Gay advocate: Diocese's 12-step program 'snake-oil therapy'

January 19, 2011

A gay advocacy group on Wednesday denounced the Catholic Diocese of Colorado Springs for starting a 12-step support program for homosexuals that it labeled “snake-oil therapy.”

Michael Cole-Schwartz, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign, a gay advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., said the program, Twelve Steps of Courage, has the potential to damage lives.

“When the message coming from the church is that (gays) are defective, you are sending a message that makes people uncomfortable,” Cole-Schwartz said.

Ralph Blair, a psychotherapist who leads Evangelicals Concerned, a nonproft in New York that helps gay Christians accept their homosexuality, also dismissed the church program as misguided.

“Twelve steps has worked very well with alcohol abuse,” Blair said. “But trying to apply it to something as deeply embedded as same-sex attraction is insane.”

The Springs diocese launched Twelve Steps of Courage this month to offer what it described as support for homosexuals. The program centers on weekly confidential meetings run by members. The Rev. Larry Brennan, diocese director of priest formation, and the Rev. Mark Zacker, of Corpus Christi Church, facilitate it.

Though new to the Springs diocese, the Twelve Steps of Courage has been part of the Catholic Church since 1980, and according to its website, thousands have taken part.

Bishop Michael Sheridan, who heads the Springs diocese, said critics are misinformed about the program — no therapy or psychological counseling is conducted, and no one is asked to deny their same-sex attraction.

“You can accept that you have same-sex attraction,” Sheridan said. “But the church also calls us to live chaste lives outside of marriage.”

The Catholic Church’s 12-step program for gays contrasts with those of conservative Christian groups like Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and Exodus International, which have claimed at times that homosexuality can be “cured” through what is known as reparative therapy.

The Catholic Church does not consider same-sex attraction a sin, but teaches that sex should occur only within marriage that’s between a man and a woman.

Brennan said people are free to make choices about their sexuality, and “Courage is a support group for persons with same-sex attraction who wish to live the natural law values of chastity.”

“The people who come to Courage are looking for support in both the dimensions of self-acceptance and self-restraint,” he said.

Courage International, which oversees 110 chapters worldwide from its Connecticut office, has no studies or statistics on its website regarding the program’s effectiveness, though there are a handful of anonymous testimonials posted. Courage International officials couldn’t be reached Wednesday.
For more interviews and information on Courage, go to Barna’s blog, The Pulpit, at

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