The National Catholic Review

Few psychiatrists apologize, or have their regrets appear on the front page of the New York Times-- above the fold no less.  But Dr. Robert Spitzer is rightly described as a giant of modern psychiatry.  He has made news many times by taking controversial stands against prevailing opinions.  In the 70’s he was instrumental in fighting the psychiatric establishment in order to have homosexuality delisted as a diagnosed mental illness in the DSM manual.  He had listened to homosexual protesters, reconsidered and restudied the question.

In the late 90’s he listened to another group of ‘ex-gay’ advocates who claimed to have been changed, or cured by ‘reparative therapies.’  So Robert Spitzer was open minded enough to do his own study (surprisingly poorly designed,) using self-report telephone interviews.  Against all advice he published the study’s results that gave credence to the claims for reparative therapy.

Once again Spitzer was attacked by his colleagues.  But this time he also saw his research used in virulent anti-gay campaigns. Others judged the study as flawed and used to harm individuals. Today at 80, although quite ill, he feels morally impelled to publicly retract, repent and apologize to the gay community.  He courageously admits that his critics were correct. 

Anyone who is open minded and courageously challenges their own crowd’s consensus deserves high praise.  I know Bob Spitzer is the real thing because he once asked me to give the pro-life feminist case to his unanimously pro abortion secular friends and colleagues.  It was another ‘throw her to the lions’ event, but Spitzer for one, actually listened to my arguments.

I also understand his present need to apologize for an intellectual lapse.  In conversation before the talk at his house I quoted some pro life article I had just read, stating that abortion was listed in the DSM as a potential cause of post traumatic stress disorder.  But, shamefully, I had not checked this ‘fact.’ Spitzer corrected my error, even tactfully allowing that maybe abortion should be listed in the future.  I was completely mortified, vowing that I would never, ever, again be guilty of carelessly misstating evidence, especially not for my own position.

I maintain that in debate you should correctly state your opponent’s position-- to his or her satisfaction.  Then you can show how and why you judge your own position to be more valid.  Isn’t this the rule of fidelity to the Truth that preserves western civilization?  Humble self correction and apology are also vital signs of virtuous commitments to truth.  Congratulations to Robert Spitzer.  Do we know of other examples, in or out of the church?

Sidney Callahan

Comments

Michael Barberi | 5/22/2012 - 3:47pm
Joseph Fuchs S.J., was against contraception before the Pontifical Birth Control Commission started. However, during the debates of the commission he reversed his opinion (as did many bishops) and became the leader and primary writer of the Majority Report that recommended that contraception (the pill) was moral under certain circumstances in marriage. 
david power | 5/23/2012 - 6:38pm
Tim,

Unfortunately many people will not see a human being behind your brother's words.Inadvertently catholic teaching can be made to make him look as a deviant and nothing else.
People are afraid.We all have fear inside of us.

@Frank,

I think it is a little too pat to reduce the question that Jesus poses to "Do you love me?" High on piety but low on realism.
The Bible is high on realism and the Gospel excels  on it.
I am not sure what the question is.As Jesus lies dying ,killed by those who perhaps knew he was God we can only imagine what drives human hate.
The same instinct that drives us to judge others was what drove us to kill Jesus.We fear doubt.Democrats can get high on hating republicans and vice versa.
The question of Jesus has echoed throughout the centuries and the greatest minds have faced it ,only the poorest of thinkers (priests) have found an easy answer.     
Bill Freeman | 5/23/2012 - 4:28pm
Tim (#11) - Thank you for your wonderful post.  You honor your brother's memory.
James O'Reilly | 5/23/2012 - 3:36pm
My brother was gay; he died many years ago, an early victim of AIDS.
I spent time with him a few weeks before he passed away, saying goodby.
One of the most poignant memories I have is him saying at that time, "If anyone thinks I chose to be gay they have no idea how much I fought it. I began to feel different as a young teenager, was terrified, denied the feelings as long as I could, and have suffered distain and discrimintation for many years. It was not a choice, it was the way God made me".
All of us with gay/lesbian family members likely share similar stories. If I can't be changed from my heterosexual orientation, why do some believe that homosexuals can be changed to hetero? It is a bizzare belief and no worthy of serious debate.
Frank Gibbons | 5/23/2012 - 11:38am
Then in the end Jesus leaves us with as much a question as an answer.

What is that question, David?  The one I find is "Do you love me?"
David Pasinski | 5/22/2012 - 11:28am
Thank you, Ms. Callahan! I would love to hear more prelate say " I made a mistake" rather than "Mistakes were made..."  Thank you for your own admissionas well celebrating Dr. Spitzer's.

Re: the issue itself, however, of "cure." i believe that this concept has been spread and adopted by many in Christian churches and continues to create self- loathing and pain for many persons and that there is much more to do as his legacy to undue that harm. I would like to see if some of the more well known Catholic psychologists who adopted that stance will likewise accept and extend the retraction..
Anonymous | 5/30/2012 - 12:01am
Longchamp Le Pliage
david power | 5/22/2012 - 6:06pm
Very nice writing.Interesting to see who turned up  for this one and who did not.
I think that it is essential to try to put ourselves in the shoes of the other.We can learn so much and oftentimes even have our minds changed.
I have yet to hear a convincing argument for abortion. 
I have yet to see a human response to it from those who promote it.
Homosexual relationships is another kettle of fish..
I think allegiance to the positions of the Church is as poisonous as allegiance to some secular dogma.At this moment there are far more adherents to the latter.
The Gospel is such a round of questions and answers ,it is fascinating.Then in the end Jesus leaves us with as much a question as an answer.
I once favoured Humanae Vitae but have since repented of my position.
It was only the Irish and some poor latin countries that took it to heart.The Italians laughed at it openly.The North of Italy was the first (catholic country)to  fully embrace contraception.The land of 4 Popes in the last century. 
I used to get high on the contrariness of it all, the prophetic gesture.
But now I see that it is of little importance.It is only celibate men who get worked up about it.
Michael Barberi | 5/22/2012 - 5:44pm
Bill:

The author asked the readers "Do we know of other examples, in or out of the church?" Frank Gibbons mentioned Dr. Willam May as a theologian who rejected Humanae Vitae and contraception, but changed his opinion and supported it (e.g., Humanae Vitae). This made sense to me since contraception is a sexual ethical issue like homosexuality is. Thus, the article spoke about a person who supported one opinion about homosexuality, but later reversed his opinion.

Following on what Frank said, I added Joseph Fuchs S.J. as another example of a prominent theologian who held a strong view against contraception (a sexual ethical issue), but changed his opinion as well, in support of it! 

Why have you not asked Frank Gibbons the question you posed to me? Perhaps you missed it?
Bill Freeman | 5/22/2012 - 4:01pm
Michael - #6 - How is your comment relevant to the article at hand?
David Pasinski | 5/22/2012 - 11:28am
Thank you, Ms. Callahan! I would love to hear more prelate say " I made a mistake" rather than "Mistakes were made..."  Thank you for your own admissionas well celebrating Dr. Spitzer's.

Re: the issue itself, however, of "cure." i believe that this concept has been spread and adopted by many in Christian churches and continues to create self- loathing and pain for many persons and that there is much more to do as his legacy to undue that harm. I would like to see if some of the more well known Catholic psychologists who adopted that stance will likewise accept and extend the retraction..
Frank Gibbons | 5/22/2012 - 11:23am
Dr. William May was one of the theologians who signed the public dissent against Humanae Vitae.  He later regretted his decision, repented, and became a supporter of the encyclical. 
Rick Fueyo | 5/21/2012 - 6:19pm
Good for Dr. Spitzer.

I appreciate your rules for debate!   Well said!