Degree Name

Master of Philosophy


School of the Arts, English and Media


This thesis reconstructs a missing part of queer history, particularly as it pertains to the Catholic Church in the Netherlands, and the part Dutch Catholic priest Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932-1996) played within it. In the 1950s and 1960s an alternative narrative emerged within Dutch Catholicism which contributed to the emancipation of homosexual men and women, helping them to integrate into Dutch society. Nouwen’s own involvement in this movement is a story which has remained largely untold; few people are aware that Nouwen studied the topic of homosexuality in great detail. Nouwen’s research led him to develop a therapeutic framework designed to revolutionise the pastoral care of homosexual men and women. These ideas were set within the context of a Dutch Catholic Church in transformation, and were inspired by a group of Dutch Catholic intellectuals, who increasingly turned to a psychoanalytical understanding of the human psyche. It was within this new paradigm that Nouwen situated his research and pastoral response to homosexuality, establishing him as a pioneering contributor to the therapeutic discourse found among LGBT+ theological and spiritual writings. Nouwen’s contributions to this therapeutic discourse can be seen in a number of both published and unpublished research projects on homosexuality located in the archival papers at the Henri J.M. Nouwen Archive and Research Center. These writings culminated in Nouwen’s 1971 published essay ‘The Self-availability of the Homosexual,’ where the concept of ‘self-availability’ was offered as way for someone to relate meaningfully to one’s homosexual orientation. For Nouwen, the concept of ‘self-availability’ became the therapeutic means by which homosexual men and women could cultivate a sense of liberation and self-acceptance, in order to make right moral decisions for themselves. ‘Selfavailability’ was a concept Nouwen borrowed from the writings of certain Dutch Catholic intellectuals where the concept of innerlijke disponibiliteit (inner availability or self-availability) was promoted as therapeutic qualities needed for mental health. From a political point of view, this thesis reminds the Catholic Church of its own history and the changes it embraced at one time in its pastoral approach towards homosexual men and women.

FoR codes (2008)




Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.