New Brunswick

Plug pulled on retreat for group linked to 'anti-LGBTQ therapy'

A controversial Christian group's plans to hold an event in Rothesay, which drew fire from LGBTQ activists, have been cancelled, though it is not yet clear why.

Journey Canada's planned retreat at Villa Madonna drew fire from LGBTQ activists

Journey Canada's planned retreat at Villa Madonna in Rothesay has now been cancelled. The administrative director of the Villa Madonna confirmed the news Wednesday. (Julia Wright / CBC)

A controversial Christian group's plans to hold an event in Rothesay, which drew fire from LGBTQ activists, have been cancelled, though it is not clear why.

Journey Canada was advertising an intensive retreat at Villa Madonna Retreat House, which is owned and operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saint John.

The Vancouver-based group, formerly called Living Waters, is a non-denominational ministry focused on healing "the relationally and sexually broken."

According to the group, a wide range of sexual acts outside of heterosexual marriage — including homosexuality, "oral sex, mutual masturbation, pornography use, and compulsive masturbation" — violate God's boundaries for sexual expression.

The group's retreat was scheduled to take place from July 22 to 28.

However, in email to CBC, Dianne O'Dell, administrative director for the Villa Madonna, said Wednesday that the retreat has now been cancelled. 

She said she could not comment on the reasons behind the cancellation or say who made the decision.

CBC News tried the Diocese of Saint John and Journey Canada on Wednesday afternoon but did not receive an immediate response. 

'Ripple effect' 

Erin Fredericks, a St. Thomas University sociology professor and LGBTQ activist, says Journey Canada's teachings are "extremely damaging." (CBC )

Critics, including St. Thomas University professor Erin Fredericks, said the courses offered by the group amounted  to "anti-LGBTQ therapy."

"This isn't an organization that we want training local leaders to work with youth, or to work with other leaders of their faith-based communities," Fredericks said.

She said she was happy the Rothesay event was cancelled.

"We were surprised to see that they were coming to New Brunswick, because they haven't before, and we're upset that this message was coming to a province that we believe had made some real steps forward in the last couple years toward supporting LGBTQ New Brunswickers," Fredericks said. 

A map released by Journey Canada in the group's 2017 annual report, which states the organization ministered to 9,100 individuals in 42 cities across the country. The event planned for July would be the group's first known event in New Brunswick. (Journey Canada)

Her main concern was the "ripple effect" the event could have in spreading messages of intolerance. 

"It's not just about people who attend the event, it's about the influence that they have after."

Earlier this week, a spokesperson for Villa Madonna who was asked about criticism of the planned retreat, said the decision about whether it would go ahead was up to Bishop Robert Harris. 

Harris said at the time that he was working on the issue.

Living Waters changed its name to Journey Canada in 2015.

The organization, which received $666,548 in donations last year, ministered to 9,100 people in 42 cities across Canada, according to its 2017 annual report.

With files from Julia Wright and Rachel Cave