A diocese in Spain is denying reports that it has offered conversion therapy for lesbian and gay people, reports which prompted a government investigation into whether the Church violated laws banning such abusive treatments.
The Diocese of Alcalá de Henares described a journalist’s story about alleged Church support to conversion therapy as “fake news” that ranges from “absolute falsehood to misinformation.” The story, published this month in El Diario, was written by a journalist who posed as a young gay man seeking to change his sexual orientation at a Church-affiliated counseling session.
Describing the counseling program as “pseudotherapy,” El Diario revealed that material mailed to the journalist and presented at the session was focused on stopping the client from being gay:
“Although the diocese denies that they are conversion therapies, the pseudotherapist [who is not an licensed mental health provider] admits it in a recording in one of these illegal sessions and assures that she knows the risk and the law that prohibits it: ‘Explaining why you feel what you feel and how to stop feeling it is considered homophobia. I know that this can have consequences. . .so much so that I could go to jail.’ She also asks him not to tell anyone, not even his friends, and warns him that if he does, there will be problems for everyone who comes and they will also try to convince him not to return to a session.”
Before the session, the journalist received materials via an email account associated with the diocese that included the book “Reparative Therapies” by the discredited “ex-gay” proponent Joseph Nicolosi. The materials make clear that it is possible to stop being gay through a combination of therapy, study, and lifestyle changes. It should also be noted that the therapist has ties to the Pontifical John Paul II Institute and the diocese’s bishop, Juan Antonio Reig Pla. El Diario reported that the Diocese of Alcalá de Henares also includes conversion therapy-related materials on its website.
Conversion therapy is illegal in the Community (State) of Madrid with potential fines of up to 45,000 euros (US $50,000) for offenders, even if clients freely consent to such treatment. The diocese has claimed that rather than conversion therapy, people were being offered sexual education as part of the “welcome and accompaniment of people who come to us.”
But that explanation has been insufficient for many Spaniards. Maria Luisa Carcedo Roces, Spain’s Minister of Health, condemned the Church’s practices, according to Euronews. Carcedo said the illegal courses mean the Church is “breaking the law” and “have to be completely abolished,” or the nation’s Justice Ministry may have to become involved. Elsewhere, France 24 reported that the Community of Madrid’s government opened an investigation into potentially “illegal courses” that may have been in operation for a decade. And earlier this week, protestors gathered outside the Alcalá de Henares cathedral chanting for the bishop to leave their region.
That this controversy would erupt under Bishop Reig’s leadership is not surprising given his gay-negative record. A bishop aligned with opponents of Pope Francis and who celebrates former dictator Francisco Franco, France 24 reported of him:
“In 2012 gay rights groups and leftist parties filed a lawsuit against the bishop for inciting hatred after he delievered [sic] a Good Friday sermon in which he lamented how some gay men ‘prostitute themselves or go to gay night clubs’ in order to ‘validate’ their struggle, adding ‘what they encounter is pure hell’. A judge in Alcala de Henares dismissed the lawsuit.”
Reig is on record suggesting that gay men should not be accepted to seminary because they can easily become child abusers, though according to El Diario he differentiates between abuse of children and adolescents, the latter of which is less condemnable. The bishop also has close ties with the anti-LGBTQ organization HazteOír, which some in Spain consider a hate group.
If the allegations by El Diario are true, this Spanish bishop is not alone in being a Church leader who supports conversion therapy. U.S. Archbishops Samuel Aquila of Denver and Joseph Naumann of Kansas City have both publicly endorsed an “ex-gay” organization, inviting it into their dioceses and appearing in its promotional materials. Elsewhere, conversion therapy-related materials have appeared on at least one Scottish diocese’s website. Bishops in Nebraska are working against a ban on the practice, while the English bishops offered no comment on a similar proposal in their country. Questions have been raised about whether Church teaching about mandatory celibacy for lesbian and gay people is essentially conversion therapy in a new form.
Thankfully, lay Catholics have largely and publicly resisted the abusive and disproven practices. But that is insufficient for the thousands of people, often youth, who are subjected to an experience that has been compared to torture. Church leaders need to correct wayward bishops like Reig who go beyond the magisterium’s teachings when they disparage LGBTQ people, and to make clear that Catholics do not support conversion therapy. On this issue when many people are being harmed, to be silent is to be complicit.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April ??, 2019