Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

shrinking violets

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Jan 03, 2006

Psychologists frequently come in for unfriendly comment by the gang here at Off The Record. It would be mistaken to read this as unfocused Lollardy or a general contempt for the discipline of psychology. One of the OTR bloggers, Dr. Cross, is himself a psychologist (and a pitiless critic of quackery in his field), and we often point to the eminently wholesome work done by Dr. Greg Popcack at HMS Blog, Dr. Joe Nicolosi, Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, Dr. Paul Vitz, and others. There's no intrinsic reason why psychology can't be put at the service of the Church, but it's idle to deny that many in the brigade are fighting for the other side.

The professional academy recognizes both Rosemary Ruether and Joseph Ratzinger as theologians, and in the same way the credentialing agencies license both Joe Nicolosi and Bill Mochon in psychotherapy. Yet to imagine that Nicolosi and Mochon want their patients to arrive at the same destination of healing is as absurd as pretending that Ruether and Ratzinger want to build up the Church in the same way. Where a given profession disputes not only its means but its own ends, one's recourse to the profession is meaningless apart from the professional one chooses to consult.

Look at it this way: If you bring your Camry into the dealer's garage and say, "fix it," you don't need to inquire more deeply about the mechanic's belief system, because you and he share a notion of what a functional Camry is. But if you find your 15-year-old wearing his mother's lipstick, you don't drop him off outside the Counseling Center and wish him luck. You need to know which particular therapist he'll get, and you'll need to know what view of the human person that therapist professes, because the healthy specimen the therapist tries to return to you will vary drastically -- radically -- depending on what he believes human life is meant for.

Reading this CNS interview with a number of psychologists that do seminary screening, one comes away with a strong sense that it's the professional party line, not the Church, that informs the gatekeepers' ideas of human wholeness.

Psychological screeners for seminaries interviewed by Catholic News Service were quick to note ... that the aim is not to single out people because of their sexual orientation but to determine if a candidate is psychologically and sexually mature enough to make a commitment to the celibate priesthood.

The Church says the homosexual libido is a disorder. The APA says it's not. Each of the screeners here interviewed seems to position himself with the APA and against the Church on the issue. All stress the need for "affective maturity," yet one of them asks, "What happens if a person does not want to change his homosexual orientation but can control it?" Most of us will say that the Holy See already answered the question and declared such a person immature, but the main point is that it makes a difference how the gatekeepers themselves will answer it.

The St. Luke Institute posts a number of case studies on its website that are instructive in revealing the philosophy and theology -- and specifically, the view of the human person -- that its therapists bring to their task. One such study concerns a 27-year-old novice:

Jim also related that he is struggling with his attraction to another male novice, something he thought would end when he entered the community. Jim said "this is not acceptable" and that he feels dirty.

Skipping down to the diagnosis:

Jim's shame may be related to an internalized homophobia, resulting from common hostile or degrading responses to persons whose orientation is predominantly homosexual. This would be particularly true if Jim has a shaming, critical family or has internalized negative beliefs and messages regarding sexual orientation from peers, parents, society and some in the Church.

OK, if "internalized homophobia" contributes to Jim's sense of shame, how will St. Luke's fix him? By beginning a course of reparative therapy through which he might grow out of his same-sex attractions and embrace more deeply the wisdom of the Catholic faith? Or by getting him to make peace with his homosexuality so as to have a positive self-image? They're not the same, folks. And at the end of the alternative courses of therapy we'd get two very different priests with two very different attitudes toward the Church.

Or take the case study of another client, Father Jim this time, who has a recurring problem with "seeking attention and affection from anonymous sexual encounters":

Father Jim is stopped for questioning by the police for loitering at a public rest stop. The Bishop is called by one of the police and Father Jim is asked to come to the chancery to meet with the Vicar for Clergy. Father Jim had been arrested and sent for treatment two years ago and everyone thought he was doing better. So, after two years of recovery is he back to where he started?

What happens next is crucial. Does Father Jim lose his faculties? Is he sent back for more inpatient treatment? Is he threatened by the Vicar out of fear that he will return to old behaviors? How Fr. Jim frames what is happening to him and how will he respond are also very important.

Notice anything missing?

Relapse can take many forms: taking a drink, going to the casino, gaining back weight by compulsive eating, returning to the internet for pornography or any of a variety of compulsive behaviors.

True, but some of these behaviors are objectively evil, others aren't. Even if the strictly compulsive aspect of the disorder is cured, what are we to make of the desire itself in the sundry circumstances? Is psychotherapy equilaterally indifferent to any and all appetites provided they're under control?

Father Jim did go back to his assignment. He started going to twelve step meetings and got a solid sponsor. He met with his support group and processed the relapse behavior and together they decided they would begin again to meet with him on a monthly basis for as long into the future as it was helpful. He sought out a mentor from the diocese and a therapist to work with him in his ministerial and personal choices.

A happy ending? It sounds as if it's meant to be, and if Jim were an agnostic welder and his therapist a secular humanist perhaps this is the best we could expect. But St. Luke's is the outfit that has been treating lots of Father Jims in the U.S. Church and returning them to ministry. Do you hear any concern for the spiritual goods at stake? The faith of Jim's congregation, the faith of his companions-in-sin, the faith of the cop who arrested him? Are we to imagine that Jim's parish was informed of his arrest and therapy? If not, how is Jim going to preach, instruct, hear confessions, etc., with integrity? Is there a recognition of penance to be performed in reparation of past sins? Of mortifications employed to preempt future ones? If Jim is free of his need for anonymous homosexual encounters, is his residual -- and, let's imagine, controllable -- desire for non-anonymous homosexual encounters something that needs fixing or not? Again, the answer makes a big difference as to the kind of man we -- all of us Catholics -- can expect the Church to provide for us as a minister.

One man's "internalized homophobia" is another man's Christian Faith, and, when both are shrinks, they can't walk the same path. I'd be happy to be put right here if I'm reading this wrongly, but it would seem that a psychologist -- whether screener or therapist -- has to dissent either from the Church or from the APA, and it would seem that the men we're paying to prepare the next generation (with a few honorable exceptions) are convinced that it's the Church that has it wrong.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a current donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

There are no comments yet for this item.