Bishop Opposes Banning Conversion Therapy, While Also Condemning Such Therapy

Bishop Mark Brennan

West Virginia’s Catholic bishop has voiced his opposition to a proposed ordinance that would ban conversion therapy in the city of Wheeling, claiming the ordinance would require people to accept “transgender ideology.” Later, he said he did not support conversion therapy even while opposing the ban on it.

Bishop Mark Brennan of Wheeling-Charleston submitted comments at a Wheeling City Council meeting through diocesan spokesperson Tim Bishop. The Council is considering updating a discrimination ordinance to ban “any practices or treatments that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.” The Journal reported on the bishop’s objections:

“Brennan outlined what he described as several flaws in Wheeling’s proposed code amendment, noting that the language contains no reference to licensed professional practice in the definition of the prohibited behavior and that ‘behavior is distinct from identity,’ yet the proposal states that ‘efforts to change behaviors’ are to be considered conversion therapy.

“If read at face value, the proposal may ‘infringe upon the right of parents to teach and guide their children,’ Brennan said. “The proposed amendment is flawed in its endorsement of transgender ideology. Persons who are biologically of one sex but present themselves as belonging to the other sex deserve respect and the recognition by society of their fundamental rights. However, neither they nor a city council nor its Human Rights Commission have the right to insist that everyone else must accept that transgender ideology.’ . . .

“‘No one can be compelled to agree – in speech or behavior – to what he or she considers to be false,’ he said. ‘Compelled conformity to a mistaken view of reality is unjust.'”

Brennan did reiterate the need to treat LGBTQ people with respect and noted the church does not officially endorse conversion therapy. But he criticized the city’s leaders further for “an isolationist view of human rights that ignores their community context” and one that is allegedly critical of religious groups. The Wheeling City Council will vote on the conversion therapy ordinance on May 3.

In a later interview, Brennan again rejected conversion therapy even while sustaining his opposition to the ordinance. MetroNews quoted him as saying, “This is not in favor of the procedure. I am not in favor of that procedure. The Catholic Church does not endorse it.”

Bishop Brennan’s follow up comments disavowing conversion therapy may be an attempt to walk a line that both condemns the practice while preserving the legal right to perform it. But if Brennan truly believes conversion therapy is harmful, why fight to preserve it? There is no parental right to harm one’s child, as subjecting an LGBTQ youth to such practices does, nor is it an infringement on religious liberty to ban what some critics say amounts to torture. The bishop’s arguments fall flat..

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, April 22, 2022

7 replies
  1. Duane Sherry
    Duane Sherry says:

    For a moment, I wasn’t sure whether I was reading a statement from a bishop or a novel by Lewis Caroll.

    The bishop gives a key character a run for his money:

    “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” – Mad Hatter

  2. Richard Rosendall
    Richard Rosendall says:

    Bishop Brennan’s position is incoherent. The incoherence is rooted in his reference to something that exists only in the minds of transphobic people: “transgender ideology.”

    I have been an LGBTQ rights activist for more than four decades, and I could not tell you what that alleged ideology is, other than a simple affirmation of one’s right to exist.

    Brennan invokes biology in a way that ignores the science of gender. Whether he recognizes it or not, biology includes brain chemistry. The only ideology present is his own dogmatism, which he dresses up with cherry-picked references to science. But science does not aspire to a knowledge that is frozen and unchanging. It grows as we explore and learn, as we test new hypotheses.

    Churchmen have long treated this aspect of science as a weakness. That is precisely where they go wrong, and have gone wrong since the Vatican suppressed Galileo because his telescopic observations contradicted their cosmology. Whether they liked it or not, Copernicus had taken astronomy beyond that of Ptolemy.

    Clinging to outdated science and seeking to impose it using the power of the Church is a betrayal of both science and religion. The bullying bishops are claiming divine knowledge they do not possess, no matter how many sacred texts they invoke. There is also the evidence of God‘s creation. God made us humans and not sheep. If He did not want us to use our human brains to think for ourselves, we would not have them.

    There is no necessary conflict between science and religion. Authoritarians create that conflict out of their urge to control.

    Gregor Mendel, a 19th century Augustinian abbot in Moravia in what is now the Czech Republic, is famous for his experiments with pea plants that formed the basis of modern genetics. The science building at my alma mater, Villanova University, is named for him. But his fame is owed to the fact that he sent copies of his work to scientific colleagues in Western Europe. The man who succeeded him as abbot disapproved of his scientific work and trashed it all. But notwithstanding the popularity of the bullying impulse that continues to infect the modern Church, there is nothing particularly Christian about it.

    Gay and trans people are as God made us. If we are going to talk about blasphemy, perhaps our inquisition should be into why Church leaders insist on circumscribing God’s creation to fit their own prejudices.

    • Frank
      Frank says:

      Thank you Richard. That a man of his position can make such ignorant remarks is appalling. To deny reality, the science. Everything has been tried before to ‘convert’ transgender people to what others want them to be. Nothing worked you know why because it is how God made them. These are real people he is denying their existence. He is killing them in his own mind. Things are getting real bad out there and this man adds to it. How many lives and families do they need destroyed before they even have an ounce of humanity?

  3. Chey
    Chey says:

    When we are so desperate for moral voices to call out all the weaponizing of hate another bishop does something like this. Please use what ever moral credibility you have for good not this nonsense.

  4. Fran
    Fran says:

    For heavens sake this is not an argument. Nothing to debate about. This practice tortures people. Jesus went out to the marginalized of his time. Your boss. Mr bishop if you can’t handle the job of respecting the most marginalized please resign.

  5. Fr. Zacchaeus Naegele
    Fr. Zacchaeus Naegele says:

    I am originally from Wheeling and now a monk in California. I was a seminarian for the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston many years ago and I was gay then as I am gay now and do not agree with Bishop Brennon’s decision to attack the lives of gay or transgender person in his care as a bishop.
    There has been a much controversy there in the diocese because of the last bishop who robbed the diocese of thousands of dollars and still has not payed
    back to the diocese and the people of that diocese any amount of money necessary for his having been so carefree with the money of the diocese over a long period of time. Bishop Brennon has attempted to bring the former bishop to justice but has not gone far enough.
    I write this because it is apparent to me that the present bishop has not done what needs to be done for retribution to the people and is now attacking the marginalized and innocent gay and transgender in the diocese and city of Wheeling, West Virginia. Bishop Brennon should be respectful and not restrictive of those who are trying to find their ways in the church and society.


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