The Traditional Catholic and 12-Step Programs, Part 12

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

BILL WILSON

A New York speculator, Bill Wilson was a Vermont-born Yankee and one of the two co-founders of A.A. Raised with almost no religion, he married Lois Burnham in her family’s Swedenborgian Church in 1918.20 Known among its members as the Church of the New Jerusalem, Swedenborgianism is a naturalized version of Protestant Christianity; well-known adherents included John Chapman (a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed), Helen Keller, and Robert Frost.21

In 1947 Wilson took instruction from Archbishop Fulton Sheen, but later broke off his investigation into Catholicism with the quip, “The thing that irks me about all religion is how confoundedly right they all are.”22 Wilson later added that, had he converted, it would have been perceived as an endorsement of Catholicism by a co-founder of A.A., which he believed would jeopardize the fellowship.23

Wilson was an avid reader of Professor William James of Harvard, whose The Varieties of Religious Experience provided silage for many of the naturalistic concepts later embodied in A.A.-in fact, though James was long dead, Wilson called him a “co-founder” of A.A.24 Wilson also read Glen Clark, Mary Baker Eddy, Charles Filmore, Fosdick, Emmet Fox, Gerald Heard, and E. Stanley Jones.

Bill and Lois were very interested in psychic phenomenan. Bill’s wife Lois recorded that she and Bill regularly experimented with extra-sensory perception (ESP).25 Wilson described-as if it were an everyday event-visitations from a spirit-guide who introduced himself as Boniface, an llth century English Benedictine bishop and missionary to Germany, Bavaria, and France. Wilson said that, in addition to The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, he was helped in writing the squel to the Big Book, The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, by this spirit-advisor.26 After being warned about Boniface by his Jesuit advisor Fr. Dowling, Wilson agreed that he should use caution, but that he did not want the Catholic Church to limit his conversations with the other world. Wilson writes candidly of his interest in spiritualism and seances in Pass It On.27 The records of these sessions, however, have been closed to public scrutiny.28 As part of medical experiments to treat chronic depression-which was a result in part of his extramarital affairs-Wilson took part in LSD experiments to see if it would cure him. Between the spiritism and experimentation with hallucinogens, Wilson exposed himself to all manner of demoniac influences, a gravely sinful act.29

Wilson believed in Divine intervention that could be confirmed by experiences, such as the Resurrection and miracles of healing. What he would not accept were miracles that he said were beyond human experience-what could not be demonstrated inductively-such as the Virgin birth, the True Presence, and papal infallibility.30

Wilson was, for a short time, a member of the Oxford Group, from which he derived many ideas later implemented by A.A. His primary spiritual advisors were Rev. Sam Shoemaker and Fr. Ed Dowling, SJ.

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