Christian Social Policy and Homosexuality in The Netherlands 1900-1970

H. Oosterhuis*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This essay explores the historical process in which homosexuality became an object for pastoral, medical, and mental health care in the Dutch Catholic community during the twentieth century. The confrontation between a moral-religious approach and the professional (medical and psychological) treatment of homosexuality is the central issue. In a continuing dialogue and a process of changing power relations between clergymen, physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and pedagogues as well as Catholic homosexuals themselves, homosexuality was transformed from sin and pathology into a psychological and social problem that could be treated in pastoral and mental health care. The changing attitudes of Catholics towards homosexuality can be explained in the context of the changing relations between religion on the one hand and health care on the other hand. Current viewpoints resulting from sociohistorical studies on the development of the medical and welfare professions have concluded that religion lost importance in modern society because physicians, psychiatrists, psyche-therapists, and social workers not only created new areas of intervention in people's private lives, but also took over the traditional tasks of the church in the field of charity and pastoral care. Medical anamnesis, psychoanalysis, and psychotherapy took the place of confession and pastoral care, thus the argument runs, and remission of sins and redemption were replaced by health and welfare. However, especially in the case of the development of the Dutch welfare state, there was a more complicated interplay between changing religious values and professional strategies, In the Netherlands professional health care and welfare institutions often were organized in a religious context and it is difficult to make a clear differentiation between religious and moral discourses on the one hand and medical and psychological ones on the other hand. Moreover, professional interventions did not take the place of pastoral care; it appears that pastoral care for homosexuals gained ground and was intensified after medical and psychological definitions of homosexuality had found acceptance in the Catholic community. Professional strategies did not supersede religion, but rather contributed to a moral re-orientation and a new pattern of Christian values and appreciations in the field of sexuality.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)95-112
JournalJournal of Homosexuality
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1996

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