LOUISVILLE, Colorado (CNN) — A Colorado family is accusing Catholic Church leaders of practicing conversion therapy on their gay daughter, believing the practice played a role in her suicide.
The Archdiocese of Denver denies the use of conversion therapy.
“That’s her baby photo,” said Carissa Chen, showing a picture of her sister Alana.
“She’s so funny,” Carissa added.
“She was really good at everything, at singing, playing guitar, playing piano, theater,” Carissa said.
She was an artist.
“And she painted this picture of us.”
And a devoted Catholic.
“At the young age of 13, she became in love with God and Jesus and the religion,” said Joyce Calvo-Chen, Alana’s mother. “She wanted to become a nun.”
So when Alana began to question her sexuality, her mother said she turned to her priest at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church.
It marked the beginning years of formal and informal counseling.
“It was conversion therapy because it was rules and regulations,” Calvo-Chen said. “It was mental, spiritual abuse. I think it was shaming and degrading her. She felt like she was letting down Jesus.”
Conversion therapy is the practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation through spiritual or psychological intervention, a practice banned on minors in Colorado this year.
“She was a lesbian and she was depressed about it and there was a lot of conflicts with her beliefs with the church,” Carissa said.
Conflicts her family said led to at least one suicide attempt at 21 years old.
“She also said things like, ‘I’m a sinner, I’m defiled, I’m impure,'” Carissa said.
And eventually to her suicide three years later.
“I went hysterical,” Calvo-Chen said.
“I couldn’t believe it, it just didn’t feel real,” Carissa said.
Her body was found last Monday near Gross Reservoir in Nederland, Co.
Calvo-Chen blames Catholic Church leaders for her daughter’s death.
“One of the things she wrote was, ‘I have a compelling story to tell, no one will listen,'” she said.
A story of pain and struggles with sexual identity and religion her family is now sharing.
“No one else should have to feel that way and no one else should have to take their life because they are scared and they are ashamed and they don’t feel like they can be who they are,” Carissa said.
The St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Center released a statement that said they were devastated over the death of Alana Chen.
The statement said they cannot begin to imagine the pain and grief of her family and friends.
The statement added their prayers will continue to be with them during this incredibly difficult time.
But the church has denied any use of conversion therapy.
The statement reads: “We reject any practices that are manipulative, forced, coercive, or pseudo-scientific.”