Catholic Bishops Object to Proposed Canadian Ban on Conversion Therapy

Archbishop Richard Gagnon

A Canadian legislative measure to ban conversion therapy nationwide has received sharp criticism from that country’s Catholic bishops.

According to The B.C. Catholic, the Canadian government recently reintroduced a legislative measure to prohibit conversion therapy, the discredited practice of trying to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. The robust bill calls for a federal ban of the practice on minors. 

If passed, the legislation would also criminalize coercing someone against their will into conversion therapy irrespective of their age. Additional criminal acts included in the bill are as follows:

“[R]emoving a minor from Canada to undergo conversion therapy abroad,…profiting from providing conversion therapy, and/or advertising an offer to provide conversion therapy.”

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) criticized the legislative proposal and issued the following statement:

“In the Bill’s current form, a range of activity and well-intended actions, hitherto legitimate and lawful, that are also beneficial goals in support of individuals, could become subject to prosecution under the Criminal Code, despite the apparent claims to the contrary on the website of the Department of Justice.”

The CCCB claimed that bill eliminates the expression of divergent perspectives on gender and sexuality, stating:

“The Bill makes no provision for legitimate diversity concerning viewpoints on human sexuality arising from religious beliefs, from philosophical debate, or from scientific and medical study; nor does it make any provision for conscientious dissent related to such matters in forums of teaching or public presentations.”

Canada’s Department of Justice clarified the scope of the bill, articulating how these provisions would not interfere with the clergy’s pastoral ability to support their LGBTQ parishioners:

“[T]hese new offences would not apply to those who provide support to persons questioning their sexual orientation, sexual feelings or gender identity such as teachers, school counsellors, pastoral counsellors, faith leaders, doctors, mental health professionals, friends or family members.”

This national legislation mirrors similar measures that several Canadian provinces and cities have already taken to ban conversion therapy. Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island have passed legislation or issued official statements. Vancouver, Calgary, and Edmonton have already outlawed or are exploring conversion therapy bans.

The CCCB has also recently sought to reenergize its influence in matters of Canadian civil society and culture. In a September 2020 interview, CCCB President Archbishop Richard Gagnon of Winnipeg delivered a call to action to the laity through a virtual presentation of the CCCB Plenary Assembly, as reported by The B.C. Catholic.

The archbishop pondered:

“‘Is it time, perhaps, to reinvigorate our pastors and pastoral teams, to ignite a new fire among our lay faithful, to encourage the prophetic mission of those in consecrated life – so that human life may be promoted, respected, celebrated and nurtured in all ways and at all times in our local communities of faith?’”

In conjunction with other contemporary social justice issues, Archbishop Gagnon framed gender identity as an “aggressive ideology” along with other issues, all of which are an affront to the moral fabric of Canadian society:

“The moral fibre of our culture – not to mention the ethical landscape of our communities – seems to be confronted with an aggressive ideology, which is at the root of the euthanasia and assisted suicide issue, as well as, transgenderism, not to mention horrific acts of racism in its many forms.”

Although the archbishop voiced his concerns about Canada’s conversion therapy bill before it was reintroduced, his comments speak to the heart of the rising tension between religious liberty claims and LGBTQ protections. He further emphasized that,

“‘There must be a balance that respects all Canadians’ rights. And that includes freedom of religion rights and conscience rights.’”

Both LGBTQ advocates and Catholics alike couldn’t agree more with Archbishop’s Gagnon’s concluding remarks listed below, but for very different reasons based on the CCCB’s reaction to this legislative proposal, which stated:

“From a gospel of life point of view, these ever-present and burning issues need a coherent, robust and united response from us as leaders of faith communities and shepherds committed to protecting our flocks from dangers of many kinds.”

The CCCB’s contention that Canada’s proposed federal legislation to ban conversion therapy undermines other philosophical or religious debates on sexuality completely misses the point that those arguments denigrate the dignity of LGBTQ people. The data among all major social science research organizations and associations unequivocally demonstrates that being LGBTQ is no longer considered to be a psychological illness that detracts from one’s human flourishing.

If the CCCB laments that it cannot characterize transgender persons as somehow (falsely) contributing to the moral decay of Canadian society, for example, then their critique is truly unrecognizable in comparison to the principles of Catholic Social Teaching: compassion for the stranger, mercy, and lovingly caring for one’s neighbor, not in spite of who they are but because they are equal members of God’s beautiful kingdom.

Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, November 23, 2020

5 replies
  1. Thomas Ellison
    Thomas Ellison says:

    How sad that the Canadian bishops are taking this position. The only impressive thing their statement includes is the proper use of the word ‘hitherto’.

  2. David & Marianne Marianne Nichols
    David & Marianne Marianne Nichols says:

    This is outrageous and contrary to the message of the gospel to love everyone. Trying to change a person’s orientation not only is damaging to the person but is so wrong on many levels. Where is the love?

  3. Richard Rosendall
    Richard Rosendall says:

    Four centuries after Galileo, and 28 years after Pope John Paul II lifted the Vatican’s condemnation of him and said that case had caused a ‘painful misunderstanding’ and a ‘tragic reciprocal incomprehension’ between Church and science, the leaders of the Church continue their war on science.

    A basic insight missed by word-centric authoritarians is that nature, from the heavens to our own bodies, is direct evidence of God’s creation. Recognizing and embracing our nature, whether sexual orientation or gender identity, is not an “aggressive ideology.” That is what Archbishop Gagnon is displaying.

    His Holiness, in public statements, has shown compassion for gay people, including his former student Yayo Grassi, but has shown his unfamiliarity with the science of gender identity. People have brain chemistry as well as genitalia, and the brain chemistry of transgender people is different from that of cisgender people like me.

    We are all part of God’s creation. Studying and learning more about that creation is no threat to faith unless that faith is rigid and seeks to reduce nature’s awesomeness to something that can be locked safely in a doctrinaire box. Galileo saw no conflict between his faith and using his telescope to study the heavens, which he recognized as the direct handiwork of God. Now as then, what he is reputed to have muttered before the Inquisition remains true: “E pur si muove.”

    To the extent that we give witness to truths that bishops refuse to see, they can learn from us, including as to the dangers of quackery like reparative therapy.

  4. Thomas Rowan
    Thomas Rowan says:

    Conversion therapy has been proven to be harmful and ineffective. The hierarchy needs to promote the gospel and keep their opinions to themselves regarding the faithfuls lifestyle choices.

  5. Norman J. Simmons
    Norman J. Simmons says:

    Archbishop Richard Gagnon sounds confused as he speaks of “an aggressive ideology.” How can he lump together transgendered people with assisted suicide and euthanasia and racism?
    I find a person arrogant and ignorant who claims to tell me what I feel, to tell me what I experience, when what he describes is definitely not what I feel and not what I experience. This fusion of arrogance and ignorance is at the basis of conversion therapy, which denies what a person actually is experiencing. It is no wonder that some people break down and commit suicide because their life is no longer livable.
    Do not the advocates for conversion therapy feel any responsibility for setting up this person for suicide?
    I remember once when a person said to me, “You look very rested.” At that moment, I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was go to sleep and not listen to that person rattle on about this and that. Those four words, “you look very rested,” did not push me to deny my experience. Instead, the words made me angry.
    The theologian F. D. Maurice had the wise insight that we tend to deny what we never have experienced. If Archbishop Gagnon has never experienced a desire and need personally to express the sexual orientation of a transgendered person, that is fine. But I find that it is disrespecting a person to claim that they should deny their own experience. To tell a transgendered person that they are wrong about themselves is a failure to respect someone created in the image and likeness of God.


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