Last night I was horrified to read the story of a beautiful young woman named Alana Chen, who was just found dead. Chen told the Denver Post in August that she was spiritually abused for years by a priest who put her through conversion therapy for her sexual orientation, and told her not to tell her family. She talked about how the “counseling” she received through Catholic Charities made her lose her faith entirely and feel that God didn’t love her. Yesterday, it seems, after years of trauma and self-loathing brought about by the spiritual abuse, she died by suicide. The police haven’t officially ruled it a suicide, but Alana’s mother is providing more of the story.
Her mother gave the following testimony publicly on Facebook and asked that it be shared:
This is the untold story of my daughter, Alana Chen. As a mother who is deeply grieving, it’s important people know this story so no other parent or child has to go through this. This story is not representative of every Catholic Church, priest, or nun. I love the true teachings of Jesus and Catholicism as taught by many of the mystics, saints, Catholics, monks, and clergy.
This is Father David Nix’s blog (www.padreperegrino.org), the first priest who destroyed my daughter, Alana’s life. He is very responsible for her depression and ultimately her suicide. Alana trusted him and came out to him when she was 14. He responded by telling her to never tell her family, because we would accept her and love her unconditionally. He was manipulating and brainwashing Alana from ages 14-21. Nix’s beliefs are not of God and Jesus. He told her it was a mortal sin to be attracted to woman and would refer to it as SSA (same sex attraction). In the blog below, Denver’s Bishop Samuel J. Aquila (extremely conservative) approves Father David Nix becoming a “hermit priest”, whatever that means. The Bishop had to relocate Father Nix to several different Churches in Colorado and other states because he was outrageous and causing harm to each one. For years, I’ve reached out to the Bishop to have Alana protected from Nix and to help my daughter from the religious abuse. The Bishop personally never returned my calls or emails.
Father Peter Mussett, the Pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas mentored Alana in the same harmful way after Nix left. Mussett presents himself as very loving and inclusive in his homilies and appearance, and many CU Boulder students are attracted to this Church because of that. But Mussett also taught Alana that LGBTQ were not allowed to receive communion if they were in relationships. My daughter had to go to confession with male priests weekly if she wanted to receive communion at mass. Mussett never responded to my emails.
While Alana was attending CU, the Bishop sent a group of nuns called the Sisters of Life to administer mentoring and Spiritual Direction to churches nearby college campuses, clearly targeting the youth. They talked her into conversion therapy, asked for my permission, and I absolutely refused.
After years of this type of emotional and religious abuse, Alana progressively became depressed, distraught, and suicidal. During these periods, while in hospitals and rehab, I reached out to all members of the church to not contact Alana. Did they listen? No. They would call Alana and show up at the treatment center.
Within the last year, Alana went to see Father Mussett. She was shaking and could not tell him what she felt: the pain, the abandonment, that she was not good enough, and explain the false rumors a girl named Rachel spread about her. So Alana handed Father Mussett a letter she wrote and left. He never reached out to her and still hasn’t reached out to our family. Alana was a saint, she did so much service for that church, and she tried so hard for all those years to listen to those two priests.
All of these people contributed to my daughter’s passing. Please call them and flood them with responses, phone calls, and emails. They don’t know Jesus. His teachings were on Unity and Oneness. He was outraged by these kinds of “holy men” of His time.
Now, Alana is with Jesus, and my father and dear friend Pam. She is free, but we are devastated. These people I have mentioned can’t even begin to understand the teachings of Jesus. I am grieving, along with my family, my children, her friends, my community, and people who we don’t even know. Alana’s story needs to be told. Please keep praying for her and everyone suffering by religious abuse and abuse and exclusion of any kind.
Thank you for reading and please share.
She wanted to be a nun because she loved Christ, so she trusted a priest with a deep secret about herself, and the priest allegedly tortured her into illness and death. By the time she died, she felt she couldn’t even believe that Christ loved her anymore.
I trust that she knows Christ loves her now. I trust that she is in the arms of Christ, being healed, in the place where abusive priests will never go. I keep telling myself that over and over because I’m so full of grief and shock– but I shouldn’t be shocked. None of us should. This is normal. Spiritual abuse is absolutely rampant in our Church, and spiritual abuse of LGBTQ people is particularly so. This happens all the time. For every Alana Chen we hear about, there are so many more who die unnoticed.
This case has got me so upset I don’t even want to think about it, but I have to. We all do. The people who ought to be thinking the hardest about it will not think about it, but somebody must.
If you grow up Catholic, you grow up with two catechisms: the one that’s taught to you in your religious education and the one you learn from the examples around you. One is a book of teachings you memorize and the other one is absorbed by osmosis. Both form who you are, but the latter catechism is the most influential. It has the greatest influence on your faith and religious practice– and also on your mental health.
For example: we grow up reading in the catechism that social justice is a necessary part of our religious practice and it would be a sin not to live it out– but the Catechism of Osmosis specifically teaches us that “social justice Catholics” are fake Catholics and liberal heretics. That doesn’t happen to every Catholic, but it happens a lot.
We grow up reading in the catechism that the poor deserve our help no matter what, but the Catechism of Osmosis that’s preached through action all around us says that you shouldn’t give to beggars; you should call the police if they approach you. That’s how many Catholics grow up.
And, of course, we grow up being catechized that there are several different sexual practices the Church says are dis-ordered, the way a dis-located shoulder is not properly oriented to where that joint ought to go. We are not supposed to masturbate, nor commit fornication or adultery, nor are we supposed to use contraceptives to render the marital act infertile, nor are two men or two women supposed to lie together as a married couple. Those things are all gravely wrong and we mustn’t do them. The desire to do them is disordered. We also learn that a desire is never a sin, let alone a mortal sin– choices are sins. Desire is just a feeling. A person could be tempted with any disordered desire you could name every moment of their lives, but if they resisted choosing to sin, or if they repented every time they gave in to sinning, that person would be a saint. We are also taught that every human person is worthy of respect and that we must avoid prejudice or discrimination against anyone.
But what do we learn in practice? What does the Catechism of Osmosis say?
In practice, we’re taught that the worst possible thing you can be is an LGBTQ person.
People with same-sex attractions– and I use that term deliberately, because we weren’t even allowed to say “gay” or “lesbian” growing up– are presented to young Catholics as the dirtiest people there could ever be. I was raised being told that homosexual men and women had absolutely no self-control and that they were as likely as not to be pedophiles; I was told that AIDS crossed the species barrier because gay men had so little self-control, they raped chimpanzees. When I heard the term “homophobia” and asked about it, I was repeatedly told that that was silly, because it was normal and healthy to fear such people. They really were dangerous.
When I came out of the closet to my mother as sometimes having homosexual desires– desires, mind you; I hadn’t done anything wrong and wasn’t planning to– I was told “You’re not, because if you were, I’d kill you and put us both out of our misery.” And then she smiled, and explained that the feelings were “just hormones” and they would go away.
I repressed them and tried to think about something else for twenty years, but they didn’t. I finally admitted to myself who I was, and last June I came out of the closet as a person who was bisexual, but was married in the Catholic Church and monogamous. I think both men and women are beautiful, which is correct of me. I’m as likely to be sexually aroused by a woman as by a man. Those desires aren’t sins in themselves, and acting on either of those desires except in the context of the sacrament of holy matrimony (with a man) would be a sin. I’m faithful to my husband because those are my values. I came out because I was sick of watching my friends who were faithful Catholics and queer be bullied. And, of course, I got my share of bullying and harassment. I still do. This little twerp hasn’t left me alone:
But I am the mildest case imaginable. I’m only using my story as an example here because it’s the one I know best, the one I can use best to illustrate how queer Catholics are treated despite what we profess to believe. I have known people trying to practice Catholicism faithfully, who were bullied and harassed until they feared for their lives in Catholic settings because of mere rumors that they might be gay. I’ve known people who were submitted to full-blown exorcisms as teenagers to try to make the gay go away, and it didn’t. Often, their sense of safety and their belief that God loved them went away, but the gay didn’t.
And now we have the case of Alana Chen, who wanted to be a nun because she loved Christ. Alana Chen, who confessed to a priest that she had a desire– a thing that the Catechism we read says is not a sin in itself. The catechism that we read says that she should never, ever have been submitted to discrimination and prejudice because of her desire.
But Father David Nix, allegedly, tortured her for that desire and taught her to hate herself. The Sisters of Life and Father Peter Mussett allegedly continued the abuse. They allegedly used cruel psychological torture tactics to try to “fix” her when she wasn’t broken: she was, like all of us, a sinner subject to temptation, and one of the temptations she had was one that they decided made it necessary to torture her. And now, Chen’s mother says that they were “very responsible for her death.”
I can’t know if that’s the reason she died, but I know this: she came to believe that she was broken and God didn’t love her, and now she’s dead.
If all that’s been said so far is true, they tortured her to death.
Shame on Father David Nix. Shame on Bishop Samuel J. Aquila for relocating Father Nix instead of stopping this nonsense. Shame on the Sisters of Life and Father Peter Mussett.
May God have mercy on our church for this murder, and for all the other murders we haven’t heard about.
Unlike desires, what they’re said to have done to her was a sin.
Update: This post has been updated a few times for clarity, specifically to make it clear that I am basing my remarks on Mrs. Chen’s account of her daughter’s passing. I apologize if that was not clear in the first place. You can read my continuing statements on this tragedy, and a statement from a member of Alana’s parish, in this follow-up post.
(image via Pixabay)
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