The Traditional Catholic and 12-Step Programs, Part 1

I’ve divided this out into 16 parts in order to keep each post to a reasonable length and allow me to really think about each part.

Traditional Catholic and Twelve Step Programs
by Sean Romer
as written for the Angelus magazine, September 2002

This article is for Catholics who hope to learn whether they could benefit from twelve-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). Space restrictions do not permit an analysis of all twelve-step programs, so the focus of this article is on A.A., which is:

The original twelve-step program
The largest twelve-step program
The inspiration for hundreds of other twelve-step programs.
Because the main subject of this article is the religious underpinnings of A.A., most of what is written here is applicable to other twelve-step programs.

The idea for this article had its genesis in a letter from Fr. Peter Scott, US District Superior, (reprinted here with his permission):

It is certainly true that the religious content of the 12-step A.A. meetings is abominably liberal and indifferentist, and that it will always shock and disturb a traditional Catholic with strong convictions. However, it cannot be denied that these meetings truly do work, for psychological reasons, and that they really do help alcoholics to acknowledge, confront, and come to terms with their personality disorder and drinking problems. It is the only easy, common way which truly does work.

Consequently, there is a sufficiently grave proportionate reason to bear with the evil of indifferentism, provided that there is no danger to the Faith.1

Fr. Scott’s observation is echoed by that of Fr. Ed Dowling, S.J., an early influence in A.A. circles, who wrote, “Catholics are in a vastly worse spiritual danger in drinking than they are in A.A.”2

The purpose of this article, then, is to address a delicate and prudential question: how does a Catholic who needs the help afforded by A.A. twelve-step meetings prepare himself to benefit from what is advantageous while mitigating dangers to his faith? The answer is that he does so by:

Obtaining direction from his confessor. The recovering alcoholic should speak with a priest, and obtain the necessary spiritual advice, without which the indifferentism of A.A. could endanger his faith.
Increasing his prayer life. The interior life must be proportionally more intense as one exposes oneself to such an occasion, even if it is a necessary occasion.
Knowing what to anticipate and preparing for the risks. By describing A.A., its methods and influences, this article attempts to provide sufficient knowledge for Catholics to make informed decisions.

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