Ireland bill would ban Catholic teaching, counseling for same-sex attraction, priest warns
April 30, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Ireland is preparing a sweeping ban on so-called “conversion therapy” regarding people dealing with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, effectively criminalizing Catholic teaching and religious practices, a priest is warning.
Speaking with the Catholic News Agency (CNA), Fr. Phillip Bochanski, executive director of Courage International, raised concerns about legislation in the Irish Senate that seeks to ban “any practice” defined as “conversion therapy.”
The proposed bill, which has garnered almost 20 co-sponsors, targets “any practice or treatment by any person” designed to change sexual orientation or gender identity.
Bochanski, whose apostolate ministers to Catholics suffering from same-sex attraction around the world, said the Irish bill would “restrict the freedom, and often the willingness, of pastoral ministers and other people of faith and good will to speak, in public or one-on-one, about what the Word of God has to say on issues of sexual morality, attraction and identity.”
“Whether by accident or intentionally, the plain language of the bill –– ‘any practice’ –– could easily be construed to include conversations in pastoral settings, homilies, catechesis of children or adults, or even the advice given to a person in confession, if these present the Church’s teaching about sexual attraction, sexual identity, and chastity,” Bochanski said.
“Rather than restricting itself to protecting people from harmful treatment that would clearly be considered professional malpractice or even assault, it defines ‘conversion therapy’ to encompass ‘any practice or treatment by any person’ that addresses a person’s experience of same-sex attraction or gender identity discordance, unless it affirms that person’s identity as LGBTQ,” he continued.
Ireland’s pro-LGBT Minister for Children Roderic O’Gorman also has tasked officials with determining ways to ban the practice, CNA reported. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth already has prepared a paper on prohibiting conversion therapy and is working with the Department of Health to bring forward new proposals.
Bochanski noted that supporters of the bans often use varying definitions of “conversion therapy.” In public discussions, they “typically focus on stories of horrible treatment carried out by individuals and groups … with little or no psychological training or expertise,” he said.
However, the bills are frequently presented to lawmakers as means of “regulating medical doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, and others in the healing professions,” the priest added.
“People seek the help of such professionals for various motives: to better understand and meet their emotional and relational needs; to find healing for wounds of trauma, abuse or neglect; and to overcome bad habits of anger, greed, lust or intemperance,” Fr. Bochanski said. “But unless the counselor affirms that such experiences are natural, inborn and perfectly healthy, their discussions with their patients or clients are often considered ‘conversion therapy.’”
Studies and psychological experts have attested to the success of therapies to treat same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. “Of the patients I oversaw who sought to change their orientation, hundreds were successful,” Dr. Nicholas Cummings, the former president of the American Psychological Association (APA), has said.
Identity change among people who describe themselves as LGBT is highly common. Around half of those who choose non-heterosexual identifiers switch to another label later in life, most commonly to “completely heterosexual,” a major study found in 2016. Conversion rates of gender-confused individuals are even higher, at up to 98% for adolescent boys, according to the APA.
CNA pointed out that it is not clear what kind of “conversion therapy” actually has existed in Ireland. The Irish Department for Equality has admitted that it does not know the prevalence of the practice on the island, CNA said.
Plans to prohibit “conversion therapy” nevertheless have moved forward in Northern Ireland, as well. Last week, the Northern Irish Assembly passed a resolution calling for the criminalization of “conversion therapy” “in all its forms.” The assembly rejected an amendment that would have exempted “legitimate religious activities” like pastoral support and prayer.
Proposals nearly identical to those introduced in Ireland have cropped up in other countries in recent months, including in Canada, Australia, and Puerto Rico. In an interview with LifeSiteNews in March, Bishop Daniel Fernández Torres of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, condemned a bill that would ban “any effort” to change sexual orientation or homosexual behavior as “abuse.”
“What will happen if the child wants to go to school with a uniform of the sex different from his own?” he asked. “Will the school be prosecuted for institutional abuse for making this ‘effort’ to be consistent with the school rules when treating a child according to his biological sex?”
“What will happen to a father who goes with his children to church, where they receive the teachings of the Catechism on the natural family and God’s creation? Will he be considered a child abuser for that?” the bishop added.