In an unexpected move that the New York Times calls a “breathtakingly conciliatory approach to a hot-button issue,” PopeThe-Pope_2514251b Francis said today that he would not judge priests for their sexual orientation:

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis said, according to media reports.

His comments came in an unprecedented 80-minute news conference with reporters on his plane returning from a papal visit to Brazil for World Youth Day, in which he spoke openly about everything from the troubled Vatican Bank to the greater role that he believed women should have in the Catholic Church.

His predecessor, Benedict XVI, who retired in February, wrote a Vatican document that said that men with homosexual tendencies should not become priests. During his papal trips, Benedict responded only to a handful of preselected questions from reporters.

At Truth Wins Out we view this as a positive development. At the very least, it puts the brakes on Rome’s unrelenting war on LGBT people. His comments signal that overt gay bashing wont be a singular, bizarre papal obsession, as it was with his predecessor — who basically stalked LGBT Catholics (and American nuns). If we are really lucky, gay issues won’t be a priority at all with this more pleasant and upbeat papacy.

Meanwhile, at home the Roman Catholic Church’s gay celibacy cult, Courage, is taking a turn towards extremism. The organization held a four day conference in Mundelein, IL featuring some of the most bizarre and radical “ex-gay” therapists in the world.

This includes a prominent role for National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) board member Phil Sutton. It also consists of a seminar with Desert Stream exorcist Andrew Comiskey. In the past, Comiskey has claimed that “Satan delights in homosexual perversion” and his ministry has continually been shadowed by allegations of sexual abuse committed by staff members. He was singled out and condemned last week by former Exodus International Vice President Randy Thomas, in his apology to the LGBT community:

I look back on my time as a Living Waters coordinator (eleven years ago) with the most remorse. Even though there is some good in this program, it often ripped open old wounds in the name of healing by attempting to manufacture an environment for the Lord to work in. I have to apologize for the times some people may have felt manipulated to bare their souls to a group full of strangers. I apologize for any pressure we, on the Living Waters team I led, might have placed on group participants as we tried to help them cultivate “authentic experiences.”

As a trained Living Waters coordinator, I used to hang on to every word Andrew Comiskey said. I even diGeorgeTribadd some online consulting work for him. But today, over a year after leaving his employ as a consultant, I look back and recognize there were signs that something was wrong. In retrospect, I realize I helped build Andrew Comiskey’s online platforms – platforms which have increasingly gotten more vitriolic and stigmatizing toward the LGBT community. I regret that and I’m sorry.

Also speaking at the conference is Bill Consiglio, who wrote the crackpot book Homosexual No More, which promotes the bizarre practice of rubber band therapy. According to Consiglio’s creepy book:

“Every time you catch yourself watching someone erotically or engaging in a fantasy, snap the band. This will cause a moderate stinging pain which serves as a shocking reminder of what you are doing. This should help you interrupt the spell.”

What is incredible is the medieval quackery presented at this conference was embraced by Chicago Cardinal Francis George. Of course, this is the same backward Cardinal that once compared a Gay Pride parade to a Ku Klux Klan rally, prompting Truth Wins Out to place a full-page ad condemning him in the Chicago Tribune.

Courage and extremists such as Cardinal George, should follow the lead of the Pope and ratchet down their anti-gay rhetoric. They should also stop peddling discredited quack cures for homosexuality, which will only damage gay Catholics, while converting not one client to heterosexuality. What this organization is doing is not courage — but a profile in cowardice.