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Social Work or Catechesis?

NPR reported yesterday that The Franciscan University of Steubenville is apparently confused as to the difference between catechesis and proper training in social work, and as a result, the accreditation of their program is rightly being called into question. A group of alumni discovered a course on "Deviant Behavior," which claims to examine behaviors including "murder, rape, robbery, prostitution, homosexuality, mental illness and drug use," and they rightly asked the school to change it. Class of 1991 aluma, Elizabeth Vermilyea, said:

As a lesbian and as a psychological professional, I found a couple of things offensive... The state of the art in science on homosexuality is not that it's deviant. The DSM Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has removed it ... as an illness.

Stephen Holloway, director of the office of accreditation at the Council on Social Work Education, is also concerned:

The fact that homosexuality was identified in the course description as a deviant behavior raises a flag... Understanding diversity and difference and their dynamics in society is critical for social workers to be effective in working with diverse populations.

In a statement, the University cited their Catholic mission as apparently more fundamental than their educational one and the teaching of the Catechism as a suitable alternative to the most up-to-date science:

Franciscan University bases its educational mission on the teaching of Christ as proclaimed in Sacred Scripture and Tradition and authoritatively interpreted by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. Accordingly, Franciscan University follows Catholic Church teaching in regard to homosexuality and treats homosexual persons with respect, compassion, and sensitivity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2358) while holding homosexual acts as intrinsically disordered (Catechism, No. 2357)... Since students have considered both sides of an argument, they leave here better prepared to assist clients than their counterparts from schools that teach only one perspective... To do otherwise would be a violation of our basic mission as a Catholic university in the Franciscan tradition.

What's next, creationism as a viable alternative to evolution in Biology 101? Ridiculous.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Heliocentric in the science class?

One suspects that Galileo would have been asked "not to use the university's name or logo in [his] activities."

The state of the art in science on homosexuality is not that its deviant. Maybe there is some particular scientific use of the term "deviant" of which I am not aware, but it seems to me that in judgments of normalcy or deviancy "the state of the art in science" is somewhat beside the point.

Fritz,If you want to go that route, Steubenville is hardly normal and the case might be made that if one totally believes a magisterium that has been clearly wrong, that borders on deviant. Further, look at EWTN, which is like Steubenville and you will find a significant loss of reason.

Prof. Bauerschmidt: I think that what is to the point is whether homosexuality, even on theological grounds, should be considered "deviant" in the same way as "murder, rape, robbery, prostitution, mental illness and drug use." It also seems relevant to ask whether social workers ought to be taught that it is similarly deviant to these behaviors. It also seems clear from this list that whoever designed the course does not simply mean to say that these "behaviors" are "rare," and it is certainly the case that some of them might be attributable to non-normative, biologically-based pathology (e.g. mental illness). So, it is not completely irrelevant to ask where on the spectrum from "statistically rare" to "scientifically malformed" to "criminal" to "evil" this course plans to place homosexuality and to point out that "intrinsically disordered," as the church uses it, is not a medical, legal, or even a necessarily ethical, category. As such, it probably has no place in a social work class.

The closing analogy is not a good one. The church's claim about homosexuality is moral, not scientific. The church does not endorse any particular theory about the causes of same-sex attraction. But then, I don't think you will find entries in the DSM for murder, rape, robbery, prostitution, or drug use either. "Deviant behavior" is probably not the best category for these acts and practices, since "deviant" is, as Eric points out, a highly ambiguous term, whose technical meaning has been obscured by its moral connotations. Best to retire it altogether. Speaking of loaded terms, though, when a course at a Catholic college endorses one of the church's disputed moral teachings, it is not to be dismissed as "catechetical." Is Steubenville being "catechetical" when it allows its staff to suggest that there's something wrong with any of the other items on that list? Not everyone agrees that drug use is either antisocial or pathological, or deviant in any nonstatistical sense. Should Steubenville refrain from suggesting that there's anything wrong with drug use in a course designed for future social workers. And is this course designed for future social workers? The post doesn't exactly tell us.

Wouldn't celibacy be deviant behavior? One chooses to act in a way that is not biologically 'normal,' regardless of the motivation.

Matt: My closing analogy was meant to underline the category mistake involved in deploying a theological concept ("intrinsically disordered") in a non-theological, clinical context, which I understand to be analogous to deploying a similar concept ("creation") in a non-theological, scientific context. I called the course catechetical, because Steubenville cited the Catechism in defense of it. If they had provided a more sophisticated apologia, perhaps I would have offered a more sophisticated analysis.

Surely anyone who chooses to attend that school know what s/he's in for.

Gerelyn,They expect an education that will allow them to get a job as a social worker. If the mixing of catechesis into social work classes, this will cause the students major problems.If I were a potential employer, I would be very concerned about whether someone who took this class could appropriately report on situations involving gays and lesbians when they have been trained to view homosexuality as similar to drug abuse. Is the gay couple displaying deviant sexual acts to their children or are they just displaying normal couple behavior that the social worker sees as inherently deviant? Is the child displaying abnormal sexual development, or is she just a lesbian? If the school doesn't maintain separation between their religious standards and the standards of the profession, how can an employer trust their students to do so?

Quite a mixed bag they have there: three outright crimes; then prostitution, which except perhaps for a few Holly Golightly types, or maybe them too, generally victimizes those forced into it; homosexuality and mental illness, which are not in themselves behaviors at all, but states; and finally, drug useuse, notice, not abusewhich is more often than not legal, salutary, and even prescribed.Where do I find the teaching of Christ on homosexuality? Is it in the Apocrypha? Or in Tradition, that magic hat from which any rabbit of one's choosing may be drawn?

Eric Bugyis wrote:"My closing analogy was meant to underline the category mistake involved in deploying a theological concept (intrinsically disordered) in a non-theological, clinical context, which I understand to be analogous to deploying a similar concept (creation) in a non-theological, scientific context. "The question is precisely whether we should regard social work as a "science" that can be developed independently of any broader context, or if rather philosophical (NOT theological) considerations (in this case the meaning of human sexuality and its connection with procreation) should play any role in our approach to social work.You seem to be willing to embrace rather uncritically the "scientistic" approach...

Putting aside the neuralgic issue of homosexuality, I found the inclusion of mental illness as just as disturbing, if not more so. As the father of two children who struggle mightily with depression and General Anxiety Disorder, I was deeply offended by this course description.

If the school doesnt maintain separation between their religious standards and the standards of the profession, how can an employer trust their students to do so?-----------An employer of social workers who considers applications from graduates of schools like Steubenville deserves what she gets. (Periodicals aimed at social workers reflect the anxiety about status. Social workers would like to be regarded as "professionals".)

Carlo: I said that social work was a "non-theological, clinical" discipline. I did not say that it was a "science that can be developed independently of any broader context," and I would not even say that most scientific inquiry is a "science" in the way that you narrowly define it. I also am confused that you seem to think that doctrines supported by the Catechism are "NOT theological." Finally, you seem to be guilty of assuming a false equivalence between secularism and scientism. One can hold that secular reason (as opposed to special revelation) ought to inform our beliefs about sexuality without being "scientistic."Cupcake: I agree. Courses like this call into question the professional competence of those trained by them, which is why the program's accreditation is being questioned.

Clinicians have no special insight into the moral status of any of the behaviors they deal with. Nor are they specially competent to judge which behaviors count as antisocial.

Course descriptions, whether at Steubenville or Harvard, often have very little to do with actual course content. However, the description does mention that labeling theories of deviance will be examined in the course. This is a view that deviants are defined as such not because of anything intrinsic to their personality but because of the success of moral entrepreneurs in convincing public opinion about the evils of some group. A celebrated case is Howard Becker's study of Dance Musicians as Outsiders. The labeling theory is a view widely held by those on the left and they sometimes exaggerate the number of "deviant" groups - almost everyone is a victim.As I say it's a view and not a scientifically established fact (I think there is very little science in any of the social sciences). But apparently it's being given consideration in the Steubenville course and so people might want to hold their fire until more is learned about the actual contents.Just out of curiosity it would be interesting to learn about the demographic composition of the learned bodies issuing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I assume there are not a lot of religious traditionalists included. There's another post today about sanitation workers - I bet they are a more diverse and multicultural group than these psychiatrists.

Eric:you will agree that many teachings contained in the Cathechism reflect the operation of natural reason, albeit enlightened by faith, and as such cannot be regarded as "theological." The crucial point is that "distinctions" should never been turned into "separations." For that very reason I find the notion of "secular reason" highly questionable. I disagree that Catholic beliefs about sexuality are primarily informed by a "special revelation." The Church claims that its teachings are in accord with natural reason. The crucial point, however, is that reason, like all other human faculties after the fall, needs to be freed and redeemed by the operation of divine grace.

The following definition of 'deviant' (the most relevant one, I think, if we're looking at social work as a *profession*) is from http://dictionary.reference.com :Medical Dictionary deviant deviant (d'v-nt) adj. Differing from a norm or from the accepted standards of a society. n. One that differs from a norm, especially a person whose behavior and attitudes differ from accepted social standards. ***************Is social work a *professional* field of work?According to one of the largest employers of social workers, the answers is "Yes". The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (for whom I worked roughly the first half of my federal career [including the former U.S. Civil Service Commission]) incorporates the word 'professional' in its definition of the Social Work Series, GS-0185. See http://www.opm.gov/fedclass/gs0185.pdf .OPM requires, at a minimum, that all social work applicants have a master's degree in social work from an accredited program. See http://www.opm.gov/qualifications/Standards/IORs/gs0100/0185.htm .***************What is the meaning of the word 'professional' in federal employment?OPM defines the word as follows:"Professional work requires knowledge in a field of science or learning characteristically acquired through education or training equivalent to a bachelors or higher degree with major study in or pertinent to the specialized field, as distinguished from general education."Work is professional when it requires the exercise of discretion, judgment, and personal responsibility for the application of an organized body of knowledge that is constantly studied to make new discoveries and interpretations, and to improve data, materials, and methods."There are situations in which an employee meets the formal education requirements for a particular professional field but does not perform professional work. This may be due to a lack of professional work to be done, or it may be because the organization and structure of the assignment does not require a professionally qualified employee. In such situations, the position is classified in an appropriate nonprofessional series, based on the duties and responsibilities assigned and the qualifications required to do the work [This reflects the competitive civil service concept of "rank in position" as opposed to "rank in person" - jj].""Professional occupational series follow a two-grade interval pattern and are identified as professional in the series definitions. If a series definition does not state that the work covered is professional, it should not be considered professional for classification purposes."See also 5 CFR 551.207 at http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&rgn=div5&view=text&... .***************As far as OPM is concerned, therefore, a bachelor's degree in social work is non-qualifying for federal employment in the Social Work Series, GS-0185. An appointee must have a graduate degree in Social Work from an accredited program.

Carlo: I don't think that "secular reason" excludes the "operation of divine grace." It simply excludes explicitly theological premises from its arguments (i.e. those based on special revelation). Insofar as all that is, is graced with being, I take it that reason participates in grace to the extent that it exists at all. So, I don't see how the "operation of divine grace" gives anything explicit to reason that it does not already have by virtue of its nature, and thus, I don't see how reference to the Catechism is relevant to matters that can be decided by "the operation of natural reason." If you think that you can prove the sexual ethic of the Church non-theologically, then you should.This is why it's a mistake for Steubenville to adduce catechetical dogma in defense of its social work program. If they have a more sophisticated defense to offer, along that lines that you and Matt seem to be indicating, then they should give that, but something tells me they are afraid that it would be challenged. So, they are taking shelter in Church teaching, which they seem to think ought to be exempt from professional scrutiny. I think that they are wrong to claim such an exemption, and it seems that the office of accreditation might too.

Carlo,It would be more believable that those beliefs were not primarily informed by special revelation if people who are not relying on that revelation found the arguments compelling. People don't have problems understanding why murder, rape, theft, fraud, and a host of other wicked acts are wrong.

Eric:"So, I dont see how the operation of divine grace gives anything explicit to reason that it does not already have by virtue of its nature"Thanks for a clear statement about which we will have to disagree.You are essentially stating that original sin did not impair the exercise of reason. I think it did. I have lots of big names with "St." in front on my side....Cupcake:"People dont have problems understanding why murder, rape, theft, fraud, and a host of other wicked acts are wrong."We obviousy read different history books. Under the "right" circumstances large segments of mankindhave thought that those wicked acts are perfectly fine. Only 150 years ago many good and upright citizens of this country thought it is morally permissible to own another human being.

"Only 150 years ago many good and upright citizens of this country thought it is morally permissible to own another human being."So did those " big names with St. in front."

Bill:of course, since they were human beings and suffered from the same weaknesses as all of us. But the interesting novelty was that some of them DID NOT.

Carlo: Yes, it seems that we do disagree. However, it also seems to me that to claim that reason was impaired by the fall is a bit like saying that digestion was impaired by the fall. Reason is part of our human equipment, so to speak, and without it we would not be human. A few minor St's are with me on this. Thomas Aquinas for one. Also, in Book VII of the Confessions, it was not a failure of reason that St. Augustine says thwarted his Platonic assent, but it was a failure of desire (eros). These are, of course, complicated matters, but I think we would hardly be the responsible and rational agents that we (and God) take ourselves to be, if our reason was as fallen as you suggest.

Carlo, Your "reasoning" leaves much to be desire. Consistent with your previous posts. "I have lots of big names with St. in front on my side" How do you expect to be taken seriously with such statements? So you have the gift to discern which saints were right and which were wrong? None of them were infallible just as no pope's were. But when You're stuck in the Middle Ages what does it matter what reasoning you exercise....

Philosophy aside, the Catholic Church upheld human slavery until the last week of Vatican II in December 1965.

Matt: You wrote, "Clinicians have no special insight into the moral status of any of the behaviors they deal with." I don't think that social workers are expected (as a condition of their employment) to have "special" moral insight or to be moral theologians or to make moral judgments, they are asked to help people solve problems. Also, "intrinsically disordered" is not a moral category. It is a metaphysical category. It seeks to make a claim about an act in its essence. I don't think we expect our social workers to be metaphysicians either. These are all more category mistakes.

"I dont think that social workers are expectedto make moral judgments"All workers, social and non-social, make moral judgments. We can't not make moral judgments.

deviant is right up (down?) there with "invert." As in "Counseling the Invert" by John R. Cavanagh.Available here for those who like the term: http://www.alibris.com/booksearch?qwork=1361883"Wouldnt celibacy be deviant behavior? One chooses to act in a way that is not biologically normal, regardless of the motivation." Ooooooooooooooooooooo!

From 25 years in the mental health/substance abuse field:- all major health companies and managed care companies have networks of professional counselors. The majority of these counselors have a masters in social work that comes from a reputable and accredited university. They are also required to have licensure in the state in which they practice - usually means 2-5 years of practicum or working under the supervision of another certified professional. Health companies criteria is that the counselor meet and apply the professional standards as defined by associations of social workers, psychologists, etc.- in addition, there are *pastoral* counselors - these typically attain some type of denominational masters degree in the field of pastoral studies, clinical pastoral education, etc. These usually meet state standards so that they can bill for services. Yet, very few health companies credential pastoral counselors who do not also meet the masters level requirements in terms of licensure and professiional standards. In many states, pastoral counselors can hang their signs with little to no standards, supervision, etc. Health companies would not pay claims submitted by these counselors. They work in church, outreach, denominational social settings outside of the US insurance business.- yet, we do see abuses in this area - Medicaid and Medicare in some states accept lesser standards and will accept pastoral counselors and techniques. Example - Michelle Bachmann's husband runs a group/business that makes close to a $1 mil annually from Medicare/Medicaid offering Christian counseling to change sexual orientation. This happens even when professional associations would reject these counseling techniques as non-scientific; anti-DSM based; and rooted in evangelical or denominational beliefs.Steubenville can do whatever it wants but, as a choice, this may mean losing professional accreditation which is based upon a scientific understanding, professional clinical standards that come from behavioral studies, research, and are vetted via the best practices of the professional community.

Eric:reason is much more connected with our spiritual side than digestion. Speaking of Aquinas, let me quote a famous passage from De Malo:"Est autem considerandum quod primo homini in sua institutione datum fuerat divinitus quoddam supernaturale donum, scilicet originalis iustitia, per quam ratio subdebatur Deo, et inferiores vires rationi, et corpus animae. Hoc autem donum non fuerat datum primo homini ut singulari personae tantum, sed ut cuidam principio totius humanae naturae, ut scilicet ab eo per originem derivaretur in posteros. Hoc autem donum acceptum primus homo per liberum arbitrium peccans amisit eo tenore quo sibi datum fuerat, scilicet pro se et pro tota sua posteritate (Quest. IV, first article)As you can see St. Thomas associates tightly the correct functioning of our cognitive structure ("reason subjected to God, and the lower powers subjected to reason, and his body to his soul") with original justice. To me it is quite apparent that Thomas is arguing that the loss of original justice destroyed also such ordering of the rational faculties. And I am sure Augustine would agree, but I do not have a reference right now.

Correction: I should have said "impaired the ordering of the rational faculties." Aquinas was not a Calvinist.

In Daniel Kahneman's new book "Thinking Fast and Slow" (still on the NYT bestseller list) is about the imperfection of human reasoning. He says that until a relatively few years ago scientists assumed that we were much more rational than we are, but scientists themselves have their own biases and are not always aware of the fact. Kahneman has shown that these biases are systematic, automatic, and go on "in silence in our mind", though he agrees that more often than not our judgments are reliable. And we can sometimes correct our thinking, but its painful for all of us.Speaking of morality, I'd go so far as to say that we have a moral obligation to learn to think critically about our own thinking. That means learning about our biases and illogical habits of thought.

Questions: do we have a moral obligation to listen to others' criticisms of our own thinking? Do we have a moral right to be wrong?

I'm not sure how the DSM is relevant to whether or not homosexuality is "deviant" or not. According to wikipedia "Deviance, in a sociological context, describes actions or behaviors that violate social norms, including formally-enacted rules (e.g., crime), as well as informal violations of social norms (e.g., rejecting folkways and mores). It is the purview of sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and criminologists to study how these norms are created, how they change over time and how they are enforced." It is not aimed at diagnosis of mental illness, so Why talk of the DSM at all.Under this definition, homosexuality - and the other topics listed - is an appropriate topic of study in the course. Has Eric or any of the other critics reviewed the syllabus or course book?

@ Eric: I think that what is to the point is whether homosexuality, even on theological grounds, should be considered deviant in the same way as murder, rape, robbery, prostitution, mental illness and drug use. Eric, I agree with you as to what is to the point. I was only trying to say that invoking "science" as a shibboleth is not really going to help us answer that question.FWIW, I would answer your question with a "no," but not because of anything "science" says.

Why use the word deviant. Perhaps they wanted the couse to be a sellout. A great stage for educated debate.

Eric, have you looked at the descriptions or syllabi for similar courses taught at public universities? Here are some class notes from a course at University of Missouri St. Louis that lists homosexuality as a deviant behavior along with violence, economic crimes, white collar crimes, drug and alcohol use, and mental disorder:http://www.umsl.edu/~keelr/200/200lec.htmlHere is a syllabus from Univ. of Minnesota that lists "sexuality" as a topic alongside crime, substance use, suicide, disability, and mental illness: http://www.soc.umn.edu/~uggen/4111syllabus_04.pdfIt appears that this is a serious overreaction by people who don't know much about sociology, or will you be calling for an investigation into the accreditation of these "unscientific" public universities?

"To me it is quite apparent that Thomas is arguing that the loss of original justice destroyed also such ordering of the rational faculties. And I am sure Augustine would agree, but I do not have a reference right now."According to Genesis Adam's reasoning before the Fall is nothing to write home about. So now we can say it that both Augustine and Thomas were wrong. It is not wo/man's reason that is faulty. It is our choices in which we choose to ignore reason and "rationalize" our evil deeds.Some serious research has shown that homosexuality is not chosen. But we can ignore this as well as the deviant behavior that says children are in poverty because their parents do not know how to use the market. That women are defective and the defining mark of the priesthood is its maleness.

Bill,Whether a desire is chosen or unchosen has nothing to do with the moral status of the act it motivates. Many acts that you would have no trouble describing as immoral are motivated by desires or impulses the agent did not choose.Eric,You wrote, "I dont think that social workers are expected (as a condition of their employment) to have 'special' moral insight or to be moral theologians or to make moral judgments, they are asked to help people solve problems."The question, as I understand it, is whether future social workers should be able to take a course for credit if that course suggests, contrary to the current DSM and "the state of the art in science" (whatever that means), that homosexuality is in any way "deviant." The question is not whether social worker need to be moral philosophers. Then again, if you think the problems social worker help people solve don't have a moral dimension, I suspect you haven't talked to a social worker.The church's official teaching is that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered"that is, that they are wrong regardless of intention or circumstance. If that is not a moral claim, I don't know what is.

Matt, Heterosexuality is not chosen while the decision to be promiscuous is. Our sexuality is a state or condition. Not a desire or impulse.

"Heterosexuality is not chosen while the decision to be promiscuous is." Exactly, Bill, that's my point. The morality of homosexual acts is not determined by whether or not homosexual desire is chosen or not. That's only one small step in the argument. As for your distinction, I would say that sexuality is a state constituted by desires. How would you define homosexuality without appeal to physical attraction or desire?

Matt, You want to unpack your 3:24pm post. It looks like you agree with me but....

"Heterosexuality is such an enormous assumption to have glided so silently into the foundation of our thought." (Adrienne Rich) Re: homosexuality being taught in universities as deviancy. Repeating a bias often does not make it a truth.As a left-hander I clearly acknowledge being a deviant. And I'll reveal a long-held, deeply regretted secret: I have eyes that are not the same color!