Do Catholics believe in psychology?

Posted by Alice L. Camille
Monday 13, April 2015 | Category:   Prayer and Spirituality,Doctrines & Beliefs
 Pope Pius XII addressed the Fifth Congress on Psychotherapy

 The church's relationship with the mental health fields wasn't always cooperative. The clinical disciplines you mentioned arose with 18th-century European pioneers who sought to move beyond traditional institutional restraint to "moral" treatments. In this country, Declaration of Independence signer Benjamin Rush and later Dorothea Dix pushed for gentle, private rehabilitative asylums at the turn of the century. But theirs was viewed as a Protestant effort in that decidedly anti-Catholic phase of American history.

In the century of immigration that followed (1820-1920) with its tremendous stressors on newcomers, the numbers of mentally ill patients overwhelmed U.S. asylum hospitals. The rehabilitation ideal quickly degenerated to basic custody of the ill. Meanwhile, the diagnosis and understanding of mental illness with its physical, conscious, and unconscious elements were advancing under the work of Germans like Wilhelm Wundt and Sigmund Freud. Unfortunately, Freud's theories regarding the basis of sexual morality seemed threatening to Catholic teachings on sin and human responsibility. The church formally viewed the new disciplines as examples of a wayward modern world and did not lend support.

Father Edward Pace, a former student of Wundt, added a psychology department to Catholic University at its founding. Other prominent clergy criticized psychological disciplines as rife with "dogmatic error." In 1953, Monsignor Pericle Felici wrote that Catholics who entered into psychoanalysis were committing mortal sin. Felici was made a cardinal, and popular Catholic mistrust of psychiatry only grew. It should be mentioned that in the same year, 1953, Pope Pius XII addressed the Fifth International Congress on Psychotherapy and Clinical Psychology, imparting a cautious but discernible green light on the fields.

Twentieth-century Catholic lay doctors advanced the cause of psychiatry, including Leo Bartemeier and Francis Braceland, both presidents of the American Psychiatric Association. Gradually the mental health disciplines became less critical of and more receptive to religion as a component of human life. The church's attitude toward these disciplines likewise softened. Today many Catholic clergy view counseling and psychiatric care as a valuable component of pastoral care, and a necessary partner in maintaining good spiritual health.

Scripture: mental illness in biblical times: 1 Samuel 16:14-23; Job 3:1-26; Pss. 13; 22:2-12; 31:10-19; 69; 70; 102; 130; 143; Daniel 4:1-34; Matthew 6:25-34; 8:28-34;  Mark 1:21-27; 9:14-29 

Called to Happiness: Where Faith and Psychology Meet - Sidney Callahan (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011)

Transforming Our Painful Emotions - James and Evelyn Whitehead (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010)

Reprinted with permission from ©TrueQuest Communications.

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