Iowa Bishop Suggests ‘Case-by-Case Approach’ to LGBT Accompaniment

‘We clearly do not intend to do things like bless same-sex unions or approve of homosexual acts,’ Bishop Zinkula told CNA.

Sacred Heart Cathedral, Davenport, Iowa
Sacred Heart Cathedral, Davenport, Iowa (photo: By Farragutful - Own work / CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

An Iowa bishop issued new guidance for parishes, schools and other institutions in his diocese, which calls for a “case-by-case approach” in the pastoral “accompaniment of sexual and gender minorities” while remaining “faithful to the Church’s teachings on sexuality and the nature of the human person.”

Bishop Thomas Zinkula of the Diocese of Davenport promulgated the new guidance on Oct. 4, two weeks before he is set to depart from the diocese to begin his new role as the archbishop of Dubuque on Oct. 18. The guidance stemmed from the work of a committee set up in January 2021 to address sexual and gender-identity issues arising in schools and parishes.

“The purpose of the guidelines is precisely both to affirm Church teaching and yet to find a meaningful way for pastors, principals and others to minister to those they encounter in delicate pastoral situations,” Bishop Zinkula told CNA.

“We hope to accompany them without denying their full personhood and dignity or Catholic teaching,” the bishop added.

When handling these topics, the guidance emphasizes that “we are not dealing simply with ideologies or issues” but instead with “people who are created in the image and likeness of the Creator,” adding that “they are beloved children of God.” 

It suggests giving people “the benefit of the doubt in regard to their experiences and motivations,” arguing that “sexual minorities” who want a relationship with the Church “are not trying to sabotage our institutions or challenge our beliefs.”

According to the guidance, the diocesan pastoral approach is to “show respect for the dignity of all people; acknowledge people and their difficult circumstances; listen for greater understanding; involve others in the decision-making process; and work with individuals, families, and caretakers on a case-by-case basis.” In adherence to a case-by-case approach, the guidance states that one of the principles is making “reasonable and appropriate accommodations when possible.”

Such accommodations, however, must always coincide with Church teaching, according to the bishop. 

“We clearly do not intend to do things like bless same-sex unions or approve of homosexual acts,” Bishop Zinkula told CNA.

The guidance lists other principles, which include respect for the dignity of the human person, an acknowledgment of “people who experience differences in sexual orientation or gender discordance,” a commitment to “loving people first” and listening, and involving others, such as families, professionals and collaborators in the discernment process.

According to the guidance, the Church has a “special responsibility to look out for the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of those entrusted to our care,” and “we must strive to protect lives and souls from harm.”

In a letter to the faithful that Bishop Zinkula published along with the new guidance, the bishop said he formed the committee amid clergy, school personnel and parish staff, expressing their desire to learn how to better minister to people who “are experiencing gender discordance or differences in sexual orientation.”

The bishop added in his letter that the committee “sought out a number of people who live on this periphery, namely individuals identifying as LGBTQ+ and their families,” to hear “about their experiences and [learn] what they hope for from the Church.” He said the committee reviewed theological, medical and human resources articles, attended online webinars, and reviewed statements and policies from the Vatican, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and other dioceses.

Bishop Zinkula’s approach to these issues differs a bit from the neighboring Diocese of Des Moines, which sits just to the west of the Diocese of Davenport.

In January, the Diocese of Des Moines took a more hard-line approach to issues related to gender ideology, in which it banned the use of puberty blockers, transgender pronouns, and the use of bathrooms that do not align with a person’s biological sex within its schools. 

However, the diocese used language similar to the Diocese of Davenport in some regards, such as an emphasis on respecting “the personal dignity of individuals who may express tension or concerns about their biological sex.”