It’s a topic that lends itself so easily to instrumentalization that a strong and clear premise is required. Sure, it will be branded “excusatio non petita, accusatio manifesta,” excuse not claimed and therefore a clear accusation [i.e., if one must take pains to defend something, isn’t that an indication that it’s wrong?]—but the burden of proof is on the person in bad faith. So-called “reparative therapies” for dealing with the distress caused by gender dysphoria are really a collection of many different things, so different that some are the exact opposite of the others; and it is true that some are just intolerable abuses to be denounced without hesitation.
Lights and shadows
Even the expression “therapy” applied to these cases reeks of disinfectant and deception. In fact, psychological and spiritual companionship is a separate thing, which, born of self-esteem, brings together a person suffering from strong psychological and spiritual distress with someone who, with total respect for his intangible human dignity and freedom, takes care of him whatever the outcome may be. This is quite apart, the opposite, of the forcible and even forced intrusion, often unsolicited, of someone into the innermost recesses of another’s life, complete with brutal medicalisation of the matter and physical or psychological violence. There is an abysmal difference between listening and compulsion. And it is no coincidence that the decline of a culture of authentic listening—made up of family, friendships and even confessors—corresponds to the development of an ideology of tampering. It applies to youth distress, it applies to drug addiction, it applies to homosexuality.
In this area, in fact, just as there are moments of extraordinary human intensity in the face of people who, thanks to true affection, rediscover themselves, there are also examples of oppression that literally cry out for vengeance in the presence of Heaven. It’s too easy, in short, to speak of “reparative therapies,” because there are so many different things that may be meant. And amongst those things, there are many lights, along with many shadows.
However, the shadows never completely obscure the lights. And he who would take advantage of the shadows in order to extinguish the lights, even permanently, with malice, would commit a crime equal to the one who cuts off the conscience and freedom of a person who complains of discomfort.
Now, ours is a highly ideological world, where the good of the person is often sacrificed on the altar of political, media and cultural power. Above all, it happens that those who hold political, media and cultural power manage to establish the rules of the game, including abuses. And so in a world devoted to normalizing even what is not normal, the question of “reparative therapies” becomes the night when all cows are black and trials of intentions are carried out, the baby is thrown out with the bathwater and, for ideological vice, people who ask for it or who would ask for it are denied that support and that closeness which is not abuse—and thus the denial itself becomes a serious abuse.
This is what happened, for example, in Germany, where the law no longer distinguishes between valid spiritual accompaniment and mere abuse, dragging everything into a grey area to the detriment of those who need support and friendship. That’s what’s happening in Canada, where similar laws are in the process of being passed. And that’s what’s happening in Australia, perhaps in the most blatant and obnoxious way.
The Legislative Assembly of the Australian federal state of Victoria has approved a bill entitled Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill (2020) which now only awaits the verdict of the Legislative Council, i.e. the “upper house” of the state parliament, and in the face of which the reaction is growing, led mainly by the Christian Churches and other religious denominations, with Catholics and Presbyterians in the lead.
In denouncing this law, the religious groups—and in particular the Christians, with Catholics and Presbyterians in the lead—clearly and squarely condemn at the same time every possibility of abuse and violence that can be linked to some particularly harmful and execrable types of “reparative therapy.” In this specific respect, they in fact take sides with the legislators of the State of Victoria. Nor have these same opponents ever uttered the slightest word of discrimination against homosexual people.
Nevertheless, they denounce the law passed as an unbearable gag on religious freedom and freedom of expression.
This law provides for up to ten years in prison for those found to be practicing abuses and excesses. But the objection of the law’s critics is simple: who determines, and how, what is an “abuse” and an “excess”? It all depends on what yardstick is adopted and what is the starting point of those who have the absolute power to judge and establish punishments, and this is easily subject to ideologization.
Moreover, the law (Section 5.3) also includes, among condemnable practices, “religious practices that include, but are not limited to, prayer-based practices“, even if this is done with the consent of the person concerned. Consider the explanation of the minister of Justice of the Federal State of Victoria of one example of a prohibited practice even in cases where the person concerned has fully consented: namely, the case of “a person who approaches a religious leader seeking advice about his or her attraction to another person of the same sex, where that religious leader tells that person that he or she is wrong and that he or she should rather observe celibacy or bachelorettehood in order to change or eliminate attraction to persons of the same sex.”
Of course, the minister explained that in itself the theological and moral opinion of a religious leader on homosexuality will not be indicted—for example, a homily or a sermon in which it is said that, for theological and moral reasons, a certain religious doctrine considers homosexuality wrong. But, she also added that homilies and sermons will be monitored to prevent them from crossing the threshold of what is lawful!
Well, as has been said, the threshold of what is “lawful” and what is not is such a vague notion (indeed purposely left undefined, perhaps even only because of the technical impossibility of doing so), that the discretion of those who have the power to decide immediately returns to the fore. Especially when it is the question of that power in the hands of the people who would promote a law like this.
In short, a priest or any other minister of religion could tell one of his faithful that his moral conduct is wrong; but if he then adds that he should change his life, that minister could be sanctioned. But it is obvious that if I tell a person who has asked that his conduct is decidedly wrong, I am also implicitly affirming—by logic and by direct consequence, even if I do not say it explicitly—that that conduct of his life must be changed. How could one do the opposite? That is to say, how could one, approached for opinion or even advice, provide the answer that certain conduct is intrinsically wrong, for the strongest theological and moral reasons, and yet also say that the person should go on engaging in that conduct without a care?
The dangers of such a law is self-evident, but the law is also needless. The only effect it will have is to deprive people who ask for it of hearing and help. It will exchange good for evil and silence anyone who does not subscribe to the relativist ideology that is dominant today with respect to all things, including religion. That is, this law simply adds abuse upon abuse. Clearly, crimes must always be punished. But for that, there are criminal codes everywhere. We do not need special laws like this, least of all if they are ambiguous, poorly written or even ill-intentioned. The law in Victoria appears to be the worst of its kind. It could provide a dangerous worldwide precedent. And that is why we need to find the legal and democratic means to sink it.