Spain's health minister called on Wednesday for so-called conversion therapy to be abolished after a report that a branch of the Catholic Church had offered to "cure" gay people.
El Diario, an online newspaper, said a reporter posing as a gay man trying to change his sexuality was told to stop watching porn and masturbate less in a counselling session provided by a diocese of the Catholic Church close to the capital Madrid. Its representatives called the report "fake news.”
Minister expresses regret
But Maria Luisa Carcedo Roces, Spain's minister for health, consumption and social welfare, expressed regret that the practice persisted, saying it was illegal and calling for it to be "completely abolished.”
"I thought that in Spain, accepting the various sexual orientations was assumed in all areas, but unfortunately we see that there are still pockets where people are told what their sexual orientation should be," she said at a press conference.
"I regret that this is happening and that a law is being broken," she said, according to an audio recording sent to the Thomson Reuters Foundation by the ministry press office.
Conversion therapy, which can include hypnosis and electric shocks, is based on the belief that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is a mental illness that can be cured.
Promoting or carrying out conversion therapy is banned in the region of Madrid, regardless of whether the person undergoing it has consented or not. Punishments include fines of up to 45,000 euros ($51,000).
In a statement on its website the diocese of Alcala de Henares called the report "fake news" and said that while it acknowledged the "respect and love due to all people,” it would offer help to "all those who freely request it.”
Books recommended on the Alcala diocese website include "How to prevent homosexuality: children and gender confusion.”
The minister also said offering such courses to children would contravene their rights, and that if the law continued to be broken, the Department of Justice would have to decide what action to take.
El Diario said the therapist at the Regina Familiae counselling center had told the undercover reporter that she "could go to jail" for trying to help him become straight.
Malta, Ecuador and just over a dozen U.S. states have outlawed conversion therapy, according to the ILGA, a network of LGBT+ rights groups. Countries including Britain, New Zealand and Australia are considering bans.
A fifth of gay, lesbian and bisexual British people who have tried to change their sexuality have attempted suicide, according to a study of the controversial practice in Britain that was released in February.