Pope Francis saw a psychoanalyst every week for six months

14_12_22_Francis_Curia_01His Holiness of Our Lord has made an interesting revelation. See the story at the UK’s best Catholic weekly (for which I also write), the Catholic Herald.

Pope Francis saw a psychoanalyst every week for six months when he was 42, he has revealed.

The Pope made the disclosure during a series of interviews with French sociologist Dominique Wolton, head of research at CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research) in Paris. [interviews with a sociologist?  I guess that makes sense.  After all, sociology is sort of like journalism in slow motion.]

The interviews are recorded in a new book, Pope Francis: Politics and Society.

In extracts published by Le Figaro, the Pope said: “I consulted a Jewish psychoanalyst. For six months, I went to her home once a week to clarify a few things.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio had finished his six-year term as provincial superior of the Argentine Jesuits, and was named the rector of the Philosophical and Theological Faculty of San Miguel in San Miguel the following year, in 1980.

Pope Francis continued: “She was a doctor and psychoanalyst, and she always knew her place. Then one day, when she was about to die, she called me.”

She didn’t want to receive the sacraments, since she was Jewish, but for a spiritual dialogue. She was a very good person. For six months, she helped me a lot when I was 42.”

The revelation is likely to provoke comment. [Indeed.] Although the Vatican never officially condemned psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud’s work faced disapproval from Catholic thinkers at the time. Strikingly, literary critic Frederick C Crews, a professor of English at the University of California, claims in a new work, ‘Freud: The Making of an Illusion’, that Freud was deliberately anti-Christian.

Obviously none of us are privy to the private conversations of the Argentinian Jesuit and Jewish Psychoanalyst and we should be very careful about how to view this bit of news.

However, the first thing that occurred to me was how some will react.

I can it hear it now.  Libs will say something like, “Isn’t it wonderful that the Pope has made this revelation?  He’s sooooo humble.”

On the other hand, had someone like Card. Sarah or Card. Burke or Pope Benedict revealed that, some decades ago, they saw a psychotherapist, they would shudder with paroxysms of glee and scream, “SEE!  He’s NUTS!  This calls into question everything they have ever done!”

You know down to your bones that that’s exactly what they would do, were a conservative to make such a revelation.

So, dear readers, don’t run around in circles flapping your arms over this news. Prudence.

The moderation queue is ON.

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  1. Maybe just a prayer in this case should suffice.
    Jesus, gentle and humble of Heart, make our hearts like unto Thine. Amen.

  2. Andrew1054 says:

    While I have serious concerns about Pope Francis (pray for him…don’t trash talk him) his seeing a psychologist means nothing and is most definitely NOT an opportunity to be uncharitable. Besides, seeing a good psychologist can be very helpful at certain times in people’s lives. Many priests and seminarians see psychologists, and remember the late great Fr. Benedict Groeschel was a psychologist. There is no shame in seeing one whatsoever. Especially if you can find one that is a practicing Catholic. If you struggle with depression check out this solid book published by Sophia Press (a solid, orthodox Catholic publisher):


  3. un-ionized says:

    Psychoanalysis can be useful when life has thrown you a curveball and you need to figure out how to react. It helps to have a disinterested person to talk to who has skill in dealing with knowing how people react to different situations. Sometimes it’s better when they do not share your religion.

  4. Penta says:

    This will probably be a contrary opinion to everybody else (nobody else’s comments are up yet), but:

    Good. I’ll go even farther and say: If Francis had a clinically significant psychological condition, disclose it. And then move on. Why?

    Because mental illness still carries a massive stigma, in the Church as much as in society. The only way to break said stigma (hence encouraging people to get treatment when they need it – as it’s generally acknowledged by professionals that most people who need mental health treatment don’t get it) is for people to be honest and open about their experiences with it. If Francis still *has* such a condition, it’s a different ballgame of course, but if he had it in the past and it’s not a clinical issue now? Disclose it, state that fact, move on. No need to make a production out of it, just be matter of fact.

    If the Pope of all people can (earlier in life) have seen a psychologist for clinical reasons and (obviously) been pretty much OK and successful, that makes it harder for people to avoid getting help if they need it. Takes away an excuse pretty strongly, I figure. “If the Pope can do it, what makes you so special?”

  5. Ellen says:

    That doesn’t bother me at all. I went to see a psychologist after my father died and I was dealing with grief and some other issues. I also went to see a priest during this time too. I am quite sure that Pope Francis went to a spiritual director and confessor at the time when he was seeing the analyst. In my case, both the psychologist and the priest helped me greatly and I am indebted to both of them.

  6. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    I don’t think it is any of our business to speculate about this. People see psychologists for a variety of reasons. I saw one for a time after my parents divorced when I was 10. It helped.

  7. bobbird says:

    I believe that the initial skepticism that Catholics had for psychoanalysis was very good: the agnostic/atheistic world that worships science believes that nothing is spiritual, and all is a matter of physiology, nerves fed by electrical impulses, irregular childhood experiences. But we ALL have such things. It’s a Fallen World. They cannot accept that. They believe that these anamolies can be “cured” by delving into the invisible tissues of memory … thus neglecting the spiritual, and pretending that the Mind and the Spirit are not connected as a whole. I am reminded of Scrooge’s disdain for Marley’s ghost as being “more of gravy than of grave”.

    Psychiatry lost whatever anchor to the truth it may have had when, intimidated by the new aggressiveness of homosexuals in the 60s, abandoned the treatment of homosexuality as a psychosis, and accepting the new norms of “alternative lifestyles”. Hell has been very patient, and we see now how it has infiltrated the Church. It’s a nasty war that’s being fought over us.

  8. Polycarpio says:

    In my youth, I was skeptcial of psychoanalysis because I saw people use it as an unneeded crutch and it seemed to me that they were addicted to it, as @bobbird notes, to the exclusion of spiritual concerns. But 24 sessions to address a specific issue does not appear to be excessive.

    As to @bobbird‘s final point, about the profession losing its way over treating homosexuality as a psychosis, to me the greater failing is in how it has muted concerns about the effects of same sex parents on children. When I studied psychology in college, I learned that children needed a mother and a father for healthy modeling about gender roles. It was in my textbook that there were three different identities to be concerned about: gender at birth, sexual preference/orientation, and gender identity. Today, everyone acts as if there is only one (identity) that supersedes all the others and there is no science behind it; whatever was in my textbook appears to have been mysteriously erased.

  9. JuliB says:

    I think that we’re blurring the lines between a psychoanalyst and a psychotherapist/therapist. A psychoanalyst is a very specific type of therapist, and I’m less than thrilled at their outlook.

    So what did he see? Unfortunately, between the Pope’s lack of verbal clarity / precision / accuracy, coupled with translation issues, we’ll never really know.

    If just a regular therapist, more power to him for using any tools available for him to grow as a person.

  10. un-ionized says:

    There are many schools of psychoanalysis too, let’s not forget that. Some (few) follow Freud, some (few) follow Horney, etc.

  11. Geoffrey says:

    This does not bother me at all, but I do not see the reason to publicize every single aspect of our lives, whether you are His Holiness of Our Lord or simple layman.

  12. excalibur says:

    After Hurricane Harvey did its damage, His Holiness says we need to listen to the earth. Oh my. Your Holiness, you need to listen to the declining church attendance, the lack of vocations, the mess made of the Mass in so many places, etc.

  13. Cosmos says:

    I’m with JuliB. Psychoanalysis is not the same thing as simple counseling or psychological treatment. It was a psuedo-scientific psychiatric practice dealing with the effects of the unconscious, primarily neurosis. Insofar as it was influenced by guys like Frued and Jung, it could get pretty weird.


    The interesting part of this story isn’t that he may or may not have been under a ton of stress and seen a doctor. Its that psychoanalysis often assumes an anthropology that is incompatible with Christian anthropology, just like, say, communism. You can have some socialist views as a Catholic, but communism and Catholicism are ultimately incompatible. You can use techniques of psychoanalysis, but old school psychiatrists that bought into it often saw religion as a human construct and pathology that was rooted in all kinds of negative stuff.

    Depending on who the doctor is and what she thinks, this may be an example of the Pope looking for answers (intentionally or not) outside of the Church at a tough time in his life. That is not to say that is what he was doing, or what he was intentionally doing. But, to me, it’s a lot like the dabbling with transcendental meditation that a lot of monks were doing in the 1980s and 1990s.

  14. Jann says:

    A psychoanalyst is very, very different from a psychologist. The psychoanalyst attempts to deal with the unconscious mind to help the client discover the hidden causes of his neurosis or personality/behavior disorder which he does not understand. It is intense therapy. And since the client does not understand at all why he acts/reacts as he/she does, he/she is open to the interpretation of the psychoanalyst of what is transpiring in his/her unconscious.

    A well-known psychoanalyst whom I met socially was known for saying “Behind every neurosis is a hidden psychosis”. Psychosis is presumed. The person I knew was very uncomfortable in his profession and so critiqued it but had his own problems. I saw that his dreams influenced or even perhaps ruled him. Psychoanlysis is atheistic at its core, and sees souls untouched by grace.

  15. Charles E Flynn says:

    Sir Karl Popper, who received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for his “services to humanity”, was surprised to find that he was the first to explain why Einstein was a scientist, and Marx and Freud were quacks.

    From https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/ :

    The dominance of the critical spirit in Einstein, and its total absence in Marx, Freud and Adler, struck Popper as being of fundamental importance: the pioneers of psychoanalysis, he came to think, couched their theories in terms which made them amenable only to confirmation, while Einstein’s theory, crucially, had testable implications which, if false, would have falsified the theory itself.

  16. Jann says:

    To add to my previous comment:
    It would seem that the typical client for a psychoanalyst is a person who does not understand, hasn’t a clue, as to why he acts/reacts as he does. So, to get at the cause, the root of it, he seeks and entrusts himself to a psychoanalyst who endeavors to uncover the cause in his unconscious — but the psychoanalyst will already have his own views, which the client tends to accept since he himself doesn’t have a clue to the root cause.

  17. fr.ctl says:

    It does not concern me that the Holy Father met with a therapist in his life. But I do find it curious that he would divulge that information to the world. More disconcerting are the comments His Holiness apparently made bemoaning the rigidity of others, particularly priests and the young, as a sign of sickness.

    [That is an interesting juxtaposition.]

  18. TonyO says:

    If the Pope, as a middle-aged man, needed therapy 40 years ago for a mental health issue, he is right to have sought therapy. God bless him for having sought treatment. And if the treatment helped, then that too is a blessing. And it is probably a good thing for him to talk about it now.

    If the Pope, as a middle-aged priest, former provincial superior, and rector of a theological faculty, could not discern the potential moral and spiritual pitfalls of going to a psychoanalyst, and in particular the dangers of psychoanalysis not by a Catholic but a Jew, this however speaks of a very worrisome judgment. It is bad enough that the state-of-the-art of the mental health sciences as a whole are beset by a number of gravely anti-Catholic theories and practices. As mentioned above by bobbird, the subset of the mental health profession filled by psychoanalysts have rather more difficulties than some other mental health professionals, with respect to the way their understanding is compatible with Catholicism. It is (probably) not 100% impossible to be a psychoanalyst and to practice it without running afoul of sound Catholic teaching of the human person, but it would take a dedicated effort to manage it. It is (probably) not what one would expect to find in a Jewish psychoanalyst.

    It is sometimes possible to go to a psychiatrist or psychologist who is not Catholic (or at least Christian) and receive good treatment for a mental health disorder, i.e. not only treatment that helps you get over the disorder but does so while leaving your faith and your spiritual and moral integrity intact. But (a) it is not a given, and therefore (b) an added risk that one should attempt to avoid if possible.

    It is possible that Fr. Bergoglio at the time could not find a suitable Christian mental health professional who could help him. But he doesn’t seem to imply or hint at anything of the sort. His blase description, by its simplicity, suggests that for his purposes her Jewishness was almost an irrelevancy – which is seriously worrisome an attitude to take when searching for a mental health therapist. To put it as generically as I can: a doctor’s treatment methods for a mental health disorder are not “content neutral” regarding what the doctor thinks is the nature and purpose of the human person. There is no such thing as psychology as practiced that does not depend on some assumptions about the human person that are either conformable with Catholic teaching or are incompatible with it. It is not an irrelevancy that the therapist have the right beliefs about the human psyche.

  19. rbbadger says:

    There is nothing wrong with seeing a therapist, but yes, the stigma is still very much present. I am not troubled by the Holy Father’s having gone to a therapist. It was a very difficult time in his life. The times mentioned are right after his having been removed as provincial of his province.

    I am troubled by his armchair psychoanalysis of others, particularly of traditionalists or the clergy. As a priest, I want to be a loyal son of the Church. However, it is very difficult for me to listen to Pope Francis, particularly when he uses (and abuses) psychology in this way. Many of your priests, myself included, suffered at the hands of formators who tried to psychoanalyze us and diagnose us with psychological problems (i.e., rigidity) despite having no credentials in the field of psychology or psychiatry. I had formators like this. It took years for some healing to begin. It is one reason among many that I find it very difficult to like Pope Francis. He reminds me of formators I had in the seminary. He reminds me of the men who abused us psychologically. It causes me pain, as I want to be a loyal son of the Church and very much want to like the Successor of Peter.

    Psychoanalysis is best left to those who are qualified to practice it. It can be a force for great good.

  20. Phil_NL says:

    So, Fr Bergoglio had a problem, needed to talk about that, and did so. And apparently it helped rather than made it worse (which is a risk if you get a quack). Good for him.

    Some people might have doubts about who he went to talk to. For all those second-guessing that call, also wonder how many alternatives were available. Psychological help may not have been thick on the ground in 1979 Argentina.

    And apparently the help was not all a one-way street, as the therapist wanted to talk to Fr Bergoglio towards her end. That’s something too.

    So in sum, nothing to see here, except for the inevitable Pope Francis scholars who will want to write his bio or use every bit of info, relevant or not, in his favor or against him. But the sad conclusion is that such a story would indeed have been given a very different treatment if it had concerned different persons. That is very tiresome indeed.

  21. Imrahil says:

    My opinion on this – not that it would be important – tends to agree with all aspects of the very nuanced view the dear TonyO presented here.

  22. PA mom says:

    From early on, I have felt there were odd contradictions in the Pope’s manner of liberalism.
    His views of Faith are conservative; he truly seems to hold true to the Faith, yet he appears to entrust power to, and looks for advice from, those who clearly hold contrary views and have slippery ways of discussing the Faith. Then there is the way he verbally undermines conservatives, when it appears that he was just such a priest himself.
    It is a bit odd, to my mind, like someone who was aggressively talked out of the truth about himself, and, wounded, does the same to others who resemble his own past person.

  23. KateD says:

    Where I’m from everyone went for ‘psychoanalysis’, c’est normal. Though it was difficult to find an actually trained psychoanalyst…lol…more difficult now, I suppose, since they were ancient when I was young. Most people were really in ‘therapy’ with a psychologist or psychiatrist.

    It was perceived like going to the gym, getting a routine physical. Just a normal part of maintaining one’s health and knowing oneself.

    What I’m saying is that in certain circumstances this is not an indicator of mental problems.

    Given the facts made available in this situation, however, namely the that he only did it for a short number of weeks and the comment that she helped him a lot when he was 42, indicate there was a psychological difficulty that required attention from a professional. It wasn’t severe enough for hospitalization, so, yeah….How is this news?

    To me it reads like this: “Now this breaking news….in 1967 Jorge Bergoglio, had the sniffles and went to the doctor.”

    So what?

  24. KateD says:

    In reading over the comments of others, I have to say that the fact that his psychoanalyst was Jewish is not disconcerting in the least. All the best were. Just like doctors and lawyers, if you want a good one….

    Catholics have been late to the mental health game, in general. Even today, one is hard pressed to find a good Catholic therapist.

  25. Jann says:

    It does not at all surprise me when a person who has seen a psychoanalyst (please, I am NOT speaking of psychologists), or a person who is in influenced by psychoanalyst literature, comes to see everyone, all men, as motivated and ruled by hidden psychoses, and exhibits a pervading cynicism and even an enmity towards others.

    For if a person acts and reacts to persons and things in a way which he himself does not understand or is able to control, and has not benefitted from the Catholic faith and its understanding of man, of the Catholic understanding of original sin (as a result of which man’s reason was weakened but not completely vitiated), and of the grace of the Redeemer offered to all, and instead seeks out a psychoanalyst to look for answers in his unconscious mind, he is thereby necessarily (1) bypassing the faculty of reason in his search, (2) entrusting himself to a person who purports to have knowledge of the workings of the unconscious and (3) inherently acquiescing to that person’s theories of the nature of man, and of his value-system. He has more or less surrendered his mind and will to the psychoanalyst who, he hopes, will uncover what he has not been able to discover.

    If psychoanalysts have the view that all neuroses, personality problems, and behavior disorders originate from psychoses, then it is understandable that clients of psychoanalysts may come to the view, if they already do not consciously do so, that all men suffer and act and react due to hidden psychoses, that men are victims of their passions and are not easily able to subdue them. And so the best that can be done is perhaps to become aware of these passions and try to become tolerant and accepting of others’ passions. Reason and self-discipline are not regarded as effectual. In this view, we are actually no better than (and indeed much worse than mere) animals. It is the view which our Enemy has long tried to induce us to have of ourselves.

  26. Jann says:

    The problem with psychoanalysis in contradistinction from psychological therapy is that there is an authority figure, an “expert on the unconscious” who tells you that you suffer from a psychosis, which, of course, you are unconscious of. There is no defense. And further, you may be told that your entire conscious “belief system”, etc. is a defense mechanism.

    Our Holy Father apparently sees psychoanalysis (again, I am NOT referring to psychological therapy) can be a great good. Perhaps he will soon be recommending that all “conservative” Catholics see one. In any case, he has shown that he sees many, if not all, “conservative” Catholics as sick.

  27. TonyO says:

    I have to say that the fact that his psychoanalyst was Jewish is not disconcerting in the least. All the best were. Just like doctors and lawyers, if you want a good one….

    Catholics have been late to the mental health game, in general. Even today, one is hard pressed to find a good Catholic therapist.

    KateD, it is true that there are too few Catholic mental health professionals, and it can be hard to find one. I know this from my own experience.

    Nevertheless, it is very far from unimportant whether your therapist is Catholic, or Christian, or Jewish. The meaning of “good outcome” as a mental health standard cannot be separated from the nature of the human psyche and the relationship of that psyche to moral and spiritual health. Any attempt to pass of a Jewish professional as a “good therapist” without taking note of the ways in which their understanding of the interrelationship of the psyche, the moral and the spiritual self affects their therapy is just too short-sighted. Yes, in a given instance (especially if the mental health difficulty is relatively minor, as Fr. Bergoglio’s seems to have been), a Jewish or even atheist therapist may produce improvements in the patient’s overall condition. But the longer the patient is in therapy, and the more deep-seated the problem is, the greater the probability becomes that the therapist’s understanding of the above relationship will color what he or she is trying to achieve as the “good” outcome, and this could even result in a patient whose difficulty is “cured” at the cost of a real warping of the person’s overall spiritual condition.

    Psychoanalysis in its own right has often been castigated by other health professionals as being an unfounded theory of mental health therapy. I don’t have to settle that debate to know that, at a minimum, some practitioners of the art are not exactly in tune with Catholic teaching on the human person. This is sufficient reason to be wary of the art and to be particularly cautious of who is practicing the art.

  28. jenne says:

    If the Netflix series on Pope Francis has some truth to it, it may be that he saw his friend who was a psychotherapist because of their friendship. I wish I knew more of the history of Argentina as he lived there. It appears to have been a terrible time for him.

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