Father John Harvey, the founder of an anti-gay group which enjoys the blessing of Catholic archbishop of Sydney Dr George Pell, and who declares homosexuals to be without dignity and inferior, is coming to Australia.

For the better part of a decade, the group Courage, which extols reparative therapy as a homosexual’s only moral choice, was run in Australia by Pell’s former secretary, Father John Walshe. It has also used studies and scientific data by Paul Cameron, a discredited American psychologist who was expelled from the American Psychological Association in 1983.

Courage describes itself as an apostolate of the Catholic Church. On its website, it proudly touts the fact that it is the only such organisation approved by the Vatican and, in particular, the Pontifical Council for the Family, to which Pell was recently appointed for the second time.

The website goes on to say that homosexuals are objectively disordered and discourages the use of the words gay and lesbian as reductionist.

The website also claims that the success rate is at least 33% for those who with strong enough motivation, a good counselor, firm support (and often a lot of healing prayer) choose the journey out of homosexual feelings.

Harvey has long had a preoccupation with homosexuals and homosexuality. In 1967, he wrote in the New Catholic Encyclopaedia that the homosexual act by its very essence precludes all possibility of the transmission of life; such an act cannot fulfil the procreative purpose of the sexual faculty, and is, therefore, an inordinate use of that faculty. Since it runs contrary to a very important goal of human nature, it is a grave transgression of the divine will.

Twenty years later, he is no kinder or gentler, and continues to hold that there is no way one can justify homosexual acts. The homosexual lifestyle cannot be reconciled with a truly Christian way of life.

In the intervening years he wrote two books, both on homosexuality: The Truth About Homosexuality and another entitled The Homosexual Person.

In years of counselling, he writes, he has yet to meet a practising homosexual who could be called gay-š in the sense of joyful. He goes on to assert that in many homosexual persons, there is a terrible sense of inferiority.

Harvey tells audiences, Most people who have homosexual inclinations have a terrible hatred of themselves; they see themselves as inferior.

In a set speech -“ which he gave on his two earlier visits to Australia -“ he claimed that the human body was not made for sodomy. It was, he continued, a violation of the body; a perversion of true human sexuality. Homosexuality, he declared, is the consequence of turning away from God and revelation.

He also claims that there has been a cover-up concerning the truth about AIDS, and that as a form of safe sex, condoms are a myth perpetrated by the media and homosexual propagandists.

Benedict Groeschel, who outlined the group’s philosophy in a book The Courage To Be Chaste, also wrote the preface to Harvey’s first book. Groeschel was brought to Australia by the Catholic diocese of Canberra and Goulburn in 1991.

In the preface to Harvey’s book, Groeschel writes that homosexuals are in need of tough love by the Catholic Church, which must indicate the road of authentic moral conduct to them so that they find dignity as an adult. He also asserts that the homosexually indulgent have settled for a melancholy acquaintance, something he finds sad.

The sad lives that homosexuals supposedly lead prompted Pell, then archbishop of Melbourne, to give Courage his imprimatur in a pastoral letter issued to 300 priests in December 1999, telling them that the group enjoys [his] blessing.

The pastoral letter says that homosexuals are disordered and as sick as their secrets.

One of the most disturbing things about Courage is its affiliation with the American Religious Right. In 1999 -“ the same year that Pell issued his pastoral letter -“ Courage USA sponsored a conference of youth leaders entitled My Brother’s Keeper at the Cardinal Spellman Retreat Center in the Bronx.

It was a curious choice of venue given that John Cooney in his book The American Pope demonstrated just how the church had long concealed Cardinal Spellman’s homosexuality before, and even after, his death.

Speakers at the conference included Dr Larry Burtoft, an evangelical minister who teaches training courses at James Dobson’s ultra-conservative Focus on the Family, and Dr Joseph Nicolosi, the executive director of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which is heavily promoted on the Courage website.

Nicolosi is a notorious gay-baiter. In his book Reparative Therapy Of Male Homosexuality, Nicolosi writes that two men can never take in each other in the full and open way. Not only is there a natural anatomical unsuitability, but there is an inherent psychological insufficiency as well.

Gay couplings are characteristically brief and very volatile, because the homosexual hates what he loves. Research reveals that homosexual relationships almost never possess the mature elements of quiet consistency, trust, mutual dependency, and sexual fidelity characteristic of highly functioning heterosexual marriages.

The Australian chapter of Courage began in 1988. It was run for some years by Fr John Walshe, Dr Pell’s former secretary, and the national chairman of a right-wing group, the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy.

In 1997, the Confraternity brought Fr Joseph Fessio, the publisher of Ignatius Press, to Australia for a lecture tour. Ignatius Press has published Paul Cameron’s works, as well as Harvey’s, and also sells a video on Courage.

Interestingly, the November 1997 edition of San Francisco Faith reported on Fessio’s visit, noting that Pell not only was present at Fessio’s Melbourne lecture, but personally proposed the vote of thanks.

I asked Walshe how he got involved in Courage. I started that when Fr Harvey came to Australia for the first time. I was contacted, and my name put forward to Archbishop Frank Little. He accepted the idea of the group, and he appointed me to it.

I was their chaplain, a spiritual adviser to the group. More of a religious role. It’s a support group for people of homosexual orientation who want to live a chaste life. It’s not to change that orientation. It’s run by people of like mind and I did my little bit in helping it.

I wouldn’t describe myself as homosexual. No. But have I ever experienced same-sex attraction? I wouldn’t answer that question.

Although Courage adopts a notoriously hard line on homosexuality, it would seem that it is not impervious to public opinion. Its publications and website have over recent years become more cryptic, according to gay journalist Michelangelo Signorile.

According to a Signorile article published in 2001, the Courage website had in the past included a 12-step program adapted from that of Alcoholics Anonymous. Step One: We admitted we are powerless over our homosexual feelings, and our lives had become unmanageable. Step Two: We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Signorile also notes that in 2001 Courage was still using scientific data from discredited psychologist Paul Cameron in its FAQ section. This has since been removed.

Cameron, the chairman of the Institute for the Scientific Study of Sexuality in Washington DC, likes to present himself as a social scientist, and regularly refers to homosexuals as faeces-eaters or filthy anus-lickers.

In recent speeches, he has advocated the castration of homosexuals, punching holes in the cartilage of lesbians’ noses, as well as quarantining and even exterminating them.

He also contends that the HIV virus is spread by mosquitoes, and takes numerous cans of insect repellent with him, which he hands out at marches. Believing his daughter to be a prime target for AIDS, he regularly sprays her from head to toe in repellent.

He would brand those suffering from AIDS with a small A tattooed onto their faces much like the adulterers in The Scarlet Letter so that people would know when meeting someone with the disease.

Rather than encouraging anti-gay violence, Cameron believes that this will save the lives of homosexuals which is of great concern to him because he is hoping to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

The current director of Courage in Australia is Brendan Scarce, a Brisbane-based counsellor, who runs his own stress management business and occupational counselling consultancy.

In two lengthy interviews in his Brisbane office, Scarce claimed that he was not a practising homosexual person and that he did not have any existential knowledge of homosexuality, nor did he understand them experientially.

He had, he told me, counselled homosexual people for 15 years, and also said that he had worked with prisoners and murderers for four years where he assisted them to undergo anger management.

When I asked him how many homosexuals he had in fact counselled, he said, One a year, if that. When I said that it was then about 15, he did not contest the figure.

I’m the leader of the pack, he says. I didn’t want the appointment, but through Teen Challenge -“ an Assemblies of God group -“ where I ministered to drug addicts for 20 years, I came across all kinds of sexual deviancy and perversions including homosexuality.

I used to train workers and do counselling, and Catholic people with a same-sex attraction were sent over to me by Peter Lane of Liberty Inc. which is another ministry taking homosexuals out of the drug world. He found that there were a number of homosexuals in that milieu, so accidentally and providentially, he began that ministry. Out of that, and out of my training, my involvement with Courage flowed.

Homosexuality cannot be reconciled with a truly Christian way of life. But what does the word -˜lifestyle’ mean? This is all about same-sex attraction and desires. Courage members say goodbye to the attraction, but also to the gay lifestyle, to gay culture.

They must effect healthy lives, and that means new recreational pursuits, new friends, new accommodations, new spending goals and, of course, regular attendance at Sunday mass. We’re talking about something which has cost, not cheap grace. Courage is all about that kind of discipleship.

Scarce concurs with Harvey: there aren’t any happy homosexuals. I haven’t seen too many happy homosexuals. I think if you know the Catholic Church, it forbids sex, so it does cut out part of a life, and I think, syllogistically, some homosexuals are sad, and it’s a struggle for many. I met one happy homosexual last year, and that was quite a challenge for me. In trying to be authentic, I had to grapple with that idea.

He also agrees with Harvey that there has been a media cover-up on the whole issue of AIDS. This leads to a strange discussion on the violence he claims is inherent in homosexuality.

The violent side of homosexuality -“ the violence associated with homosexuality -“ is not talked about. There’s a lot of violence in homosexual relationships, you know. It’s a dangerous lifestyle, and the media and popular magazines talk about an excess of sexuality. It’s all -˜let’s do it’.

There’s a focus on titillation and eroticism -“ eroticism is pornography anyway -“ and I just think the media is besotted with promiscuity and with homosexuality. It’s all shamelessness. That’s probably too simple for you. As to whether safe sex is a myth, well, I would say that the jury is still out on that.

There is a ring of unhappiness and a poignant sorrow with homosexuals, you know. There’s a depressiveness in them, an angst. Homosexuals often write that in their literature. They acknowledge that.

As I rise to leave, however, Scarce asks me if I’d like to go the hard road of coming out of homosexual practice. There’s hope for me, he says.

When I respectfully decline, he seems personally miffed. There are very serious injunctions against homosexuality in Leviticus and in Romans in the Scriptures, he says, waving his finger at me. God is the author of the human image, and we’re vessels, you know. We’re sons and daughters of our Lord. We have a tremendous dignity as human beings, and homosexuals don’t really advocate that kind of dignity. They don’t know how to effect that.

Michael Kelly, spokesperson for the gay Catholic activist group the Rainbow Sash Movement, laughs when I tell him Scarce’s comments. Some of the Courage literature also suggests that because there is either a choice or an illness involved in homosexuality, that civil rights should be denied to gay and lesbian people.

Courage certainly has a slightly different tone from [Christian fundamentalist groups such as] Exodus in its rhetoric around change, but underneath, there is still the belief that we are second-class citizens and fundamentally flawed people, and I don’t think this is a healthy way for young gay and lesbian people to develop a sense of who they are.

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