A Spanish bishop under investigation for putting worshipers, including minors, through an allegedly illegal conversion therapy process has told Catholics they must be ready to be martyrs in defense of the church’s freedom to offer such practices.
Bishop Juan Antonio Reig Pla of Alcalá de Henares, who has a history of homophobic comments, told hundreds gathered in church to hear him speak that LGBTQ activists and the government were “harming our children. . .harming the mission of the Church” and Catholics should not allow it. He continued:
“‘This is not about going against anybody, but it is about safeguarding the liberty of the Church, of safeguarding religious liberty, and to commit ourselves even unto martyrdom if it is necessary in order to serve those who suffer and expect a word of hope from us, the shepherds of the Church. We must not abandon them.'”
Reig Pla added that when speaking to his fellow bishops during a meeting of the Episcopal Conference of Spain, he appealed to them to not allow the government to impede the work of a diocesan center which is being investigated for practicing conversion therapy. Conversion therapy refers to an attempt to change an individual’s sexual or gender identity, with the underlying assumption being that anyone who is not cisgender and heterosexual is suffering from a mental disorder. In Spain, conversion therapy is illegal even for adults, punishable with a maximum fine of €45,000 ($51,000).
El Diario reported that a spokesperson for the Episcopal Conference of Spain, Luis Arguello Garcia, expressed his “support and affection” for the bishop of Alcalá de Henares, and “rejected the irruption of a group of vociferous people in a temple where a mass was being celebrated.” That reference was to protests in which a group carrying rainbow flags preempted a Mass in April with chants of, “Love doesn’t have a cure. Hate does.”
The investigation into the diocese’s alleged conversion therapy program was launched after reporter with the online newspaper El Diario interviewed three men who had been through the Bishop’s treatment, including two who attended as minors. They described feelings of self-loathing and deep depression as a result of the treatment.
One told the reporter, “If I had stayed there, I would have committed suicide.”
Another said that he had gone to the church hoping for help with unrelated issues. “I did not go for my sexual orientation, I wanted to see a psychologist and I could not afford it,” he told El Diario.
But the church counselor told him that his mannerisms were not sufficiently masculine, informed him that this meant he was gay, and pressured him to join conversion therapy. He says the sessions have affected his ability to build relationships to this day.
A local news outlet reported that the diocese deemed the report “fake news” and a “theatrical montage,” but also added that it offers help to those who ask for it.
The public has increasingly become aware of the dangers posed by conversion therapy. A report in 2018 found that almost half of young people exposed to conversion therapy attempt suicide, about double the suicide rate for the teen LGBTQ population as a whole. When a psychologist or church official is involved in the process, two-thirds of participants attempt suicide. Movies like Boy Erased have raised awareness of conversion therapy in the United States, and several states have moved to ban the practice for minors. These realities are sufficient evidence that bishops like Reig Pla need to stop any conversion therapy programs immediately and cease causing deep harm to people the church should instead be accompanying with compassion.
—Jonathan Nisly and Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 30, 2019