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