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The Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit has banned two LGBTQ groups from gathering at churches and having mass performed, and is instead recommending a form of conversion therapy that treats sexuality like addiction.
Dignity Detroit, which has offered space for LGBTQ Catholics to exercise their faith for more than 45 years, and Fortunate Families Detroit, a six-year-old support group for LGBTQ families, received letters from Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Battersby telling them they would no longer be allowed in the Archdiocese, the Detroit Free Press reports.
The Archdiocese has also banned any priests from performing Mass for the groups, writing in a letter that any Mass which “rejects Church teaching on human sexuality” would not be possible “in any parish church, chapel, or diocesan facility, and is indeed forbidden everywhere in the Archdiocese of Detroit.”
Battersby said the ban on LGBTQ groups was to prevent confusing “the faithful by seeming to endorse an alternative and contradictory path to sanctity.”
Instead, the Archdiocese is recommending that LGBTQ Catholics in the Archdiocese participate in church-sanctioned conversion therapy program Courage, and that their friends and families attend EnCourage to support them with their “same-sex attraction.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist and hate groups in the U.S., has previously called Courage International one of the most prominent “ex-gay” groups, and said it treats sexuality as though it is pathological, offering a 12-step recovery program like Alcoholics Anonymous.
Frank D’Amore, president of Dignity Detroit, told the Free Press that the recommendation that his group’s members attend Courage was “insulting.”
“Courage is like a 12-step program, which is kind of insulting,” he said. “I don’t need a 12-step program. It’s ludicrous.”
He said that receiving the letter from Battersby on behalf of the Archdiocese informing him that the group could not meet on church property “hurt,” and said his members were questioning why they continued to follow the Catholic Church.
D’Amore also said Battersby’s sudden reversal in support for the groups made no sense, given it has operated for more than four decades.
“Dignity is still around, and we’re not going anywhere,” he said. “We just celebrated our 46th anniversary in May. We never went out of our way to embarrass the church hierarchy. We’re on our fourth Archbishop in 39 years, three cardinals. Now, all of a sudden, it’s an issue? I don’t get it.”
Rev. Victor Clore, who leads Fortunate Families, was told by the Archdiocese to cease his services and said the group “provides a misleading and harmful message” and was “detrimental to the very membership the organization seeks to serve.”
Clore told the Free Press that the group offered support to LGBTQ families and does not “promote anything sinful.”
He also noted that the church’s stance on sexuality has been distorted by anti-gay views, noting that human nature extends beyond procreation.
“Sexuality is about loving. It’s about relationships between two people who care about each other in a loving embrace,” he said, noting that there are “sterile couples who don’t have children, but they are still allowed to marry and make love through sexual expression.”
Linda Karle-Nelson, co-president of Fortunate Families and a mother to LGBTQ children, said the decision was “surprising, shocking, it was hurtful.”
She added: “We’re no longer a group with a parish home. We’re not allowed in any Catholic parish…. That’s pretty harsh.”
A spokesperson for the Archdiocese told the Free Press that the archdiocese is “committed to renewing and strengthening its ministry for members of the faithful who experience same-sex attraction and their families.”
The spokesperson confirmed that the archdiocese was recommending LGBTQ Catholics and their families join Courage and EnCourage.
“Our desire is to provide pastoral care for and to ensure the salvation of all the faithful, including those who experience same-sex attraction and their families,” they said.
Conversion therapy is a widely debunked and potentially harmful practice that claims to change a person’s sexuality or gender identity through methods such as talk therapy or more extreme measures including aversion and shock therapy.
The United Nations recently said that conversion therapy should be banned worldwide, and that certain forms of the practice could constitute torture.
Instagram has banned any content promoting conversion therapy, noting the social network doesn’t allow “attacks against people based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” and a number of countries have also banned the practice, including most recently Germany.
Studies have shown that conversion therapy increases the risk of suicide and suicidal ideation in LGBTQ people, and medical experts have noted that other side effects of the therapy can include depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
While many lay Catholics are supportive of LGBTQ rights, including same-sex marriage and inclusive nondiscrimination legislation, the church has continued its hardline stance against supporting LGBTQ people.
Current church teaching is that engaging in homosexual acts, even if done in the context of a civil marriage, are sinful, although Pope Francis has adopted a softer tone by not outright condemning gay or lesbian individuals as irreparably irredeemable.
That stance led to a right-wing Catholic archbishop recently accusing Pope Francis of heresy for allegedly promoting homosexuality.
The Church has repeatedly clashed with LGBTQ people and activists in the U.S., including denying medically necessary surgery to a transgender man, firing gay teachers from Catholic schools, Catholic adoption agencies refusing to place children with same-sex parents, and one Catholic bishop even saying that Pride Month is “harmful for children.”
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