Bishop Claims Polish Document Not About Forced Conversion Therapy; LGBTQ Advocates Skeptical

Bishop Józef Wróbel

A Polish bishop has rejected claims that the nation’s episcopal conference endorsed conversion therapy in a recent document on LGBTQ issues as Catholics worldwide continue their criticism of said document.

Bishop Józef Wróbel, an auxiliary bishop of Lublin who chairs the conference’s bioethics committee, issued a statement on September 2, 2020 in response to news reports that Poland’s bishops endorsed conversion therapy. Wróbel claimed it was a “misunderstanding” that the bishops were teaching LGBTQ people should be forced into conversion therapy, adding (via Google Translate):

“The document explicitly mentions ‘helping people wishing to regain their sexual health and natural sexual orientation’ (p. 38). Thus, it means ‘people who at some point realized that their different sexuality is not an irrevocable judgment or irreversible coding, but a symptom of wounding at different levels of their personality’ (p. 38). So it is about people who seek such help and ask for it because they suffer because of their inclinations, experience being torn painfully and are unable to cope with themselves.”

Against scientific evidence, the bishop also claimed that “in rare cases” it was possible that an LGBT person could change their sexual orientation if they desired such change and “there is as yet no homosexual sexual experience.” No conversion would be possible if, however, “a person adopts the attitude that this inclination is natural, willed by the Creator, and should be accepted.” He sought also to make clear that LGBT people should not be discriminated against, and advised against LGBT people entering into heterosexual marriages which are “doomed to failure.” Finally, he attacked the United Nations’ condemnation of conversion therapy as inappropriate.

LGBTQ advocates had condemned the Polish bishops’ document, issued after their meeting in August, which also made the novel claim that church teaching condemning same-gender sexual relations was “infallible.” Ruby Almeida and Christopher Vella, co-chairs of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC), issued an open letter to the Polish bishops in which they stated:

“We write out of deep concern for our sisters, brothers, and kin in Poland who are very fearful about their safety, especially now following the re-election of President Duda for another term. LGBTIQ people across Poland, justifiably, fear their health, freedom from violence, economic security, and ability to be contributing members of society. Some also feel alienated, or even further marginalized, by priests and other church officials who denounce them simply because of their identities. . .We urge you now to make protection of the human rights, and appropriate pastoral care of LGBTIQ people and families, a priority for the Bishops Conference of Poland.”

Michael Brinkschroeder, the European Regional Delegate to GNRC’s Board, added in a statement that the Polish bishops’ document, particularly its points about the infallibility of teaching and conversion therapy, “dehumanize LGBTIQ+ people and increase the likelihood they may be subject to violence or coercive treatment.”

In an interview with TVN24, Fr. Jacek Prusak, SJ, who is a psychotherapist, said of the Polish bishops’ document:

“This is a message to treat the Bible as a psychology textbook and a constitution for all Poles, and this cannot be done. . .[The document] does not appear in a vacuum and is not only meant to be heard by the faithful in the Church, but also to be heard by politicians sympathetic to the views of the Church.”

Roberta Padovano, an activist and counselor, told the Italian outlet Linkiesta that the conversion therapy practices seemingly endorsed by the bishops are “based on unscientific prejudice,” adding:

“‘The words of the Bishops’ Conference would be ridiculous, but in the Polish authoritarian context they are unfortunately tragically guilty and irresponsible.'”

Andrea Rubera, a spokesperson for the Italian LGBTQ Catholic group Cammini di Speranza, told Linkiesta the document was “anti-modern and contradictory for many reasons,” adding:

“[T]he disturbing aspect is that contained in paragraph 50, where the Polish Bishops’ Conference seems to open a new path towards raising the judgment on LGBT people to an absolute level.”

Linkiesta columnist Francesco Lepore noted that since the document’s passage, the Vatican has remained silent, issuing only a small report in the Polish version of Vatican news. He asks if this is “acquiescence or a willingness not to advertise a clearly embarrassing text?” Lepore wonders if this document is a “reaction test” by opponents of Pope Francis to gauge responses from the Vatican.

All of these criticisms of the Polish bishops’ document are spot on. Bishop Wróbel’s explanations as to how the document does not endorse conversion therapy only serve to prove that the document does indeed support this harmful practice condemned worldwide by medical professionals, and, more importantly, by people who have suffered through such “treatments.”

The bishops’ document relies on dated junk science to make its claims. In doing so, they reveal the problems with the church ambiguous teaching on homosexual orientation, which is deemed in various places as both a stable, innate aspect of one’s identity and but also inclined to immorality. Playing into that ambiguity is a dangerous game that puts lives at stake. A retraction of paragraph 38, if not the whole document is what is most appropriate now.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 4, 2020

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