When the Counselor Comes

June 10, 2013 | 0 comments

Just as listening at doors carries its own punishment, so does Googling yourself: Sometimes you find out things people say about you that you'd rather not know. Nonetheless, in my line of work, it is a recurring necessity. If someone comes to me concerned about how an apologetics answer I've published has been received by the public, oftentimes I must use Google to find out what occurred.

Last week, the need again arose. While scrolling through the search results on Google, I found this post, in which a blogger recounts her experience discussing one of my online apologetics answers with another blogger, a Catholic gentleman who prefers to remain anonymous but describes his site as offering "Catholicism without compromise." 

In the Ask an Apologist Q&A that raised Mundabor's ire, a woman presented a problem she and her husband were having:

My sister is gay and is "married" (through a civil ceremony) to her partner. My husband is very conservative, and I, too, believe the Bible is clear about homosexuality. My husband wants nothing to do with my sister, and doesn't even want her visiting our home when he is not around. Is he right to draw this line, and should I support him in this?
I've responded to numerous questions on homosexuality on the Catholic Answers Forums and EWTN over the years—upholding the Church's teaching—but this lady agreed with her husband on the immorality of her sister's acts and did not appear to disagree with the Church on doctrine or morals. So I decided to focus on what seemed to be the point of contention between this couple: The wife's evident discomfort with her husband's mandate that the sister no longer visit their home (at least during his absence).
I think the issue here is that your husband is acting in an unjustly authoritarian fashion, treating your mutual home as "his alone" by forbidding you, an adult woman, from allowing your sister to visit you in your own home [when he is not there]. I'm afraid this problem really has nothing to do with your sister and her "marriage." It has to do with your husband's approach to your own marital relationship and your own apparent tentativeness about making clear to him that he is acting inappropriately toward you. I can only recommend that you speak with a marriage counselor, preferably with your husband but on your own if necessary. Please contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute, a Catholic counseling apostolate, for personalized assistance.
I accept that a reasonable case could be made for taking other approaches to answering this question. There is room for expansion, or for focus on different aspects of the question.
 
Had my inquirer disagreed with her husband about the morality of homosexuality, I'd have addressed that issue. I realize that I depended on my inquirer's description of her husband, and that the characterization might not be entirely accurate. She chose, rightly or wrongly, to characterize her husband as "very conservative," as "want[ing] nothing to do with my sister," and as "draw[ing] this line" (forbidding the sister to enter their home when he is not there). But I believe that a charitable approach to answering questions is to ordinarily take people at their word.
 
In Mundabor's response, his main complaint seems to be that I suggested marriage counseling:
Tra moglie e marito non mettere il dito ("do not put your finger between a husband and a wife"), says the wise Italian. The Catholic Answers apologist puts an entire counsellor [sic]. ... This so-called 'apologist' needs a very good rapping before she is kicked out, and I truly hope she is never allowed to instruct Catholic women preparing for marriage. ... I can assure you from endless, and continued experience—this 'let's put a third person in our controversy' mentality ... would be considered the result of an acute [redacted] attack and controlling mania.

If I understand Mundabor correctly—he acknowledges difficulties with English, as it is not his first language—he believes it is foreign to a Catholic understanding of marriage to suggest a married couple experiencing difficulties seek help from a marriage counselor. What does the Church say on this issue?

Bl. John Paul II, in his Letter to Families, said:

Experience teaches that human love, which naturally tends towards fatherhood and motherhood, is sometimes affected by a profound crisis and is thus seriously threatened. In such cases, help can be sought at marriage and family counselling centres [sic], where it is possible, among other things, to obtain the assistance of specifically trained psychologists and psychotherapists.
Bah! might respond someone suspicious of developments following the Second Vatican Council. That's John Paul II! What about the popes who reigned gloriously and without compromise before Vatican II?
 
Glad you asked. Ven. Pius XII, "to the Fifth International Congress on Psychotherapy and Clinical Psychology given on April 13, 1953," said in his address:
Be assured that the Church follows your research and your medical practice with her warm interest and her best wishes. You labor on a terrain that is very difficult. But your activity is capable of achieving precious results for medicine, for the knowledge of the soul in general, for the religious dispositions of man and for their development.
Although the Church does not believe that psychology has all the answers—any more than it thinks any of the natural sciences can answer all of man's questions or deepest longings without being informed by divine revelation—it is not hostile to the legitimate advances of psychology and the assistance mental health professionals can give to families in crisis. It is not illegitimate then for an apologist to suggest that a husband and wife seek assistance from a marriage counselor when they are having difficulties they cannot resolve on their own (as evidently was the case here since the wife reached out to a third party for help).
 
Mundabor did not approach me with a question to be answered. If I were to treat his post as if it were a question for me, I'd thank him for expressing concern about my answer and remind him that all human counseling ultimately finds its inspiration and model in the person of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 15:26). Then I would point him to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which states:
To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way: Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved (2478).

Michelle Arnold is a staff apologist at Catholic Answers. You can contact her online through Facebook.
Modern Moral Problems: Trustworthy Answers To Your Tough Questions
Modern Moral Problems: Trustworthy Answers To Your Tough Questions addresses moral quandaries that can beguile and confuse faithful Catholics.

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