No, Pope Francis: LGBT kids should ‘stand up, be proud,’ says ex-Irish president’s gay son

LGBT+ activists have rebuffed Pope Francis’ suggestion that gay children should be taken to see a psychiatrist as “ignorant” and “unacceptable.”

The Pope had been to Ireland on a two-day trip in occasion of the Vatican-sponsored World Meeting of Families, which faced protests by LGBT groups who felt excluded from the event, and made the controversial remark to a group of journalists on his flight back to Vatican City on Sunday (August 26).

Asked about what advice would he give to the parents of a gay child, Francis said he would encourage them to pray, talk to their son or daughter and try to understand them instead of rejecting them.

But then, he added that young children could benefit from seeing a psychiatrist: “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,” he said.

The remarks came as the Vatican faces pressure for its role in covering child sex abuse at the hands of members of the clergy and for protecting perpetrators—accusations the Pope avoided discussing with the media.

A Vatican spokesperson later said that the Pope did not mean to suggest that homosexuality is a mental illness, but the pontiff’s remarks highlight the Church’s longstanding, problematic on homosexuality.

Justin McAleese is an Irish politician and LGBT+ rights activist (Gerry Mooney/Courtesy of Justin McAleese)

”The Roman Catholic Church operates on the ignorant assumption that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice and a curable aberration,” Justin McAleese, an Irish politician and LGBT+ rights activist, told PinkNews.

“These views are so far out of kilter with contemporary understanding and are so dangerous for the adolescent members of the Church and those who receive their education services worldwide from the Church. They have to be challenged on these views both internally and externally,” he added.

McAleese, the son of former president Marie McAleese—who recently condemned the Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality as “evil”—was a prominent campaigner for the 2015 marriage equality referendum in Ireland and got married to his partner last year, although he said he still considers himself a Catholic.

“Our final port of call on honeymoon was to a group of nuns who I have known for years. All they wanted to hear about was the ceremony and the party and were so full of love for the pair of us—this is the real Church,” he said.

According to McAleese, there are many priests and nuns who are disappointed with the official Church’s position on homosexuality, which is “more concerned with rules, regulations and so-called doctrine than the commandment to love.”

“My message to parents of LGBT children and LGBT children themselves is that God made us this way—so stand up, be proud and remember that Jesus has a lot more in common with Pride festivals across the world than the World Meeting Families,” McAleese said.

Pope Francis faced both supporters and protesters during his visit to Dublin on August 25, 2018 (Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty)

The Pope’s recent comments are particularly concerning for young LBGT+ people in Ireland, where the Catholic Church controls around 90 percent of primary schools and 60 percent of post-primary educational institutions.

A 2016 survey of mental health among LGBT+ youth carried out by Trinity College Dublin found that 56 per cent of LGBT+ teen aged between 14-18 year old had self-harmed, while 70 per cent had suicidal thoughts and one in three had attempted suicide.

“These are devastating statistics. Our experience in school can make or break us and the Catholic Church needs to tell us what it is doing to protect vulnerable LGBT+ children,” McAleese said.

The Irish branch of human rights group Amnesty International also condemned the Pope’s remarks.

“I am not surprised that he said it, but it’s unacceptable,” Colm O’Gorman, chief executive of Amnesty International Ireland, told The Times. “He is basically saying that young gay people can be changed, which is archaic and has been refuted numerous times.”

The UK government has promised to ban so-called gay conversion therapy, which Prime Minister Theresa May recently condemned as an “abhorrent practice.”