Peter Saunders

BBC article on ‘gay therapies’ is simplistic, misleading and ignores much of the available evidence

Peter Saunders
Peter Saunders

September 24, 2012 (pjSaunders) - Should people with unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction seek professional help? And if so what kind of help and what expectations should they realistically have?

BBC Religion and Ethics recently published an article on this extremely controversial subject titled ‘Ex-gay survivor’s tales of exorcism in middle England’.

I was asked to submit a quote for it yesterday but was unable to obtain any information about what angle the author would be writing it from. So I sent in four carefully drafted sentences of which they used only the one that most closely fitted with their agenda.

The article relates the story of Peterson Toscano, who ‘after $30,000 for controversial conversion therapy, three attempts at exorcism and one failed marriage, finally resolved the conflict between his faith and sexuality - he was gay’.

At the end there are some comments from Peter Ould and myself (see Peter’s take here).

Toscano’s case highlights the dangers of well-meaning Christians without proper professional training doing more harm than good in attempting to, in effect, ‘pray the gay away’.

But the article throws the baby out with the bathwater. Its fundamental flaw is to argue from the particular to the general, that is, because this man’s personal experience was negative therefore all attempts to help people with unwanted same-sex attraction are misguided and bad.

This conclusion is unwarranted and not actually supported by the available evidence.

I’m not going to comment on the individual case, but rather make some comments on the general issue.

There is first a huge amount of confusion both in the Christian church and in the world generally about the difference between homosexual attraction, orientation, identity and behaviour, which I attempt to address in my earlier blog, ‘Should gay Christians be true to their feelings?

But there is even more confusion about what the media has unhelpfully branded ‘reparative therapies’.

The full quote I gave the journalist who wrote today’s BBC article read as follows:

‘Many people believe that homosexual and heterosexual are distinct biological categories which are unchangeable, biologically fixed and genetically determined but this view is being increasingly challenged by new research. Sexual attractions are now best understood as lying on a spectrum rather than in terms of a simple dichotomous binary categorisation, and mixed patterns of sexual desire, including attraction to both sexes at the same time and changes in the strength and direction of sexual attraction over time are not uncommon. It is on this basis that some people understandably will seek professional help in dealing with their changing feelings. Professionals providing such care should do so in a way that both respects the beliefs and values of the person seeking help and is also evidence-based.’

They chose only to use the last sentence, I suspect because the other three, about the fluidity of sexual feelings, did not fit with the underlying presupposition of the article that sexual orientation is something fixed, unchangeable and genetically determined and that the only approach to people experiencing feelings of same sex attraction is to encourage them to embrace a ‘gay lifestyle’.

But this view is overly simplistic and not actually supported by the evidence (see my article on Max Pemberton for more on this).

Instead the latest research supports the idea that, for some, sexual feelings are often quite fluid and changeable. Many gay rights commentators including Peter Tatchell and Matthew Parris share this view.

This leaves us then with the question of how to help those who are experiencing ‘unwanted’ feelings of same sex attraction.

On this I would particularly recommend a booklet published last year and available on the CMF website titled ‘Unwanted same sex attraction: Issues of pastoral and counselling support’.

The whole booklet is worthy of careful study but I have pasted part of the executive summary below which amplifies on what I said in my quote:

People with unwanted SSA who seek to live in conformity with their beliefs should be free to receive appropriate and responsible practical care and counsel. Most may choose counselling and pastoral support to maintain, within a Christian ethical framework, the disciplines of chastity. Others may wish to explore the possibility of achieving some degree of change in the strength or direction of unwanted sexual interests.

Experience of change in the strength or direction of one’s sexual interests is sometimes possible. Although the extent of such change will differ between individuals, what is commonly referred to as sexual ‘orientation’ is not invariably a fixed and enduring characteristic of the human condition, rooted in biological difference and experienced from birth. Whilst some people experience same-sex attraction from their earliest memories of sexual interest, for others sexual desire can be relatively fluid. There are many personal narratives of change of sexual ‘orientation’ reported in both the secular and religious media. When assessing counselling efforts that seek to promote ‘change’ in the strength, direction, or expression of same-sex desire, the entire range of human sexual experience must therefore be addressed rather than assuming all sexual attraction is always fixed.

No high quality scientifically controlled trials have been carried out on efforts to promote change in sexual ‘orientation’ and claims for or against the effectiveness of specific approaches must therefore be treated with caution. ‘Sexual Orientation Change Efforts’ have provoked passionate opinions on all sides. Various mental health bodies and professional associations have made negative declarations about their desirability and effectiveness. It has been asserted that there is ‘no evidence’ that efforts to promote change in sexual ‘orientation’ are effective. Such statements, if allowed to stand unqualified, are potentially misleading. Because no randomised controlled trials have been carried out in this area, it is not possible to assert conclusively whether efforts to promote ‘change’ are effective or whether they are not effective. There is no ‘cast iron’ evidence either way. A balanced and objective assessment would note there are many personal reports of change in sexual orientation from within both secular and religious cultures, but that there remains uncertainty about the effectiveness of any particular psychological or counselling approach designed to promote such change.

Health and counselling professionals must practice ethically by respecting the religious beliefs and convictions of their clients and exercising due care in distinguishing between fact and personal opinion.

Given the absence of conclusive, high quality, scientifically controlled trials, those offering formal counselling to people with unwanted SSA must exercise considerable caution. They must follow conventional ethical guidelines in terms of informed consent and show respect for client autonomy and self-determination. When counselling clients with unwanted SSA, harm could result from raising unrealistic expectations or claims that go beyond the available evidence.

Those with unwanted SSA who seek to live within the orthodox boundaries of Christian faith and ethical practitioners who support them deserve our honour, support and respect. Both groups should be free to act in accordance with their conscientious beliefs without harassment, misrepresentation or discrimination.

Reprinted with permission from Christian Medical Comment.

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Cardinal George Pell Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews
Andrew Guernsey

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Cardinal Pell bets against the odds: insists Pope Francis will strongly reaffirm Catholic tradition

Andrew Guernsey
By Andrew Guernsey


ROME, November 25, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Contradicting the statements of some of the pope’s closest advisors, the Vatican’s financial chief Cardinal George Pell has declared that Pope Francis will re-assert and “clarify” longstanding Church teaching and discipline that prohibits Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried in public adultery without sacramental confession and amendment of life.

In a homily on Monday, Pell stressed the importance of fidelity to the pope, especially today as “we continue to look also to the successor of St. Peter as that guarantee of unity in doctrine and practice.”

Pell was offering Mass at the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome on the feast of Pope St. Clement I, notable in history for being one of the first popes to exert Roman papal primacy to correct the errors in the doctrine and abuses in discipline which other bishops were allowing.

Turning to address the issues at the Synod on the Family, Pell rebuked those who “wanted to say of the recent Synod, that the Church is confused and confusing in her teaching on the question of marriage,” and he insisted that the Church will always remain faithful to “Jesus’ own teaching about adultery and divorce” and “St. Paul’s teaching on the proper dispositions to receive communion.” Pell argues that the possibility of Communion for those in adultery is “not even mentioned in the Synod document.”

Pell asserted that Pope Francis is preparing “to clarify for the faithful what it means to follow the Lord…in His Church in our World.” He said, “We now await the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation, which will express again the Church’s essential tradition and emphasize that the appeal to discernment and the internal forum can only be used to understand better God’s will as taught in the scriptures and by the magisterium and can never be used to disregard, distort or refute established Church teaching.”

STORY: Vatican Chief of Sacraments: No pope can change divine law on Communion

The final document of the synod talks about the “internal forum” in paragraphs 84-86, refers to private discussions between a parish priest and a member of the faithful, to educate and form their consciences and to determine the “possibility of fuller participation in the life of the Church,” based on their individual circumstances and Church teaching. The selective quoting of John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio that omitted his statement ruling out the possibility of Communion for those in public adultery has given liberals hope that this “fuller participation” could include reception of Communion.

Pell’s prediction that the pope will side with the orthodox side of this controversy lends two explanations. On one reading, Pell is uncertain what the pope will do in his post-synodal exhortation, but he is using such firm language as a way of warning the pope that he must clearly uphold Church teaching and practice, or else he would risk falling into heresy at worst or grave negligence at best in upholding the unity of the Church.

On another reading, Pell may have inside information, even perhaps from the pope himself, that he will uphold Church teaching and practice on Communion for those in public adultery, that the pope’s regular confidants apparently do not have.

This hypothesis, however, is problematic in that just last week, Pope Francis suggested that Lutherans may “go forward” to receive Holy Communion, contrary to canon law, if they come to a decision on their own, which suggests agreement with the reformers’ line of argument about “conscience.” And earlier last month, the pope granted an interview to his friend Eugenio Scalfari, who quoted the pope as promising to allow those in adultery back to Communion without amendment of life, even though the Vatican refused to confirm the authenticity of the quote since Scalfari does not use notes.

If Pell actually knew for certain what the pope would do, it would also seem to put Pell’s knowledge above that of Cardinal Robert Sarah, who in what could be a warning to Pope Francis, declared last week in no uncertain terms that “Not even a pope can dispense from such a divine law” as the prohibition of public adulterers from Holy Communion.

STORY: Papal confidant signals Pope Francis will allow Communion for the ‘remarried’

Several members of the pope’s inner circle have said publicly that the controversial paragraphs 84-86 of the Synod final document have opened the door for the Holy Father to allow Communion in these cases if he so decides. Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, a close friend of Pope Francis and the editor of La Civita Catholica, a prominent Jesuit journal in Rome reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State, wrote this week that the internal forum solution for the divorced in adultery is a viable one:

The Ordinary Synod has thus laid the bases for access to the sacraments [for the divorced and civilly remarried], opening a door that had remained closed in the preceding Synod. It was not even possible, one year ago, to find a clear majority with reference to the debate on this topic, but that is what happened in 2015. We are therefore entitled to speak of a new step.

Spadaro’s predictions and interpretation of the Synod are consistent with the public statements of liberal prelates, some of whom are close confidantes to Pope Francis, including Cardinal Schönborn, Cardinal Wuerl, Cardinal Kasper, Cardinal Nichols, and the head of the Jesuit order, Fr. Nicolás. Fr. Nicolás, in particular, first confirmed that there would be an apostolic exhortation of the pope, and said of Communion for those in public adultery:

The Pope’s recommendation is not to make theories, such as not lumping the divorced and remarried together, because priests have to make a judgment on a case by case and see the situation, the circumstances, what happens, and depending on this decision one thing or the other. There are no general theories which translate into an iron discipline required at all. The fruit of discernment means that you study each case and try to find merciful ways out.

Although in the best analysis, Pell’s prediction about what Pope Francis may do in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation remains just that-- a prediction—he is drawing a line in the sand that if the pope chooses to cross, would bring the barque of Peter into uncharted waters, where the danger of shipwreck is a very real threat.


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Paul Stark

A pro-life conversation guide for the holidays

Paul Stark
By Paul Stark

November 25, 2015 (NationalRighttoLifeNews) -- The holiday dinner table offers a natural forum for congenial (hopefully!) conversation about current events and issues. Defenders of unborn human life should be prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Here are some suggestions to help you effectively discuss abortion with family members and friends who may not share the pro-life view.

(1) Know how to clarify the issue

When faced with an argument or reason for abortion, ask yourself whether it works to justify killing obvious examples of rights-bearing human beings, such as newborn babies, toddlers, teenagers and adults. If not, it assumes that the being killed by abortion, the unborn (i.e., the human embryo or “fetus”), is not an intrinsically valuable human being, like toddlers and teenagers—that is, it simply assumes the very conclusion it must defend.

For example, a woman should not have a “right to choose” to drown her toddler in the bathtub. The question at hand is whether the unborn, like a toddler, deserves full moral respect and ought not be killed for the convenience or benefit of others. If so, killing the unborn by abortion, like killing a toddler for the same reasons, is a serious moral wrong.

(2) Know how to articulate the pro-life argument

The pro-life position is that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being. This position is supported by modern science (showing that what abortion kills is a human being, a member of our species) together with a foundational moral principle (the equal fundamental dignity and right to life of every member of the human family).

The science of embryology tells us that the unborn from conception is a distinct, living and whole human organism—a member of the species Homo sapiens, the same kind of being as each of us, only at a much earlier stage of development. This fact is uniformly affirmed by embryology textbooks and leading experts.

Morally, no relevant difference exists between human beings before and after birth. Unborn humans differ from older humans, such as newborns, in their size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency—remember the helpful acronym SLED—but none of those differences are significant in a way that would justify killing the former. For example, a five-year-old child lacks the physical and mental abilities of a 10-year-old, but she is no less valuable and deserving of respect and protection.

Each of us has a right to life by virtue of what (i.e., the kind of being) we are, rather than because of acquired characteristics or abilities that only some human beings have and others do not. So all human beings, including the unborn, are equal in having basic dignity and a right not to be killed without just cause.

(3) Know how to respond to common objections

Claims by abortion advocates about the number of women who died from illegal abortions are wildly overstated, as NARAL co-founder Dr. Bernard Nathanson frankly admitted. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 39 women died from illegal abortion in 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade, while 24 died from legal abortion (abortion had been legalized in some circumstances in some states). Maternal mortality improved in the decades preceding Roe as a result of advances in modern medicine having nothing to do with legal abortion.

If you cannot answer a challenge, don’t let it fluster you. Be honest and say you will get back to the challenger after thinking and reading more about the issue.

(4) Know facts about fetal development

In addition to knowing that the life of a human organism, a human being, begins at conception (see above), it is useful to know some details about the development of human beings in the womb. These facts bring home for many people the humanity of the unborn child. For example, the heart begins to beat about three weeks after conception, before many women even know they are pregnant. At about six weeks, brain waves can be detected. By 20 weeks, a wealth of evidence indicates that unborn children can experience excruciating pain.

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The stunning complexity of prenatal human development is “beyond any comprehension of any existing mathematics today,” says renowned medical imaging expert and mathematician Alexander Tsiaras.

(5) Know how abortion can hurt women

The health risks of abortion, both physical and psychological, are very well documented. Familiarize yourself with a few facts.

For example, many studies suggest that abortion can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Moreover, while no one ultimately regrets not having an abortion, many, many (though of course not all) women now deeply regret their decision in favor of abortion. A 2011 meta-analysis published in the prestigious British Journal of Psychiatry—"the largest quantitative estimate of mental health risks associated with abortion available in the world literature”—found an 81 percent increased risk of mental health problems among women who have had abortions.

(6) Know about alternatives to abortion and compassionate support for women

Both motherhood and adoption are ethical, life-affirming options. Some 3,000 pro-life pregnancy care centers across the United States stand ready to help pregnant women in need. Many programs are available to help women and others deal with the aftermath of abortion.

(7) Be winsome

Pro-lifers must be kind, respectful, fair-minded and willing to listen and respond thoughtfully to those who disagree. Don’t call someone “pro-abortion” in conversation, since it is usually inconsistent with how he sees his position and can turn him off to productive dialogue. Show compassion toward pregnant women facing difficult circumstances and women who have undergone abortions.

(8) Ask questions

Instead of relying just on blunt assertions—and putting the burden of proof on yourself—ask strategic questions to poke holes in someone’s position and get him thinking. Make him defend his claims. For example, if he says a baby becomes a person after birth, ask how a mere trip through the birth canal, a shift in location, can change who/what someone is or whether or not she has a right to life. If a pro-choice advocate says he is personally opposed to abortion but thinks it should remain legal, ask why he is opposed; note that the reason for personal opposition (abortion kills a human being) is precisely the reason abortion should not be permitted under law. (I recommend the “tactical approach” developed by Greg Koukl and used in Ch. 9 of Scott Klusendorf’s The Case for Life.)

You probably won’t change someone’s mind on the spot. But you can have a friendly conversation and give him or her something to think about. That should be your goal.

Reprinted with permission from National Right to Life News

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Phil Lawler

Father Rosica on Islam: 180º from reality

Phil Lawler
By Phil Lawler

November 25, 2015 (CatholicCulture) -- "'Allahu akbar' was never a call to violence & destruction."

That astonishing quote comes from the Father Thomas Rosica, the English-language attaché of the Vatican press office, in response to the terrorist attacks in Paris.

What is “astonishing” about the statement? Simply that it is so clearly wrong, so blatantly at odds with the facts. Does Father Rosica expect his readers to forget the many times in recent years when we have heard those words, ”Allahu akbar,” invoked precisely as a celebration of violence and destruction?

Father Rosica’s statement is obviously false. And he knows it’s false, because in the blog post from which it is taken, he goes on to talk about the proper response to Islamic extremism. “Muslim leaders and moderate Muslims need to condemn acts of violence and terror,” he says, and on that we can all agree.

The danger confronting our world is Islamic terrorism. It obfuscates the issue to speak of terrorism in generic terms, as the Obama White House does. It muddies the waters to remark, in the context of the deaths in Paris, that all religious faiths have been tainted by violence. (Are you worried about Presbyterian terrorists?) Nor is it helpful to observe that most Muslims are peaceful. Of course the terrorists are a minority, but they are a very dangerous minority, and we cannot ignore their appeal. Why are so many Muslims tempted toward violence?

Even before asking that question, let alone resolving the answer, some people—like Father Rosica, like President Obama—seem determined to believe (or to pretend) that there is no link between Islam and terror. Is it a coincidence, then, that so many terrorists have recruited their troops from the ranks of Islamic zealots (perhaps the same sort of coincidence as the 80 consecutive years of bad weather that resulted in disappointing harvests in Russia under Communism)?

Apparently many people in the West are loath to link Islam with terrorists for fear of offending moderate Muslims. But any peace-loving Muslims should be as worried as we are by the prospect of Islamic terrorism—more worried, indeed, because their faith is being abused and disgraced. Responsible Muslim leaders should be anxious to join in any effort to root out the problem.

The reality is 180º removed from Father Rosica’s statement. “Allahu akbar” has become a call to violence and destruction. That’s a very large problem for the West, but it’s also a problem for moderate Islam. If some Muslims deny the problem—if they take offense when the problem is mentioned—then they’re part of the problem.

Reprinted with permission from Catholic Culture

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