Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Fame at last: LIFE and non-directive counselling

The pro-life charity LIFE has clearly been stung by my blog post on non-directive counselling and has issued a statement, which has been reported in the Catholic Herald, about it.

Hanging a story on someone without even asking them for a quote looks like shoddy journalism, but there you are. However I've never been described as a 'leading Catholic figure' before so I can't complain.

In my post (on my deeply obscure 'Casuistry Central' philosophy blog) I summarise objections to non-directive counselling under four headings. I don't say that their policy is wrong; I just seek to identify what the fuss is about. I end the post by saying that LIFE needs to address the arguments, particularly the last, key argument about cooperation with evil, and I explain what form the justification of such cooperation with evil can take, in Catholic ethics.

So do they provide such an argument? Or any argument? No.

Instead we get a quotation from Dr David Albert Jones, the Director of the Anscombe Centre (of which I am a Governor). He chooses his words carefully, and I wouldn't disagree with any of them. Indeed, they are little more than a paraphrase of what I wrote to qualify the 'moral' argument at the end of my original post. This is not as surprising as it looks, since Dr Jones was not responding to my views when he wrote these words: when asked by the Catholic Herald for a quote, he just sent them something he'd written earlier on the general topic.

“There is a certainly a role for directive parents, teachers, preachers, and judges. Nevertheless, from a Catholic perspective, there could also be a role for a non-directive counsellor, if this means someone who aims to help people to come to see these things for themselves. Catholic counselling should always be value-driven but may express these values also by giving someone space to reflect on what their heart tells them.”

Yes, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with not jumping down a client's throat to say things which will make the client more inclined to have an abortion. There is a time to speak and a time to remain silent (Eccl 3.7). The question, which Dr Jones does not address here, is whether faithful obedience of the rules of NDC would prevent a counsellor from avoiding an illicit cooperation with evil under certain concrete circumstances.

Remember, NDC requires counsellors to be non-directive not only when that would aid a pro-life outcome, but also when it would aid an anti-life outcome. It is neutral between outcomes: that's the whole idea.

Here are a couple of examples.

1. If the counsellor knew that information about the nature of abortion, the developmental stage of the baby, or the consequences of abortion for the mother, would influence the client in a positive way, would the counsellor be able to offer this information without being asked?

2. If the client asked the counsellor whether she, the counsellor, thought that abortion was morally licit, and the counsellor knew (having established a rapport with the client) that an tactful but honest answer would influence the client in a positive way, would the counsellor be able to answer?

Neither I nor Dr Jones knows the answers to these questions. They depend on the detailed nature of the NDC guidelines which LIFE uses. What I suspect, however, is that whatever the real answer is, LIFE would prefer its government partners to think that the answer to each question is 'no', and would simultaneously prefer its Catholic supporters to think that the answer to each question is 'yes'.


  1. Joseph Shaw5:22 pm

    Thank you for the comment Luke. Dr Jones has a different view. Perhaps it is the Catholic Herald which needs to issue a correction?
    This is what Dr Jones emailed to me.
    I was not, therefore directly responding to you (though the Herald did send me a link to your blog which I read with interest). I did not know they would juxtapose our views in this way (though in retrospect it is not surprising).
    End Quote.

  2. Anonymous10:08 am

    Look I've quoted him. What he wrote he *sent* you after a request for a comment on my post, but it was not *composed* for that purpose. It come from a different context.