DOM Raphael Appleby, vice chair of the National Conference of Priests, has stated that the Catholic church must change her image and her pre-occupation with sex to "evangelise herself" through the gospels and social teaching if the church is to have any future in the West.
A brave statement, and one that echoes my problem. As chief executive of the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council (CMAC) one of the biggest difficulties I struggle with daily is the public image of the Catholic church.
CMAC is a counselling organisation. We are Catholics concerned for married life. Our purpose is to help people to prepare for, achieve and sustain successful marriages but we are also concerned to help and support those who find themselves in marriages that are breaking down.
We believe that the best way to help is within a trusting, accepting, confidential relationship. This means we do not judge those who come to us; we la not tell them what they sEcuid or shouldn't do; we accept them as they are unconditionally; and we stay alongside them whilst they find their way remaining o.1. their side whilst they struggle ss..! succeed or fail.
We know iiosi experience that many people both Catholic and non Catholic avoid seeking our help because of the Catholic in our title.
As a result, I am under considerable pressure to remove it from our title. Yet for us, CMAC, Catholic is the most important element in our organisation.
Our staff all work many hours as volunteers, providing a professional service. They are working for CMAC as a vocation and are proud to be Catholic.
Why then the pressure to remove Catholic from our title?
Sadly it is as Dom Appleby says. The public image of the church, particularly in the area of sex and sexuality, is not good. As a marriage counselling organisation this area affects us particularly.
From talking to potential clients and referrers the message comes through that some people in difficulty in their marriages don't choose a Catholic helping agency because they expect that we would merely repeat the teachings of the church.
But if what they expect from a Catholic organisation is to be judged, found wanting, and told what to do, there is little point coming to CMAC. They generally don't need help with
As the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council meets in Birmingham today, its chief executive Jean Judge defends its role
this as they usually know already what they "should" be doing. The problem often is that despite knowing, they can't.
Overweight people know they should eat less, alcoholics know they should stop drinking! It would make life much easier if telling someone what to do resulted in them doing it.
The church necessarily has needed to teach and preach the good news. It is important that mankind knows about God's plan. There must be no compromise over the teachings of the church.
Unfortunately this is the only aspect of the church that many people know. Its pastoral nature is not so well appreciated.
One aspect that is understood is forgiveness. People know that they can turn to the church for forgiveness but they also know that forgiveness depends on a purpose of amendment. This is often a condition they can't meet.
What they are looking for, and what they need, is acceptance. This can be hard for the Catholic church to give. It can appear to be condoning.
Marriage counsellors offer acceptance to the best of their ability. By offering acceptance we believe that we get as near as possible to bringing to another the unconditional love of God. This relationship of trust, confidentiality and acceptance releases the person in trouble to grow and change to the best of their ability.
Non-denominational counsellors are surprised to hear that Catholic counsellors work this way. Some Catholics are surprised to hear that we work this way. Both expect us to judge and point out the error for our clients' ways. The counsellors see this as the wrong thing for a counsellor to do; the Catholics see it as witnessing to the teachings of the church and the right (and only) thing to do.
The public image of the Catholic church is for many people rigid, intolerant, judgemental and punitive. I, try to get over the message to the public that CMAC is accepting, warm, confidential and caring.
It is not uncommon for us to be told by Catholics that we are not "proper" Catholics.
I do not think we should remove Catholic from our title. I think we should try and improve the image of a "proper" Catholic.