22 June, 2017
Dear Member of General Synod,
As a former member of General Synod in the Church of Ireland over some four decades, and encouraged by former Church of England General Synod member Revd Canon Dr Chris Sugden, I would like to say a few words to explain the attached Open Letter that I have written to Jayne Ozanne and all members of General Synod.
I recently sent an almost identical letter addressed to Jayne personally, hoping to persuade her privately to withdraw for a year her Synod motion opposing ‘conversion therapy’.
Jayne responded to me with a strongly worded letter characterising my request as amounting to bullying and bribery, and refusing to work alongside me to try to find an agreed position regarding the claim that such therapy is ‘harmful and not supported by evidence’, and therefore unethical. I shall leave it to you to decide whether the charges of bullying and bribery are justified.
Jayne also said that under Synod’s standing orders she would not be able to withdraw her motion even if she wanted to. I am surprised at this – in the Church of Ireland such a withdrawal is readily possible.
I have researched the science and found that the Royal College of Psychiatrists has misled the Church of England at a number of points (for example as noted in the Pilling Report paragraphs 205 – 208 and 209 – 213). Similarly, as noted in the attached letter, the UK Council for Psychotherapy has repeatedly declined my requests for evidence to support its claim that therapy is harmful.
I fear that the Church may make a great mistake if it does not ask to see the evidence. Sadly, it is no longer adequate to rely on the assurances of the mental health Establishment. I have discussed the matter further with Dr Peter May in a short video available (below).
Signed: Dermot O'Callaghan
It was good to meet you last year at a fringe meeting of the Church of Ireland General Synod. I hope that members of the Church of England General Synod might similarly listen to an Anglican voice from Ireland. In the light of your negative response to my recent letter addressed to you personally, I believe I must now write an open letter in similar terms to your colleagues on General Synod.
You have tabled a motion that Synod endorse the 16th January statement by the UK Council for Psychotherapy [UKCP] et al, that “the practice of conversion therapy is unethical, harmful and not supported by evidence.” The lead author of that statement is Janet Weisz, CEO of UKCP. I have had extensive correspondence with UKCP over their claim that therapy to reduce same-sex attraction is harmful. On 30thJune 2015 I wrote to Ms Weisz, “I am sorry that you have not addressed the fact that even the American Psychological Association’s systematic review could find no recent research that would justify them in saying that sexual orientation change efforts are harmful. Your avoidance of this question reinforces the impression that you are not able to point to a single peer reviewed study that shows a causal link between therapy and harm [please correct me on this if I am wrong],”. Ms Weisz did not reply.
In 2013 I also corresponded with the Bishop of Buckingham, who had been vocal on the matter. I said, “I hope you will not feel it unreasonable that I should ask you for the name of just one reputable study to represent the 'overwhelming evidence' that such therapies are harmful. My conviction on this is such that if you can do this, I shall donate £100 to a charity of your choice.” The bishop declined my offer.
I would make the same offer to you, Jayne - £100 to a charity of your choice. And if, as I anticipate, your researches don’t yield even one study that follows participants through therapy and finds that on average they were harmed more than helped (using a scientifically recognised measure of distress), I would appeal to your integrity not to support the unscientific 16thJanuary statement.
Further, the claim that therapy is ‘not supported by evidence’ is really a half-truth: by the same evidential standard, the case for banning it is not supported by evidence either. The simple fact is that no randomised controlled trials, which might enable us to determine the matter, have been carried out.
There is an ideological background to this. An article in the Journal of Medical Ethics last year said, “[M]easures meant to change sexual orientation are … deeply alarming, even and indeed especially if they are safe and effective … widespread use of reorientation therapy, although not intrinsically bad, could have disastrous effects on sexual minorities, potentially dooming queer communities to extinction.”[my emphasis]
I would ask you, Jayne, to withdraw your motion for a year and engage with me to find the truth on this matter. I shall be glad to work constructively with you, and you can always propose it again next year if you wish. Failing such withdrawal, I would urge Synod members please to reject the motion. Otherwise, are we to say, “Without evidence from a single scientific study, we denied people freedom to have therapy to reduce unwanted same-sex attraction even to save their families”?
Director, Core Issues Trust
Endorsed by Revd Canon Dr Chris Sugden [General Synod (2005-2010, 2011- 2015)].
Dr Michael Davidson, CEO (NI); Andrea Minichiello Williams (CEO Christian Legal Centre); Dermot O’Callaghan (Church of Ireland, NI)
Council of Reference:
Mr Andrew Comiskey (CEO Desert Stream /Living Waters), USA; Professor Robert Gagnon, (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary), USA; Rev David Johnston, (Presbyterian, NI); GB; Canon Dr Chris Sugden (C of E, GB); Rev Hadden Wilson (Baptist, NI)
Registered Office: 102 Kinedale Park Ballynahinch BT248YS | Charity Commission, number 105095| M: 07833098998 | L: 02897563008 | W: www.core-issues.org
 Aas S, Delmas C. Journal of Medical Ethics 2016;0:1–8. doi:10.1136/medethics-2016-103562