PATRICK J. GEARON

Gearon, a priest in Ireland, wrote a popular self-help book on scruples (a term for obsessions and compulsions) in 1921. The book was translated into 5 languages. The book received an official endorsement of sorts from the Vatican, whose letter of appreciation is reprinted in the book.

Only with failure must our attempts be met when endeavouring to describe adequately the mental torture borne in silence by these poor creatures.... When we think we know their sufferings, we shall know but half...we must simply say that the scrupulous have lost the faculty of looking at some things in a natural way...or, in other words, by way of speaking more clearly, and as a chief illustration of what is meant, let us say they look at some things through "black" or "clouded glasses." We express ourselves thus crudely, in order to give the most expeditious insight into the view we wish to put before our readers.

When the presence of the "glasses" has been pointed out, the scrupulous penitent must grant with the confessor the absence of sin on his soul, in other words, that the latter is "white." The more he thinks over the experience of the past, the more useless will it seem for him to aim at cure, if obedience is not the fundamental principle. UNTIL THE PENITENT GRANTS HE IS WEARING A COLOURING MEDIUM−i.e., the "glasses"−NO ADVANCE TOWARDS CURE CAN BE EFFECTED....

On what is the scrupulous penitent to examine his conscience? On the scruples, i.e., the points of trouble? This we do not recommend, as the verdict will invariably be "black," "guilty," or, at least, "clouded," "doubtful." And why? Because, as previously mentioned, the sufferer wears the "glasses" when examining only those actions which are a source of worry to him. Hence he fails to see them in their true colour.

And is he not to examine on the scruple even for a very short time, not to glance at it for an instant? This treatment does not find favour with us, as one glance through the "glasses" will reveal things as "black" or "clouded." ON THE POINTS WHICH ARE A SOURCE OF ANXIETY, in other words, ON THE SCRUPLE...THE SUFFERER MUST NOT EXAMINE HIS CONSCIENCE FOR ONE SECOND; HE MUST IGNORE THE SCRUPLE....

[Gearon described a number of specific cases of scruples.]

"X," of the legal profession, begins to worry whether or not he took sufficient pains in defending or advising his client. Although he is painstaking, the thought of negligence haunts him by day and by night. He cannot get it out of his head that "perhaps if I had taken sufficient care," etc., etc. It is truly torture for him to have to ask another to take an oath. He fears the oath might be false, etc., etc....

"J," an employee in a boot-shop, goes through veritable agony when selling a pair of boots. She examines the same pair again and again to see if there are any nails inside.... She is haunted by the dread that there may be a nail which will cause blood-poisoning and then death. Thus she will be guilty of murder or, at least, manslaughter....

"L" is continually wondering why water is wet, and why the leaves of trees are nearly always green. Moreover, he has a dread of pouring water down a sink. If he does pour it down, he begins to follow it in spirit through its various courses. He feels that when it reaches the river it may be frozen; children will skate on this ice; the ice may break, and he will be the cause of their being drowned. Seeing a notice in the street he doubts whether he has read it right. He retraces his footsteps again and again, but the doubts only increase.

"O" dotes over her baby, but day and night she is haunted with the fear that she is going to kill it. She fears she will strike its head upon the corner of a table near which she is holding it. She puts the baby to bed, carefully closes the window, and leaves the room. The fear begins to haunt her that the window is not properly fastened. She comes back again and again to make sure all is well. She grows more restless with each return. She feels certain that any omission to return would be nothing short of criminal negligence....

"M" is haunted with the most blasphemous thoughts with reference to Our Blessed Lord and Our Blessed Lady. To look even at holy pictures, statues, and crucifixes occasions the most hideous mental images....

"V" meets another (a complete stranger) in mourning. Immediately he begins to doubt whether or not he has been the cause of the death of the deceased in question. Or, passing along the road he sees someone standing on the edge of a river. After a while he begins to wonder if he has pushed him into the water. He returns, but seeing no sign of the object of his search, he begins to fear he has committed murder....

"S" is continually washing the furniture in her home lest others be infected....

From Patrick J. Gearon, Scruples: Words of Consolation (London: Burns, Oates, Washbourne, 4th ed., 1933), 46, 50, 101-102, 104, 106-107, 161-167.

 

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