Vatican clarifies Pope Francis comments on psychiatric help for gay children

Pontiff did not intend to suggest homosexuality was a 'mental illness', says spokeswoman

Jon Sharman
Tuesday 28 August 2018 22:05 BST
Pope says psychiatric help may be needed if young child exhibits 'turmoil'

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Louise Thomas

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The Vatican has tried to row back a suggestion by Pope Francis that parents should seek psychiatric help for their gay children.

During a press conference aboard a flight from Ireland to Rome, Francis was asked what he would say to parents whose children were gay.

The pontiff told journalists: “When it shows itself from childhood, there is a lot that can be done through psychiatry, to see how things are. It is something else if it shows itself after 20 years.”

But when the Holy See’s official news website published details of the interaction, the line was not included.

Vatican News reported the pontiff had also said he would encourage parents “to pray, to not condemn, to dialogue, to make room” for their offspring, and that ignoring the child would be an error.

A Vatican spokeswoman claimed the omission was made to avoid changing “the thoughts of the Holy Father”.

She told the Agence France-Presse news agency: “When the pope referred to ‘psychiatry’, it is clear that he was doing it to highlight an example of ‘things that can be done’. But with that word he didn’t mean to say that [homosexuality] was a ‘mental illness’.”

Francis’ remarks attracted condemnation from Colm O’Gorman, the executive director of Amnesty International in Ireland and a survivor of clerical abuse.

“He is basically saying that young gay people can be changed, which is archaic and has been refuted numerous times,” he told The Times.

The UK government has pledged to put an end to the practice of so-called conversion therapy, with Theresa May describing attempts to change the sexual orientation of LGBT+ people as “abhorrent”.

Penny Mordaunt, the women and equalities minister, said in July that “gay cure” sessions amounted to “abuse of the worst kind” and “must be stamped out”.

The Argentine pope has previously been openly accepting of gay people, if not homosexuality itself. Earlier this year he reportedly told a survivor of church abuse that it did “not matter” he was gay. “God made you like that and loves you like this and I don’t care,” Francis told Juan Carlos Cruz, who said he was “thrilled” by the encounter.

And in 2013, the pope said: “If someone is gay and is looking for the Lord, who am I to judge him? You should not discriminate against or marginalise these people.”

Francis made his latest comments as he was leaving Ireland, where he met with victims and begged forgiveness for the “open wound” of institutionalised child abuse. The Catholic Church had been guilty of cover-ups and failing to show compassion, he admitted during a mass in Dublin.

His visit to Ireland followed a bombshell grand jury report in the US describing how hundreds of “predator priests” abused more than 1,000 children over several decades in Pennsylvania.

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