|Reception of the Freudian School among American Catholics|
|Even though New York City from the 1920s forward seemed to be in the vanguard of defining “modern” culture, in some arenas, Americans remained decidedly antimodern. In particular, American Catholics were slow to accept the new social sciences in the early twentieth century, especially where materialist notions of the self intruded upon a Christian understanding of free will, and of the sinful body and soul redeemed only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. On the one hand, Americans in general were not fond of deterministic theories of any kind, but psychoanalysis met with special resistance from some Catholic leaders in the United States. Several conflicts between science and faith erupted in the twenties, when psychoanalysis grew in major cities in the wake of the First World War, and again after World War II, when it experienced a second wave of popularity. Before Vatican II, the Church put up strong resistance to Freudianism and indeed, to any so-called “materialist” philosophies and movements. Materialism served as the all-purpose enemy of Catholic orthodoxy since the nineteenth century when it was condemned for denying human free will and ignoring the ultimate authority of God.
A defining moment in the debates between Catholicism and materialism occurred in 1947 with Monsignor Fulton Sheen’s speech at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. He attacked the “four assumptions” of Freudian psychoanalysis as “materialism, hedonism, infantilism and eroticism.” His scathing remarks led several Catholic psychiatrists to resign their positions at New York hospitals in protest of Sheen. Although he later tried to correct what he believed were media misrepresentations of his views, and others rightly pointed out that one monsignor did not represent the entire Catholic population, Sheen’s position had a chilling effect on Catholic reception of psychoanalysis. Nonetheless, some Catholic clinicians and clergy continued to find value in the “new” psychology and worked to integrate it into clinical practice as well as into the curriculum of Catholic colleges and universities.
The paper will examine selected Catholics who attempted to adopt and understand the contributions of Freud and others, and the limits and costs of their acceptance. It will explore the co-existence of antimodern and modern outlooks in the early twentieth century in light of the challenges posed to Catholics by psychoanalysis and psychiatry. I will focus not on the critiques made by Catholic leaders like Sheen, but upon the individuals and institutions who managed to find something useful in psychology, psychiatry, and psychoanalysis for the healing of patients. These include Edward Pace, a Roman-educated priest, and Thomas Verner Moore, a priest-psychoanalyst-psychiatrist who treated traumatized First World War soldiers, and who found spiritual homes in three religious orders (Paulists, Benedictines, and Carthusians). I shall also consider the emergence of a population of middle-class Catholic professionals as a cohort that provided a challenge to the traditional authority of clergy elites. Finally, the paper will consider the transnational influence of European Catholic figures like Cardinal Mercier or Belgium, who was well-disposed toward psychology, and of immigrants to the United States, like Rudolf Allers of Vienna, who was a critic of Freud and an academic colleague of Monsignor Sheen.
The paper maps the growth of interest in psychological techniques in the wake of two world wars which led to the re-examination of a Catholic monopoly on the “cure of souls.” It appears that suspicion of Freud and of psychoanalysis reflected several aspects of Catholicism between 1920 and 1950: support for a revitalized interest in Thomist philosophy emanating from the work of Mercier, who had been invited by Catholic University in Washington, DC to establish the “new psychology” in the U.S.; Catholic notions of the self as possessing an eternal soul whose needs were only properly addressed through the sacrament of confession; and Catholic defenses of a philosophic system based upon the rational, conscious mind.|