Archbishop Peter A Comensoli has issued an official statement following the introduction of a new bill by the Victorian Government which purports to protect vulnerable people from harm through what has been called ‘conversion therapies’.
Last weekend I wrote to the clergy of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne expressing concerns regarding a new government bill, tabled in Parliament:
The bill purports to protect vulnerable people from harm through what has been called ‘conversion therapies’. In faith communities, ‘conversion’ has a meaning of positive change, upholding human freedom and dignity.
I encourage every action to protect people from harm. A bill that protected people would have my full support.
The problem is this bill doesn’t merely do what it claims. It targets prayer, and appears to impose silence on people of faith from sharing their beliefs in an open, honest and faithful way. The bill imposes on the right of parents and children to speak plainly and honestly with one another. It robs adults from seeking whatever guidance and pastoral support they seek concerning deeply personal matters.
No government has an interest in what a person prays for, who they pray to, who they pray with, or what conversations happen between members of a family.
Despite affecting religious communities in such a direct way, faith groups were afforded little consultation and were not shown a draft of this bill before its publication.
It is not clear that parents in Victoria have been told clearly that this bill affects what they can say and how they say it with their own children.
This looks like a dramatic over-reach of the state into family life, private matters, pastoral contexts of conversion, prayer and spiritual accompaniment.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne has a range of questions for which we seek resolution – some of those questions are attached to this statement. (see below)
The ultimate outcome of this bill may not actually be to protect anyone who is vulnerable, but to silence people of faith from expressing a view.
Most Rev Peter A Comensoli
Archbishop of Melbourne
Unresolved questions regarding the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020:
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference20 April 2021
CHA14 April 2021