(POSTED: 8/16/10) The Rev. Jeffrey Keefe’s first encounter with a same-sex-attracted (SSA) client had a “profound effect” on him, he told priests and other pastoral workers at Mundelein Seminary July 30.
The man had confessed to another priest and then heard a “grunt of disgust” from the other side of the confessional screen. Father Keefe, a Syracuse, NY, Franciscan ordained in 1952 and a Ph.D. psychological counselor since 1965 with decades of experience with same-sex-attracted clients, was the first person he discussed his SSA condition with who didn’t make him feel like “a barrel of shit.” He “needed someone he could trust,” Father Keefe said.
He spoke at the 22nd annual conference of Courage <http://couragerc.net/&gt;, the national Catholic ministry to the same-sex-attracted, held July 29 to Aug. 1 at the seminary (U. of St. Mary of the Lake ). Three hundred people were registered for the conference, including 70 priests and seminarians and three bishops, among the latter Bishop Thomas Paprocki, formerly of Chicago now of Springfield, IL.
“We need an understanding heart,” Father Keefe said, urging his listeners not to be judgmental, but neither to be persuaded by the position of the American Psychiatric Association and other groups that the SSA condition is not a disorder but inborn and immutable and that to try to change orientation is unethical and dangerous.
There’s “no backing” for this, he said. “Ideology,” not science, “rules” this discussion.
Or it did until 2001, when Robert L. Spitzer, the Columbia U. psychiatrist who led the move to erase the “disorder” tag in 1973 (and with it the hope for change in orientation), announced his own research that held the opposite.
“Like most psychiatrists,” Spitzer said after interviewing hundreds of ex-gays, “I thought that homosexual behavior could be resisted – but that no one could really change [his or her] sexual orientation. I now believe that’s untrue – some people can and do change.”
The talk at the Courage conference, however, was almost all about change in behavior, not orientation. Janet E. Smith, who teaches moral theology at Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit, delivered spirited exhortation to the priests, proposing a “daunting but exhilarating” challenge to preach “hard truths.” She further encouraged them, as supplement to the more common “love and forgive” message, to preach on “how to pray” and the importance of reading Scripture.
“Tell them you went to a Courage Conference,” she urged. “Tell them to ask God to show them how to love family members with the SSA condition.”
Her commentary was pithy and pointed. Lacking “20 minutes to explain” to a nephew objecting to her saying same-sex activities are unnatural, her quick response was: “Bobby, the parts don’t fit.”
Later, addressing the whole conference on “Theology of the Body and the Single Life,” she explained papal statements and offered her own experience as one who lives the “chosen,” rather than consecrated, single life.
“When I feel glum about it,” she said, offering a common-sense solution to chafing about one’s situation, “I call up a married friend and ask, ‘How you doing?’”
Another speaker, “Dan,” told the priests and others of his “spiritual journey” from practicing homosexual to practicing Catholic.
The youngest of four boys born to a mother who wanted girls, he was presented to aunts and uncles in pig tails at age 6. By junior high, he was dreading being naked in the locker room. In due time, his fantasies were exclusively of men as the object of pressing desires, “always with shame.”
He desperately wanted to shut the desires off. “The pain was profound.” In this context, he called “gay” a misnomer, suggesting his listeners to Google “I am gay and I want a boyfriend,” and “I am gay and I want to die,” and compare the results – many million want a boyfriend, more than twice that number – 17 million – want to die.
In high school he dated girls but ended always as a friend – a buddy not a sweetheart, as the old cowboy song goes. He resorted to pornography, and not the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues which had been a staple of locker-room talk.
Then it was phone sex and the Internet. In college he once put in 24 hours non-stop on a computer in an office to which he had access. His roommate was worried enough about his whereabouts to call his parents.
At 21 he managed to get a girlfriend, but she broke it up for a woman. He entered a nine-month relationship with a man over the Internet, the web cam playing its part. “Parents,” he interjected, should “beware” of giving their children a computer with web cam for their rooms, such are the dangers of entanglement. What parents should do in any case is “just show love, unconditional love.”
He turned to Exodus International, a Protestant organization, which gave him a place where he could talk about his problem with other Christians. He found it a “very positive experience.”
But he remained “miserable” at 30 years old. He “turned his back on Christ,” went off to gay bars but was “cautious” about liaisons. He had one “random encounter” but decided – fortunately, he said – against more of the same. He cherished feelings of hostility for the Church, would make an obscene gesture at a basilica he passed every day on his way to work.
He found Ryan, a man with whom he stayed a year, then found Megan, but did not date her before asking Ryan’s leave to do so. Ryan gave it, with a long hug and tears. “Ryan loved me enough to let me go,” he said. He and Megan had sex, which he found “profoundly healing,” even if it was against God’s law. “Grace came from it,” he said. God was repaying “evil with good.” He began to turn back to “God’s kindness.”
After a year and a half with Megan, they took time off from the relationship. He returned after a year, ready to pick up where they had left off, but she was no longer interested. He was shattered. A friend asked him to wait with him while his wife had surgery. “We two sat there, one having lost, the other in danger of losing his loved one,” Dan recalled.
He spent two years mourning Megan, then joined a mega-church in a shopping mall. He began to read about religion and suffering and abandonment to God’s will. He came across St. Augustine and began to be drawn back to the Catholic Church, in which he had been baptized and where his brother was a priest.
His Catholic godparents, leaders of EnCourage International – for family members of SSA people, meeting at this same conference – drew him to last year’s Courage conference at Villanova University. There, much moved by his worship experience, with its “incense and song,” he decided to “reconcile.”
He told Philadelphia’s Cardinal Justin Rigali, who was at the conference, who responded, “Welcome home.” He went to confession to his priest-brother. It was his first in 30 years. He told the priests he is “a prodigal son,” for whom “Courage led the way.