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Cardinal George criticized for plans to attend alleged gay-conversion conference

Cardinal Francis George | Sun-Times files

Cardinal Francis George | Sun-Times files

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Updated: August 25, 2013 6:26AM

Cardinal Francis George is being called out in a petition drive to drop plans to offer mass at a conference where critics say therapists and priests will be trained in “dangerous ex-gay” therapy or controversial conversion therapy.

But conference organizers deny the claim.

At the four-day “Courage Conference,” which kicks off Thursday in Mundelein, George is scheduled to celebrate mass on Friday morning. Courage International Inc., a Connecticut-based Roman Catholic Apostolate, is hosting the program.

Executive Director Father Paul Check says the organization provides spiritual support for Catholic men and women with “same-sex attractions” who desire to live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

The conference plans to hold a “Therapist Seminar” scheduled for Friday. But Check said while the Courage community has members of the mental health profession, “their work for us and with us is not directed towards a change of sexual inclination or desire” and emphasized that’s not the organization’s mission.

Homosexual men and women often struggle with “difficulties that in some way may be related to their struggle to live chaste lives,” including substance abuse and depression, and the organization seeks to assist people in such struggles, Check said.

But Michael Sherrard, executive director of Faithful America, which launched the petition drive, contends “priests and therapists will be trained in dangerous and debunked techniques that don’t cure homosexuality but do contribute to suicide and depression.”

He added, “By appearing at this conference and celebrating mass there, Cardinal George is implicitly endorsing practices that cost the lives of gay and lesbian youth.”

George responded in an email: “Courage is an organization of homosexually-oriented Catholics who support one another in their quest for holiness as homosexuals. I haven’t seen their program, but their literature speaks only of spirituality, not of therapy.

“When national Catholic organizations meet, the local Bishop is often asked to offer Mass for them. That’s the only reason I’ll be there. (It’s called loving your neighbor.)”

Sherrard, however, said the forum includes Dr. Timothy Lock and Dr. William Consiglio, who is described on the conference website as a part-time “Christian Psychotherapist,” specializing in the area of Sexual Orientation Resolution Therapy.

Consiglio also is the author of the book “Homosexual No More.” Lock’s presence at the conference is being highlighted on the website of the controversial organization National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, which identifies Lock as a member.

The association’s website says “clients have the right to diminish their homosexuality and to develop their heterosexual potential. The right to seek therapy to change one’s sexual adaptation should be considered self-evident and inalienable.”

In its petition drive, Faithful America says it had garnered 13,097 signatures as of Tuesday evening. Faithful America calls itself “an online community dedicated to reclaiming Christianity from the religious right.”

The American Psychiatric Association has recommended that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, noting that the potential risks of reparative therapy include depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.

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