Did Father Donald Timone ever say, ‘Pray away the gay’?

Not that long ago, our own Mark Kellner took at look at the New York Times coverage of a rather prestigious Catholic school in the Bronx that did something very controversial, at least in the newsroom of the great Gray Lady. The leaders of Cardinal Spellman High School invited a Catholic priest to speak at the school for a specific purpose — to defend Catholic moral teachings on sexuality.

The earth trembled. How could a Catholic school dare do such a thing?

I read the coverage, read Mark’s post and then moved on.

The problem, of course, is that there is more than one newspaper in the New York City area and, in this case, I later learned that it was crucial to pay attention to the coverage in The New York Daily News, as well. There have been several reports there on this controversy, but they are united by one truly horrible error.

You can see it right in this epic headline:

Spellman High School cancels talk by ‘pray away the gay’ preacher Donald Timone — but it’s only temporary

Father Trevor Nicholls suggests anti-gay father will be back. Gay groups and some staff outraged.

First of all, there are quite a few Christian groups that minister to gays and lesbians who voluntarily walk through their doors (as opposed to groups that, theoretically, would go out on the streets and kidnap people). I have been covering issues linked to these groups for several decades and, truth is, there is quite a bit of variety out there in terms of the doctrines that they teach and the strategies that they employ.

There are groups, especially among Pentecostals, who truly believe that, over time, God can heal each and every person who seeks healing from same-sex attraction. However, I have never heard of anyone claiming that all someone needs to do is say a prayer and that’s that. Not a single person. In fact, I don’t think I have ever heard anyone claim that they prayed and prayed and were completely delivered from same-sex temptations. That’s the thing about real temptations. They are real and they hang around.

Here’s the key: In several decades of coverage of these issues, I have never heard anyone say that it is possible to “pray away the gay.” I literally have never heard the phrase used, except by critics of these ministries. So when this phrase is used, if it is ever used by journalists, it is extremely important to attribute this damning quote to someone specific. That’s an important rule in journalism, period, but especially when dealing with topics this controversial.

So if editors are going to start writing headlines such as, “‘Pray Away Gay’ priest at Cardinal Spellman,” it’s important to stop and ask the question: What did Father Donald Timone actually say and when did he say it?

So here is the top of the key story:

A Catholic high School has postponed a talk by a controversial priest who encourages teens to “pray away the gay” — but the president of the Bronx school defied angry gay groups by saying the lecturer will be invited back.

Father Donald Timone was scheduled to speak Tuesday night at Cardinal Spellman High School about the Catholic group called Courage — which encourages teens “struggling with same-sex attraction” to lead chaste lives.

Now, it is stated — outright — that Timone is part of a group called Courage and that he, or this organization, or both, encourage teens to “pray away the gay” — in direct quotes. Most of the time, people “encourage” others to do something by speaking or writing the words in question.

So what does the story offer as proof that this is the case? What are readers told about Timone and his message, other than the fact that Courage urges young people to lead chaste lives.

Note the irony: Why does one need to lead a chaste life if one has only to pray away the gay? Why is chastity the main Courage option, the realistic option? In other words, the Daily News story contradicts itself in its first two paragraphs.

Back to Father Donald and his alleged message. There is this:

Opponents of Timone — who say he treats homosexuals like addicts in a 12-step program — will continue their fight. …

OK, so the story quotes the opponents of Timone about his alleged beliefs. That not very kosher. And, as it turns out, that is the only material in the story that in any way addresses what Timone advocates, in terms of spiritual disciples related to the Catholic faith and the church’s moral theology. That. Is. It.

So what does Courage say about itself? What are it’s goals? Does it actually teach that the normative approach to this issue is to “pray away the gay”?

Warning: This material includes actual Catholic language about complex issues.

The following Five Goals of Courage were created by the members themselves, when Courage was founded. The goals are read at the start of each meeting and each member is called to practice them in daily life.

To live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality. ( Chastity )

To dedicate our entire lives to Christ through service to others, spiritual reading, prayer, meditation, individual spiritual direction, frequent attendance at Mass, and the frequent reception of the sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist. (Prayer and Dedication)

To foster a spirit of fellowship in which we may share with one another our thoughts and experiences, and so ensure that no one will have to face the problems of homosexuality alone. (Fellowship)

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. (Support)

To live lives that may serve as good examples to others. (Good Example/Role Model)

So, one more time I would like to ask this question to the team at The New York Daily News: Where did the “pray away the gay” direct quotation come from? Who spoke those words? If Timone, when and where? If someone else related to Courage, when and where?

If not, please print a correction. That will take courage, but it is possible to do the right thing every now and then. It is not good for journalists to directly attribute words to people who have not spoken them.

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • FW Ken

    Twenty years ago, I had a friend in Courage, and spent an evening with Fr. Harvey, who founded the program. He explicitly stated that a change in sexual preference wad not the goal, although they would certainly support people who sought that. They had been associated with Exodus, but were withdrawing from that relationship as well.

    By the way, I think you didn’t mean to day “chaste”. All Christians are called to chastity. Those who can’t marry, or don’t marry, are called to continent celibacy. :-)

    • Robert M

      Ken, chastity is indeed the correct word. Chastity is a virtue and is meant for everyone. Many with same-sex attractions are married or will marry, so it would make no sense to talk to these people about celibacy. Courage does not promote celibacy per se, but chastity.

      • tmatt

        Chaste, of course, is the word used in the STORY, as well.

      • AuthenticBioethics

        Agreed. There is such a thing as “chaste marriage” (and a papal encyclical by that name, Casti Connubii). Celibacy implies an intentional decision not to marry. Abstinence means refraining from a particular activity but implies both temporariness and that the activity is not necessarily prohibited. Chastity means a moral or as you say virtuous sexuality, which for the married and the unmarried means different things. The right word is chastity.
        But about the article… People form opinions and then they’re done? We have an opinion and it is sacrosant? Doesn’t anyone ask themselves, “Could I be wrong? Could my interviewees be wrong? How do I verify?” Journalists have an important role in figuring out the truth for the rest of us, but they’re not doing a very good job of it. The problem with the truth is that its pursuit requires humility because it starts from the premise “I might be wrong.” Humility so out of vogue these days.

        • heretheycomeagain

          “Journalists have an important role in figuring out the truth for the rest of us”.

          Really? I don’t think so.

          Perhaps some still do, but I’m afraid that those are the ones you rarely, if ever, read. The journalist of today has a “mission”. They set out to do a story with a point of view in mind––not to find out what is going on and report the truth. The “honest” ones find those quotes that support their viewpoint and they minimize or ignore anything counter to it; the dishonest journalist makes them up..

          Unfortunately, it’s not just the left; it’s the conservative media as well.

          On the article, itself, it was great. I would only add that for all of us in life, God has allowed us to be be tempted in various ways. For some it is sin of homosexual behavior; others maybe marital infidelity; and still others greed or something worse.

          But we have a duty to God to resist these temptations. Eventually we will all be judged by Jesus Christ, and I have come to believe that one of the measures will be how well we have dealt with the the crosses we were given to bear.

  • Jay

    Actually, the whole idea that Timone’s detractors believe he “treats homosexuals like addicts in a 12-step program” was not something that really came up in the quotes, and this unique simile did deserve a quotation. You could definitely tell that the detractors didn’t like him, but it seems this might be another case of the reporter putting their own feelings and biases into the article. Would have been nice if they had been able to find just one person who would have wanted Timone to come to the school and put that in quotations. Oh, well.

  • Paul Sho

    The Catholic Church from time immemorial has always said it
    is not ‘okay to be gay’. But in the post-Vatican 2 era things started to
    change. Sometime in the late 80s and early 90s the Church under the watch of JP 2 and Cardinal Ratzinger decided to start teaching that those with same-sex
    attraction should be accepted as such with respect, dignity and understanding. This new teaching, namely, it is ‘okay to be gay’ was the crack satan was waiting for. Ever since he has been striving to open the crack ever more widely.

    So we are now at the stage where a Catholic school can be
    intimidated (in a democratic nation) from teaching church doctrine on its on premises to its own pupils.

    It was the Lord Jesus who said, “so every one who
    acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in
    heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father
    who is in heaven.”
    .
    The time has come for the Church to go back to its original
    teachings (ante-Vatican 2). It is one thing to be struggling with same-sex attraction; it is another thing to accept homosexual acts as legitimate. Indeed to
    entertain or nurture homosexual thoughts for more than a minute is already
    sinful in itself. We need to stand strong and not allow ourselves to be intimidated by anyone or any institution.

    • Robert M

      God Himself decided to accept those with disordered desires back in Genesis when He spoke of the woman’s seed crushing the head of the serpent. The Church extends this hope, as it always has, to EVERYONE.

      • Paul Sho

        Why would a catholic (christian) want to call himself gay when God says clearly in the Sacred Scriptures that homosexual acts (and therefore also homosexual thoughts voluntarily nurtured) are abominations in His sight?

  • cken

    Let me qualify my comment by saying I am very straight. The question is how do you pray away a genetic predisposition or even consider it a sin?

    • Paul Sho

      Our Creator’s powers are limitless; why can’t we pray the gay away?

      • cken

        That’s kinda like saying why can’t we pray baldness away. In a practical sense we could but almost all are limited as to their belief of the creators power. In fact we can’t even imagine what God is.

        • Paul Sho

          Baldness is not a sin. But if baldness was to interfere in any way with God’s work it can be prayed away. We Catholics know who our God is and we trust him. If anything hinders us in our wish and effort to do his will; we can pray that thing away.

      • FA Miniter

        The Book of Job presents a dilemma. Yahweh unambiguously proclaims that Job is without fault. Yet Job loses everything. So, can Yahweh be all powerful, all good and Job be without fault? If Job is without fault, then either Yahweh is not all good (because Job suffers unjustly) or Yahweh is not all powerful (because he cannot stop Job from suffering). If Job is with fault, then Yahweh has lied. There is no satisfactory outcome. Indeed, other than by intimidating Job into silence, Yahweh is wholly unable to explain himself to Job in the final discourse.

        • Paul Sho

          Job’s experience was a test and training for him. God is preparing a wonderful thing for us. This coming reality can not be imagined by the present human mind. We are virtually going to exercise divine power. We are striving for very high stakes. It is only fitting that only the best – according to criteria laid down by the God and Father of the Lord Jesus – can enter into this station.

          • FA Miniter

            Test and training? Like pulling the wings and legs off an insect? I don’t think so. Nor is that the way the text presents it. God ruthlessly makes a bet with one of his sons designated the Adversary. This is no test for the benefit of Job. He is the mere plaything of these gods.

            What you suggest is mere fantasy. And no, even according to the Bible, if there is an afterlife, we will not be exercising divine power. Yahweh put the tree of everlasting life out of reach of Adam and Eve, “lest they become gods like us.”

          • Paul Sho

            Those who will be saved will be saved; those who will be lost will be lost (cf Revelations 13)

          • FA Miniter

            So it is all predestined, and the Creator’s powers are not limitless, contrary to your first post?

            The Book of Job, by the way, has nothing to do with “saving”. And you cannot use the Apocalypse to interpret Job, which was written centuries before.

    • foulweatherfan

      First, Courage and Father Timone apparently are not proposing to alter any such predisposition, but instead encouraging those subject to such predisposition to live chaste lives nonetheless.
      Second, God certainly can alter any predisposition we might have, so there is no reason not to pray. And whether he can use human methods and instruments to do this certainly cannot be ruled out either.

      • cken

        It’s too bad we generally don’t have enough faith to pray predispositions like cancer.

        • Thinkling

          Praying for health is very common. Knowing some folks with familial histories, praying for health as opposed to specific ailments like cancer, heart disease, etc (“May I not get cancer.”) certainly happens.

    • AuthenticBioethics

      Not affirming or denying your assumption about genetics, but for the sake of argument, if it is right, then heterosexuals also have a genetic predisposition toward sinful behaviors involving sexuality. In fact, all people, by virtue of being human, have an innate predisposition to all manner of sin. Can someone “pray away the greed”? Pray away the pride? Pray away the gluttony? Or the envy, sloth, or anger? Lust? It’s never as simple as “pray it away” in any case. It takes a long time of hard, concerted effort – and yeah prayer – to genuinely attain virtue. Most of us cruise as “good people” but we’re not really there, and getting there is hard. The very notion that the Catholic Church has singled out homosexuality in some way is just proof that either the press just doesn’t Get Relgion – or that they do, and they don’t like it.

      • cken

        Your “innate predisposition to all manner of sin” is not a genetic thing. There is no evil or good gene, it is called free will. The press doesn’t get religion because generally religion doesn’t get religion. Religion has so corrupted the teachings of Jesus for their own ego and material gain it hardly qualifies as religion anymore.

        • Thinkling

          Most predispositions, perhaps all, have genetic components (some perhaps yet to be discovered). Both predispositions for sin and for morally arbitrary things. You are right about free will though. Predispositions are not sins, sin requires cooperation of the will. Your last point depends of course on which religion you speak of, but for the one in the article, they have had a long time to iron things out with regards to the sins discussed, and there is thus no excuse for the journalistic fail demonstrated here.

        • AuthenticBioethics

          um, I think we’re in agreement… that’s why I said “innate” (born with it) and not “genetic” (bodily, structural, chemical), and I also started the post with some doubt as to the whole “genetic” argument. I think there is definitely a bodily component, but I would say that the innate predisposition is not limited to the body. I agree about free will; everything I said depends on it. And I agree with Thinkling about the history and consistency of the Catholic position. I’d like to add mention of the freely available and voluminous resources that are online. The article is rather bogus in this regard, and it is either ineptitude, cluelessness, or hostility on the part of the media in this case There is a huge chasm of simply not fact checking the claims at any rate.

          • FA Miniter

            It is the “to sin” part that you whiffed on. You are making an a priori judgment about the moral quality of an act, in this case, of natural sexuality, and your judgment is based on nothing more than you own strong disinclination to such acts (and perhaps a few decades of indoctrination by the Catholic Church). A gay man may feel as much disinclination to sex with a woman.

            Harking back to your first post in this thread, you mention “heterosexuals also have a genetic predisposition toward sinful behaviors involving sexuality”. While I do not presume to know what you have in mind, why would premarital sex be wrong? Why would consensual intimacy between any two people be wrong? (I avoid the word “sin” as it comes with too much baggage.)

            And don’t say that Paul said it was so. Paul was an anti-woman pervert in his own way. Use your mind and come up with a rational answer, if you can.

          • AuthenticBioethics

            I want to respond, but I’ll just say this. There’s no real talking to someone who already knows why I said what I said, how old I am, how much “indoctrination” I’ve gotten, where I’ve gotten it, how I would respond, the sources I would cite, and who knows better than God the heart of St Paul.

      • FA Miniter

        Without Pride, we would not have great works of art. Without Greed, we would not have capitalism. (Not that I am in favor of greed, but many Americans definitely are.)

    • FW Ken

      Catholics, who are the subject of the article. don’t regard homosexual inclinations to be sinful, whether genetic or psychogenic.


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