A camp for sports and avoiding gay sex

This weekend a group of men will gather at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary to how learn to throw a spiral, make a three-point shot and hit a long ball — and to resist homosexual urges.

Courage, a Catholic group that encourages people with same-sex attraction to remain celibate, is holding its 13th annual sports camp in which “men physically compete on the field while enriching their souls through a daily regimen of prayer, confessions, mass, and the Liturgy of the Hours,” according to the group’s website.

“They think that in offering people with same sex attraction the chance to learn how to play sports they will learn to be manlier,” said Ed Coffin, director of Peace Advocacy Network, a Philadelphia group which plans to protest outside the seminary on City and E. Wynnewood Avenues Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. The camp runs today through Sunday. Previous camps have attracted several dozen men from across the country.

“It’s a ludicrous assertion. There are many, many out gay athletes and many gay men who play sports,” he said.

Courage director Rev. Paul Check did not return a call for comment. A member of the local chapter said Rev. Check had given the sports camp coordinators permission to speak but that they declined.

The member, who asked not to be identified, said the weekend was a “tutorial sports event” and “not some sort of brainwashing camp that tries to make someone into something they’re not.”

He also said all different kinds of people were expected to attend, including married men “who had this issue in the past” and those who face “social blockades” because of their ineptitude when it came to sports. While no drinking is allowed, according to the registration form, in previous years participants celebrated at the end of the week with cigars and cognac.

The Courage website says it helps people with same sex attraction — the word gay is not used — develop “an interior life of chastity ... and move beyond the confines of the homosexual identity.” It is filled with advice from doctors, psychologists and ordinary people on living a chaste single life.

However, some of those affiliated with the group believe that people can change their sexual orientation. Therapist Paul Kleponis of the Institute for Marital Healing in West Conshohocken has said at Courage conferences that he believes homosexuality was rooted in childhood rejection and trauma and that through therapy people could develop an attraction for the opposite sex. He declined to comment for this story.

Some of that rejection, at least for men, can be linked to failure at sports, the group maintains. Robert Fitzgibbons, a therapist who runs the Marital Institute and has written extensively about what he calls healing homosexual attraction, said in an article on the Catholic Education Resource Center that boys who are rejected because they can’t play sports “begin to identify with the female instead of the male.”

At the root of the problem, he contends, is poor eye-hand coordination. Fitzgibbons spoke at a 2006 sports camp in St. Louis.

“Fortunately, Catholic spirituality, combined with good psychotherapy, can result in a complete healing of those with this disorder,” he wrote in a paper presented at the Conference on Family and Education in Toronto in 1996.

His secretary said he was unavailable for comment yesterday.

The camp is being held following a week of strong criticism of antigay, or conversion therapy. The California state legislature is debating a bill to ban the therapy as dangerous and the World Health Organization called it “a serious threat to the health and well-being — and even the lives — of affected people.”

Then the psychiatrist Dr. Robert Spitzer, author of acontroversial 2001 study that claimed that some highly motivated gay people could become heterosexual with therapy, this week said he was wrong and apologized to the gay community.

“It’s been a really bad week for this whole movement to change one’s sexual orientation,” said Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, which fights against antigay theory and religious extremism.

The idea that gay people are bad at sports “is an insult to common sense and is contradicted by reality,” he said. “The idea that sports has anything to do with one’s sexuality is confusing science with stereotypes.”

Billy Bean, a former Major League baseball player who made headlines when he came out as gay in 1999 and wrote about his experience — including dealing with the sudden death of his partner — in the book, Going the Other Way, said in an e-mail that Courage’s take on sports “is discrimination and archaic stereotypical belief, that is inexcusable. We are born the way we are born. I find it heartbreaking that anyone would subject a young man into believing he should suppress who he is, in a way that is so potentially damaging.”

Now a Miami realtor, he also said he “could bring 1000 male athletes, who happen to be gay, that would disprove this ridiculous organization.”

Another Courage member, who only wanted to be identified as Al, noted that much of Courage’s theory about sports and homosexuality came from Fitzgibbons’ research, which also maintains that gay men lack confidence because of rejection by parents and others.

“I never met a man with same sex attraction that had a healthy relationship with his father,” said Al, who runs a Courage support group in Scranton.

The thinking, he said, is that because a boy was not introduced into the world of men by his father he eventually “winds up looking at other men as exotic, rather than looking at women that way,” Al said.

Since sports is a big part of male culture the boy may become “a little uncoordinated and the last person to be picked for games,” he said.

That was the experience of Robert, who provided a testimony about the sports camp for the Courage website.

“Because of my lack of athletic confidence, I’ve often felt less than a man,” he wrote.

At sports camp he faced his fears and was accepted by the other men.

“It felt so true and good to see myself as a peer and competitor to the other men instead of believing that I didn’t belong with the other members of my own sex,” he wrote. “Instead of feeling intimidated or repulsed by the physical contact, I liked it ... One time a teammate gave me a sweaty celebratory hug. He was humbly secure in himself, just as he was, selflessly and joyfully showing affection to others. I also liked when one man, whom I’d felt intimated by, gave me a pat on my belly, meaning “way to go!” His touch made me feel accepted as one of the guys.”

Contact staff writer Kathy Boccella at 610-520-2547 or kboccella@phillynews.com

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