Colorado’s Ban on “Conversion Therapy” Won’t Stop the Catholic Church

Republicans in Colorado’s state senate last year blocked a Democratic house bill banning registered health professionals from using so-called conversion therapy against LGBTQ minors.

After Democrats flipped the state senate and gained total control of the Colorado state government in November, the same legislation is expected to get through both chambers this year and be signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis (D), the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States.

State Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg (D-Boulder) introduced the measure on Thursday and expects it to pass. So-called conversion therapy is opposed by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychological Association. A legislator in Maryland last year called the practice “torture.”

“The practice of gay conversion therapy has no scientific basis and has caused long-term developmental and emotional damage to too many young children in Colorado,” Fenberg told Rewire.News in an emailed statement. “I’m proud to sponsor legislation that will finally stop licensed counselors in Colorado from using such harmful tactics on our kids.”

But as Democrats and their allies prepare to pass the legislation, Denver’s Catholic archbishop is launching a “conversion therapy” program that will fall outside the bounds of the new law, skirting the ban.

Details emerged January 19 at a conference organized by the Archdiocese of Denver, called “Gender Matters: Fighting for a New Generation.” It was organized along with Andrew Comiskey and his organization Desert Stream Living Waters Ministry, which trains parishioners to set up groups in their local churches with the goal of “healing” LGBTQ people and others who are “sexually and relationally” broken by transforming them into “mature heterosexuals.”

This is supposed to be accomplished through prayer and small-group therapy sessions infused with “reparative and developmental psychology.”

In his opening remarks at the January conference, Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila urged the 200 attendees to answer a “call for evangelization” by joining Comiskey’s program and launching so-called conversion therapy groups in their churches.

Even though they’d apparently be practicing “conversion therapy” as defined by the bill, the “healers” at Catholic churches in Denver probably wouldn’t be stopped by Colorado’s new law, even if they were to practice the program on minors. That’s because the ban would only apply to a “licensed physician specializing in psychiatry or a licensed, certified, or registered mental health care provider.”

Fenberg acknowledged the state legislation wouldn’t stop the “conversion therapy” envisioned at the Catholic churches, because the state doesn’t have a role in regulating unlicensed practitioners at “private religious institutions.”

“We hope our society someday reaches a point where these programs aren’t tolerated anywhere,” he said.

The speakers at the archdiocese’s conference would disagree with Fenberg.

Referencing “all the transgender stuff that’s going on,” the archbishop said “one of the great problems with that ideology, as Pope Francis has pointed out, is that that ideology makes us the creator, and is a real rejection of the true creator, God. And in that, it’s a rejection of what it means to be male and female, and it is totally rooted in subjectivism and relativism.”

Comiskey’s conversion-therapy model pushes Aquila’s words into action. It relies on training churchgoers, especially oneswith emotional struggles, to become “healers” who establish conversion-therapy groups in churches and recruit fellow parishioners and others to attend.

The emphasis, but not the sole focus, is on LGBTQ people.

“We have found that same-sex attraction is best worked out amid a range of other problems like (hetero) sexual addiction,” Comiskey wrote in a Desert Stream booklet titled The Kingdom of God and the Homosexual (Revised). “A community of same-sex strugglers is usually not healthy. One needs to understand the same-sex struggle in the light of diverse struggles. In this way, (s)he is challenged to see his issue as one common to humanity, and in the group to take his/her place among the whole.”

The small group approach “satisfies legal concerns” because churches “need not be rocked by liability issues if tough issues are handled in the light of several witnesses,” Comiskey wrote in the booklet.

In his extensive writing and online videos, Comiskey, who expresses joy in being “set free from homosexuality” and opposes conversion-therapy bans, has said that “there is no such thing as a ‘gay’ person.” In his 1989 book, Pursuing Sexual Wholeness: How Jesus Heals the Homosexual, Comiskey wrote, “Satan especially delights in homosexual perversion because it not only exists outside of marriage, but it also defiles God’s very image reflected as male and female.”

The website of Restored Hope Network, which advocates for the “transformation” of LGBTQ people and other “broken sexual sinners,” includes Desert Stream in its list of member ministries. The website lists Comiskey as a member of the advisory council; “having come to the church broken, he loves nothing more than serving broken ones who cry out for mercy in the church,” reads his biography on the site. “Andrew’s ministry remains fresh as a result of his own commitment to overcome homosexuality.”

At the conference, Comiskey said the wide acceptance of LGBTQ relationships today is a sign that “we’ve lost our minds,” and the election of Polis left him “slackjawed.”

Comiskey’s program has the backing of at least one other Catholic Archbishop: Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, who is quoted in one of Desert Stream’s promotional pamphlets: “Living Waters offers a practical, Catholic-friendly approach to the pastoral care of people who experience same-sex attraction, gender identity issues, relational brokenness and other personal challenges that keep them from experiencing the joy and integrity that spring forth from the virtue of Christian chastity. ” Naumann also endorsed Desert Stream in an promotional video, as did Aquila.

The Archdiocese of Wichita has a Desert Stream conference scheduled for March 15, and Comiskey writes online that he’s expanding his program “in five US urban centers and in Asia, Latin America, and Europe — all continents that are mimicking America’s example of ‘gay marriage’ and ‘trans’ rights.”

“After 39 years in ministry, we have just begun to blaze,” he writes of his recent expansion.

“We urge you to consider coming to a Living Waters training,” Comiskey says in an online video promotion of his one-week training for healers. “Come and substantiate the claim that your church makes that Jesus really is the way, the truth, and the life for all persons, including persons beset by all manner of sexual and gender problems. Come to the Living Waters training.”

Even though the the new law apparently won’t stop the Catholic Church, civil rights activists and other progressives look forward to Colorado joining the 15 states and Washington, DC, that have laws banning conversion-therapy for minors on the books. Denver officials passed a similar municipal ordinance January 7.

“I hear stories from Coloradans all across our state about why gender matters — so every LGBTQ Coloradan can live their lives as their full, authentic selves,” Daniel Ramos, executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group One Colorado, said in a statement responding to the Gender Matters conference. “Which is why we added a third gender option for Coloradans on their drivers licenses. Which is why we will make is easier for transgender Coloradans to update their birth certificates. And which is why 2019 will be the year that we ban conversion therapy for minors in Colorado.”

After the January 19 conference, the Denver Archdiocese released a statement, saying the conference “was for adults who wanted to explore more deeply the healing power of Jesus and the Church’s teachings on human sexuality. The heart of the teaching is about recognizing the dignity of each and every individual and to lead them to a closer relationship with God. It has nothing to do with the ‘conversion therapy’ of minors that the City of Denver recently banned.”