bond is not a social construct—unlike “being gay.”
Another article published by the Herald on the same day takes a different view of therapy for unwanted sexual thoughts, attractions, and behaviors. Father Phillip Bochanski, executive director of Courage, an approved Catholic apostolate to those with same-sex attraction, told the Herald he was fine with legitimate authority cracking down on quacks causing harm. But he is rightly fearful that the various bans on “conversion therapy” will inhibit the Church from speaking “clearly about the perennial teachings of the Gospel.”
Yet this is precisely what the Sexual Revolutionaries desire. A bedrock principle of the modern Left is that sexual orientation is innate and immutable, created by God—or Goddess, if you prefer—and can never be changed. There is a war on talk therapy for that reason: it assumes that sexual attraction is something less immutable than the color of one’s eyes. It has been banned in many states and foreign countries, and there is talk of a ban coming from the United Nations.
Unfortunately, those on the saner side of human sexuality have adopted the phrase “sexual orientation” and “sexual orientation change.” It has given a great advantage to the Sexual Revolutionaries. After all, the Church teaches there is only one sexual orientation: man for woman and woman for man. So, properly understood, there is no change in sexual orientation: only in the feelings of disordered lust experienced by the patient. Conversion therapy helps in dealing with the underlying causes for these unwanted thoughts, attractions, and behaviors. This help can only ever be voluntary and practiced by those professionally trained in talk therapy.
I do not doubt that some harm has come to those who have gone to quacks. But we must also consider the right of individuals to seek help in removing temptations to sin. This is the bedrock of talk therapy. As it is now, such talk therapy is banned in many states.
Eve Tushnet has been part of a loose grouping of writers I dubbed the “New Homophiles” in these pages seven years ago. They are self-described faithful Catholics who live by the teachings of the Church but are proudly and openly homosexual. They believe they have unique gifts that others do not have, and that these gifts must be recognized and accepted by the Church. (This notion of “unique gifts” possessed by those who experience same-sex attraction was actually included in an early draft at the family synod in the Vatican several years ago.)
These writers gathered around a blog called Spiritual Friendship, which now seems largely defunct. At least one of these writers appears to have backslid into an active homosexual life, something we warned about when same-sex friendship is treated like marriage, as Ms. Tushnet would have it.
The New Homophiles were eclipsed with the rise of Father James Martin and his approval of homosexual marriage—and, by implication, same-sex genital activity. Father Martin tends to suck all the oxygen out of the room when this issue is debated.
While Ms. Tushnet and others like her are more sensible on this issue than Father Martin, they are also wrong. Same-sex thoughts, attractions, and behaviors can be changed. Even gay scholars like Linda Diamond have shown that homosexuality—especially among women—is remarkably changeable. By arguing that such change is not possible, Ms. Tushnet does a kind of violence to the lived experience of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of men and women who have left that lifestyle. They have sought to live truly in accordance with the teachings of the Church and who have not insisted that the Church change her teachings.
The great psychiatrist, Dr. Paul McHugh—now much maligned by the Sexual Revolutionaries for closing down the sex change unit at Johns Hopkins University—once described homosexual behavior as a bad habit. The Church teaches that bad habits can be broken. The Church properly accepts all who may have bad habits. She welcomes you and me. Bad habits that are also sinful find relief in prayer and confession. What the Church may never do is accept bad habits as an acceptable norm.