The family of a Colorado woman claims that the Archdiocese of Denver practiced a controversial form of treatment known as “conversion therapy,” and claims that the practice played a role in her suicide, Denver’s KMGH-TV reports. The diocese, however, denies that it practices the therapy.
Alana Chen, 24, told her family that she was going for a hike, but never returned. On December 7, her loved ones reported her missing. Police found her body on Monday; she is believed to have taken her own life.
Alana’s mother, Joyce Calvo-Chen, claims that the Catholic Church played a large role in her daughter’s suicide.
When she was 13-years-old, Alana took a huge interest in her Catholic faith — her mother revealed that at one time, she even wanted to become a nun. However, when she was 14, Alana began to struggle with her sexuality. That created a deep internal conflict with her, as the Catholic Church regards homosexual acts as “immoral” and “contrary to the natural law,” according to the Human Rights Campaign. The church does not consider the “inclination of the homosexual person” in itself as a sin, however.
Regardless, the teenage Alana sought help with her issues from a priest at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in Boulder. That priest, Calvo-Chen says, advised her daughter not to come out to her family and gave her informal counseling.
As an adult, Alana sought formal counseling from the Church while she attended the University of Colorado at Boulder. It was then, Calvo-Chen alleges, that one or more officials practiced so-called “conversion therapy” on her daughter.
Conversion therapy is the practice of using spiritual or other therapeutic interventions to attempt to “change” a person’s sexual orientation. The practice is considered by the American Medical Association to be ineffective at best, and tantamount to torture at worst, and has advocated for governments to ban it. In Colorado, it’s banned for people under the age of 18, but not for adults.
Alana attempted suicide at the age of 21. During her stay in a treatment facility, she wrote that she was a “sinner” and was “impure.”
Three years later, Alana apparently took her own life. Now, the family is using her story to call attention to the issues of mental health and sexual identity.
The Archdiocese of Denver, for its part, claims in a statement that it does not practice conversion therapy.
“We reject any practices that are manipulative, forced, coercive or pseudo-scientific. We believe that every person is a beloved child of God and should be treated with dignity, mercy, and reverence,” the statement reads in part.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741. For readers outside the U.S., visit Suicide.org or Befrienders Worldwide for international resources you can use to find help.