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Australian National Rainbow Catholic

Pastoral Care Guide

Pastoral Care with LGBTIQA+ Catholics in the 21st Century

A living document prepared by Rainbow Catholics interAgency for Ministry (RCiA) to identify and explore ways the Catholic family might include LGBTIQA+ Catholics, their families and friends in a conversation about their Pastoral Care. This document aims to offer support for and integration of an approach to pastoral care with LGBTIQA+ people in the Catholic context. We build on the work of international Catholic theologians, pastoral practitioners and organistaions such as John J McNeill, Jeannine Gramick, James Martin, James Alison, DignityUSA, LGBTI Catholics Westminster and New Ways Ministry, and Australian pastoral practitioners and organisations including Garry Pye and Acceptance. We hope it will offer support for those seeking to create more inclusive, Gospel-centred and just spaces in the Catholic church in ways of thinking and acting.

We hope it will generate further discussion and action. We see it as a starting point in a developing work that will continue to grow as we reflect upon the gospel and effective and creative pastoral care practices.

A parable: A man had two sons (Lk15) 

This parable, like the other two in Luke 15, is not primarily about how God operates in the world, but more about a shepherd, a housewife and a father according to Amy-Jill Levine (Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, 2014, HarpeOne). What if this parable was about families – ordinary families where one child is privileged or perceived to be privileged and a father who can’t count? At the end of the parable of a father who had two sons, the name of the story given by Luke, we are left with the question – why didn’t the father think to invite the older son to the party when the younger one returned; who counts in this story and why does it happen that some are left out? The parable is about how people count, why they count and what happens when they don’t count. As a parable, Luke invites us to think about our families and communities and ask the question: who counts and why are some left out? Whose stories are privileged and why are some suppressed or erased? How do we lose count? What mechanisms are at work that silo and silence some siblings in favour of others and who maintains the silencing? What damage does it do to the silenced one, the ‘privileged’ one, and indeed, the whole family? Where is the mother and the feminine perspective? If we fail to count all siblings, no one gets to the party. The parable finishes without a party – only questions around how much havoc is wrecked upon a dysfunctional family when someone is left out.

Pastoral care with LGBTIQA+ Catholics is often non-existent because their story is forgotten or ignored or silenced. The Church has not invited them to ‘the party’. This document seeks to invite all to ‘the party’.  In this document we will offer a starting point for developing a model of pastoral care constructed collaboratively with LGBTIQA+ people and siblings who seek to include those with whom we share our faith family. We intend to count those often silenced, erased and siloed by the language of some church teachers and documents.

We will begin by naming those we intend to include and those who voices we intend to count in this document. We will explore some areas for discussion and growth; some pointers to developing inclusive language and practice and some thoughts on the way ahead. We will offer some resources that people hoping to develop LGBTIQA+ inclusive pastoral care environments might find useful. It is not intended to offer a comprehensive theology or guide but a basis for on-going development. However, it will offer a critique of current church teaching and practice where LGBTIQA+ voices and stories have not counted and are not included and are silenced. As Pope Francis said recently, “I always benefit from criticism. Sometimes it makes you angry…. But there are advantages. '' (On the plane from Madagascar on Sept 10, 2019)       

1. Who are ‘LGBTIQA’ people?

In this document we address LGBTIQA+ Catholics, their families, friends and church bodies and ministries. The LGBTI National Health Alliance ( reminds us that when speaking about our communities, we are careful to be specific about how each grouping may or may not related to the following key concepts:

Legal Classifications
Medical Classifications

Each of these aspects might apply to a person in different ways at different points across the lifespan. LGBTIQA: Each letter in ‘L.G.B.T.I.Q.A.’ contains a diverse range of real people, living real lives. ‘LGBTI’ people can be found in all walks of life, professions, faith communities, political parties, and locations throughout Australia.

When you speak about ‘the general population’ or ‘the mainstream’, you are talking about ‘LGBTIQA’ people in those communities, too. LGBTIQA people have many different ways of living their lives; there is no such thing as ‘the LGBTIQA lifestyle’. There are many ‘LGBTIQA communities’ (plural!) – there is no single ‘LGBTIQA Community’.

‘LGBTIQA’ in the broadest possible way and with the intention of supporting as many populations and communities as possible. We have deliberately acknowledged the limitations of ‘LGBTIQA’ language when attempting to speak about the full breadth of people’s bodies, genders, relationships, sexualities, and lived experiences.

Lesbian: A lesbian is a person who self-describes as a woman and who has experiences of romantic, sexual, and/or affectional attraction solely or primarily to other people who self-describe as women. Some women use other language to describe their relationships and attractions.

Gay: A gay man is a person who self-describes as a man and who has experiences of romantic, sexual and/or affectional attraction solely or primarily to other people who self-describe as men. Some men use other language to describe their relationships and attractions.

Bisexual: A bisexual person is a person of any gender who has romantic and/or sexual relationships with and/or is attracted to people from more than one gender. Some people who fit this description prefer the terms ‘queer’ or ‘pansexual’, in recognition of more than two genders. Although ‘bi-‘ technically refers to two, it is often used by people who have relationships with and/or attractions for people of more genders than just women or men.

Trans and Transgender are umbrella terms often used to describe people who were assigned a sex at birth that they do not feel reflects how they understand their gender identity, expression, or behaviour. Most people of trans experience live and identify simply as women or men; most do not have ‘a trans identity’. In addition to women and men of trans experience, some people do identify their gender as trans or as a gender other than woman or man. People from Aboriginal/Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander communities often use sistergirl or brotherboy. People from societies around the world with more than two traditional genders often use culturally specific language.

Intersex: A person with an intersex characteristic is a person born with physical characteristics that differ from modern medical norms about strictly ‘female’ and strictly ‘male’ bodies. Intersex is not about gender, but about innate physical variations. Most people with intersex characteristics describe their gender as simple women or men, not as a ‘third gender’.

Queer: an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities who are not heterosexual or are not cisgender.

Asexual: a lack of sexual attraction; an asexual is someone who is not sexually attracted to anyone. Such people may not wish to be categorised.

+: Those seeking to be recognised as valued without subscribing to binary ways of understanding sexuality and gender.

2 What is Pastoral Care?

Pastoral Care refers to the way the church community initiates, includes and values its members in sacramental and pastoral life and especially when members face challenges, difficulties, sickness and hardship. It is offered through the formal and informal ministries of the diocese or parish and in the communities where LGBTIQA+ live. Pastoral care addresses spiritual, emotional, sacramental and practical needs with compassion, understanding, non- judgement, collaboratively and professionally.

3. Theology of LGBTIQA+ Pastoral Care

The experience of many LGBTIQA+ Catholics is that they struggle to reconcile their sexuality,  and gender identity with their Catholic faith. They have learned somehow and somewhere that God and/or the Church does not accept them as they are and that they are an ‘abomination’, ‘seriously disordered’ and ‘objectively evil’ in scriptural and church teaching and in some cases advised by their priest to marry someone of the opposite sex or seek psychological or spiritual ‘guidance’ to address their problem. Many experience their Catholic faith as the problem and as they come to accept their sexuality, gender identity and intersex status, many leave the church. This document seeks to address this tragedy by offering some guidelines for pastoral care that privilege the dominant teachings of the Catholic Christian faith such as the universality of God’s love, compassion, justice and non-discrimination.

LGBTIQA+ Catholics and their families should expect the pastoral care available to all in the Catholic church. Many LGBTIQA+ Catholics search out safe places to practice their faith and share in Church life, although often in a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ manner. However, as the countless stories of LGBTIQ+ Catholics attest, LGBTIQA+ Catholics constantly report harassment, bullying, erasure, silencing, misunderstanding, discrimination (as clients and employees), spiritual abuse and vilification based on their God given sexuality, gender identity and intersex bodies. These experiences are born of flawed church teaching (‘seriously disordered’ and ‘objectively evil’), flawed theology; philosophical, psychological and physiological ignorance, lack of skill in pastoral care of marginalized people and public vilification and/or ignorance from the pulpit.

God’s universal and non-judgemental love of God, Jesus’ inclusion of outsiders in ways that confronted social and religious norms and the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching to advocate for those who experience oppression and fight for those marginalized, demonised and vilified, all testify to the fact that the Catholic church must be at the forefront of supporting LGBTIQA+ Catholics. This document seeks to explore this as it applies to pastoral care so that the human dignity and baptismal status of LGBTIQA+ Catholics can be honoured and that the pastoral approaches by church ministers and agencies might make LGBTIQA+ Catholics know they are affirmed and that the spiritual, emotional, psychological and mental health of LGBTIQA+ Catholics will be protected and enhanced through Catholic pastoral care and ministry practice, rather than endangering it. Just one statistic is enough to justify a root an branch overhaul of Catholic pastoral care and ministry practice with LGBTIQA+ Catholics: the most vulnerable to suicide and self-harm of any group in Australia today is LGBTIQA+ young people who have been raised in a faith context.

The theological foundation for what follows in this document is that “God loves every person as a unique individual. Our sex, sexual and gender identity as well as our intersex status helps to define the unique persons we are, and one component of our sex, sexual, gender identity and intersex status is sexual orientation. Our total personhood is more encompassing than our sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. Human beings see the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart (cf. 1 Sam 16:7). God does not love someone any less simply because they are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, transgender, cisgender, intersex, queer or asexual, God's love is always and everywhere offered to those who are open to receiving it.” (adapted from Always our Children, United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference <>).

A second principle is Gospel justice which means all of us must strive to eliminate any forms of injustice, oppression, or violence that damages the dignity of the human person It is not sufficient only to avoid unjust discrimination. LGBTIQA+ persons "must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2358).

A third principle is that LGBTIQA+ Catholics “should have an active role in the Christian community" (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, To Live in Christ Jesus: A Pastoral Reflection on the Moral Life, 1976, p. 19). LGBTI Catholics have a right to be welcomed into the community, to hear the word of God, to engage in ministries according to their gifts, to celebrate the Sacraments and to receive pastoral care.  (cf Always our Children, United States Catholic Bishops’ Conference <>).

4. What LGBTIQA+ pastoral care looks like

Any overhaul of pastoral care in the Catholic church in Australia for LGBTIQA+ Catholics would firstly recognize the following:

i.   We acknowledge that LGBTIQA+ Catholics are wonderfully made in the image and likeness of God's very self and their wholeness and holiness. They claim their baptismal status as presbyter, prophet and of royal heritage.

ii.   We thank LGBTIQA+ Catholics for already contributing to the life of the Church, in all ministries, in all states of life, including lay ministries (liturgical and pastoral, in church ministry, pastoral care, healthcare, social work, charities, teaching, and more), religious life as sisters or brothers, and as clergy.

 iii. LGBTIQA+ Catholics contribute in the ministry of evangelisation, as unrecognised missionaries within the LGBTIQA+ communities. To society, LGBTIQA+ Catholics bring God's love, peace, joy and hope to our Australian society through their lives, their work, their prayer, their witness, their joys and sufferings, experience of exclusion and discrimination, and experience of strength and compassion.

iv.   It is a skandalon (stumbling block) that many LGBTIQA+ Catholics are silenced, not by God, but by the very Church they love. It is a skandalon that many LGBTIQA+ Catholics are mistreated, looked down upon, disowned, exorcised (both spiritually and psychologically) by their family and friends who, not in the name of God, but in the name of the Church, treat them as pariahs, outcasts, clients and patients who are ill or evil and to be cured or told that they are bereft of God's love because of who they are. Like many outcasts the Church has created in our past history, we wonder if LGBTIQA+ Catholics are not unlike Jesus, whose religious leaders rejected. "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone"

5.   Practical action

LGBTIQA+ Catholic Pastoral Care must engage at every level of church life – national, diocesan, parish, church agencies, schools and family and in each ministry area such as youth,  health, aged care, refugees and people living with disabilities. We suggest the following initiatives as ways that pastoral care might be addressed at any level:

National and diocesan initiatives needed are:

·     Training in LGBTIQA+ accompaniment in all key church personnel positions.

·     Inservice for people in all agencies and church ministries.

·     Training for hospital chaplains and pastoral care workers in health and educational facilities that is affirming and honours and celebrates the realities and experience of LGBTIQA+ people. The emerging term of ‘gender ideology’ in church teaching needs urgent examination and work that includes the input, voices and lived realities of our transgender and intersex sisters, brothers and siblings. The potential damage to transgender and intersex Catholics and their families is paramount post the Vatican document: ‘Male and Female, He made them.’

·     Guidelines for parishes and church agencies on such issues as how to identify as LGBTIQA+ friendly; how to ensure the parish or agency is welcoming and LGBTIQA+ safe, sacramental preparation and sound approaches to LGBTIQA+ people that are respectful and affirming and how to avoid causing damage to spiritual, psychological and mental health.

·     Guidelines for LGBTIQA+ Catholics coming out and questioning.

·     Guidelines for families of LGBTIQA+ Catholics.

·     Website with helpful resources, LGBTIQA+ support organisations and pastoral initiatives.

·     Review the theology of sexuality and how this affects LGBTIQA+ people and their families. How might the love experienced in rainbow families be welcomed in the church.

Pastoral initiatives at the local level must include:

·     Promoting inclusion in parishes through the inclusion and affirmation of LGBTIQA+ people in parish mission statements, prayers of the faithful, church outreach projects, special liturgies and training for all employees and volunteers in being welcoming, inclusive, affirming and accurate in their language.

·     Specialised training and ongoing support for priests, chaplains, parish staff, counselors, youth workers, teachers and other key staff in Catholic agencies and ministries to ensure that they are able to provide safe, supportive and skilled pastoral care to LGBTI Catholics, their families and friends

·     Ensuring LGBTIQA+ people, their stories and welcoming attitudes and skills are included in pastoral initiatives such as pastoral council, pastoral workers, liturgy planning, sacramental programs, school programs, catechetics in the state schools, aged care, youth ministry, faith development, outreach to the sick, poor, homeless, marginalised and mentally sick, counselling, pastoral guidance and marriage counselling.

·     Welcoming access to the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Initiation for LGBTI Catholics and children and their partners

·     Including LGBTIQA+ events in parish liturgical or social events. Such as World AIDS day, Mardi Gras, Pride Events, Transgender Day of Remembrance, Intersex Awareness Day, International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Wear It Purple Day, etc

·     Considering the particular challenges of LGBTIQA+ asylum seekers and refugees.

·     Special consideration for the families with questioning children or children of rainbow families in schools. These might require addressing pastoral support, education, advocacy, bullying and what is taught. Addressing homophobic and trasphobic based domestic and family violence.

·     Producing fact sheets and brochures on special topics (e.g. Pastoral Care of LGBTIQA+ Catholics; Meaning of LGBTIQA+ terms; Rainbow families).

·     Active promotion of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue on LGBTIQA+ topics

·     Recognition of the diversity of backgrounds, cultures and relationships in our Church community and avoidance of stereotyping, judgement and marginalisation

·     Eradication of homophobic and transphobia language, actions and attitudes

·     That LGBTIQA+ persons should not be singled out as presenting a particular risk to children any more than any other persons in the community and rejecting the dangerous myth conflating pedophilia with homosexuality or transgender realities.

·     Recognition and awareness of LGBTIQA+ people and their partners and families at critical life events and community celebrations (eg birth, marriage, illness, death, etc)

·     Development of a resource kit for parishes and ministries and for families with a child who is questioning or coming out.

·     Sensitivity in ministry with LGBTQA+ Catholics and their families to the history of alienation caused by decades of negative statements and actions directed against them by church officials and ministers.

6. Resources

Let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. (1 Jn.4:8)

A model inclusive statement for parish bulletins and documents

Begin each ceremony in the church and/or place on the church newsletter and website an inclusion of LGBTIQA+ people such as: We acknowledge the [Aboriginal tribal name] people as the traditional custodians of the land on which [parish name] stands. We aim to provide a safe place for all people to pray regardless of age, sex, race, creed, gender, cultural background or sexual orientation.

Ideas from Fr James Martin SJ talk at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin on August 23, 2018.

1) LGBTIQA+ parishioners are baptised Catholics. They are as much as part of the church as Pope Francis. The most important thing we can do for LGBTIQA+ Catholics is to welcome them to what is already their church. To remain in the church LGBTIQA+ people have often endured years of rejection.

2) LGBTIQA+ people do not choose their orientation. People don’t choose their orientation or gender identity any more than you choose to be left-handed. It is not a sin and it is not something to ‘blame’ on someone, like parents.

3) LGBTIQA+ people have often been treated like lepers by the church. Never underestimate the pain that LGBTIQA+ people have experienced in church and society. The highest rate of youth suicide and homelessness is among LGBTIQA+ youth from religious backgrounds. Some Church leaders have insisted on retaining the right to discriminate against LGBTIQA+ employees based on sexual orientation, gender or relationship status. Some priests have refused LGBTIQA+ Catholics the Sacraments and Baptism for their children. Some preachers offend LGBTIQA+ people from the pulpit and the respective terms of Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Intersex, Queer/Questioning, Asexual (LGBTIQA+) by which they name themselves is hardly ever heard in church. Why would they feel included or welcomed?

Parents of LGBTIQA+ children face similar rejection and even blame for their children’s sex, gender identity, intersex statues or sexual orientation.

4) LGBTIQA+ people bring gifts to the church. Church leaders often refer to LGBTIQA+ people as ‘in need of our help’. This makes them clients of the church. In fact they are members of the church by baptism with gifts to share like every baptised member.

5) LGBTIQA+ people and church teaching. LGBTIQA+ people are the only people in church teaching to be called ‘intrinsically disordered’ and ‘objectively evil’ because they are created different to most. All other minorities and people born with minority characteristics are honoured in church teaching for their gifts and/or their courage.

6) LGBTIQA+ people are loved by God and seek God as all Christians do. God loves them - so should we. And what does real love mean: knowing them in the complexity of their lives, celebrating with them when life is sweet and suffering with them when life is bitter. Love them as Jesus loved people on the margins: extravagantly.  How can a parish treat LGBTIQA+ people with the virtues that the Catechism recommends: “respect, compassion and sensitivity”?

Suggestions for making your parish inclusive

1) Examine your own attitudes towards LGBTIQA+ people and their families.

2) Listen to LGBTIQA+ people and learn who they are. Listen to the experiences of LGBTIQA+ Catholics and their parents and families.

3) Acknowledge LGBTIQA+ people in homilies or parish presentations as full members of the parish, without judgment and never degrade or humiliate them from the pulpit.

4) Prepare and have an Apology ceremony. It doesn’t solve everything, but it’s a start.

5) Don’t reduce gays and lesbians to the call to chastity we all share as Christians. LGBTIQA+ people are more than their sexual lives.

6) Include LGBTIQA+ people in ministries.

7) Acknowledge LGBTIQA+ people individual gifts.

8) Invite everyone on the parish staff to welcome them. Develop training for all ministers and staff. Does the person answering the phone know what to say to a lesbian couple who wants to have their child baptized? At funerals, are the gay adult children of the deceased treated with the same respect as other children? What about the teacher in a parish school who has two fathers coming to a parent-teacher conference? How does a deacon treat the father of a gay man who just died and who wants a funeral for his son? Is your parish staff educated in the full range of church teaching on non-discrimination and pastoral outreach?

9) Sponsor special events or develop an outreach program.

10) Advocate for LGBTIQA+ people. Be prophetic.

11) Supply information for families of LGBTIQA+ Catholics: PFLAG

12) Provide a flyer at the back of the church for LGBTIQA+ Catholics, their families and allies.

Resources for Catholics in ministry with LGBTIQA+ people

Youth Synod Document Shows Vatican Evolution on LGBT Topics. Vatican embraces the use of the term LGBT in recent documents.  Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, June 20, 2018.

Pope’s call for an Apology to LGBT Catholics.(2016) Global Network of Rainbow Catholics looks at the Pope’s call to support LGBT Catholics the church may have offended

Pope says God made you this way. New York Times reports on the Pope’s meeting with a Chilean gay Catholic. May 21, 2018.

Fr James Martin, Building a Bridge Revised edition, 2018, Harper Collins

Fr James Martin, America Magazine article on church communicating better with LGBTI Catholics:

Fr James Martin, Talk on Building a Bridge at Villanova University:

Fr James Martin, When LGBT issues are pro-life issues  America Magazine:

Fr James Martin, Dublin Families pastoral care article (as quoted from above:

Edmund Rice Education Australia’s Statement on Safe and Inclusive Learning Communities. Excellent outline of how to create a culture of non-discrimination in schools but could b eapplied elsewhere.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols on love and friendship:

Why do LGBTQI people feel excluded by the Churches?  Sarah Bachelard and James Alison, Audio talk, London, 2018,

Transgender:  Catholic Bishops of England and Wales Statement on Transgender people and LGBT Catholics Westminster Response: 20/4/2018.   Not yet published.

I thought Gay Celibacy Was My Only Option — I Was Wrong.  Patrick Gothman.

Breaking Up with God (2018). Alyssa tells her story of being Christian and lesbian.

Sexuality, Dialogue, and the Church: An Interview with James Alison. James Alison offers a new anthropology for LGBT theology.

World Youth Day 2008 Forum (Acceptance): Clip 1 of 10: and Fr Donal Godfry SJ

Useful Websites

Owning Our Faith - Catholic family and LGBTIQ stories: See: 

Acceptance Sydney:

Parents and Friends of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG)

RCIA:  facebook.comRainbowCatholicsInterAgency


LGBT Westminster Catholics:

Global Network of Rainbow Catholics:

Equally Blessed Catholics working for LGBTI equality in USA:

Mental Health and sexual minorities: Dr Matthew Skinta
 Source podcast

Royal Commission 10 Professional Standards for creating child safe institutions:

         Standard 4: Equity is promoted and diversity respected:

Australian National Rainbow Catholic Pastoral Care Guide: What We Do
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