Tory candidate was trustee of church that ‘endorsed’ conversion therapy

20 minutes ago

By Ewan Murrie & Josh ParryBBC News

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Miriam Cates was a trustee at the church between 2016-2018

Conservative candidate Miriam Cates was a trustee of a church while it promoted so-called conversion therapy, the BBC has learned.

An independent report has concluded that conversion practices – which seek to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity – were “endorsed and supported” by St Thomas Philadelphia church in Sheffield between 2014 and 2019.

Mrs Cates was a member of the church between 2003 and 2018, and a trustee from 2016 to 2018. She told the BBC she was unaware of the allegations and that she does not endorse gay conversion therapy.

Although the BBC has not found any evidence Mrs 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 during the time she was a member, and some of her time as a trustee.

The Church of England’s Diocese of Sheffield requested charity Barnardo’s carry out an independent investigation into the church after Matt Drapper, a gay man, complained he was the victim of an “exorcism” ritual there in 2014 – before Mrs Cates was on the board of trustees.

The report was published on Monday shortly after it was leaked to the BBC

It said “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”.

Contributors told the report authors that while gay members of the church would be welcomed, there was a “firm belief” that these individuals would “eventually understand the need to be transformed to live in accordance with biblical revelation and orthodox church teachings”.

The authors were also told that exorcisms being carried out “were often spoken about by church members” and that on one occasion “there were 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’”.

As a director and trustee at the charity behind the church from September 2016 to September 2018, Mrs Cates, had safeguarding responsibilities for those who attended.

Mr Drapper, who first raised the allegations with the church in March 2018 and lodged his formal complaint in 2019, said he had continuing trauma as a result of the incident, which occurred at a “vulnerable” time in his life, while he was trying to reconcile his sexuality with his Christian faith.

His complaint, which Miriam Cates said she was never made aware of, was not formally submitted until November 2019 after she had left the church.

All aspects of his complaint were upheld by the investigation team – but their report, completed in February 2024, was only published by the diocese after it was leaked to the BBC.

The diocese told the BBC in a statement that it had been working “urgently” for the past month towards publication, subject to “light” redactions.

While the report references the general attitudes and culture around homosexual members and the practice of “deliverance” to change their sexual orientation, it did not rule on any individual’s involvement.

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 ten years ago.”

The BBC has seen social media posts from Mrs Cates made in November 2012, which suggest she attended a conference hosted by a third party at the church which Mr Drapper has described as an “exorcism training weekend”.

Audio from the conference, which the BBC has not verified, suggests it involved practising a prayer of repentance “for giving place to any demons … including demons of… homosexuality… lesbianism”.

Mrs Cates denies attending an “exorcism training weekend”.

She said she “did attend a conference at the Church in 2012, although I have no diary records of the time, and to the best of my recollection, this was a standard Church conference with a series of seminars, bible teachings and worship.

“I have no recollection of the content or title of any of the seminars that took place at the conference because it took place well over a decade ago. “

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The report was published after a gay man complained he was subject to an “exorcism” at St Thomas Philadelphia church, part of the Network Church Sheffield.

Barnardo’s said it was contacted by another individual who attended a course at the church on “inner healing” and “deliverance” in 2017, during which a book was handed out to participants.

It described a “link between spirit possession and homosexuality and the ways in which these spirits should and could be expelled and how, as a consequence, homosexuals would be ‘healed’”.

The investigators also heard from others who said they had either “heard about or observed ministries which sought to ‘heal’ homosexuals”.

Documents and screenshots seen by the BBC indicate that “healing” and “deliverance” courses involving sexuality and “sexual identity” were still being hosted at the church in November 2019.

During her time in Parliament, Mrs Cates was a vocal opponent of attempts to ban so-called conversion therapy, and the BBC understands was part of a group of MPs who lobbied Rishi Sunak to drop legislation aimed at outlawing the practice.

Mrs 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 that I was on the leadership of the Church, and only surfaced after I left.”

The Network Church Sheffield (NCS) said: “We have accepted the outcomes of the first investigation and are saddened that 8 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.”

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Revd Dr Pete Wilcox, said he would continue to monitor progress on an “action plan” which NCS had put in place to deliver on safeguarding improvements recommended by Barnardo’s.

The bishop said: “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 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.”

Penistone and Stocksbridge candidates are:

Miriam Cates – Conservative

Andy Davies – Green

Edward Dillingham – Reform UK

Rob Reiss – Liberal Democrat

Marie Tidball – Labour

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