Baltimore Archbishop Issues Guidelines for Catholic LGBT Ministries

The guidance reflects on priorities common to all Catholics and on the diversity of views and experiences among those who identify as LGBT, including those who feel rejected by their families or the Church.

The archbishop also considered the characteristics of LGBT ministry leaders.
The archbishop also considered the characteristics of LGBT ministry leaders. (photo: Andrii Zastrozhnov / Shutterstock)

People who identify as LGBT or gender nonconforming should be served by Catholic ministry that shows charity, sensitivity, understanding, and genuine accompaniment in the light of revelation and Church teaching, Archbishop William F. Lori of Baltimore said in a new guidance on ministry to LGBT people and their families released July 20 in his archdiocese.

“Like every disciple, you and I are called to a lifelong journey of turning toward the Lord, seeking to know and love him more and more deeply each day,” Archbishop Lori said in the introduction to the 14-page guidance “Like Every Disciple.” 

The guidance reflects on priorities common to all Catholics and on the diversity of views and experiences among those who identify as LGBT, including those who feel rejected by their families or the Church. It also outlines the qualities needed for ministry leaders and for groups seeking to accompany LGBT people and their families while being faithful to Church teaching.

Archbishop Lori’s guidance emphasized that the starting point for the Christian journey is “not a decision we make or something we choose but God’s call.”

“God first loved us,” he said. The archbishop emphasized the importance of baptism, in which “God claims us as his own.”

“We became a new creation and were given a new identity: beloved daughters and sons of the Father,” Archbishop Lori said. “This is the core of who we are. This is our truest identity.”

Reflecting upon cultural changes, Archbishop Lori noted recent decades of “an increased awareness within the Church of the experience of our sisters and brothers who are same-sex attracted” and the more recent attention to “those who experience gender discordance or those who may consider themselves to be gender nonconforming.” People with these varieties of experiences often identify as LGBT, he said, using the acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

“Persons who may identify as LGBT are daughters and sons of God, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, they are members of the Body of Christ, they are our family members and friends,” the archbishop continued. “Like every human person, they were created with a desire for intimacy with Jesus Christ. Like every disciple, LGBT persons are called to a lifelong journey of turning toward the Lord, seeking to know and love him more and more deeply each day.”

LGBT ministry must be “shaped toward offering pastoral accompaniment rather than advocating for changes to Church teaching,” Archbishop Lori’s guidance said. Christian revelation and Church teaching are not “an obstacle to human flourishing” but “an invitation to the abundant life that God promises.” 

It is also “essential” for such an LGBT ministry to have “the desire for charity, the desire to truly welcome and embrace sexual minorities, to hear their stories, to walk with them in their struggles.”

“We should not presume to understand what each person has gone through or is going through. Openness to the lived experience of LGBT persons and a desire to walk with them is essential,” his guidance continued. “We also recognize the feelings of hurt and rejection that many LGBT persons may have felt from those who should care most deeply for them: family members, clergy, and members of their parish community. The response of the Church must always be the response of Christ, which is love.”

Archbishop Lori described contemporary life as a “polarized time” with “polarized discourse” that denies the ability to hold two different realities “in tension.” He noted that there are views that “someone can either be Catholic or be LGBT.” This view suggests that either a person must reject some aspect of the Church’s teaching or must reject some part of their identity.

For Archbishop Lori, however, the main questions are different.

“How do we offer pastoral accompaniment to LGBT persons and their families in a way that truly welcomes and embraces them while faithfully teaching the truth about human sexuality that God has revealed in creation, Scripture, and tradition?” he asked. “How can such accompaniment lead LGBT persons into a deeper relationship with the person of Jesus Christ and his body, the Church?”

Accompaniment of LGBT persons means holding “a life-giving tension” of two elements: the desire to “welcome every person into relationship with Christ and his body, the Church” and also the desire “to lead people to the fullness of life that flows from knowing the liberating truth about the human person” revealed through Jesus Christ.

While people experience tension and difficulty in balancing charity and truth, in Jesus these are united, Archbishop Lori said.

“The response of the Church must also always be one of truth,” he added. This includes questions about the destiny of human beings, the meaning of the human person, and the meaning of human sexuality and embodied human nature.

Any LGBT ministry exists “to help people on the lifelong path of discipleship,” starting with “an awareness of our need for the Lord,” Archbishop Lori said. This ministry should be seen as “pastoral care rather than social justice.” He criticized any “ideology” that “proposes an incomplete answer to the desires of the human heart.” Ultimately, people all need “an openness to a relationship with Christ that fills the infinite hunger of our hearts.”

“We recognize the struggles of LGBT persons, and the feelings of pain and rejection that they may have, even with the Church and her ministers,” Archbishop Lori said. “These ministries must be a safe place where people are free to share their stories and know that they will be welcomed and listened to without condemnation.”

These people have diverse experiences and ministries must not make assumptions about individuals, the guidance continued. Self-identified LGBT people themselves have “a variety of views on the nature of same-sex attraction or gender” and they, their friends, or family members may be “at different places in their own journey of faith,” so ministries must “respect the unique gifts and experience of each person.”

Archbishop Lori’s guidance focuses on six different “essential characteristics of pastoral accompaniment.” These are: recognizing the reality of our need; showing compassion, respect, and sensitivity; journeying together in light of our calling; having a different kind of conversation; living “rooted in the Church”; and a willingness to “make the long journey.”

While he said no set of guidelines “will say all that needs to be said or say it in the best way,” Archbishop Lori emphasized the need to build relationships and for ongoing dialogue. Any parish with any kind of ministry to LGBT persons and their families must have Archbishop Lori’s approval. Pastors and leaders of these ministries must have “ongoing” conversations with their regional vicar, Emmaus team members, and the archdiocese’s coordinator of LGBT outreach.

The archbishop also considered the characteristics of LGBT ministry leaders. They must be “disciples” aware of their own need for Christ and “his call to follow more closely each day.” They should be “people of prayer who are attentive to the voice of the Spirit and faithful to Christ and his Church.” They must also “possess the capacity to facilitate a different kind of conversation which holds in tension both openness and fidelity, charity and truth.”

Such leaders should have a “solid foundation” in Church teaching, must “truly embrace it” and have “an ability to convey it clearly and charitably.” They must be willing “to put in the long and hard work of walking with others on this long journey.” They should mirror the “patient mercy” of God the Father. The path to Jesus Christ is “often slow and winding” and there will be “missteps” as their work of accompaniment moves toward a greater fidelity to Christ.

“None of us, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, is perfect just the way we are,” Archbishop Lori wrote. “But our desire for God is more than merely a remedy for sin. … The essential disposition we need is an openness to receive the love of God, to hear his word and to respond to his love.”

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