Maltese Christian faces court for alleged promotion of conversion therapy
A Maltese man will face the court on Friday for his alleged promotion of conversion therapy. This case may become normative, as several European countries have or are about to ban conversion therapy.
Matthew Grech is a member of the charismatic Pentecostal church River of Love. The 33-year-old says he is a former homosexual “converted” through his Christian faith to renounce his sexual orientation, Malta Today reports. For similar statements in an interview with the local media outlet PMnews Malta, he is now prosecuted. ‘Public Media News’ is run by Mario Camilleri and Rita Bonnici. It has in the past featured commentary against Malta’s COVID rules while featuring vaccine-sceptics like Rudolf Ragonesi extensively.
According to Grech, he is charged with breaching the ban on the advertisement of gay conversion therapies, a law introduced in 2016. But the timing of the charges appears to coincide with a recent announcement last week by parliamentary secretary for reforms Rebecca Buttigieg to amend the law due to various loopholes, reports Malta Today. According to Buttigieg, promoting conversion therapy will carry a harsher penalty under a new bill, which is to be tabled in parliament.
Grech sees this as “political revenge”, since the charges come several weeks after the police charged satirist Matt Bonnano over a Facebook comment in which he said the River of Love church should be carpet-bombed. The pastor of the church, Gordon John Manché, then filed charges.
Political or not, Grech is accused of promoting conversion therapy. Although the original interview has been removed, a transcript has come to the surface. According to it, Grech should have claimed that homosexuality is not an identity and that it is impossible to be both a Christian and a homosexual. Before the trial, his lawyer had also stated that he did not urge anyone to change their sexual orientation.
Grech’s story is seen by many as provocative, not least within Malta’s LGBTQ movement, and it will also be tested whether he crossed the legal line. The trial begins on February 3rd, and according to the defendant's information, he can receive a 5,000 euro fine or five months in prison.
His case attracts a lot of attention outside Europe, with publications on Fox News and the Swedish daily Dagen. In a video, Grech put forward the message that the Christian faith is under attack and that the religious freedom of Christians is threatened because of this legal process, not only in Malta but also in other countries.
According to some, this trial could set off a domino effect, as it is likely to be the first time someone has gone on trial accused of conversion therapy. Several countries, including Norway, the Netherlands and Switzerland, are considering a ban on conversion therapy. Christians fear this will also affect pastoral conversations regarding someone's sexual orientation.
Dutch government not willing to ban gay conversion therapy
Norway consults population about banning gay conversion therapy
French Senate debates conversion therapy