CATHOLIC HOME JOURNAL, Vol. 51:9+, October, 1951
A Catholic Looks at Alcoholics Anonymous
by Katherine Neuhaus Haffner
First off, what is Alcoholics Anonymous? A.A. is not, as is sometimes supposed, just another temperance movement, a new, fanatical reform crusade. It is a society, operating in groups, that is founded upon spiritual principles, and these principles closely parallel Catholic teaching, as we shall see presently.
This society is made up of ex-problem drinkers whose sole aim is to help other problem drinkers recover their health and maintain their sobriety. It is a selfish program in that the ex-drinker is helping himself to remain dry at the same time he is assisting the new man or woman to do likewise; and, since what he is doing is fundamentally for himself, it keeps him away from self-righteous attitudes that often beset “reformers.”
While members of Alcoholics Anonymous believe that alcoholism is a disease (and who can deny that an alcoholic is sick physically, emotionally, and spiritually), this does not mean that they believe the uncontrolled drinker should be relieved of his individual responsibility in this matter.
They have no initiation fees, no dues, nothing to “sell,” no gimmicks. While every nuance of opinion is found among them with regard to politics, prohibition, religion; they take no position, as a group, upon any controversial questions. There are no officers; this work rotates among the members. The only requirement for membership is a sincere desire to stop drinking.
At their meetings one come in contact with doctors and plumbers, lawyers and carpenters, businessmen and housewives – all with one objective. When we consider that their membership numbers over 100,000, while starting in 1935 with two, we must conclude that their methods are proving effective.
A Catholic member of A.A. should be a better Catholic as the result of his affiliation with this society and vice versa.
The Twelve Steps which the members of Alcoholics Anonymous have taken as their program for recovery are spiritually sound and would do credit to anyone schooled in theology; yet, strangely enough, they were drawn up by men who had meager religious backgrounds. Let’s take a look at these Twelve Steps which constitute a successful way of life for alcoholics:
1. They admitted they were powerless over alcohol – that their lives had become unmanageable. Catholics are taught their great need of God and their utter dependence upon Him, that they cannot do anything without His grace.
2. They came to believe that a Power greater than themselves could restore them to sanity. “I believe in God, the Father Almighty ….”
3. They made a decision to turn their wills and their lives over to the care of God as they understood Him. “Thy will be done, on earth…”
4. They made a searching and fearless moral inventory of themselves. Examination of conscience.
5. They admitted to God, to themselves, and to another human being the exact nature of their wrongs. Confession.
6. They were entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character. The disposition of the will toward allowing grace to flow into the soul.
7. They humbly asked Him to remove their shortcomings. Even as every humble Catholic.
8. They made a list of all persons they had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Further examination of conscience and a readiness to restore all things to their rightful owners.
9. They made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. A Catholic must do likewise after he makes a good confession; he must make restitution when he has robbed another, be it material goods or his neighbor’s good name, and is required to rectify this harm whenever possible.
10. They continued to take personal inventory, and when they were wrong, promptly admitted it. Catholics are urged to make a daily examination of conscience that they may move forward toward spiritual perfection.
11. They sought through prayer and meditation to improve their conscious contact with God as they understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His Will for them and the power to carry that out. “Thy will be my will – show me the way, 0 Lord…”
12. Having had a spiritual experience as a result of these steps, they tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all their affairs. None of that “Sunday morning Catholic” idea here; then “business as usual” the remainder of the week. Propagation of the faith. “Faith without works is dead.”
None of the members claims perfect adherence to these principles. They are not saints. This prescribed course is a guide to progress, and the members claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.
Since we see such conformity of these Twelve Steps with Catholic teaching, one might well ask: “Why does a Catholic alcoholic need A.A.?”
For one thing, Catholics believe that faith is a gift; yet this gift is not meted out to each individual in the same proportions. A somnolent or arrested faith can become active through A.A.
We also know that we have not all learned how to pray; nor do we all know when our prayers are answered.
Sometimes victims of alcohol drift into this vice through social drinking that seems harmless (and is harmless for some), then find themselves enslaved by a phenomenon of craving to such a degree that they are too mentally confused to pray. Free will fails to function through long periods of disuse or abuse by alcohol. Alcoholics are not alone in that they pray to get out of trouble, storm heaven with prayers; then, as soon as the crisis passes, their prayers cease, or at best, lose fervor. Many another also gives lip service to God, yet does not try to search for God’s will in relation to his own life. A.A. opens many eyes to this faulty practice. Pride is the enemy of alcoholics; it is likewise the enemy of many a Catholic.
Does a Catholic alcoholic need A.A.? In one diocese that we know oft the Bishop has appointed a priest to do nothing but study this problem and the work of Alcoholics Anonymous with a view toward aiding Catholic victims and giving their families some insight into this problem so that they are in a position to help and not hinder the sufferer’s advancement toward recovery.
Numerous Catholic victims of alcoholism are brought to A.A. through the influence of nuns and priests who have seen the efficacy of the program in others with whom they have come in contact.
A.A. groups are listed in the telephone directories and the classified pages of the daily newspapers in most communities. The address of the central group is: The Alcoholic Foundation, P.O. Box 459, Grand Central Annex, New York 17, New York.
A.A. has been able to bring Catholic alcoholics back to an active participation in their faith when other methods have failed; and since alcoholics understand each other, there is a natural kinship among these sufferers. They can make another see where he is wrong, why he is wrong, and help him on his way back to the loving arms of Jesus Christ – who also carried a cross.