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DIGEST, Vol. 51: 98-100, May, 1987
AM AN ALCOHOLIC PRIEST
by Father Anonymous
Catholics have known at least one priest who likes to
drink too much. Some parishioners cater to the weakness
Father a bottle for Christmas or making sure he gets safely
the rectory after a social evening in someone's home.
other parishioners would just as soon avoid the alcoholic
priest. His drinking has slowly twisted his personality
so that he
treats others rudely and insensitively.
am sitting at my typewriter because I would like to share
with you what it is like to be that alcoholic priest. I
"Father Anonymous" not because I am ashamed to
be an alcoholic, but
because I respect the tradition of that wonderful organization,
Alcoholics Anonymous. I belong to A.A., and members always
their identities when speaking on the radio, television,
or to the
the grace of God, I have not taken a drink for twelve
years. My recovery from alcoholism has greatly affected
the kind of
priest I am. Let me tell you a story to show what I mean.
evening I took off my collar and changed into more
comfortable attire before going to an A.A. meeting. As I
into the hall, I was surprised to see an elderly parishioner
was attending for the first time. She looked at me quizzically
said, "You look just like my parish priest!"
am," I replied.
took a moment for my answer to settle in, but finally the
woman recovered enough to ask, "Why are you here, Father?"
the same reason you are," I said. "I'm an alcoholic
She looked at me for a moment, then covered her mouth with
hand, and exclaimed, "Oh, my God!"
found this incident humorous, and have recounted it often
the amusement of my A.A. friends. But I also realize that
woman was in a great deal of pain. She was shocked because
thought of alcoholism as a moral problem, and here was a
admitting that he was guilty of immoral activity.
if my friend thought that I was guilty of immorality, she
must also think the same of herself. She was a good woman,
always been faithful to her Church, and had been raised
in a good
Catholic family. You can imagine what happened to her self-respect
when she began to believe she was a sinful drunkard.
I continued to talk with the woman, I helped her realize
that she was not a sinful person. She, like me, suffered
disease that traces its roots to our genes, much like the
of diabetes. Fortunately, age was in her favor: she could
when diabetes was considered a shameful condition. The diabetic
sick, people thought, because he or she lacked willpower
too many sweets. My parishioner drank too much, I explained,
the same reason the diabetic eats too much sugar: a biochemical
abnormality brings about an almost irresistible craving.
willpower or lack of moral fiber has nothing to do with
left the A.A. meeting that night feeling very much like
priest. And my friend went home feeling much better. She
beginning to understand that she was a sick person trying
well, not a bad person trying to get good.
people from other parishes, even other faiths, have been
sent to me because of my reputation for having a magic touch
alcoholics. And I do have the magic touch. But it's the
that any recovering alcoholic has when he or she reaches
out to the
alcoholic who is still actively suffering from the disease.
suffering alcoholic encounters one who is sober, a wonderful
transmission line is opened. What goes through that transmission
line is nothing other than the grace of God. Transmitting
grace is a very priestly thing to do. But in this instance,
able to do it not because of my ordination, but because
from a disease.
Anonymous promises members that they will reach a
point where they will not regret their pasts. Do I have
regrets? I do indeed, but they are not regrets about myself.
regret, for example, the way people treat actively alcoholic
priests. About 10% of the general population is susceptible
alcoholism, and priests are no exception. But what happens
priest who drinks too much? Unfortunately, people try to
When Father misses morning Mass because he was drinking,
that he has the flu. When Father is stopped for drunk driving,
officer sees the collar and lets him go with a warning.
kindness makes the alcoholic face the consequences of
drinking. False kindness covers for the alcoholic's mistakes,
prevents the alcoholic from doing something about the disease.
alcoholics, both clerical and lay, have reached early graves
because people tried to be kind.
should you do if your priest suffers from alcoholism? For
one thing, seriously consider telling the priest of your
Will you hurt his feelings or make him angry? No doubt.
feelings just might be his incentive to seek help. Should
a confidential letter to the bishop? Absolutely. Most, if
bishops are enlightened enough to know that alcoholism is
to be treated and not a fault to be punished. Many dioceses
excellent programs to help the alcoholic priest, but a bishop
cannot help if he does not know the problem exists.
also regret the attitude many people have toward alcoholism
in general. The American Medical Association declared alcoholism
disease more than years ago. Yet the average person still
very much like the woman I met at the A.A. meeting, that
is a shameful condition. This prevents many alcoholics from
for help. About 10% of the readers of this magazine suffer
alcoholism, and many more readers know someone who has a
with drinking. Perhaps feelings of guilt or shame keep people
asking for help or urging someone they know to see help.
this story has taken that shame away. Alcoholics Anonymous
listed in every phone book. My prayer is that learning about
will give people the courage to call that number - and help
begin a beautiful new life.