02Dec Psychologist takes CDF to task

An Open Letter to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith

Dear CDF,
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.

16 Responses

  1. Mary O Vallely

    Well said, Martina. I agree with you. You must come across so much unhappiness and misery as you help your clients to reach a level of self-acceptance. Actually, isn’t that the job of the official church of which the CDF is a part? Aren’t they supposed to reflect Christ -like qualities of love, compassion, tenderness, understanding? Aren’t they supposed to reach out to those who feel marginalised through no fault of their own, just as Christ would? (He does but they may not know it, sadly)
    There are many, many priests who feel as you do, Martina, and who do reflect this love of God and maybe some of them are in the CDF? I don’t wish to label and condemn any more that you do. Despite the despondency perhaps of your comment I do feel that your words may strike a chord and you just never know the power of them. Keep the heart up and your clients are blessed in having you. Bail ó Dhia ar an obair. UBI CARITAS ET AMOR, DEUS IBI EST. Never forget that!:-)

  2. Diffal

    Jesus didn’t exclude the woman caught in adultery, he accepted her, and told her to go and sin no more.
    Since a person is more than merely the sum of their acts, we can say love the sinner, hate the sin. This is what Jesus did when he told the woman go and sin no more. This is what he comands us to do in Luke 17:3 (So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.) There can be no forgivness if there is no Sin (or if there is denial of sin). Jesus was and is, big on forgivness and this is what we must do as well. Love the sinner and with the healing help of the divine physician, help them to walk not limp.

  3. Maire

    Thank you Martina. I hope and pray that the CDF will hear what you are saying in this splendid letter. The CDF are not speaking on my behalf either when they refuse to treat each and every man, woman and child with the dignity which is their right as children of the one true God. The same God who sent his Son whose life was spent showing us the value of compassion for the weak, the sick, the marginalised, the sinner, the outcast, for all whom the the religious leaders deemed to be unworthy and unclean. Jesus came for all, He died for all,therefore there is no place in the vocabulary of his followers for such words as unworthy or unclean.

  4. John

    At the last supper Jesus distributed His Body and Blood to ALL of the apostles including Judas. Judas was obviously not in the state of grace, yet Jesus gave him the Eucharist. How dare anyone deny the Eucharist to anyone? Sinners need Jesus more than hypocrites in fancy garments.

  5. Veritas

    Jesus did’nt exclude anyone, including the adulterous woman. But he told her to sin no more.
    By virtue of our free will though we can reject the grace of Christ and exclude ourselves. We should of course be sensitive and helpful towards the homosexual individuals referred to by Martina. However there was an element of special pleading in her letter. We are all called to chastity, homosexuals are not being singled out.

  6. James Graham

    “I call myself a practising catholic”. People are of course entitled to call themselves whatever they want, but a Catholic is one who believes in and accepts the teachings of the Catholic Church. “Some find it hard to accept and deeply resent their orientation, but they have no choice over it”. They have the same choice that everyone else has who is tempted to sin, they can resist temptation or give in to it. The Church does not condemn sinners. It offers them two wonderful Sacraments to help them, Reconciliation and Eucharist. If people use these Sacrements properly they are a great help in resisting temptation. This does not mean they will not sin again but as time goes by and people continue to partake of the Sacraments it becomes easier to resist temptation. As a lifelong sinner I should know.

  7. Kevin

    Twenty years ago this month I met my first AIDs patient. For some reason it has been on my mind a lot of late. Especially last two weeks. Keeps coming back.

    He asked me if I believed in God. I told him I believed what the Scriptures told us, that God is Love. And I did. He wanted to talk. Offered he speak to a chaplain. He did not want that.

    Since I came back to the ‘institutional’ church I have been confused about so many things.

    Phil lay dying on that bed, looking me in the eyes asking, “Kevin do you believe in God ?” I always assumed, believed he was asking me to tell him about God. We talked for weeks fore he died.

    Here was a man dying, afraid, and feeling worthless and unloved, asking if I believed in God. The ‘church’ did that to him.

    I start looking to priests again for something about Jesus.

    That was Jesus. That was God coming to me through that man. That was ‘sacrament’. That was love – Church.

    Whatever you do to the least of these you do to Me.

    Do I believe in God ? YES. Christ lives in each of us.

    “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

    I understand now. Thank you Phil.

    I asked you twenty years ago to remember me and you have.

    God is Love.

  8. Tony Butler

    It being Advent soon I hope to take part again in the Annual Carol Concert held in St. Anne’s Shandon for the Gay, Lesbian Bisexual and Transgendered community here in Cork. Hopefully this year I will notify the other parishs round of the event. Each year more and more attend. The increasing attendance of parents, parishoners clergy and friends makes this a very inclusive and special Advent occasion. It is also a happy occasion.

    For many of our brothers and sisters experience of church has not, is not a happy experience. Depriving people of a language with which to make sense of their experience is a very effective way of keeping them silent and dis-empowered. For centuries the dominant language of moral theology expressed the experience of gay men and women in terms of sin, disorder and guilt. In celebrating, in praying and singing together we remind ourselves that we are all part of a believing community. It is within community that we experience God’s grace, the healing transforming liberating unconditional love that so many encountered in the person of Brother Jesus, the Christ. Jesus the sacrament and compassion of God.

    We are invited by our very graced humanity, shared baptism and membership of God’s Church to live authentic Christian lives. In the words of Matthew Fox “No one knows the beauty of creation more than those who have been told, verbally and non verbally, that the way they have been created has been a mistake and even sinful.” In the Christian Church we have inherited from the Old Testament what John van Hagan calls “God’s destructive holiness” i.e. the distance between God and humans needs to be maintained. Thankfully sacramental theology recognises God’s need and desire to show himself to us and touch us by means our our created world.

    Yet at every Advent service, at every Christmas Mass, every time the community meets, the story told and bread is broken, it is….. Easter
    “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

    So, ” Amen to creation/ to the God who is life/ to courage/ to the spirit of truth/ to the place of all women and men in the plan of God/ to forgiveness/ to everything that makes living the first step/ in the stretching of the heart/ to the dimensions of God/ Amen./ Amen./ Amen.(Joan Chittister OSB)

  9. Ronnie Doyle

    I would advise from my own experience of the storms of life and the battles against temptation, to reach out to Our Lord through Our Blessed Mother, Mary.
    My own demons were drugs and self centerism, but everytime i feel like getting stoned or condemning someone or something I say a Hail Mary.
    This has NEVER FAILED me yet.
    I still have a lifetime to go, but i know that calling for change in the Church’s doctrine isn’t the answer to my problems, its actually quite the opposite.

  10. Soline Humbert

    Thank you Martina. Let those of us who have ears hear!
    Since Tony Butler in his life affirming, prayerful reflection mentioned a LGBT Advent concert in Cork, may I invite Dubliners to the 14th Annual LGBT Christmas Carol Service on the 8th December,8PM, in the Unitarian church on St Stephen’s Green. All are welcome (and there will be mulled wine and mince pies afterwards!).It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.I wish all my LGBT sisters and brothers in Christ a very blessed Advent and a wonder-full Christmas, and thank them for enriching our lives by being who they are: beautifully made in God’s image.

  11. Kevin

    I’d just like to thank people here, the priests too, who have kindly answered questions I’ve had on various issues – privately too. Helped more than you realise.

    Reminded me of the book/movie title this morning, “a few good men” and women too of course.

    How I will think of, remember here, a meeting with a ‘few good men and women’. That’s all it needs some times.

    Taking a break from discussing/debating and ripping the fur off live cats for while. lol

    If anyone tries to suggest you are not doing good work, know you already have, and do – great work.

    Thank you

    God bless you all

    And a very blessed Christ mas to you and your families, friends, communities, one and all, and all the rest of Creation too.

    As salāmu `alaykumu

  12. Martin Hunter

    The Gospel is the story of Jesus of Nazareth being in the presence of people in their “sinful condition” – and because of that presence their “condition” being transformed.
    The Church, if it still claims to “represent” Jesús, much make itself present among people in their “sinful condition” – It should not make any “cleaning up process” beforehand.

  13. Joe O'Leary

    For more cheerful and constructive gay experience see the new film Les Invisibles, a huge hit in France (interviews with gays in their eighties). I was pleased that it was warmly reviewed in the Jesuit review Etudes and that the reviewer noted the similarities with Word is Out (1978), a landmark in the normalization of gay witness.

  14. Teilhard

    I am a cradle Catholic and someone who has worked with youth as a teacher and a chemical dependency counselor my entire adult life. In answer to the psychologist who authored this article and to the CDF, I have learned much more about Jesus from the so-called ‘sinners’ who needed counseling than from anything the clerics have taught me. It is my experience that the so-called ‘enlightened’ were in far greater need for direction to Jesus than those classified as ‘morally deficient.” I think recent revelations and discoveries regarding the sexual scandal by the clergy and the cover-up by the hierarchy bear that out.

    The LOVE that Jesus proclaimed is centered in the ‘sinners’ and the ‘fringe’ groups much more than in the hierarchs and members of the clergy. Women, members of the LGBT community, racial minorities, the poor, and the downtrodden are the friends and intimates of Jesus. We so-called ‘good Catholics’ are in the clique of Pharisees and Scribes that Jesus tried to convert.

    Those who have been ‘displaced’ and ‘disenfranchised’ by society are soul brothers with Jesus. Those who society has attempted to strip of their dignity as human beings, who have been preyed upon by the ‘elites’, and who have been denigrated by the privileged share a bond with Jesus, the Christ.

    Who are we to look upon any of our brothers or sisters as ‘inferior’ or ‘intrinsically defective’ when Jesus, the Christ, saw them as equals and of his own kind. How dare we, in our arrogance label any human being as less than we are. That is the very attitude that Jesus constantly condemned in the Pharisees of his day! This is NOT the way of Jesus, and any of us that call ourselves ‘Christian’ should be shamed when we do it!

    Jesus is all about LOVE for ourselves and for our brothers and sisters and our God. It is the antithesis of Christianity to preach division, ‘intrinsic evil’, elitism of our religion, and to cast aspersions on any group in society. For the CDF as an organ of a church that calls itself ‘Christian’ to do such things is an abomination and a blasphemy to anything remotely identified with Jesus.

    If one reads and meditates on the authentic gospels [cf. ‘The Jesus Seminar’ and ‘ Honest to Jesus’ by Robert Funk], Jesus had little to nothing to say about ‘sinfulness’ but did have copious and profuse teachings on love and acceptance. Trust in Jesus and love for one another is constantly and consistently stressed. I think we best beware before we attempt to define what love is and by whom and how it is to be expressed! Who are we to define such things when our leader, Jesus the Christ, was ambiguous and open-minded on those concepts and practices.

  15. Veritas

    Jesus was’nt ambiguous/open-minded in these issues at all. Quite the contrary. He stated – ” if you love me, keep my commandments “. But it must be emphasised, as Pope Benedict always declares, that the Church is primarily about calling us to love in the sacraments. It does’nt condemn homosexual practices & other vices, just out of negativity. It does so out of love for us, offering us a better way.

  16. Ger Gleeson

    Martina, what a brilliant and profound letter you have written. “Welcome CDF to the real world we live in”. That Martina sums up the problem we laity face on a daily basis. The CDF do not and never have lived in the real world. I have no doubt that each one of them has been groomed from an early age, to achieve high positions within the Church, and consequently know nothing about living in the real world. The problems you face with your clients daily are as foreign to them, as swimming with crocodiles is to us. They have a very comfortable life. No worries about mortgages, food, educating children, and the thousand and one other issues we in the real world must contend with. As for your clients, well they are sinners according to the CDF, who according to their understanding of God’s word, have little hope of salvation. Unfortunately they fully believe in the God of the Law, rather than the God of Mercy and Compassion.
    Life experiences educate all who live in the real world. Unfortunately the people who govern our Church live in their own make believe world. We are not looking for a new Church, just a new model of Church, where ALL will be treated with equal love and dignity as our Creator has demanded. “Love your God and your neighbour as yourself”.

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