A Spanish bishop has resigned reportedly because of his relationship with an erotic fiction author.
International media attention has focused on Xavier Novell’s relationship with author and psychologist Silvia Caballol, and some have breathlessly reached to describe her as a writer of “satanic-themed” fiction (she wrote a book called The Hell of Gabriel's Lust).
But in Spain, many are reeling from his support of so-called gay conversion therapy, a widely discredited pseudoscience based on the false and incredibly damaging idea that LGBTQ people can be "cured".
Earlier this week, Spanish magazine Religion Digital ran an exclusive on Novell, the former bishop of Solsona in Catalonia, disclosing his relationship with Caballol. He had formerly only given the vaguest of reasons – “strictly personal reasons” – to explain his exit from the Church.
But a few days later, the religious outlet reported on an anonymous source who said that Novell, 52, participated and promoted conversion therapy in his diocese.
In July, the Vatican issued a report to the Spanish Episcopal Conference telling bishops to distance themselves from Verdad y Libertad, a group known for offering conversion therapy since it was founded in 2013. Reports that “about five or six” bishops may have been involved circulated in 2019, and, in the wake of his departure, multiple reports claim Novell was among them.
On the 29th of August, shortly after he resigned, Spanish online newspaper El Diario reported that Novell’s support of conversion therapy could be behind his departure. Novell was, according to the outlet, one of the most “belligerent” in 2019 when bishops debated the therapy in an Episcopal Conference. An anonymous source is quoted as saying that in Solsona, two aspiring priests were known for performing conversion therapy “accompanied by Novell.”
The debate around Novell’s circumstances for leaving is rippling through the Spanish faith community. A Dominican order nun who lives in Spain, Sor Lucía Caram, wrote in a blog post that Novell was not leaving his role as bishop for a woman, but “because of the great harm he has caused many people in his practice and doctrine. Pope Francis is absolutely against these therapies and considers them ‘terrible and aggressive: destructive’ and does not want them in the church.”
Then, Alberto Pérez, an ex-member of Verdad y Libertad, spoke out on Catalan television, saying that the group found support in Solsona; “they did masses, conferences, camps, chats, and Novell officiated weddings for boys who said they had overcome homosexuality, uniting them in marriage with girls. It’s terrible,” he said on the television programme Planta Baixa.
Prior to the most recent news, Novell’s views around homosexuality were long considered controversial. In 2017, the mayor of Cervera, another Catalonian city, declared him a persona non grata because he said homosexuality was “related to an absent and distant father figure.” Novell later apologised.
VICE World News has approached the Vatican and the Diocese of Solsona for comment but received no response by time of publication.