Monday, June 27, 2011

A Welcoming Relationship Is No Easy Task When Rules Define The Relationship

I can laugh at this only because a relationship with another kind of priest forced me to deal with all the traditional Catholic character builders.

The following is an edited article written by Michael O'Loughlin which makes a really important point about the power of relationship with in Roman Catholicism.  I know in my own spiritual path, in the final analysis it's not the theology or sacramentality that keeps me keepin' on.  It's the people and relationships I have made a long the way. They were the kind of relationships that brought the Gospel message alive for me and challenged me to really think about the difficulty in living the The Way. As time went on, I realized relationship in all it's facets was a critical concept to understand.  It's a conceptual understanding Roman Catholicism needs to put back into it's spiritual equation.

Relationships and the Church: How to Create a Welcoming Catholicism

Michael O'Loughlin - Huffington Post - 6/21/2011

A friend once remarked that every view of the church, whether colored with praise, criticism, admiration or disdain, is the articulation of a personal relationship with the person or persons who have come to represent church in an individual's life. He said that during his career as a Catholic priest, he spoke with countless numbers of people who trace back their love of the church to caring nuns or priests. Sadly, he also heard from those who spend years and lifetimes holding on to anger and resentment because of the unkind words or actions of others who represent the church to them.

Now consider for a moment the words and actions of two of America's most notable Catholic figures: New York's Archbishop Timothy Dolan used increasingly incendiary language to fight the legalization of same-sex marriage, and Boston's Archbishop Sean O'Malley directed his officials to postpone a Mass celebrating a theme of "All Are Welcome" at a parish that is home to many gay and lesbian Catholics....

......An archbishop's preaching easily personifies "church" to many people, and Dolan employed language that left some feeling abandoned, isolated, and hurt. When asked to comment on parishioners who walked out during the service, Dolan coolly responded, "We're used to that. People have been walking away from God's law. They even walked away from Jesus so we're kind of used to that." (Dolan's principle use of relationship is to the law.  Jesus is second.)

In Boston, St. Cecilia's parish planned a Mass of welcome, set to coincide with the city's gay pride celebrations. When local right-wing bloggers found out, they launched a mean-spirited campaign to cancel the Mass. The chancery then directed the parish to postpone it. Parishioners, with the encouragement of their pastor, held a prayer service on the sidewalk in front of the church, reminding participants that all are welcome in Christ's church. O'Malley, who has tried valiantly though ineffectively to promote respect for gay and lesbian people while calling their actions sinful, used his office literally to shut a marginalized group of faithful Catholics out of the church and relegate them to the sidewalk.

Why are the words and actions of these two archbishops so troubling? If my friend is correct that personal relationships have an abundance of power in shaping one's views about the church, then there is trouble ahead for the Catholic church. Americans today have siblings, parents, friends and co-workers who are openly gay and lesbian. Christians are increasingly willing to live their lives fully and wholly, rather than hide their orientation to fit in at their churches.

Rightly or wrongly, Dolan and O'Malley, and others in positions of authority in any denomination, most easily personify church to the faithful.......

..........What is the antidote to this institutional downward spiral, where the church is viewed not as the defender of the weak and vulnerable, but as the enforcer of an antiquated morality? The hope lies in the truth that relationships hold unparalleled power in helping individuals find self-acceptance through God's radically unconditional love.......


For too many of our religious leaders, insisting our relationship to religious dogma and doctrine supersedes our relationship with people is the lazy way out.  This  is true even when this notion of doctrinely defined type of relating is aimed at our relationship with God.  If God truly meant that we were to place relating to an intellectual defined construct of Him over our need to learn to love through relationship with each other, He would never have bothered to incarnate in the much more immediate human form of Jesus.
When God chose to become human and to relate to us as human, God chose to put his human creation on the more difficult relational path.

The real message in Archbishop Dolan and Cardinal O'Malley's actions is that our relationship to Catholic law is more important than our relationship to fellow members of the Body of Christ.  This is precisely the opposite of what Jesus actually taught.  What makes this attitude more unwelcoming for gays is that the Church's relationship towards them becomes defined by sin.  Gays the are related to as sin, and because this is so, it doesn't matter to the official relationship if gays don't commit any of the sins by which the Church chooses to define them.  Hate the sin, love the sinner  is an impossible thing to do when sin defines both sides of this equation.  Even in this constantly used facile statement, by definition we are relating to the sin because we are told to love the sinner.  If we were going to be more generous this should state 'hate the sin, love the person'.  No other class of Catholic is defined this way.  No wonder gays have a tough time finding a healthy way to relate to the Church.

But gays are only one class of person the Church relates to in a legalistic rather than personal way.  Women are another class.  Women are 'ruled out' out of things far more than they are 'ruled into' things. The latest example being the Vatican decree that altar girls are not to serve at the Extraordinary form of the Mass.  By any reasonable standard of relationship, the legal structure of the Church relates to women as 'less than' men.
It's no wonder our younger generations, who have grown up being taught to relate to people as people, are rejecting institutional Catholicism which still insists on relating to it's flock through rules and regulations.  

The exact same process of relating via rules explains the hierarchy's usual method of dealing with abuse victims. The rules say priests are more important than laity, especially children, and so the Church has used every legal strategy imaginable to protect the more important 'class' of Catholic over the least important 'class' of Catholic. A truly authoritarian structure based in hierarchical definitions of importance never places much value on the 'least' of it's defined classes.  Human dignity is parceled out according to the given food chain.  It is never an intrinsic identity.  It is an earned identity.  This style of relationship is absolutely contradictory to the message and teachings of Jesus.  He flipped the criteria on which we are to relate to each other.  Even the very least of us, at least by worldly definition, are worthy of full human dignity, are worthy of being related to as full children of God, are fully human before we are anything else, and in fact come first in Jesus' relational scheme of things. As such no one belongs on the side walk looking in.  We belong around the altar sharing in this truth.  It may not be what most of us want to believe, but it's exactly what Jesus demands of us.  For some of us this whole notion seems to be a cross to heavy to carry, and that is really sad.



  1. Something of monumental importance has been occurring. This something has been rocking both the social sciences and--kicking and screaming--faith traditions. It is the rise of "relational" frameworks as the defining paradigm for understanding right and wrong. Psychology has largely jettisoned psychoanalytical understandings of human behavior and attachment/relational explanations are becoming dominant. The Christian faith tradition, anchored in either the bible or the pope, are being forced to look at not pre-modern declarations like, "The magisterium says..." or "Romans 3:12 says...," but at what causes human persons to become their fullest selves, as relational beings.

  2. Absolutely right Kevin. Relational thinking is not just taking over social sciences, it's part and parcel of quantum physics.

    Jesus was onto this relational thinking and how important it is in human development and spiritual maturity. I think that's why Jesus reserved his harshest comments for those who would harm the little ones. If a child's maturation process is short circuited by severe abuse they are in real serious trouble for ever being able to form healthy mature relationships to anyone or anything. That is why I refer to clerical abuse as soul murder. That form of abuse even destroys a person's ability to find a meaningful relationship with God.

  3. Kevin please, you are talking about early Freudian Psychoanalysis. In the post modern world almost all forms of Psychoanalysis are relational. When you talk of Analysis it is as if you talk of the brilliant theories of Newton and no other paradigm exists.

    Other than that, I do agree with the gist about relational framework. The post modern Klienians are all relational. Hans Kohut and the self Psychologists are once again relational. Then there is Sullivan whose theories are know as relational Psychoanalysis.

    Structure of individual character is however still very important. A lack of stucture of the self causes some ( e. g. RCC Bishops) to react from a very borderline psychotic core. So structure of personality is still very important, it is the bases of interpersonal relationship. Even the Psychoanalysts evolved this way!!!

  4. rdp46,
    Thanks for the clarification, but you do realize that there are still more than a few mental health professionals who approach therapy from the "detached objective observer" stance. They still gasp when a colleague speaks about countertransference as a (potentially) positive therapeutic dynamic.

  5. Kevin, in current psychoanalysis, counter transference is one of the most prominent tools. You are not discussing a trained psychoanalyst but perhaps some who go no further than marriage and family counseling. There are many psychologists that study more about the use of drugs than therapy and council about when drug is appropriate. It was only ten years ago that they wanted the authority to prescribe. They had at that time given up on doing therapy. Many Psychologists, Psychiatrist and Social Workers find that with the training that they received they hit the wall and are not able to go into long term therapy with patients and then some go on to get their own training analysis and study many more years to become psychoanalysts. Mental heath fields more than many fields struggle with practitioners and many different levels of learning. As a person who has taught adult and child psychoanalysis, it seems to me that Clinical Social Workers often are much better prepared than are Clinical Psychologist when beginning the study of Psychoanalysis.

    Most who write self help books have little training in terms of having their own training analysis or supervised hours with patients. It is interesting to me that because of the intense feelings of denial so many American people have no idea of the benefits of post modern psychoanalysis.

    I do agree with the gist of your first post that so much depends on a relational model. However, I do not think that we as professionals can forget the need for the internal stucture of self. In all introductory psychology and psychiatric texts, Freud, either directly or indirectly is the most quoted person in the book. You can not do quantum physics without a good understanding of the Newtonian model. It would be a big mistake for people to attempt a relational model without understanding individual stucture. This is where Sulavanian Relational models sometimes can run into trouble if their practitioners are not firmly footed in structural understanding before they attempt them. It may become who is the therapist and who is the analysand in some cases.

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  7. In Authority.

    That is the way they see it. They have forgotten that they are supposed to be rabbis, or teachers first.

    Authority is the exercise of hard power with its rules, rewards and punishments. Some people, including most conservatives are authoritarian. Yet authoritarianism is destroying conservatism and it is destroying the Church.

    See: Altermeyer, Bob "The Authoritarians" (on American politics)

    Leadership is about the exercise of soft power, more than hard power. It concerns persuasion, influence and charisma. These are the powers of relationship. Jesus came as a teacher, not a cop, politician, or someone with military authority.

    I am not sure how these observations fit with the psychology of relations, but I suspect there is a connection.


  8. p2p

    Your post is right on. Authoritarians only operate with "hard" power. As the RCC tries to use this mode of operation, governments in some areas copy them. That is anouther reason to resist these Bushops. dennis

  9. Dennis: I really really like your insights on psychoanalysis--especially this line: "It would be a big mistake for people to attempt a relational model without understanding individual structure."

    And I liked this line: "Many Psychologists, Psychiatrist and Social Workers find that with the training that they received they hit the wall and are not able to go into long term therapy with patients..."

    And I liked this line: "Mental heath fields more than many fields struggle with practitioners and many different levels of learning."

    And all of that is true in spiritual and/or pastoral counseling. I think we will see more and more of this in Catholicism, where laity are more mature than the priests who are supposed to be counseling them.

    Paul: The distinction you make between hard and soft power is excellent. I immediately translated that thinking to what the Vatican is doing by taking over the leadership of Caritas. Caritas was all about soft evangelization and now the Vatican is going to make it hard. Pun intended.