On Monday Reverend Tadeusz Pacholczyk wrote: Sexual Orientation: Hope for restoration and healing with SOCE for the Catholic Herald. The source for Pacholczyk’s enlightenment was none other than Peter Sprigg. This is very disappointing.
Disappointing because Father Pacholczyk should know better. After all, he has a PhD in neuroscience from Yale. Surely he knows a thing or two about evaluating research. Pacholczyk grew up knowing better because his father was a professor of astrophysics at the University of Arizona. Pacholczyk’s field (within the Catholic Church) is bioethics. I do not agree with his (anti-choice) conclusions but he makes good arguments.
Why on earth would someone like Fr. Pacholczyk feel it necessary to weigh in on conversion therapy and why on earth would he rely on the “scholarship” of someone so profoundly unschooled as Peter Sprigg? Sprigg is the anti-LGBT specialist for Family Research Council, an anti-LGBT hate group.
Pacholczyk goes on to write:
Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C., has provided a very helpful analysis of six studies published between 2000 and 2018 in a recent review article entitled, “Are Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) Effective? Are They Harmful? What the Evidence Shows.”
I have written about Sprigg’s “analysis” at length. The simple fact is that, of the six studies only one (Spitzer) was published to a respected academic journal and it was retracted. One of Sprigg’s sources was: Freedom Realized: First Stone Ministries Effectiveness Survey. Very compelling for sure. Who to believe: First Stone Ministries or the American Psychological Association?
There are many priests who disagree with the Church’s teachings on sexual orientation (I know two whom my late partner befriended). They keep quiet.
Here is a guy, again with a doctorate in neuroscience from Yale, who fully believes that gay people are “disordered.” It gets worse with rhetoric that sounds like it was written by Mad Mat Staver.
Many proponents of same-sex lifestyles argue that Sexual Orientation Change Efforts are not only not effective, but also are harmful and unscientific, going so far as to advocate for legislation that would restrict a practitioner’s ability to offer SOCE…
Felony number one is calling a sexual orientation that the Church disapproves of a “lifestyle.” Then the supposed lifestyle has its proponents which is a different form for those ubiquitous mythical activists that lurk to dispense evil, evil, evil. In any event, those folks (including me) are simply repeating what the American Psychological Association determined through a study of conversion therapy:
Sexual orientation change efforts are ineffective and possibly harmful.
Every mainstream professional peer group involved in behavioral health or counseling has since concurred.
People are free to challenge and should challenge established science. But through someone like Peter Sprigg? That makes absolutely no sense at all. Particularly when the challenger is so well educated in a somewhat related field. Mr. Sprigg, however, is in no position to substantiate an hypothesis as a challenge. He is entirely unqualified in education and training and has never published research.
In his review of the literature, Sprigg examines the issue of SOCE “harms” from another angle as well, evaluating the methods and claims of a very influential paper by Ariel Shidlo and Michael Schroeder, two self-identified gay researchers
Sprigg observes that the authors make no pretense of “being unbiased, nor of recruiting a representative sample of SOCE consumers.” Despite a scholarly veneer, their report offers almost entirely anecdotal reports of harm. It fails to offer compiled data, statistical evidence or data analysis and relies on a narrative approach and dubious claims regarding various harms and negative outcomes from SOCE.
The full 2002 article is here.
First, allow me to quote the abstract (highlight added):
What motivates individuals to pursue conversion therapy and ex-gay groups? How do they perceive its
harmfulness and helpfulness? In this study, 202 consumers of sexual orientation conversion interventions
were interviewed to answer these questions. The results indicated that a majority failed to change sexual
orientation, and many reported that they associated harm with conversion interventions. A minority
reported feeling helped, although not necessarily with their original goal of changing sexual orientation.
A developmental model that describes the various pathways of individuals who attempt to change their
sexual orientation is presented.
What people like Sprigg, and now Fr. Pacholczyk, never seem to grasp is that ineffectiveness is, in and of itself, harmful. If you consider what drives people to conversion therapy, ineffectiveness represents failure and that might be psychologically damaging. This is particularly true for children who have failed the expectations of their parents.
Quoting one example from the paper:
I felt more depressed after I did the therapy. The negative aspect was
that I really felt it was all up to me, a choice I had made, and because
of that choice I was condemned to being in this pain forever. This
need for unnatural affections.
As for recruiting a representative sample, the recruitment text is included in the paper. Sprigg is also dishonest (shocking I know). All reports of harm are going to be anecdotal. Moreover, the article offers plenty of “compiled data,” For example:
For self-perceived failures, out of 168 clinical treatments, 85
were viewed as harmful only, 9 as helpful only, 72 as both harmful
and helpful, and 2 as neither harmful nor helpful. With regard to 90
nonclinical interventions, 32 were harmful only, 3 were helpful
only, and 55 were both harmful and helpful
It seems that Fr. Pacholczyk relied on Sprigg rather than reading the paper himself. It is simply terrible scholarship to highlight an interpretation of a peer-reviewed study without evaluating the source. Furthermore, the paper was published by the American Psychological Association and was in peer review for three months. It looks like the referees required one revision before signing off:
Received December 13, 2001
Revision received March 4, 2002
Accepted March 11, 2002
Pacholczyk goes on to conclude:
Set within a broader religious and human framework, these statistically significant findings about SOCE from the field of psychotherapy help push back against the dogmatism of same-sex advocates and even of some professional medical societies. Such dogmatism ignores the best interests of clients by seeking to restrict the availability of important and potentially helpful therapies when everyone should instead be supporting access to ministries of healing and change for those desiring to restore psychological and spiritual wholeness in their lives.
It takes balls for a Catholic priest to criticize “dogmatism” on the part of scientists and professional medical societies. Chutzpah is necessary to claim that Peter Sprigg’s selective observation with a pre-determined outcome provides any kind of “push back.” Pacholczyk’s last sentence asserts that gay people are sick and require healing. He also claims that gay people are broken and need to their “wholeness.” As long as he is at it, where, exactly, is the peer-reviewed research to support such claims?
I have written this a hundred times. It is very disappointing that someone with Father Pacholczyk’s background is unable to separate his belief system, based on faith, from science which is based on evidence. As I said at the very beginning, Father Pacholczyk should know better. Clearly, he does not.