Today, on the third anniversary of the death of Father John Harvey, OSFS, co-founder of Courage, I am examining a topic close to my heart: what Father Harvey said and did about marriage involving a spouse with same-sex attraction (SSA).
Update (28 December 2013): In yesterday's version of this post, I overstated my case as to the lack of discussion of mixed-inclination marriages in Father Harvey's second book. I have updated that paragraph to reflect that Father did report other counsellors' findings about numbers with passing commentary about processes. Given that his second book was meant to expand his first, I continue to find the difference striking. I remain open to correction from those who are more knowledgeable about Father Harvey's thought.
The fact that homosexual practices have wrecked many marriages has caused a psychiatrist and a canonist to consider the possibility of making homosexuality an impediment to marriage.... Instead of more speculation about the confusion which the proposed canonical impediment would bring, it seems better to recommend another approach involving pastoral rather than canonical considerations. Efforts should be made to persuade genuine homosexuals and persons of confirmed bisexual tendencies to give up the idea of marriage and to practice perfect chastity in the world. To this end a practical program should be spelled out. Since there are different degrees of inversion and of apparent bisexuality, it will be necessary to adapt the pastoral approach to the specific type with whom one is dealing, and to go still further in the refinement of counsel in consideration of the individual's personal history.
(“Homosexuality and Marriage,” Homiletic and Pastoral Review [December 1961], 227–234; available at CatholicCulture.org)1
When Courage was established in 1980, the original members, who were pursuing celibacy, developed the Five Goals: Chastity, Prayer and Dedication, Fellowship, Support, and Good Example. The original wording of the Fourth Goal was
To be mindful of the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in a celibate Christian life and to encourage one another in forming and sustaining them.
Father Harvey's first book, The Homosexual Person: New Thinking in Pastoral Care (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987), gave his most comprehensive review of married persons with SSA and included seven brief case studies, one exceedingly positive.
From a psychological point of view I can find no explanation for the way Alex has turned his life around.... In my view it raises the question of whether the so-called constitutional homosexual can change his sexual orientation to the degree that he is capable of valid marriage. (p. 180)
Notably, though, this man had betrayed his marriage before a conversion during it – and his wife still did not know. Nowadays, one sees more and more couples entering marriage aware that at least one prospective spouse has SSA and/or a history of same-sex activity.
On the basis of pastoral experience and of research into other authors, I remain of the opinion that wherever I find strong homosexual inclinations marriage is inadvisable, and I discourage it. Yet I want to find more satisfactory solutions than we have. (p. 186, footnote 14)
From a previously sexually active person with SSA who now proposed to contract marriage, Father Harvey expected chastity of one year's duration.
Unless he has a strong physical attraction for his fiancée, and control over all sexual tendencies, he should not marry. Pastoral experiences reveal that where these conditions are not fulfilled, marriages do not last more than a few years. Often they begin well, but within a few years homosexual fantasy and activity often recur. (p. 185)
I believe it is pastorally consistent to discourage marriages before the reception of the sacrament where there are clear signs of homosexuality in either partner, but to do everything psychologically and spiritually possible to heal a marriage where one of the partners is homosexual. At the same time we cannot deny the right of the non-homosexual partner to seek divorce and annulment where the homosexual partner leaves or has been flagrantly unfaithful. (p. 188)
In 1990, EnCourage was founded for the spiritual support of parents of grown sons and daughters with SSA. Over time, the outreach has come to include any loved one who is seeking support – and there is a subgroup called EnCourage Spouses.
The Truth About Homosexuality: The Cry of the Faithful (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1996) was meant to expand on Father Harvey's previous book. It contained a lengthy fourth chapter on "Possibility of Change in Orientation" (pp. 69–114). Father Harvey surveyed numerous counsellors' and clinicians' approaches to minimizing SSA and facilitating development of opposite-sex attraction. For instance, notwithstanding his objection that Living Waters included only spiritual (as against psychological) approaches, Father Harvey praised Andy Comiskey for "demonstrat[ing] that some Christians can change their sexual orientation to the point where they are predominantly heterosexual" and for correctly "making union with Christ the primary objective" (p. 100).
Presumably those who choose to pursue what we now call "sexual orientation change efforts" (SOCE) do so in order to prepare for prospective marriages or to salvage damaged marriages. Yet in his second book Father Harvey did not apply his research to the dynamics of actual mixed-inclination marriages. Instead, he discussed attitudes and outcomes reported by other writers. Several accounts of treatment or spiritual programs indicate that a significant minority of participants with SSA later marry. A secular counsellor whose methodology contradicted Catholic morality reported that half of the mixed-inclination marriages ended. Father Harvey appreciated those programs which helped indidivuals to address their personal needs before discerning whether to pursue courtships and which held out the realistic expectation that clients would be likely to continue to have a degree of ongoing SSA. As to why Father Harvey did not elaborate cases as before, I will speculate here that he was being cautious because of his personal experience of situations where naive or overconfident individuals and couples had undertaken marriages that resulted in tragedy. Relative to his expansive treatment of marriage in his first book, here the treatment became more quantitative than qualitative.
In 2000, a Courage member called Tina, noting that Courage was also serving married members, persuaded Father Harvey to change the Fourth of the Five Goals to be inclusive of all Courage members, regardless of the form of chastity they were pursuing. He agreed. We will be forever grateful to them both. The Fourth Goal is now and has remained
To be mindful of the truth that chaste friendships are not only possible but necessary in a chaste Christian life; and to encourage one another in forming and sustaining these friendships.
As of 2003, when he and Gerard V. Bradley co-edited Same-Sex Attraction: A Parent's Guide (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine's Press), Father Harvey recognized that EnCourage needed to be even better. And significantly, in answering parents' questions he presented sexual abstinence as the norm for persons with SSA (p. 192). To parents worried that their sons and daughters would be lonely if chaste, he suggested chaste friendships and a strong personal prayer life, but once more he did not discuss mixed-inclination marriage (p. 193).
By 2007, Father Harvey's last book, Homosexuality & the Catholic Church: Clear Answers to Difficult Questions (West Chester, PA: Ascension Press) acknowledged the claim then being made by Dr Robert L Spitzer that religiously motivated clients were reporting changing from predominantly homosexual to predominantly heterosexual orientation (pp. 28–30). Nevertheless, Father Harvey continued to protect persons with SSA by fighting against making inclination change the goal. "The belief that a change in orientation is not a necessity is strongly held by Courage. Parents often want to 'fix things' or 'make things right.' This can be a false hope which does not take into consideration the condition and capability of their son or daughter." (p. 174) It is significant that Father Harvey again did not discuss mixed-inclination marriage.
Tomorrow I'll take a more personal look at Father Harvey's pastoral approach to a well-advised mixed-inclination marriage, as well as the present and future needs of the Church in this area.
In the meantime, if you're on Facebook, please visit the Father John F. Harvey, OSFS - Memorial Page. Father Harvey, pray for us!