Conversion Therapy

Dear Senator Chang- Diaz and Representative Khan,

The Massachusetts Catholic Conference is the public policy office of the four Roman Catholic Dioceses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I am writing this letter to express our opposition to House Bill 140, Senate Bill 70; An Act relative to abusive practices to change sexual orientation and gender identity in minors. Additionally, the Conference opposes House Bill 110; An Act banning conversion therapy.

The purpose and intent of these Bills is to prevent licensed professionals in the areas of psychology, psychiatry, social work, family counseling and numerous other medical professions from practicing or performing conversion therapy with individuals under the age of eighteen. The effect of passing such a law is flawed in several ways. 

The Bill attempts to create a solution to a problem which does not exist. Licensed clinical professionals are highly trained in their field and guided by ethical principles. Those principals fundamentally form the foundation of their respective professions. Today it is unethical for a counselor to discriminate against anyone, or try to push a goal in therapy that is destructive to the client or contrary to the clients stated desires.  For example, the American Psychological Association (APA) Code of Conduct (2016) states in parts; “Psychologists respect the dignity of all people, and the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self- determination”. 

If a minor is struggling with unwanted same sex attraction or gender identity, this law would prevent a licensed professional from counseling the minor towards a resolution to those unwanted urges. A counselor would hesitate to provide such therapy for fear of losing his or her license to practice. These professionals, with years of education and experience dealing with mental health issues, would be removed from the process of helping a young client struggling with these highly personal issues.

Parents have the primary responsibility for the welfare and education of their children. Parental rights would be completely eroded by this Bill. This fact is particularly true if their child is struggling with feelings that are unwanted or causing the child confusion and the parents want and need the help and guidance of a professional.

Furthermore, the Bishops are concerned about the impact of this legislation on religious liberty. For example, the definition of “sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts” contained in House Bill 140 likely goes beyond the Bills intent. More specifically, it may easily be interpreted to prohibit simple speech regarding what a religion teaches about human sexuality. As an example, a conscientious Catholic, working as a licensed professional, would counsel a minor, heterosexual or homosexual, to abstain from sexual activity. Would this violate the bill’s specific prohibition efforts to “change behaviors”? The language in the definition of the Bill certainly seems to prohibit such counseling. 

The Catholic Church’s theological and moral teaching concerning gender identity and the phenomenon of “gender transitioning”, including the use of pharmacological medications to arrest the onset of puberty and transgender surgery, is rooted in both faith and reason.  From a faith perspective, the Catholic Church teaches that human beings are created by God as male and female.  Hence, human sexuality, be it biologically male or female, is integral to the divine plan for human persons. Moreover, male and female sexuality, if properly understood and exercised, contributes to human flourishing.

Relying on natural moral law reasoning, the Catholic Church’s teaching on gender identity and transgenderism appeals to the best and most current scientific, medical, philosophical and psychological evidence.  As a result, the Church’s teaching acknowledges that the phenomenon of a person’s discomfort with his or her biological sex can be a genuine and complex reality that needs to be addressed by psychological professionals with compassion and honesty.  There is substantial psychological evidence, resulting from multiple studies of young people who experience gender dysphoria, that indicates that when treated with appropriate psychological therapy and with the crucial support of family, 80% to 95% of the children studied, end up accepting their biological sex as constitutive of their gender identity. American College of Pediatricians- June 2017; https://www.acpeds.org/the-college-speaks/position-statements/gender-dys...

In brief, according to the Catholic Church’s moral teaching, the fundamental and very serious ethical flaws of House Bill 110, House Bill 140 and Senate Bill 70, are what might be described as “legislative overreach”.  The Bills would deny the right of parents to engage therapists who could help their child who is experiencing gender dysphoria and is confused and uncomfortable with this experience. 

Sincerely,

James F. Driscoll

Executive Director