Senior Tory was trustee at church that ‘supported conversion therapy’

Senior Tory was trustee at church that ‘supported conversion therapy’

A senior Tory candidate was a trustee of a church while it promoted so-called conversion therapy, it has emerged.

Miriam Cates, Conservative candidate for Penistone and Stocksbridge, was a member of St Thomas Philadelphia church in Sheffield between 2003 and 2018 and a trustee from 2016 to 2018.

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An independent report has concluded the church “endorsed and supported” conversion practices between 2014 and 2019.

Miriam Cates is a co-foudner of the influential right-wing New Conservatives group of MPs (PA Archive)
Miriam Cates is a co-foudner of the influential right-wing New Conservatives group of MPs (PA Archive)

The report, by children’s charity Barnardo’s, found that the culture of the church in 2014 “was one in which the presence of evil spirits and ‘ungodly soul ties’ were believed to be the cause of homosexual thoughts, feelings and behaviour, and prayers of ‘deliverance’ for homosexuals were not uncommon”.

Witnesses also described gay members of the church being expected to “eventually understand the need to be transformed to live in accordance with biblical revelation and orthodox church teachings”.

The report was commissioned after Matt Drapper, a gay man, complained he was the victim of an “exorcism” ritual at the church in 2014.

The BBC, which first reported the findings, said Ms Cates denied awareness of the allegations and does not endorse gay conversion therapy. It also found no evidence Ms Cates had direct knowledge of conversion practices being used in the church, despite such practices being openly discussed in the church while she was a member.

The right-winger is a senior member of the Conservative Party, having co-founded the influential group of around 35 so-called New Conservatives.

The group pushes the party leadership to adopt more hardline positions on issues such as immigration, the economy and transgender rights. However, Ms Cates is currently forecast to lose her Penistone & Stocksbridge seat to Labour at the upcoming general election.

The report said exorcisms taking place “were often spoken about by church members” and even described “celebrations in the congregation because a parent stood up and spoke of an adult in their family, who had been ‘delivered from the sin of homosexuality’”.

The Diocese of Sheffield, which commissioned the report, said it believes, along with the wider Church of England, that conversion therapy is unethical, potentially harmful and has no place in the modern world.

The report, however, did hear “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 ten years ago”.

And it said: “We heard no evidence to suggest that people from different faiths or from the LGBTQ+ community would not be made welcome by the Church or would be subject to harassment or rejection by its members without challenge from church leaders.”

Ms Cates and the St Thomas Philadelphia church were contacted for comment.