The Catholic Bishops of Aotearoa New Zealand presented their submission on the Conversion Practices Prohibition Legislation Bill to Parliament’s Justice Select Committee today (September 23).
The bishops’ submission generally supports the aims of the bill as being in line with the Catholic Social Teaching principles of human dignity and common good, but the submission says parents and advisers to young people should not be restricted in giving advice for fear of breaking the law.
Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe and National Centre for Religious Studies resource developer and lecturer Lyn Smith spoke to the committee by Zoom on behalf of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference.
The Government bill would ban practices that seek to change or suppress a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The Justice Committee received more than 100,000 submissions on the bill.
The bishops’ submission says: “The Catholic Church in Aotearoa New Zealand does not support, provide or participate in any kind of ‘conversion therapy’, by which we understand to be any programme that seeks by medical, psychological and/or spiritual means to ‘convert’ people from a homosexual or transgender orientation or identification towards a heterosexual one. Evidence shows that such programmes cause harm and suffering. Any harmful, coercive or abusive practice under any name is abhorrent to the Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
It adds: “We would not wish to see parents and advisers to young people restricted in giving advice consistent with both moral theology and Catholic Social Teaching out of fear of being seen to be breaking the law.”
Lyn Smith told the Justice committee that Catholic teaching was pastoral and promoted the dignity of the human person made in the image and likeness of God: “Children and young people seek out those in their lives they feel comfortable talking to when it comes to matters regarding sexuality. The Church’s pastoral approach to this area, especially under the guidance of Pope Francis and our bishops here in New Zealand, means that staff in Catholic education need to feel safe in continuing to provide this vital support to children and young people without the risk of or fear of prosecution.”
Bishop Lowe, who is also secretary and vice-president of the NZCBC, told the committee that “conversion therapy” did not respect a young person’s sacred journey from childhood to adulthood, and that was why the Catholic Church supported the legislation.
“At the same time, I would like to say… that I am concerned that there are many influences that our society is putting on our rangatahi which are sexualising them far too young and encouraging them to make big decisions before they have adequately come to adulthood,” said Bishop Lowe.