Glasgow University Catholic chaplain supports controversial LGBT abstinence organisation

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Sam Doak
Deputy News Editor

Father Ross Campbell, the Catholic chaplain for the University of Glasgow, is also currently acting as the Glasgow chaplain for Courage International, an organisation with the goal of encouraging LGBTQ+ people of the Catholic faith to live in abstinence, The Glasgow Guardian has learned.

The Glasgow University Catholic Association (GUCA) board has confirmed to The Glasgow Guardian that Father Ross Campbell accepted an appointment to the role of Courage Chaplain for the Archdiocese of Glasgow in 2018.

Courage International is an Apostolate of the Catholic Church. The organisation was formed in the early 1980s with the goal of encouraging gay, lesbian and bisexual members of the Catholic faith to live in chastity and in adherence to the Church’s teachings on sexuality. Since then, Courage International has been frequently criticised by advocates for the LGBTQ+ community, many of whom have labelled Courage as a homophobic organisation.

Such critics have argued that the organisation’s positions regarding same-sex attraction are misguided and that their approach to providing spiritual guidance to the LGBTQ+ community is potentially harmful to those who seek it. Historically, much of the criticism of Courage International has been directed at the organisation by Catholic organisations that take a differing view on same-sex attraction. A prominent official in Dignity USA, for example, once went so far as to state that “Courage is really problematic and very dangerous to people’s spiritual health…we have been very concerned about it for a lot of years.”

The majority of the controversy that has long surrounded Courage International can be attributed to the organisation’s promotion of chastity to those who experience same-sex attractions. The first of the “five goals of courage”, which are supposed to be read at the outset of Courage meetings, encourages those present to “live chaste lives in accordance with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on homosexuality”. The emphasis placed by Courage on the importance of chastity within the LGBTQ+ community is further evidenced by the organisation’s teaching of what is termed the “twelve steps of courage”. An adaptation of Alcoholics Anonymous’s twelve step program, the “twelve steps of courage” have been widely taught across the organisation’s numerous chapters. Rather than providing guidance on how to manage substance addiction, Courage’s adaptation of the twelve step program frames same-sex attraction as a harmful compulsion that ought to be resisted.

Father Campbell’s predecessor at the University of Glasgow, Bishop John Keenan, has also been active in promoting Courage International and is listed as a point of contact on the organisation’s website. It is not known to The Glasgow Guardian whether Bishop Keenan had any role within the organisation during his tenure as Catholic chaplain for the University.

Citing the teachings promoted by Courage International, a 2015 report published by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) described the organisation as one of the ten most influential “ex-gay” groups in the United States of America. “Ex-gay” has been used as a blanket term to denote groups that, in opposition to same-sex relationships, seek to manage the sexuality of those within the LGBTQ+ community. Aside from Courage, the majority of “ex-gay” groups listed in the SPLC’s report practice variations of conversion therapy through which they claim to be able to change the sexual orientation of LGBTQ+ individuals. As an organisation, Courage International does not officially endorse conversion therapy and claims to recognise that the sexual identity of an individual cannot be changed through such means.

The board of GUCA has made it clear that Father Ross continues to have their full support. In addition to this, both GUCA and Father Ross have strongly attested that they do not endorse conversion therapy.

In a statement to The Glasgow Guardian, the board of GUCA stated: “Fr. Ross offers a service of accompaniment and pastoral support to gay Catholics who request it. Similar services are offered by a number of priests across the various dioceses in Scotland. The work is supportive and non-judgmental, and is aimed at helping gay Catholics to feel more welcomed in the Church and to deepen their spiritual life.

For the avoidance of doubt it should be stated that neither Fr. Ross, nor Glasgow University Catholic Association, nor the Archdiocese of Glasgow endorse so-called ‘gay conversion therapy’. Rather, the purpose of Fr. Ross’ ministry is entirely pastoral.”

Father Ross has stated to The Glasgow Guardian that his work as a Courage chaplain is carried out separately from his work as Catholic chaplain for the University of Glasgow and takes place off-campus.

Courage International actively advises members not to hold meetings on university campuses. According to an official in the organisation, this is advisable due to the likelihood of hostility amongst student bodies to their teachings regarding same-sex attractions.

On Father Ross’s involvement with Courage, a spokesperson for Glasgow University’s largest LGBTQ+ society has said: “GULGBTQ+ strives to support all LGBTQ+ students on campus, including those who are religious. We do not support the Catholic chaplain’s affiliation with Courage Intl. and we want to affirm all LGBTQ+ people on campus that there is nothing wrong with you and you are not sinful for loving who you love and being who you are. We oppose conversion therapy and abstinence therapy, and our committee are available for students who are affected by this and need support.”

A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow has stated: “Father Ross Campbell’s role as Roman Catholic Chaplain to the University is separate to his role within the Archdiocese of Glasgow. The University is informed about the external commitments of all members of the chaplaincy team.”