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Therapist says gay ministries subvert doctrine.

Every day, 46-year-old Joseph Nicolosi confronts realities of homosexuality that are not well-publicized - the anguish, the self-loathing, the desire to change.

In the late 1970s Nicolosi earned his doctorate from Los Angeles' California School of Professional Psychology. Then in 1980 he established the Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic in the Los Angeles area.

"I wanted to establish a psychological service specifically for the Catholic population," he says. "I wanted to offer therapy in harmony with Catholic teaching."

In more recent years he has concentrated on the treatment of homosexuals. Nicolosi's successful "reparative theory" has helped more than 200 men overcome their homosexual tendencies and has established him as a dissenting voice. His book Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality: A New Clinical Approach, was released in 1991. A second book, Healing Homosexuality: Clinical Stories of Reparative Therapy, is due this spring.

News Notes. What was your role with the Los Angeles diocese?

Nicolosi: I was a psychological consultant to the Los Angeles matrimonial tribunal for about 12 years.

Did you ever work with priests?

Yes, many of them. Until about two or three years ago, I was also a primary referral source for priests who were in need of psychotherapy.

How many homosexual priests have you counseled over the years? About 30. I've also worked with a lot of seminarians.

How many successfully overcame their homosexuality?

The ones who remain in therapy with me are able to significantly decrease their homosexual behavior. I have three right now. The rest are spread all over the country, so it's hard to say. Usually there are associated problems - they're very depressed or alcoholic.

Why are you no longer a primary referral source?

I think they (the diocese) wanted to distribute some of the work around. I was the main guy for a long time. I also did the psychological screening for St. John Seminary (in Camarillo) for 12 years. I still do them as they come up, I'd say probably once every few months or so.

What kind of questions do you ask?

I am obliged to ask, number one, their understanding of the commitment to celibacy and their sexual orientation. I have to complete an evaluation as to whether or not I think they need psychotherapy. How they envision their ministry. Their spiritual life is very important Their relationship to the community. I talk to them for maybe an hour and a half. Then they take a projective test and a written test and I have to pull the material together and write a report. ...

Right now, the policy is to admit a homosexually oriented man to the priesthood as long as he's committed to celibacy. I have spoken to a number of priests whom I respect greatly who believe that the policy should be changed.

Is the quality of young men considering priesthood better or worse than in the past?

Dramatically worse. There are several reasons for this. There are fewer young people who are considering the priesthood, and the church is willing to accept lower-quality candidates. I don't think it's a Southern California, or even a national, problem, I think it's an international phenomenon. Certainly, in the United States we don't have the respect or prestige for the priestly vocation.

Doesn't the L.A. diocese have an office for gay and lesbian ministry?

Yes. It's headed by Father Peter Liuzzi.

What's Dr. Joseph Nicolosi your opinion of him?

I feel like he's undermining Catholic teaching. And while he will speak the official Catholic line, what he conveys privately is a sabotaging of Catholic doctrine. In fact, I take issue with the very title of the office.

You don't think dioceses need separate offices for ministering to gays and lesbians?

I think what the diocese is doing with such an office is pacifying the very strong gay element that is applying pressure to the Catholic church in the United States. From both gay laypeople and gay priests.

Do you have any specific knowledge of things Father Liuzzi is doing that are "undermining" church teaching?

I had a client who came to me and said he went to a male prostitute's apartment, paid the guy $200, had sex with him while they were watching porno, and afterward felt terribly guilty. He called Father Peter Liuzzi and Father Liuzzi's response was, quote, "Well, we mustn't judge ourselves. God is much more merciful than we are." ...

I've talked to other young men who have called Father Liuzzi and he's told them basically the church requires homosexuals to lead celibate lives now - however, that may well change in the future. That certainly doesn't help a young man who's trying to change his behavior.

Do you think the problems stem from gay clergy in the L.A. hierarchy?

Well, I once was counseling a seminarian who was sexually involved with a bishop in the diocese of Los Angeles. I feel there are at least two gay bishops in the Los Angeles archdiocese. And I underline the words at least. I'm being charitable. And again, I make the distinction between "gay" and "homosexual." I don't mind homosexuals. But gay is a social, political identity. To me, gay is incompatible with Christianity. Therefore, why should there be such an office called "gay and lesbian ministry"? It's like saying "the Catholic abortionist ministry." It's a contradiction in terms.

But isn't there the possibility that the office does some good work?

Let's put it this way: I have never received a referral from the office of gay and lesbian ministry. It's incredible for me to believe that this office has been established for seven years now and has never encountered one young man desiring to change his tendencies.

Are there any other local agencies or therapists you might not be aware of whom the diocese is sending those types of people to?

No. I know them all. I'm in touch with everyone in this field. I'm the only Catholic doing this type of work in the area. The only orthodox Catholic ministry for homosexuals in the United States is called Courage.

How did you meet Father John Harvey (founder of Courage, to whom Nicolosi's first book is dedicated)?

We corresponded regarding our frustrating attempts to establish a Courage chapter in Los Angeles. In seven years we still have not been able to do so.

What specific roadblocks have you encountered?

Dead silence. No reply at all. Silence, sabotage and double-talk.

From whom?

Liuzzi. I'm always sent to him. ... See, the problem is, the American bishops want to keep everybody happy. And the Catholic church's ministerial response to homosexuals is pathetic in comparison to many other Christian denominations that provide dynamic, vital outreach programs. The church wants to be ... politically correct and walk the gray line to not offend anybody. They know if they come out and support men who are trying to heal themselves of homosexuality it's going to anger the gays. If it ever becomes "popular" to minister to homosexuals in this way, the church and people like Cardinal Mahony will be right there on top, telling everybody how to do it.

A psychiatrist named Richard Gardner wrote in the National Catholic Reporter (March 19) that it's nearly impossible for a psychologically healthy man to be celibate. He says for a priest to be celibate he has to be asexual Is it reasonable to ask a priest to remain celibate and channel his sexual energy elsewhere?

I don't think he has a proper understanding of celibacy. I think he's seeing a psychological view of celibacy, and I don't think the phenomenon and the mystery of celibacy can be understood in strictly scientific terms. All I can tell you is that I know of many priests who are successfully celibate. Of course, it's a challenge. But it's not an impossibility. I think many celibate priests are able to function well. Which is not to say that it's never a problem, but it's workable.

How widespread do you think the homosexual problem is among priest in this country?

Homosexual or gay?

Homosexual, first. Would venture a percentage?

My guess is probably 20 percent are homosexuals. Of those, maybe half are gay.

How do you think the Catholic church at this point can address the problem of homosexual clergy?

Very simply, we have to become more clear on doctrine. We have excellent doctrine. The Vatican's letter on the pastoral response to homosexuals is an excellent document. Unfortunately, it is not put into practice. My concern is not with the priest who has a homosexual orientation but is aware that it is a problem and who is committed to celibacy. The church has always had priests like that, and I think those priests can make a wonderful contribution to the church.

My concern is the ever-increasing number of gay priests who, by their label of gay, see homosexual behavior as a natural and equal alternative. What's interesting is that when you read gay spirituality you see that it allows for erotic behavior, which violates the rule of chastity. But what gay spirituality says is that your homosexual orientation is a gift from God that is to be celebrated. And I find that very suspicious. So-called gay spirituality is a real threat to the Catholic church today.

How do you counsel a priest who's been actively homosexual to become celibate and change his homosexual predisposition?

The focus of therapy is to complete the sense of masculine identification. For me, the homosexual is a man who has not fully identified with his masculinity and he seeks it out in other men. He's attracted to the masculinity that he does not possess. But if he is in possession of it, then he doesn't need to eroticize it. This is a very difficult therapy to undertake, and the client has to be highly motivated. Of course, if a client has been sexually promiscuous in the past, the prognosis goes down.

What about genetic predisposition theories -

No such thing. A survey of the total biological literature shows absolutely nothing conclusive (about genetic disposition). ... Studies show that identical twins - with exactly the same chromosome pattern - the odds are 50-50 one will become homosexual, the other will not. So obviously we have some environmental factors.

What should priests do if they have suspicions of gay problems with another priest?

Fist of all, to avoid a witch-hunt, we must not be concerned about orientation. Otherwise we start looking for limp wrists, and that's no good.

So you don't think effeminacy is an issue. Priests who act effeminate and are overly concerned about beautiful trappings, lace on their surplices or vestments, things like that?

I think that we can be concerned about the impression that type of thing gives to laypeople, but we can't judge a person's behavior by his appreciation of finery. But as soon as we see any indication of inappropriate behavior, then I think we have a responsibility to both confront the priest and bring it to the attention of his superiors. The incredible scandal of pedophilia that has hit the church in the last few years has given us clear warning that we have no other choice.

Are you familiar with the San Diego diocese?

I understand they have similar problems to Los Angeles. They're burying their heads in the sand. The American bishops are buying their heads.

How do you read Cardinal Mahony on all this?

I think Mahony will speak the right speak, but what is going on in the chancery office is outrageous.

Do you think he's aware of what's going on in the diocese?

How could he not be aware of it. . . . Politicians are going to discover that you can never appease the gay element. It's never enough. And I think Mahony's going to discover that as well.
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Title Annotation:Dr. Joseph Nicolosi
Author:Ryland, Tim
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Interview
Date:May 7, 1993
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