The regional government of Madrid said on Tuesday it was investigating whether the diocese of Alcala de Henares had broken anti-homophobia laws after online newspaper El Diario reported a journalist posing as a gay man trying to change his sexuality attended a counselling session provided by the diocese.
The newspaper said the diocese has allegedly been running “illegal courses” to “cure” homosexuality since 2009 when Juan Antonio Reig Pla, who has a long history of speaking out against homosexuality, became its bishop.
A handful of protesters, some of them draped with the rainbow flag of gay pride, protested against the bishop inside Alcala de Henares' cathedral on Tuesday evening just before mass was due to start. They chanted “leave Alcala” and “love doesn't have a cure, hate does” before police arrived and ordered them to leave.
In a statement on its website the diocese of Alcala de Henares called the report “fake news” and a “theatrical montage”, but added it offered help to those who request it.
Asked about the controversy on Friday, Luis Arguello Garcia, the spokesman for Spain's Episcopal Conference, the Church leadership in the country, expressed his “support and affection” for the bishop of Alcala and “rejected the irruption of a group of vociferous people in a temple where a mass was being celebrated.”
He added “homosexuality is not cured” but the Church was willing to “accompany” people who are “uncomfortable” with their homosexuality.
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 ($51,000).
Bishop Reig Pla has routinely been criticised by gay rights groups because of his vocal opposition to homosexuality. In 2012 gay rights groups and leftist parties filed a lawsuit against the bishop for inciting hatred after he delievered a Good Friday sermon in which he lamented how some gay men “prostitute themselves or go to gay night clubs” in order to “validate” their struggle, adding “what they encounter is pure hell”. A judge in Alcala de Henares dismissed the lawsuit.