Vatican Clarifies Pope Francis’ Remark About Psychiatry

A small brouhaha erupted this past week after Pope Francis’ advice to parents of lesbian and gay children were interpreted by some to indicate that the pontiff was recommending psychiatric help to prevent a child from becoming lesbian or gay.

Pope Francis

On Monday, Bondings 2.o had reported that on his plane ride from Dublin to Rome, Pope Francis addressed a reporter’s question about what advice he would give to parents of lesbian and gay children.  According to the translation that was available then, we reported his comment as:

“Then, at what age does this concern (‘inquietudine’) of the child express itself? Its important. One thing is when it shows itself in a child. There are many things one can do with psychiatry, to understand things. Another thing is when it shows itself after 20 years of age or so.”

I interpreted the comment this way:

As far as I can understand this quotation, it seems that the pope is saying that parents should respond in ways that are age-appropriate to their children.  And he appears to be recommending that they consult psychological information, not for attempting “conversion” therapy, but to understand what homosexuality and sexual orientation are.  It’s good that a church leader acknowledges and recommends seeking advice from the sciences, and not to rely solely on misconceptions and common myths and assumptions.

Others, however, understood the comment to mean that the pope was suggesting psychiatric intervention to prevent or reverse a lesbian or gay orientation. For example, Colm O’Gorman, the executive director of Amnesty International in Ireland, was quoted by The Independent:

“He is basically saying that young gay people can be changed, which is archaic and has been refuted numerous times.”

Perhaps the differences in interpreting the pope’s comments come from differing translations. For example, The Guardian quoted the statement from the pope as:

“When it shows itself from childhood, there is a lot that can be done through psychiatry, to see how things are. It is something else if it shows itself after 20 years.”

Similarly, in a Deutsche-Presse Agentur article in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Fabrizio Marrazzo of the Gay Hotline said:

“Talking about psychiatry leads Catholic parents to believe that psychiatry can cure homosexuality. . . .Homosexuality is not a disease but a natural variant of human behavior, and as such it should be accepted and respected.”

Perhaps the differences in interpreting the pope’s comments come from differing translations.

Because of criticisms like these, the Vatican removed the allusion to psychiatry from the transcript of the press conference, and tried to clarify the pope’s remarks. reported:

“…when the Vatican later published the Pope’s answer, the reference to psychiatry had been removed.

“When asked why, a Vatican spokeswoman told AFP it had been done in order to not ‘change the thoughts of the Holy Father.’

” ‘When the Pope referred to “psychiatry.” it is clear that he was doing it to highlight an example of “things that can be done.” But with that word he didn’t mean to say that it (homosexuality) was a “mental illness,” ‘ she said.”

So what can we learn from this change?  For one, it seems the Vatican wanted to quickly squash the idea that the pope was endorsing psychiatric intervention for children whom parents think are lesbian or gay.  Certainly, the Vatican wanted to  be clear that the pope does  not see the orientation as being a mental illness. (Of course, that is still far from being fully affirming of a gay or lesbian orientation.)

I have no idea what they mean by not wanting to  “change the thoughts of the Holy Father” or what the “things that can be done” are.  But, from my initial reading on Monday, which was done just days after an Irish archbishop had condemned reparative therapy for lesbian and gay people, and from this correction and clarification by the the Vatican, it seems that the pope did not want people to interpret his remarks as endorsing a psychologically negative approach to sexual orientation.

The most important lesson from this episode, though, is that the church and the world needs the pope and others in the Catholic hierarchy to clearly and explicitly condemn reparative therapy for LGBT people, as so many nations and states are now doing.  If the pope and the bishops would be definitive on this topic, it would prevent any future misinterpretations about the matter.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, September 1, 2018

Related article: Vatican Scrubs Pope’s Endorsement of ‘Psychiatry’ for Gay Children





2 replies
  1. Felix Xavier
    Felix Xavier says:

    Of course they don’t need to use the term “mental illness”. Referring homosexuality to “intrinsic evil/objective disorder” is good enough. Avoiding the label of “conversion therapy”, they can still advocate for the conversion in the name of “religious freedom” and/or “(pseudo)science”. It seems to me the more likely “age-appropriate response” underlined here is: gay kids, such “TENDENCY/INCLINATION”, i.e. “intrinsic disorder”, may still be treated; gay adults, i.e. “deep-seated tendency”, different story then.


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