Should LGBT People Be Pastorally Accompanied by Guides or Listeners?

During a press briefing at the Youth Synod, Archbishop Bruno Forte of Chieti-Vasto in Italy was asked a question about Pope Francis’ emphasis on pastoral ministry being “accompaniment” of people on their spiritual journey. That has been a major theme of Francis’ papacy, particularly the accompaniment of people who are alienated from or marginalized by the church.

Forte responded that there are two types of accompaniment.  One type is listening. The other type is guiding.  There’s a profound difference between these two types of pastoral ministry, and the distinction shows how very different people can say they are following the pope while doing widely different types of ministry.

The ramifications of this difference for LGBT issues are very significant, and it shows how people with very different attitudes toward LGBT people can claim they are providing accompaniment to them.

Guiding would be providing a person with principles, goals, methods that help them live a life of faith.  This model implies that the pastoral minister has the answers and that the person ministered to needs this information.

Listening is the total opposite of this model.  It implies that the pastoral minister is open to hear what the person being ministered to has discovered about themselves and their relationship with God.  If a Listener has any input to provide, it is usually to point out places where God has been active in the person’s life which might have been missed.

Listening can also have a deeper level, too.  When a person agrees to be an audience or listener to another person, he or she is also showing a willingness to be changed by what the person has to say.  That is a very vulnerable position for a listener to be in, but in some ways it is the only one that reflects the authenticity of being a listener for someone.  If a person says he or she is a listener, but only listens so as to be able to get a turn to refute the speaker, then true listening has not occurred.  Real listening is a risky endeavor.  It means that you may not be the same person after the encounter.

So, what does this have to do with LGBT pastoral ministry?  I think that we need to recognize that when we hear that pastoral ministers want to accompany LGBT people, we need to discern whether by accompaniment they mean guiding or listening.   In yesterday’s post about Bishop Robert Barron, he discussed being open to LGBT people, and he was serious, I believe, about wanting to accompany them.  But I think that his accompaniment model is strongly weighted toward being a guide, rather than a listener.

Furthermore, even if we assess that the pastoral minister wants to listen rather than guide, I think that we need to ask if the act of listening involves the risk of being vulnerable and open to possibly change one’s thinking.

This distinction is very important because there have been many reports by synod bishops which say that they are very inspired to be listening to the young people who are also participating in the meeting.  Yet, at the same time, these same bishops are also saying that they discern that young people need to be guided spiritually.  Such a conflict in approaches means that the synod fathers may not be in a position to be changed by what they hear.

At this point in our church’s life, I think that many pastoral ministers are moving more into the first kind of listening mode—that of being a sounding board—but not all are willing to give up the role as guides.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 14, 2018

13 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    One thing I would observe is that there’s a difference between being a compassionate and caring spiritual guide (on the one hand), or being an arrogant bullying tinpot moral dictator on the other. I think far too many priests, who often harbor painful moral and spiritual conflicts of their own, are presuming to behave like disciplinarians and harsh moral judges of other people’s life situations. It’s one thing to be kind and helpful, as a compassionate listener. But it’s something else entirely — and something utterly counterproductive — to sit in rash judgment over other people whose authentic life experiences our celibate and often lonely and emotionally dysfunctional priests have never shared. Enforced priestly celibacy seems to be one of the Catholic Church’s most counterproductive social and spiritual boondoggles.

  2. Kris
    Kris says:

    I am afraid that Roman Catholic clerics will rarely (if ever) find themselves true listeners, because they are not truly humble. Even the nouns they use of themselves (‘pastor’, ‘shepherd’, ‘teacher’, etc) do not allow for even the possibility that these may have something to learn from others, especially LGBT people.

    There is a self-belief that amounts to arrogance among these men, especially bishops. You may as well try to stop Earth orbiting the Sun as put an end to it. But at least we can stop reinforcing it by rejecting the glorified ways in which they describe themselves.

    Jesus couldn’t have been clearer: his disciples were to be servants, not masters. And the first duty of a servant is to listen for his masters orders, directly, and through others.

  3. Michael Brinkschröder
    Michael Brinkschröder says:

    This is a very interesting and important explanation of two very different pastoral approaches. Thank you!

  4. Tom smith
    Tom smith says:

    Why can’t one be both a listener and a guide? Not simultaneously, but in tandem. Non-dualistic thinking applied to pastoral counseling. First, quietly creating the open trusting space for full disclosure, inviting God into the room. Then, pointing out to the counselee whatever concrete divine advice that surfaces.

    • Drew Conneen
      Drew Conneen says:

      This sounds wonderful but at the end of the day, whether you listen or guide, don’t we want them to say, “it’s ok to be gay”?

    • Paula Ruddy
      Paula Ruddy says:

      Even if guidance is sometimes appropriate, it could not be given by a cisgender person, could it? It seems that the listening model of accompaniment is the non-dual way–both people are on the journey, learning from one another and respecting the work of the Spirit in each other.

      • DON E SIEGAL
        DON E SIEGAL says:

        Even if guidance is sometimes appropriate, it could not be given by a cisgender person, could it?

        Of course, it can; it just requires that the cisgender person (to use the words of Fr. James Martin, SJ) “Can enter into a relationship of respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” When this happens, the bonus is that now we have an ally. Without cisgender allies, our LGBT community would not be enjoying much of the progress that we have achieved in social justice.

  5. John Murphy
    John Murphy says:

    After most recent statement from Francis…on Wuehrl…I wonder if the Pope is being held captive, is cognitively impaired, or has no real empathy for survivors. Maybe all three?

  6. Susanne Cassidy
    Susanne Cassidy says:

    Great piece Frank, I totally agree with you in regards to listening, he bishops say they listen, I don’t think they do, we all know how important it is to be heard, I suggest they need to open their hearts as well as their ears. Most of the are clueless. I loved to piece on Fr. Deer from Munich Germany, he gets it!! Thanks to all for the great reports.

  7. Clyde Christofferson
    Clyde Christofferson says:

    True accompaniment is a two way street. In this situation the need for listening is not simply to hear the story of the other from one’s own framework but to be open to examination of the framework itself. The institutional Church has been captive for centuries to a framework that is simply false and unreal. We seem to be making some headway, but the journey is not over. When will we know we have arrived? When the institutional Church takes reality as it is, not as it is idealized to be, and invests that reality with love.

  8. Mike Sala
    Mike Sala says:

    Francis, “Paternalism” lives! I think that is what you are trying to say in a nice way to all those who want to “guide”. The deeper issue is how the dynamic of a helping relationship is approached. If I view “the other” as a victim or of a lesser status than “I”, then a power gradient is set up in the relationship, and blatantly or subtly, no respectful listening will occur. The “I” will try to convince, cajole, teach, or judge “the other” of the errors of their way. Listening requires respect and openness. Dialogue, not argument. Humility, in the deepest sense, and not arrogance.

  9. Vernon Smith
    Vernon Smith says:

    I disagree with Forte. This bifurcated view of how to accompany people polarizes the concept and defeats it. Listening and guiding are not mutually exclusive things. Nor in themselves do they fully represent what accompanying means. Let’s keep it simple. To accompany someone is to be with them on their journey, to walk with them. Until many in the hierarchy truly challenge themselves to walk genuinely with us, they have no clue what true accompaniment means. Generally, I think Francis is at least trying. I feel that is not so much the case with many of the rest. And with some, I wonder if they are truly capable of accompanying the faithful at all. Humility and the ability not to view others as inferior, regardless of their place in life, is essential. At base, a true pastor must be open to and capable of learning from the faithful. Teaching and guiding is not a one way street.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *