Page 8, 6th June 2003

6th June 2003
Page 8
Page 8, 6th June 2003 — Episcopal Freudianism and its tragic results

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Locations: Boston


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Episcopal Freudianism and its tragic results

'Bishops began to accept psychiatry as a secular cousin to confession'. And thus arose the scandals of paedophile priests ...sent for psychiatric treatment'

Mary Kenny •

Indistinctly remembered being told, as a child, that the Catholic Church did ot approve of Freud and Freudian psycho-analysis. The tendency of psycho-analysis and psycho-therapy was wrong because it "excused sin", rather than confronting it. It persuaded the individual that there were no absolute concepts of right and wrong, only therapies in which the patient could be at ease with himself.

In America, the popular Bishop Fulton Sheen underlined this Church opposition to Freudian therapy: Bishop Sheen, on his popular TV show, "Life is Worth Living" in the 1950s, urged Catholics to seek forgiveness for their sins "on their knees in prayer, rather than on their back on a couch".

It now seems regrettable that the Church did not maintain its original opposition to psychotherapy, which has often been called "a sham science", and has apparently misled Church authorities down a blind alley in the management of sexual abuse scandals. According to a major article just published in the June 9 issue of The New Yorker, throughout the 1970s and 80s the Catholic Church in

America sent priests with sexual problems to shrinks, and then returned them to parishes when convinced that the men in question were "cured" by their sessions with the psychiatrist "Bishops began to accept psychiatry as a secular cousin to Confession."

And thus arose the scandals of paedophile priests such as Father John Geoghan, of Weston, near Boston, who was removed from four successive parishes after accusations of paedophile offences. Whereas in sterner times, Geoghan would have been first silenced, and subsequently unfrocked, now he was sent for psychiatric treatment. In the end, he was charged with his offences, sentenced to ten years in a penitentiary, and in 2002 the Archdiocese of Boston had to settle six civil lawsuits brought against him, paying out ten million dollars in compensation.

A high price, all round, for a naive belief that 'Therapy" can cure sin. In fact, in over 75 years of practice, there has never been any evidence that psycho-therapy could heal any aberration. Short episodes of counselling can succour some individuals in an acute crisis, and cognitive psychology can help a person see the negative patterns they create and reenact in their lives.

Drugs can alleviate some depressions and mental disorders. But it now seems that the original Christian idea that there are some sins which simply have to be repressed – "Thou shalt not do it!" – was a better practical strategy than sending offenders off to be treated by the heirs of Freud. According to The New Yorker, the "conversion" of the

Catholic Church to Freudianism took place in the 1960s when an influential

Catholic psychiatrist, the late Dr Francis J. Braceland of the Institute of Living in Connecticut began to convince bishops and other church figures of the benefits of the psychiatric profession. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the shrinks were touting fcw business. Which they duly got.

Catholic clergy with mental problems had previously been committed to church-run asylums, in which psychiatry was not favoured — it was described as "confession without absolution". But as the 1960s turned into the 1970s, the old prohibitions were broken down, and from this period onwards, erring clergy were despatched to the shrink. Some of the shrinks are now saying that the Church used their evaluations as a cover or an excuse to return disturbed priests to the ministry.

Yet the Church proved a rich source of revenue, too, for psychiatry. "With priests... the pocket was bottomless," one psychiatrist claims. "The Church would pay what it took, for as long as was necessary."

think it is right to exercise compassion for any person with paedophile tendencies, or any other similar disorder. To be so afflicted is a great cross. I have interviewed paedophiles and they are to be pitied. But Christian compassion for the person does not mean that the culture of therapy is a remedy. Revising the critical attitude to Freudianism has cost the Catholic church dear. Some "rigidities" – as old rules are now sometimes called – were not only right, but also more effective.

P P Elizabethi ttlhe gold

en ilee of her Coronation this week, an anniversary marked with fervour by Protestant Loyalists in Northern Ireland, and ignored by Catholic Republicans.

A poet I know was trying to explain the North of Ireland to a French writer, and he said: "there are Catholics and Prot-estants, and there are Loyalists and Republicans." "And naturally," said the Frenchman, "the Protestants are the Republicans, and the Catholics are the Royalists. After all, Throne and Altar must go together, yes?' No: but a certain historical logic, to be sure.

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