More Psychology Pillow Fighting

Tony at Catholic Pillow Fight asked me:

How do you determine what is correct with regard to psychology?

Is this about correctness or is it about usefulness? Psychologists practice a profession. Church leaders use the tools the profession provides. Tony gives an example:

Psychology claims homosexuality is normal. The Catholic church claims it’s abnormal.

Scientifically, I don’t know. If some homosexuality (conceding easily that some homosexual behavior is nurture, not nature) is genetically programmed into the species, then the scientific basis for normality is a given. The Church comes down hard on genital homosexual behavior as sinful, which it clearly would be for a heterosexual person. I think a homosexual person who gives assent to Church teaching on celibacy has a sure, though probably difficult path to salvation. I don’t think psychology has anything at all to say on the moral front. But biology raises a troubling wrinkle, no matter where one stands on born homosexuals living out their orientation sexually.

Psychology classifies all kinds of sin as “diseases” or “syndromes” (implying that the “sufferer” has little control over it).

That might not be the total view. My experience is with one course in pastoral counseling and years of experience and reading in 12-step programs. 12-steppers would talk about many sins being addictions. Addicts might be at the mercy of their drug of choice, but the path to recovery includes a mandatory recognition of one’s own culpability: confessing to a sponsor, making a list of persons harmed, and making amends. That doesn’t sound like a cop-out on the moral front. Just the opposite: 12-step programs challenge their participants to take moral responsibility in their lives.

If psychologists were wrong about pedophiles a few years ago, why can we believe them about homosexuality now?

Not all psychologists were wrong about pedophilia. Certainly the experience of AA goes back sixty, seventy years. Recovery people have always had grave concerns about sexual addictions. The concede the recovery rate is lower than for narcotics, alcohol, and just about anything else. What if some bishops “shopped” around to find psychological professionals who would tell them what they wanted to hear: we can cure these guys and get them back in the saddle for you. I’d trust psychologists with actual memory to chime in and tell us how many professionals though it was curable in the 70’s. Keep in mind also, that this was a step beyond the pre-conciliar thinking that saw addiction as a moral failing. The pre-70’s solution was to send the guy to confession. Case closed.

How can the Catholic Church trust any “discipline” so infused with leftist politics especially in a time when we’re trying to infuse our new seminarians with more orthodoxy.

In fairness, I don’t think you can prove “infusion.” Feminists would say the Magisterium is impaired so by sexism it can’t make a reasoned judgment on the role of women. There certainly is a sense that individual bishops have clouded perceptions and judgment on it. I don’t buy that train of thought, not entirely. I can’t discount the teaching authority of the Church based on even the knowledge that bishops are, in fact, sexists. My trust in the teaching office of the Church goes beyond individuals and even groups of bishops.

I believe psychology is by nature at odds with the Catholic Church and I also believe that if you don’t have Confession, you are more likely to need a psychologist.

I disagree. I’d hope that priests are able to tell the difference between people who need confession, who need serious psychological attention, or just want to chat. I’d hope they have a familiarity with the basics of psychology–enough to assess if a person is looking for spiritual or mental help. I think that only in uncommon cases does the penitent have enough of a relationship with the confessor so as to sort out separate psychological needs.

If there’s a psychological or sociological tool to get more people to Mass or to the other sacraments, I’d certainly not hesitate to use it.

Like anything else, these sciences provide tools for the user. I don’t boycott medicine and opt for herbs and chiropractors because some doctors provide abortions or euthanasia.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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