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Column from Catholic priest supporting ‘curing’ gays and lesbians draws condemnation

The opinion pages of the Star Tribune have become embroiled in a war of words over efforts to “cure” gays and lesbians of their homosexuality.

Last week, the Rev. James Livingston, a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis penned a column titled “Some people can make the gay go away” asserting that being gay is a “weakness” that can sometimes be cured through therapy and prayer. On Thursday, OutFront Minnesota offered a rebuttal: “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are not broken. We are not in need of repair.”

Livingston, who heads a support group for men and women with same-sex attractions, penned his column in response to a previous editorial by Ron Bates, “Growing up Catholic and gay in Minnesota.”

“For years and years, I would prostrate myself on the floor and ask God to change me. Maybe if I just pray more, fast more, do more ‘works of charity,’ the male attraction will go away,” wrote Bates. “After more than 30 years of trying to ‘burn’ the evil out of me, I finally came out at age fifty four.”

Livingston responded that non-heterosexual orientations are a product of dysfunctional upbringings:

The plain truth is that people with same-sex attractions experience them differently.

For some, those desires are deeply rooted and long-lasting, while others experience them as symptoms of something else: loneliness, lack of confidence or frustrated childhood bonding with same-sex parents or peers, just to begin the list.

In other words, some people really do find developmental and environmental roots to their same-sex attractions. And yes, some find release from them through therapy or through the mysterious grace of a spiritual awakening.

Livingston said that gay marriage should never be legalized.

“Traditional marriage is rooted in this ancient if inconvenient truth, and it can’t be scolded or legislated away by one misguided generation. History is not and never will be on the side of gay marriage,” Livingston wrote. “Minnesota citizens, you can support traditional marriage and be a friend to persons with same-sex attractions. It’s not an “either/or” issue.”

Rebecca Waggoner, anti-violence program director for OutFront Minnesota, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy organization, and the Rev. Oby Ballinger of OutFront’s Minnesota People of Faith Roundtable, disagreed with Livingston‘s take on the issue.

“Rev. Livingston is wrong: true friendship means valuing friends for who they are,” they wrote. “We cannot call ourselves friends to LGBT people if we work to deny their love, erase their identities, and exclude them from marriage.”

“In reality, many people of faith affirm the inherent human dignity of all people, including those with LGBT identities,” they continued. “They recognize that, instead of asking how we can change a child’s identity, we should ask how we can change our world so children will be supported as they are and be free to make the best choices for their own lives as they become adults.”

Livingston’s words also brought condemnation in the paper’s letters to the editor.

“Livingston’s commentary is an example of a problematic type of ‘soft bigotry’ that many exhibit toward the LGBT community,” wrote Patrick Finnegan of Minneapolis. “Although he purports to show compassion to people with same-sex attraction, it is predicated on the assumption that such attraction is a dysfunction to be suppressed and corrected.”

Chad O’Leary of St. Paul shared his story in the paper’s letters section:

Being told that I could “pray it away” set me up for what I could least afford: failure. I considered myself a failure in the eyes of God and, at the age of 14, sat with a bottle of aspirin by my bed considering ending it all.

After seven years of youth ministry within the Catholic Church, I know firsthand that there are teens on the brink of ending it all, who see themselves as disgusting anomalies for wanting to love someone of the same sex and build a family with that person. I think that perpetuating this self-loathing is the epitome of sin.

Ben Smith of Minneapolis wondered why Livingston’s column was ever published in the first place.

“While everyone is entitled to their opinion, the Star Tribune does not have to publish every illogical, ill-conceived, bigoted and fact-free bit of insane drivel that comes its way, whether it’s from a religious figure or not,” Smith wrote. “From its assertion that much same-sex attraction comes from ‘loneliness or lack of confidence’ to its ridiculous claim that gay identity is being forced onto young people who are then imprisoned by it, Livingston’s article is filled with nonsense with zero basis in reality.”

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