An archbishop in Australia has joined critics of a newly-passed law banning conversion therapy in the state of Victoria.
Crux reported on comments by Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne about “The Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill,” which recently passed both houses of Victoria’s Parliament. Comensoli said:
“‘With the passing of this bill, Victoria has entered strange new territory in which certain prayers, offered under particular conditions, could turn a parent or counselor into a criminal . . .
“‘Despite every reasonable attempt to meet and discuss the problematic aspects of this bill, faith leaders have met a wall of silence. . .Our great concern here is that opportunities to offer care and support will now be severely limited under the law.’”
Previously, Comensoli said that the policymakers involved with drafting the legislation did not consider the perspective of religious organizations. He explained to News Talk:
“The intention of the bill is to outlaw certain coercive practices, which [I] absolutely support and encourage….
“It enters into those sort of personal and private conversations that might happen in a family. It enters into the thoughts of spiritual and pastoral conversations that might happen between a priest and one of their parishioners.”
Bondings 2.0 previously reported on Victoria’s conversion therapy law in December 2020. The law’s criminal penalties include a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to 10 years in prison, if the conduct of the therapist, counselor, or faith leader results in “serious injury.” Mental health providers and spiritual leaders could also be prosecuted for sending an individual to an out-of-state facility for conversion therapy, as reported by The Armidale Express.
Under the law, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission is vested with enhanced authority to conduct inquiries into complaints that do not rise to the level of criminal conduct as well as initiate “investigations into systemic issues as part of a new civil scheme for victims.”
Joining Archbishop Comensoli’s critique, other religious denominations, including Islamic, Jewish, and Hindu communities have expressed their strident disapproval. More than 30 religious leaders wrote in advance of the law’s passage to Premier Daniel Andrews, the highest government official in Victoria.
Combining their advocacy efforts, Catholic and Islamic leaders authored and published a joint newspaper statement, as reported by the Brisbane Times:
“In the joint advert, the Islamic Council of Victoria claimed the bill ‘criminalises conversation between children and parents, interferes with sound professional advice, and silences ministers of religion from providing personal attention for individuals freely seeking pastoral care for complex personal situations.’”
Although the archbishop has opposed the conversion therapy bill, members of his congregation have pushed back and vocalized their support for the legislation. Peter Wilkinson, president of Catholics for Renewal, an organization of lay Catholics dedicated to reforming the church, shared the following commentary in an interview with the Brisbane Times:
“‘The science has changed but the church is still holding onto a false assumption of homosexuality as physically or morally deviant. . .
“‘It is our hope that the passage of this bill will stir the official Catholic Church to recognise such moves as reflections of the signs of the times, calling upon it to rethink its now-outdated teaching on diverse sexualities.’”
Daniel Comensoli, the nephew of Archbishop Comensoli and an LGBTQ health policy analyst, also articulated his objection to his uncle’s statement, reported the ABC Radio MELBOURNE. He stated:
“‘[The bill] will save lives and foster a more inclusive and affirming Victoria for LGBTIQ+ people… there’s nothing to fear with this bill being passed.’”
Victoria’s conversion therapy legislative proposal demonstrates the tension between protecting LGBTQ people from this discredited practice that operates from the premise that being LGBTQ is (falsely) understood to be a psychological defect versus the autonomy and liberty of both religious and mental health actors.
Although the bill contains a controversial criminalization element, perhaps those punitive ramifications are needed to eliminate a harmful practice that continues to occur even when all major social science research and psychological studies unequivocally demonstrate how pernicious it is for LGBTQ people and their families.
—Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, February 13, 2021