A Colorado priest who testified against the state’s bill to ban conversion therapy which is set to be signed into law today has admitted that, despite his claims, he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the Catholic Church.
Fr. Matthew Hartley testified in March that the soon-to-be law banning conversion therapy for minors was “outdated, irrational, in violating of religious freedom, and discriminatory,” reported the Colorado Times Recorder. Beginning his testimony, Hartley claimed he was “representing the Catholic Church as well as myself.” But he has since rescinded that claim, responding to a media inquiry:
“‘I testified on my own behalf and just meant to identify myself as a Catholic priest who would be bringing a Catholic perspective to the conversation.'”
The Archdiocese of Denver, via its spokesperson Mark Haas, clarified that Hartley was entitled to express his opinions but did not speak for the Church which had no position on the conversion therapy bill.
In his recent statement to the Colorado Times Reporter, Hartley wrote that the bill’s supporters “have a genuine desire to protect children,” but believes it “infringes on the rights of some of the children it seeks to be protect.” He explained that the bill seemed “too broad” and should only “prohibit specific harmful practices,” a position which he could support. But in this latest statement he seemingly endorsed conversion therapy again (in his March testimony he said minors should be allowed treatment to lessen “unwanted desires”) saying:
“‘For example, there were those at the hearing that testified that they experienced confusion about their sexuality as a result of abuse as children and that talk-based therapy helped them find healing and their authentic attractions. This bill would seemingly take away that option.
“‘Also, as I mentioned in my testimony, what about minors who experience bi-sexual attractions and want to seek assistance in their desire to live a life according to the Gospel’s teachings? This bill seemingly wouldn’t permit a psychiatrist to let their patient explore that option or set it as a goal of their counseling.'”
But rather than too broad, the bill, which openly gay Governor Jared Polis is scheduled to sign into law today, is likely not broad enough for LGBTQ advocates. Hartley misrepresents the bill as threatening religious liberty and taking away a minor’s option for talked-based therapy about their sexuality given it applies only to licensed medical personnel and not clergy.
Johnny Hultzapple, a high school student in Colorado who made headlines for his opposition to Denver Archbishop Samuel Aquila’s efforts to promote conversion therapy, criticized Hartley for claiming he speaks for Catholics:
“‘It is deceptive and unfair for Hartley to testify saying he “represents the Catholic Church” because there are, in fact, many Catholics who very much support this bill, including Catholic priests from around the country who have personally reached out to me. . .I am Catholic, and Hartley does not represent me, my family, or thousands of other Catholics who support the banning of conversion therapy.'”
Conversion therapy remains an area of controversy in the Catholic Church. Locally, Archbishop Aquila has promoted an “ex-gay” speaker who denies the existence of gay and lesbian people, as well as encouraged the formation of groups for “sexually broken” people. He has joined Kansas City’s Archbishop Joseph Naumann in publicly endorsing a ministry that practices conversion therapy. More widely, critics like former Irish President Mary McAleese have accused the group Courage, which has a presence in many U.S. diocese, of implicitly supporting such practices.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 31, 2019