In new book, Pope Francis says he consulted a psychoanalyst, speaks about the women in his life

CNS photo/Paul Haring CNS photo/Paul Haring 

In a new book, Pope Francis reveals that he consulted a Jewish psychoanalyst once a week for six months when he was 42 years old and that it “helped me a lot at a moment in my life…when I needed to clarify things.” He disclosed this very personal detail of his life for the first time in a book-length interview with a French intellectual, Dominique Wolton, that will be published on Sept. 6, the day the pope travels to Colombia.

A report on the book first appeared in French media.

In this 432-page book, Pope Francis: Politics and Society. Conversations with Dominique Walton, the Jesuit pope shares hitherto unknown aspects of his personal life and his vision of the world. He talks about many subjects including the migrant crisis, pedophile priests, “the fear” that is gripping Europe today, politics and religion, dialogue between religions, globalization, the inequalities in today’s world, ecology, relations with Islam, fundamentalism, ecumenism, the family, communion for the divorced and remarried, joy and much else.

He also speaks about the women who have influenced him, including his mother, his two grandmothers and a communist woman in Buenos Aires—Esther Ballestrino de Careaga, who was killed during the military dictatorship in Argentina after founding the movement of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. He describes these women as “courageous.”

He talks, too, about other women in his life, including childhood sweethearts and adolescent girlfriends, and says, “I thank God for having known these true women in my life.” He confides that his relation with women “has enriched my life.” He underlines how women see things differently from men, “and it is important to listen to both.”

He repeats his opposition to gay marriage but accepts the civil union of people of the same sex.

He sees his role as pope as that of “a pastor,” and though he feels he is living in a cage in the Vatican he says, “I remain inwardly free.”

This book is the fruit of more than a dozen interviews conducted by Mr. Wolton, over one year, with the first Latin-American pope. Mr. Wolton, 70, a French sociologist, is founder of the Institute of the Sciences of Communication of the CNRS in Paris, and author of some 30 books, including an extended interview with the late archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger.

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Beth Cioffoletti
3 weeks 2 days ago

I love the way Francis shares himself with us, shows us his struggles and vulnerabilities. He is one of the most authentic human beings I have ever been able to watch, in real time, in real life.

J. Calpezzo
3 weeks 2 days ago

Amen.

Lisa Lindsey
3 weeks 1 day ago

I agree Beth. Well said.

Paul White
3 weeks 2 days ago

He is indeed. We need him to be pope for a long, long time.

Beth Grant-DeRoos
3 weeks 2 days ago

Be prepared for Esther Ballestrino de Careaga the communist woman in Buenos Aires to be mentioned a LOT in America conservative media to suggest Pope Francis isn't a true Christian but a socialist communist sympathizer.

But he is such a kind humane man to me and the fact he sought therapy I hope and pray encourages others to seek therapy if they need it!

J Cosgrove
3 weeks 1 day ago

Are you trying to inoculate Francis from her affect on him. He acknowledges he eagerly looked forward to reading the communist literature she provided. But said he sought other political views.

So was he affected by her?. What does this book say about her or his political views?

The knock on Pope Francis is twofold, 1) that he speaks on topics on which he has no expertise (e.g. economics and climate) and 2) has advocated doctrinal positions that seem to contradict Church doctrine through the centuries. All in the name of mercy and thus an emotional appeal and not a rationale appeal.

Frank Pray
3 weeks ago

I agree that the arch conservative segment of Catholicism will use his relationship with Esther as evidence for their pre-formed conclusions that Pope Francis is a leftist, anti-capitalist, pro-socialist revolutionary aiming to upend the basic doctrines of the Church. You can read this diatribe day in and out on First Things for example.

This September book will be a call to arms for that cadre. Pope Francis understood that I'm sure, and had the authenticity and courage to reveal to the world the real man behind the Vatican walls. We are blessed to be given this insight into his humanity. He knows that a true pastor reveals and shares his heart with his people. This is a necessary condition of giving and receiving love.

As for the argument that he speaks on topics of which he doe not have expertise, this is a false argument. He is the Pope, with all the resources of information and analysis of experts, and with the intellectual ability and spiritual duty to provide guidance after weighing the expert information. Do we really want a silent Pope who ignores the permanent harm being done to the Climate or the inhuman suffering caused by economic dislocations?

But one thing I do not understand as previewed in the book: How can Pope Francis say that homosexual unions are scripturally wrong, but also announce his approval of civil same-sex Unions? This must be a mistake. I suspect he said that we must respect the law, and accord civil same sex marriage partners the the same dignity and respect we would show any of our fellow citizens. This respect is justified even as we recognize the marriage to be sinful and the practice of homosexual sex to be spiritually disordered. What I hope Francis will say is what he has said before: Neither he, nor we, are to judge the gravity or consequence of the sin. God alone has that privilege. God alone will see into the hearts of two people in love, and will weigh that love in the balance.

As for the comments of the Pope's use of a Jewish psycholanalyst 40 years ago, a spiritual director does not have the tools of a trained psychoanalyst. When we seek medical/psychological care, we don't filter our choices by ancestry or religion, but by competency and reputation.

But one thing is clear, this Pope will not be silenced or intimidated by his attackers.

Robert Killoren
2 weeks 6 days ago

Indeed. As Catholics we can support civil unions as prescribed by law. It is quite different than accepting abortion or racial discrimination prescribed by law.

Frank Pray
2 weeks 6 days ago

If a Catholic legislator or politician is acting consistently with his faith, I think that person must be ready to make the case against same sex unions on theological and moral grounds. But, as a business person offering services without discrimination, or as a judge or lawyer serving the public according to law, I think the nature of the sin does not require us to violate the law. There is a significant tmoral difference between abortion and accepting the legal reality of same sex marriage. In the first case, the gravity of the injustice may call for civil disobedience. The case of civil unions does not seem to require the same level of resistance. But I disagree with your statement that we can "support" same sex unions.

Roberto Blum
2 weeks 6 days ago

Salzman and Lawler in their book "Sexual Ethics: A Theological Introduction" make a good case that same-sex acts cannot always be construed as disordered and sinful. Thus, even Sacramental same-sex marriage may be possible and real.

We need to remember that catholic marriage is a contract, a consortium and a sacrament. A contract and a consortium are legal institutions, both civil and canonical. As catholics we believe that sacraments are efficient, and thus a sacramental marriage is efficient if the contracting couple – the marriage ministers – are willing to commit themselves before God and share their bodies in mutual love.

Frank Pray
2 weeks 5 days ago

I appreciate your reference. Salzman and Lawler are Catholic theologians based at Creighton. Like many current Catholic academics, they advocate a post Vatican II expansion of thought to include what they see as broader dynamics of human progress. They engage in a cultural anthropology to distance themselves from commitment to any one cultural or historical "truth." This inquiry is the usual mode of intellectual freedom of the University, with a heavy dose of skepticism.

I have not read the book, but took the time to search the abstracts and reviews. My impression thus far is that their ethics are only loosely connected to Natural law and the Scriptures. Catholic tradition emphasize the centrality of procreation within sacramental marriage. Homosexuality until quite recently wasn't within the realm of imagined accommodation. Here's the tension that catalyzes the debate: Scripture and the magisterium on the one hand identify homosexual acts as sinful, while Salzman and Lawler as progressive academics in the 21st Century want to make such sources relative to the times. It is good to stimulate debate, and better to base faith on reason, and there is room for Salzman and Lawler, but I urge us not to drink every kool-aid that's offered.

Frank Pray
2 weeks 6 days ago

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Frank Pray
2 weeks 6 days ago

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Frank Pray
2 weeks 6 days ago

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Frank Pray
2 weeks 6 days ago

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Lisa Weber
3 weeks 2 days ago

It is nice to hear Pope Francis say that women see things differently than men and it is important to listen to both.

Henry George
3 weeks 1 day ago

Perhaps it is just me, but with all the possible Jesuit Spiritual Directors
he could have turned to, why did the Pope
turn to a Jewish Psychoanalyst ?

Hanna Sarah
3 weeks 1 day ago

Sometimes you need spiritual direction, sometimes you need a psychologist. I find them to be very different experiences.

Henry George
3 weeks 1 day ago

Hanna,

Unless Francis had a serious psychological disorder -
in which case he needed to see a Psychiatrist -
all he needed, as Freud admitted late in his life,
is a couple of good friends
to share his honest thoughts and feelings with.

What could the psycho-analayst provide him that a good Spiritual Director could not ?

German Otalora
3 weeks 1 day ago

Psychoanalysis is not only for seriously disturbed persons. The honest dialogue between client and therapist can help anybody looking for clarification and deep understanding in his life. Spiritual direction does not have this function, but to clarify the movements of God in a soul and the person´s resp0nse to these movements.

Henry George
2 weeks 5 days ago

German,

One would hope that Francis would be able to have a honest dialogue with his Spiritual Director, why even one trained
in "modern means of dealing with the psyche". If clarifying the movement of God in the Soul/psyche is not sufficient
therapy - what is ?

Robert Killoren
2 weeks 6 days ago

Both a psychoanalyst and a spiritual director can help us in our mental and spiritual challenges, and both use many of the same tools. But the psychoanalyst comes from a clinical perspective while the spiritual director comes from a pastoral perspective. All psychoanalysts are professionals and have completed a rigorous education and training. While some spiritual directors have done this too, it is not a requirement, nor are there specific codes of conduct that spiritual directors must adhere to. Also within the professional arena there are important distinctions. A psychoanalyst is not the same as a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist. All these and the spiritual director are "doctors" of the psyche.

Henry George
2 weeks 5 days ago

Robert,
Do you think Francis was worried that his Spiritual Director was going to reveal a secret to anyone ?
I can understand the need for a Priest to see a Psychiatrist - biological aspects of the brain/body but
I do not understand the need to see a psychologist/psychoanalyst - if he had a good Spiritual Director.

After most people in the world and most of those who ever lived did not see such self-proclaimed "Doctors of the Soul"
of whom there is only one such Doctor - The Holy Spirit.

Roberto Blum
2 weeks 4 days ago

Henry

It seems you don't understand the difference between spiritual direction and psychoanalysis. Although both are processes in which two persons “talk”, the spiritual director helps the other discern “spirits”, in psychoanalysis the analyst and analyzed work together to translaborate early memories and better understand his/her existential problems. Very different purposes.

2 weeks ago

Roberto,
Is not the end goal the same - to do God's Will if you are a Christian.
I can understand the 'claims of expertise' that a professional therapists may have,
but as I said before, an experienced Spiritual Director should be able to handle the problems that
are bothering a person, anything deeper, the person should see a Psychiatrist.

Bruce Snowden
3 weeks 1 day ago

Once I heard a Protestant Minister on TV say with enthusiasm, "I love that man! I love that man!" He was talking about Pope Francis. I love him too because he speaks the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth unashamed He is a man like David of whom God says, "I love David because he is a man after My own Heart," the Sacred Heart of Jesus pulsating in aching humanity. And like Nathaniel of whom Jesus says, he is a man "without guile'" He is also as a current restaurant commercial says, "You can't fake steak!" There's nothing "fake" about Pope Francis. He's the "whole thing," the "whole enchilada" honest, straightforward, a "what you see is what you get" Pope,, holy, holy, WHOLLY trustworthy. What a blessing to the Church and humanity is Pope Francis! You are truly a Blessing to all, Holy Father Francis!

German Otalora
3 weeks 1 day ago

One comment in the article made clear something that we often confuse. One thing is not accepting gay marriage to the sacrament of marriage, and another quite different, desirable, and a matter of justice is gay marriage by the civil law. This guarantees the partners equal legal rights.

Roberto Blum
3 weeks ago

Well said on both issues German. Psychoanalysis is not Spiritual Direction and the Civil law gay marriage is not the Sacramental catholic marriage.

Psychoanalysis is for all persons that wish to know themselves in a true fashion. Spiritual direction is to discern God's voice.

Civil gay marriage's purpose is justice and legal protection for LGBT persons, but maybe that is not enough for LGBT catholic couples who want their love sanctified. We know that in sacramental catholic marriage the ministers are the two persons willing to sanctify their commitment before the community. No priest is necessary as a witness to enter into a Sacramental catholic marriage. These marriages may be illegal in the eyes of the Church but not before God.

Crystal Watson
2 weeks 6 days ago

It's nice that Pope Francis has happy memories of women/girls from his past, but that doesn't change the fact that the way he treats women in the church is sexist. He has decided that women can *never* be priests, it's very unlikely he will ever allow them to be even "deaconesses". The things he has said about women show he thinks they mainly exist to be decorative and to have/raise children. His emphasis on complementarianism is another example.

William Bannon
2 weeks 5 days ago

He went to the therapist for clarity at 42 years of age for six months. I hope he returns to therapy again because his idea that the death penalty is an intrinsic evil is bizarre beyond belief given that, as Cardinal Dulles pointed out in First Things years ago, God gave in the first person imperative over 33 death penalties to the Jews and one for murder to the Gentiles...us... in Gen.9:5-6 reaffirmed in Romans 13:4. Every Pope from Aquinas' time to Pius XII knew this. Christ affirms the death penalty for cursing one's parents in Mark 7:10....though those Private sin death penalties ended with Pentecost.
Pope Francis saying in public that the 5th commandment condemns the death penalty means that Francis sees inspiration where he wants to see it....and sees no inspiration where he wants to see that....since the same Pentateuch that has the 5th commandment...has God in His own words giving multiple death penalties. He once again has a clarity problem.
You either believe all first person commands of God....or you believe none. Hundreds were applicable only to pre Christ days. But after Christ ascended, Romans 13:4 reaffirmed Gen.9:5-6.

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