Senior bishop says church leaders guilty of conversion ‘abuse’ must be prosecuted under ban

David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

The bishop of Manchester has backed the prosecution of faith leaders who provide conversion therapy, including prayer.

David Walker, the bishop of Manchester, chaired the Church of England general synod debate on conversion therapy in 2017, after which the synod called for a ban with a huge majority.

But, almost four years since then, a conversion therapy ban has failed to materialise in the UK.

Writing for the Anglican blog Via Mediabishop Walker criticised the consultation ordered by the government before a bill is brought forward, insisting “that has all too often been a phrase used to excuse foot-dragging”.

“We are never going to achieve legislation that everyone agrees is perfect,” he said, adding that “sometimes we need to just get on with things, and make any necessary changes later, in the light of experience”.

The main issue, Walker said, is that the government has to have a “victim-centred approach” when it comes to a conversion therapy ban.

He wrote: “If the consultation on conversion therapies (and I confess I’d rather call it conversion abuse, rather than dignify it with medical terminology) spends too much time and effort on trying to define exactly how far a perpetrator can go, or what procedures they can use, before breaking the law, then we will have lost that vital victim centrality.

“We need to focus on the wounding not the weapon.

“What matters in a victim-centred approach to law is the severity and durability of the harm done, not whether that damage was done by prayer, hypnosis or psychological techniques.”

The other point made by Walker was that “consent is only consent if informed and freely given”.

“There is a deep irony in the fact that the voices who argue most stridently that a teenager cannot give consent to life-changing gender therapies, in the highly-controlled and monitored environment of the NHS, are often the very voices who believe that same teenager can give free and informed consent to conversion therapy, in the far less transparent and accountable environment of a prayer meeting or attempted exorcism,” he said.

A conversion therapy ban was confirmed during the Queen’s Speech at the State Opening of Parliament on 11 May, but the Government Equalities Office said that legislation would only be advanced following a public consultation process which would “ensure that the ban can address the practice while protecting the medical profession; defending freedom of speech; and upholding religious freedom”.

The bishop of Manchester insisted that every day the consultation on conversion therapy goes on, “young people are continuing to suffer abuse disguised as therapy”.

He added: “Their harm is real and immediate. For their sakes we need to make this consultation both short and to the point.”