Tory candidate Miriam Cates was trustee of church that ‘supported conversion therapy’

Miriam Cates MP

An investigation has revealed that Conservative election candidate Miriam Cates, who lobbied against a conversion therapy ban while in government, was a trustee of a church that “endorsed” the practice.

Last October, Miriam Cates, who is standing for re-election in the South Yorkshire constituency of Penistone and Stockbridge, led “intense” lobbying against a promised conversion therapy ban while serving as an MP. 

Now, an independent investigation, published on Monday (1 July), has revealed that St Thomas Philadelphia Church, in Sheffield, of which Cates was a part, “endorsed and supported” conversion therapy between 2014 and 2019. 

Cates, who has also railed against LGBTQ+-inclusivity schemes in schools, was a member of the church between 2003 and 2018. She was a trustee from 2016 to 2018, during which time she was responsible for safeguarding. 

Tory MP Miriam Cates
Miriam Cates was a member of a church said to have endorsed conversion therapy. (Pat Scaasi/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

While there is no evidence to suggest Cates had direct knowledge of gay conversion therapy taking place, the report found that it was openly discussed and part of the church’s culture while she was a member, and some of her time as a trustee.

The report, written by children’s charity Barnardo’s, was commissioned by the Church of England’s Diocese of Sheffield following gay man Matt Drapper claiming to have been the victim of an “exorcism” ritual in 2014. 

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Cates told the BBC: “I do not and have never advocated for what is referred to as gay conversion therapy. I have never participated in such activities and I was not aware – nor was there any way that I could have been aware – of Mr Drapper’s allegations, which were not, as far as I was aware, raised during the time I was on the leadership of the church, and only surfaced after I left.”

Her social media from November 2012 suggests she attended a conference hosted by a third party at the church, which Drapper described as an exorcism training weekend.

Cates denied attending any “exorcism training weekend”, but said she did attend a conference that year which was “standard”, with a “series of seminar, bible teaching and worship”. 

Contributors to the report said that there was a “firm belief” in the church that gay members “would eventually understand the need to be transformed to live in accordance with biblical revelation and orthodox church teachings”.

Homosexuality likened to ‘spirit possession’

Another person claimed the church had given out a book, during a course in 2017 that linked homosexuality to “spirit possession”, which explained “the ways in which these spirits should and could be expelled, and how, as a consequence, homosexuals would be healed”.

The BBC found that these courses were still going on in November 2019. 

Drapper, who made the allegations in March 2018, also lodged a formal complaint after Cates had left the church. 

A report on the church’s current behaviour found that “prayers, or indeed any actions, which seek to change a person’s sexuality [are] not accepted by church leaders today in the way it may have been 10 years ago”.

Network Church Sheffield ‘determined’ to learn from report

Network Church Sheffield (NCS), the operating name of The Philadelphia Network Limited, a not-for-profit company, said: “We have accepted the outcomes of the first investigation and are saddened that eight years ago one of our community was not cared for in the way we would have liked. We sincerely apologised to them for this.

“Whilst the leadership of the church has changed, we recognise there are significant lessons to be learned and we are determined to learn them.”

Bishop of Sheffield issues apology

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Revd Pete Wilcox, has apologised and said he will continue monitoring progress on an “action plan” set by NCS to improve safeguarding. 

“We apologise unreservedly to the survivor for the distress this has caused and to anyone else similarly affected by such practices in the past,” the bishop said.

“The Diocese of Sheffield believes, along with the wider Church of England, that conversion therapy is unethical, potentially harmful and has no place in the modern world. Any survivors or those with information about misconduct in church or church-related abuse must always feel free to come forward knowing that they will be listened to in confidence.”

The other general election candidates in Penistone and Stockbridge are: Andy Davies (Green), Edward Dillingham (Reform UK), Rob Reiss (Liberal Democrats) and Marie Tidball (Labour).

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