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REVIEW, Vol. 106: 285-288, April, 1942
DANGERS IN ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
Paul L. O'Connor, S.J.
Braceland in his article "Psychiatric Aspects of Chronic
Alcoholism," in the Ecclesiastical Review for December,
1941, recommended that the the priest who, in line of duty,
comes into contact with cases of acute alcoholism, should
investigate the working of the group called Alcoholics Anonymous.
Any priest who investigates that group will be astonished
at the success it has achieved in the permanent cure of
seemingly inveterate alcoholics. He may feel justified,
on the strength of that record, in summoning the members
of that group and handing his patient over to them. Before
he does this he should realize fully the dangers to faith
inherent in the method of Alcoholics Anonymous and at least
be prepared to counteract these dangers.
Dr. Braceland pointed out, Alcoholics Anonymous claim that
they appeal to a man's religious sense but do not interfere
with his belief. That distinction is, I think, too fine
for practical experiment. It seems to be an impossibility
to work in the vague realm of religious sense and still
leave a man's faith strictly alone. The thing smacks of
Protestant endeavors like the Y.M.C.A.
Anonymous say officially that they have no connection with
any organized religion, and there is no reason for thinking
they are not sincere in this statement. Whether they realize
it or not, their methods are shot through with the methods
of Buchmanism or the Oxford Peace Movement or whatever you
care to call that much publicized revival movement that
swept across the country several years ago and finally blew
itself out some miles west of Hollywood. Buchmanism, also,
appealed to a man's religious sense and did not interfere
with his belief - as long as he believed in Buchmanism.
fact that Alcoholics Anonymous is a group of reformed alcoholics
who, without even the reward of publicity, work with others
who have fallen victim to this disease, is well known. Their
program of rehabilitation is not so well known. When their
patient is painfully recovering from his latest spree and
when, finally admitting that he has failed to cure himself,
he sincerely desires help from this group, the following
program is outlined to him.
You cannot cure yourself. You must have supreme confidence
in some Power greater than yourself. How you define this
Power does not matter at all. You must effect a conscious
relation with this God, as you understand Him, whether it
be as a Creative Intelligence or as a Spirit of the Universe
or whatever you care to make Him. As soon as you do this
you will find that a new power, a new peace and sense of
direction will flow into you. You will find this God deep
within you, for in the last analysis that is only where
He may be found. He will restore you to sanity.
You must make a searching and fearless moral inventory of
yourself, listing all your faults and grievances.
You must admit to God, to yourself, and to another human
being the exact nature of your faults, and must humbly ask
God to help you remove these defects of character.
You must make a list of all persons you have harmed, have
the intention of making amends to all, and whenever possible
make these amends.
You must completely renounce alcohol in any form.
You must continue, through prayer and meditation, to improve
your contact with God, praying for knowledge and for power
to continue carrying out His will.
Once reformed, you must work with alcoholics in effecting
priest should be especially wary of the dangers that lie
hidden in points 1, 3, and 7. They are not insurmountable,
but they are very real dangers.
Catholic who is striving to recover from alcoholism is at
a definitely critical point in his career. If, with the
help of his religion and the sacraments, he conquers this
vice, he is well on the way to becoming a staunch, active
Catholic. But if at that critical time he is told again
and again, as he will be told by the Alcoholics Anonymous,
that it makes absolutely no difference what he believes
as long as he believes in some Power greater than himself,
and then recovers, he is not going to have a great deal
of use for Catholic dogma and what will appear to him to
be the Catholic boast of, "we have God's grace on our
difficulty might be obviated if the priest himself, or better
yet, a Catholic member of Alcoholics Anonymous, work with
the alcoholic, leave out the generalities of "Power
greater than himself," and fed him the strong Catholic
stuff of "God, the loving Father, Jesus Christ, the
God man and model, the Holy Spirit, the source of strengthening
the confession required can be a source of grave scandal
if made to a private individual or to a group. Here again
the Catholic can be offered the Sacrament of Penance and
the consequent sacramental grace in addition to psychiatric
healing. The danger does not cease once the alcoholic is
cured. He is then advised to attend informal meetings of
Alcoholics Anonymous, and there discuss quite frankly his
former sorry state and consequent vagaries.
the reformed alcoholics work with patients, while it has
proved highly successful in keeping him on the straight
and narrow, is for the Catholic bristling with dangers to
his faith. No man, even one well grounded in his faith,
can argue long and earnestly with an agnostic or a heretic,
assuring him constantly that it makes no difference what
he believes as long as he puts himself in the hands of one
stronger than himself, and still stand fast to the doctrine
of the One True Church. Temptations to faith are one of
the two temptations where the best defense is hasty flight.
very essence of the technique of this organization is the
surrendering of the will to some Superior Being in order
that He or It may direct their whole lives. When the Catholic
sees that the Universal Intelligence of the Pantheist or
the Inspiration of the Christian Scientist seems to be doing
just as good a job as his own God, the doubt will easily
arise, "Perhaps it doesn't make any difference just
what you believe."
antidote might be for the priest to recommend Catholics
to work with other Catholics. Here he would be up against
the organization's recommendation of helping anyone whenever
that help is needed, which at first blush looks much like
true Christ like charity.
few warnings are by no means a condemnation of Alcoholics
Anonymous. Their work is good work and one sorely needed
today. Their results are enviable. Their methods can be
baptized. Dr Braceland's recommendation, that the priest
investigate Alcoholics Anonymous still stands. They are
anxious to work with priests and they can be reached in
most large cities through doctors or hospitals. The priest,
before he releases any patient to them, however, should
be well aware of the dangers present in such a cure, and
should be prepared to take precautionary measures.