Psychological underpinnings in the Neocatechumenate community
Report by Professor Alberto Picano
Psychiatrist at San Camillo Hospital in Rome
I would like to thank you for inviting me here, even if it's about something
not so pleasant. This is about something that has created many bitter and
painful divisions and has presented the problem of integrating many brothers
and sisters. The problem, in fact, doesn't lie in Kiko and Carmen, but in
the many, many people who hold a sincere belief and are unaware of the
problematic issues. Anyhow, the problem should be confronted with love; we
have to make an effort to love.
I have opened my life to the service of God (even my psychiatric duties),
even though around me, Christianity is considered to be a heresy. I have
always obtained extraordinary results because I have also tried to help
others with grace. I support the Pope, I believe in the Catholic Church, I've
been a volunteer, and I'm involved in a missionary association.
For twenty years, my mother has been a member of the Neocatechumenal Way,
but my father didn't become a member. For this reason they were totally
separated up until his death. I suffered tremendously and I have found it
impossible to accept many of the things that have happened because they were
things that go against my Faith. Another example, I was thrown out of the
house even though I was a doctor and a successful person. I had been told by
a catechist and by a psychiatrist in the Movement these very words: "We have
bound your mother to obey and we have ordered her to throw you out of the
house." A cloud of pain came down upon me and I left in grief. This allowed
me to reflect on the things underlying this movement. The Lord has allowed
this and now he has sent me many patients who are Neocatechumenate; with me
they feel accepted and understood because I'm very familiar with the
Breakup of the Family
The first problem is the separation of the family. If there is one person,
for example, a spouse who is a Neocatechumen and the other isn't, this
becomes irreconcilable because the sociological, grassroots structure for
the Neocatechumenate is the community and not the family.
The family isn't a human institution. It's something sacred and is
recognized to have been in the life of Jesus - even He was someone who
needed family. It's an observable fact! Jesus was of the family even while
He still belonged to the life of the Father (see the fifth joyful mystery
where happiness didn't come so much from finding his Son [in the temple], as
much as it did from having recognized the duplicity of nature. That is, the
Son belonged to God the Father before he belonged to his parents). But this
is always true: God was the one who wanted the family structure. Therefore,
the family's existence has the right to come before the community structure.
Now in the community there is a situation of absolute obedience to the
catechists (this was described before. Their manner is prophetic since it's
inspired by God). A different definition of roles exists. Single families
don't exist anymore, instead, a large family gathers all the members from
various families and then within this big family the various roles of
parents and children are defined. This is very similar to what occurs in the
Jewish kibbutz. Here, because of the exigencies of this way of life - the
needs for protection and for work to be done, children are the children of
all the parents and all the parents are parents to all the children. There
are many analogies between this pedagogic system and the family structure of
the Neocatechumenate community where authority is vested in the catechist
and not in the father.
This family structure in the community, however, brings with it a whole host
of bigger problems. There are pathologies which crop up within the
community. It can be proven that the authority figure of the catechist is
nothing other than the manifestation of the desire for supremacy and
control. These desires are manifested in a structure which gives greater
doctrinal competence and jurisdiction to certain people who are then able to
wield their power.
When competition breaks out between a man and a woman in this system,
paradoxical situations result. You can find Neocatechumenal couples
(man-woman) who in reality are the fathers-parents of the communal family.
An emotional relationship can take on sexual connotations (not in the sense
of there being any physical relations), but in the sense that the two become
the father and mother of a large extended family.
Now, inside the "regular" family there are rules and arrangements which are
quite well-defined. They serve to protect and establish the limits of
everybody's role in the family. Incest, for example, is a behavioural marker
that serves to define the reciprocal roles of parents-children and
brothers-sisters. When an extended family, like that of the community, lacks
this framework, there are no longer any sexual restrictions. There then can
be pathological relationships between siblings in the community or altered
relationships between parents and children. This is why God created the
Marital fidelity is necessary in order to have a couple that's stable and
able to give precise bearings. When there's no longer a stable relationship
within emotional relationships, there are no longer any sexual boundaries
and "impure" relationships can form which in turn create altered impulses.
This is where the community becomes tremendously dysfunctional.
For example, a woman revealed that her role had been the "lover" of the
male-leader. She had fought against it because in reality she sexually
desired him and despised her husband. She behaved almost to the point of
hiding behind that leader in the community so as to not fail in carrying out
her responsibilities. This woman had raised four of her seven children to be
taught by this authoritative catechist rather than by her husband.
The All-Ecompassing Institution
The community becomes a total institution because it must resolve all the
problems of the people who belong and maintain that no solution which lies
outside the community is possible.
I have a thirty-year-old man in therapy whose parents belong to the
community. He came to me after he had been shut up in the house for four
years. There, he had kept himself busy with the sole task of taking care of
a bonsai. I thought he might have been schizophrenic, but instead, he was
just a typical, unfulfilled adult whose only problems were sexual. So these
were the reasons why he kept to himself.
His parents never talked to him about it, but they did bring him to the
community hoping that he would talk with the catechists. Here lies another
mechanism. Since there aren't any individual parents, but rather a whole
collective of parents, this seemed to guarantee that son would be offered
the best advice.
However, this man wouldn't talk to anyone if he or she wasn't one of his
real parents. Therefore, he progressively became more and more reserved. The
parents told him that the only people who were trustworthy enough were the
people in the community and that's why they had tried to bring him into the
community. But he didn't feel accepted because he was living with the pain
of feeling guilty about his sexual problem (and that was part of it). All
these people had resolved their problems in such a detached way. That made
him feel like an outsider to them. This is what brought on his sense of
Anything outside the community was forbidden because that would have meant
to betray his parents and betraying them was impossible for him because he
was in great need of them. Therefore, the only thing left to do was to stay
cooped up in the house.
After eight months of therapy he began to have confidence in himself again
and to start acting autonomously. Without my knowing it, his parents were
giving him sedatives while I was prescribing antidepressants. I said it was
alright for him to go to the community, but I taught him that this was not
the only recourse. I also taught him that he was the one who let himself
feel alien to that world. In his mind it had been impossible to think that
he could live with a burden like his inside such an institution that by
definition was good.
It's necessary to tell these people that there's a different world outside
the community where it's possible to live without feeling wrong or guilty.
If I'm not of the "salt", [that is, one of the "wise"], and I have only been
"salted" [that is, one of the "knowing"], then my life has been classified
like in sports - to Division II level. It's unacceptable that my child would
live in a situation like that.
The Kind of People who Belong
It's necessary to ask ourselves why this movement exists and why it has been
so successful. We need to find who we can speak to, what we can say, and
what language we can use because it's also important to establish a dialogue
with these marginalized people since they don't have any other hope in their
Unfortunately, deep-down these people feel unfulfilled or like they're
failures. The parishes don't have a pastoral for the failures, for the
marginalized, for those who have made mistakes. Now, the Neocatechumenate
are focusing on people who have no one who listens to them. These people are
fully integrated straight-away in the community and brought to the same
level as the others.
We, however, make the same mistake as the brother of the prodigal son. We
are all brothers and sisters so we have to reunite the brother who has done
wrong, to forgive him for what he has done as if it hadn't ever been done.
The Neocatechumenate welcome people in this way and nothing is required of
them. Just like all communities, it is a place - which is a factor in
psychological and spiritual rehabilitation. "Ordeals bring patience,
patience brings tested virtue, tested virtue brings hope and this will not
Ordeals (like those experienced by people who have done wrong or who are
outside the church) create patience and with it the ability to endure (the
Way doesn't accept this because they say this ability to go on doesn't come
from man). Our impetus doesn't come from labeling someone who has made a
mistake and saying, "he's wrong!" This labeling mechanism is arbitrary.
Instead, we have to feel our guilt and responsibility for our mistakes in
front of God. This Movement exists because it succeeds in doing that. We
need to learn to never ever label and to offer complete forgiveness - a
pardon which gives back "the white robe" (which the confessor gives, not
us), the "ring for his finger" (power), and "sandals for his feet" (that is,
to return to life with dignity).
We tend to label people: "they're crazy", "she's a prostitute", "his
father's a drunk", "she's a Neocatechumen!" We need to welcome and integrate
these people. Unfortunately, these people are adults and they often don't
find anyone in the parish who will listen to them and help them solve the
problems in their relationships because usually more attention is paid to
youngsters or the elderly. And usually, the ones who are making most of the
mistakes are adults or young-adults. Instead, the Neocatechumenate are
welcoming and they offer help. Even the Pope would be in favour of a way to
integrate these brothers and sisters. The Church has no need for a doctrinal
war. We need to establish many individual, human relationships, and teach
[After a short pause, some people from the audience asked the following
Q. What are some recurring pathologies evident in people who have been a
part of this movement?
A. All of these people demonstrate a weak personality, a feeling of failure,
and an incapacity to face their own mistakes. They need to lock themselves
up in a rigid system privy of communication, because otherwise, they would
not be able to accept their own mistakes. It's the most common pathology to
all people who confine themselves to communities, sects, dosed systems,
etc... they don't accept their own limitations.
Q. What illnesses does it bring about?
A. The problem is the individual removes all responsibility from him or
herself; he loses his freedom, he has no more power of discernment, he has
no more will power, and he is no longer conscious of his own errors. This
results in a weakened individual who has no morale, no purpose, no hope, and
no capacity to love. This person can take on a whole variety of illnesses.
Q. Are they pushed to suicide or severe depression?
A. No! I haven't seen this in my own practice nor do I have any statistics
on this. Any closed system which forbids any connections with the outside
world is a system which tends toward the pathological and does not help an
individual's development. There are many cases like this. Certainly, the
fact that there are no more precise, emotional points of reference, the fact
that a child doesn't know who his own father is anymore, that a husband
doesn't have a special relationship with his wife, but instead has an
impartial relationship with a system rather than with another human being...
these are all conditions that aren't beneficial to anyone's mental health.
Rather, they bring about confusion.
From the spiritual point of view, sin is an individual failure. From a
psychological point of view, it is a psychological malfunction. The people
who end up entering these Movements are people who don't live parochial
spirituality. People who have a strong faith don't join the Neocatechumenal
I repeat my plea to pray for our change of heart and for forgiveness,
because only by forgiving them can we help the Church grow. Any show of
anger, rancour, or bitterness would be following in the same direction as
the Neocatechumanate - the direction of self-righteousness and division.
With our prayers we will be able to help them see true grace, true
salvation, and true love. But we will do it only through forgiveness.