The Catholic Church’s embrace of Desert Stream Ministries is inappropriate, inexcusable and incomprehensible

PHILADELPHIA – Truth Wins Out (TWO) demanded that the Roman Catholic Church immediately sever its relationship with Desert Stream Ministries (DSM), an infamous “ex-gay” conversion outfit that has admitted to previous sexual abuse against teenagers. TWO also posted a video warning the Catholic Church of the potential for dire consequences if it did not act swiftly and decisively.

“By embracing Desert Stream Ministries, the Catholic Church is beyond playing with fire. It is cavalierly dancing on the edge of an active volcano,” said Truth Wins Out Executive Director Wayne Besen. “We are sternly warning the Catholic Church that this toxic partnership must be immediately severed before young people are harmed. Given the devastating pedophile priest scandals, it is shocking that the Catholic Church would behave in such an inappropriate, inexcusable and incomprehensible way.”

DSM’s cultish leader, Andrew Comiskey, also preaches that gay relationships are demonic and calls homosexuality “spiritual disfigurement.” The language and tone of Comiskey are arguably a brazen repudiation of Pope Francis, who when asked about LGBT people once famously said, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”

The untoward relationship between the Church and DSM made news after Truth Wins Out criticized the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for its irresponsible decision to co-sponsor an “ex-gay” event that featured DSM. The offending event, “Gender Matters – Fighting for the Integrity of Persons” occurred on Saturday, Sept. 7 at St. Katherine of Siena Parish in Wayne, Pennsylvania.

This isn’t too surprising, considering Archbishop Charles J. Chaput runs the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. In a powerful column, Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal wrote that Caput, “failed to clean up the church in Philadelphia. To this day, priests under him are still being charged, and even more saddening is his total disregard for victims of these priests…While we note Chaput’s hatred toward LGBT people, that is not what he will be remembered for. Chaput’s legacy will be that he enabled predator priests to molest and rape children.”

According to a new article by James Finn in, the Philadelphia Archdiocese is not alone in welcoming DSM. He writes that “The Archdiocese of Denver is partnering with Desert Stream despite a state law outlawing the practice.” (Churches often skirt laws banning conversion therapy for minors by proclaiming they are protected by religious liberty.)

Finn cites New Ways Ministry, a pro-LGBT Catholic organization, which points to Church partnerships or support for DSM from church leaders in Wichita, Baltimore, Denver and Kansas City. Additionally, Finn writes, “in opposing a proposed law banning conversion therapy for minors, the Public Policy Office of the Roman Catholic Church in Massachusetts sent a letter to the state legislature making clear that they believe conversion therapy is effective.”

On March 8, 2010, DSM’s Andrew Comiskey wrote a blog post, “Falling Mercies”, where he confessed that Desert Stream had been, “cast out of our home church”, Vineyard Anaheim, as a result of “a darker strain of sin in our own ranks.” He goes onto reveal that this sin was, “a longstanding staff person from Desert Stream had sexually abused at least one teenager who had sought help from us.”

Comiskey alleges that he was a victim of seven-figure blackmail from the relative of one of the abused boys. This led to, “a scourging of our entire ministry through police interrogations, the naked bulb of insurance agents and their lawyers, and Vineyard elders who for good reason wanted to know what was really going on in Desert Stream Ministries.”

As a result of the investigation, Comiskey says DSM was “torn in two” and that “we the righteous became the scum of the earth–not only the defender of victims, but the predators.”

In 1998, The Los Angeles Times reported that one family sued Desert Stream alleging that a minister had sexually abused a teenager while the youth was undergoing therapy to turn him heterosexual.

Wayne Besen’s book, “Anything But Straight”, discusses a Desert Stream newsletter that reveals:

“At the end of 2000, we faced an unusual number of Desert Stream-related leaders who fell into sexual sin, or who at least demonstrated a colossal lack of wisdom in their social choices…several were placed on different plans of discipline and restoration.”(Pg. 39)

In February 2008, Truth Wins Out produced a video featuring “ex-gay’ survivor Jaylen Braiden, who claims a Desert Stream counselor took advantage of him as a teenager.

Comiskey is one of the most influential “ex-gay” activists, coming to Jesus after suffering an outbreak of anal warts. He has since created a curriculum, “Living Waters”, that is used by “pray away the gay” facilities across the globe. Comiskey wrote in his book, Pursuing Sexual Wholeness:

“Satan delights in homosexual perversion because it not only exists outside of marriage, but it also defiles God’s very image reflected as male and female….Another related source of demonization is the homosexual relationship itself….that attachment and communion are indeed inspired, but the source is demonic.”

Desert Stream is not the only conversion therapy group that raises serious red flags. In a shocking admission, Christopher Doyle, a well-known conversion therapy activist and founder of “ex-gay” advocacy group Voice of the Voiceless, confessed in his bio, “Christopher’s Story”:

“I tried to have sex with the little girls that my mother watched in her daycare, and eventually, one of the girls told her parents what I was doing. The shame that was placed on me by my parents was more than I could bear. Rather than rescue me, teach me, and put me in counseling, the ‘bad boy’ was left alone to deal with all of this shame.”

Sexual abuse or inappropriate sexual behavior in ‘ex-gay’ programs are a feature, not a bug,” said Truth Wins Out’s Wayne Besen. “These programs are often led by unqualified counselors who have unresolved issues with their own homosexuality. As a result of repressing their own basic needs, they sometimes create the conditions for abuse by embracing bizarre methods such as touch therapy, where the client sits in the therapist’s lap and is hugged for long periods of time. Some would say fondled.”

Every respected medical and mental health organization in the world considers attempts to change sexual orientation potentially dangerous. The American Psychiatric Association says that sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) can lead to “anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behavior”, including suicide. The American Psychological Association says, “There is simply no sufficiently scientifically sound evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.” Such “therapy” is considered so detrimental that sixteen states and the District of Colombia ban practicing it on minors.

According Dr. Caitlin Ryan’s study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics: “LGBT teens who were highly rejected by their families were 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide, 6 times as vulnerable to severe depression, and 3 times more likely to use drugs.” (Caitlin Ryan, San Francisco State University, June 2009).

A new study by Dr. Ryan, who also directs the Family Acceptance Project, reports:

“Parent-initiated attempts to change participant’s sexual orientation during adolescence were associated with more negative mental health problems for young adults.”(Journal of Homosexuality, Nov. 2018)

Founded in 2006, Truth Wins Out is a nonprofit think tank and advocacy organization that fights against right wing extremism, the “ex-gay” myth and anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination.