Psychologist takes CDF to task
An Open Letter to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith
I am a woman (take a deep breath) and a sinner whom Jesus loves very much (surprise, surprise).
In order to progress in the life that Jesus wishes me to live, I pray daily, spend time listening and reflecting on the word of God and try to get to daily Eucharist. I try to act justly with those I meet and practice charity. I call myself a practising catholic and fall many times in the process. But Jesus tells me to keep trying. So I get up and start again. Each time I sin, I repent, and start again with renewed intention, and guess what, I’m slowly making progress.
Each time I fall I learn more about myself and I learn from those around me that are further on the journey than me. It is important for me as a sinner to be able to walk with those who are further on in virtue, otherwise I may not make progress, so it is important that I’m included with the virtuous, not excluded. You probably know the saying ‘if you only walk with the lame you will soon yourself learn how to limp’. What I always loved about the Catholic Church was that it is universal: a Church not only for the virtuous but also for sinners. It gives us the lives of the saints, who were sinners before saints, for encouragement.
However, I am confused between the message I get from Jesus and the message I hear from the CDF in Rome.
I work as a psychologist and meet clients every day as part of my work.
I believe that everyone who enters my room has a soul that is intrinsically good.
However, many factors in their lives will contribute to all sorts of problems that distract them from their inherent goodness and make them act in ways contrary to this. We are a flawed race. These factors are many and varied, and may include circumstances of birth, what they learned from parents and carers, who they mixed with, genetic predispositions, their education or lack of it and all sorts of technological and societal influences that lead them to destructive behaviours in a very attractive way.
Welcome, CDF, to the real world that we live in.
It happens that some of the people who come to me are gay. Some of these see their homosexuality as a cross. They don’t like it because it makes them feel different from others that they know. Most spend from early adolescence up to adulthood struggling with ‘coming out’, and find this a difficult and painful journey. Some find it hard to accept and deeply resent their orientation, but they have no choice over it. Often they keep trying not to have sexual relationships and fail. Others who are gay accept their sexuality and many are in a long-term exclusive relationships. Getting to this point has also been a struggle for them.
As a pyschologist my task is to walk with them on their journey towards self-acceptance, which includes acceptance of their sexuality. At the same time you tell them that their behaviour is intrinsically evil, thereby making it more difficult for them to accept themselves and to hear that Jesus loves and accepts them.
I do not see the sexual activity of either group as intrinsically evil. On the contrary I will listen to them, reflect and try to understand their difficulties both in a society that treats them as different, and more importantly in a Church that excludes them from the Eucharistic table. I don’t fully understand their sexual feelings. I don’t have to. They may be due to genetic or psychological factors or both. The jury is still out on that, but I don’t see grounds to condemn them the way the Church does, a Church that I am a part of. My role is not to judge them, neither is it to condone their behaviour, but somehow through showing compassion, to try with them to find a way towards self acceptance that may make their life a bit easier, or in some cases prevent them from ending it. They are homosexual. They cannot change this. Therefore I must accept them as they are. I thought doing this was part of what ‘being church’ means.
But then I am a woman, I don’t have a voice in the Church or indeed an opinion that carries any weight. I am inferior because of my gender. It reminds me of the way lepers were treated when Jesus walked this earth: they were kept apart, inferior beings, dirty. But Jesus accepted them in the same way that he accepts all of us today. Unfortunately some people look to our leaders in the Church to discover this and never find it. Instead what they find is condemnation.
Similarly, when women come to me who are taking contraception and planning their families there is usually a good reason for this. They often have to deal with a drunken spouse who demands sex whenever he wants it and they cannot afford more mouths to feed. Why don’t you condemn alcohol and other drugs as intrinsically evil too?
When couples divorce they don’t do it for the fun of it. In most cases it a very painful process. Yet you tell me that what they do is intrinsically evil. Because you see their actions as evil you ban them from receiving Jesus at the eucharistic table. I need food for my soul. Surely they do too.
I accept that a lot of behaviour comes from selfish motives and this needs to be challenged. But we need to find a balance whereby we do not condemn every act that falls under certain headings as intrinsically evil.
I feel that you in the CDF are trying to create an elitist Church where only those who conform to your notion of what is good and virtuous need apply. However, Jesus told us that he did not come to call the virtuous but all people, including sinners, and he showed us by his example that we must do the same.
Jesus didn’t exclude the woman in adultery, society did. Nor did he exclude the woman who put oil on his feet as he sat at table. It was the Pharisees who condemned her as if they were without sin. Could it be that you are making our church a Church of the Pharisees?
I want you to know that you are not speaking on my behalf.