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April 25, 1942
IDEALS IN AID FOR ALCOHOLICS
Daniel M. O'Connell
the spirit and practice of Alcoholics Anonymous offer a
fertile field of Catholic Action to Catholic laymen and
women has been the consensus of the letters received in
response to two articles of mine on this subject in America
(December 6, February 14). Perhaps the most interesting
question raised came from an outstandingly zealous member
of our clergy. He is pastor of a large parish in a metropolitan
city. He tells me that he knows some of the leaders in Alcoholics
Anonymous in his city of over a million inhabitants, and
has made a study of their work and accomplishments. He inclines
to the theory that Alcoholics Anonymous are "particularly
interested in the rich and those who have good jobs and
who have fallen by the wayside of temperance."
of the good that can be done by Alcoholics Anonymous, I
trust that this observation of my worthy confrere is not
country-wide. For men of good will, for Catholics with zeal
among them, I can see no reason why Alcoholics Anonymous
should be limited to economic royalists; why these A.A.'s
could not and should not work for temperance among the less
well-to-do. Of course the organization could confine its
efforts, if it wished, to the financial upper third of our
citizens, and be praised for its good deeds in this limited
I can find nothing in the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous
which even hints at their zeal for promoting temperance
being restrained to the well to do. If their field of activity,
unfortunately, has been thus narrowed in particular places,
it is, I believe, accidental, and can be matched by their
work among the two percenters, the $15 a week people. As
for those who average less than fifteen dollars a week in
salary and are perhaps in the worse need of ministration
for alcoholism, I grant that there is greater difficulty,
even for a follower of the Good Shepherd, in caring for
them. No greater difficulty, however, than has been overcome
by members of the St. Vincent de Paul Societies in their
ministrations for a number of generations, or by a "Brother"
Dutton among lepers or a Saint Peter Claver in his ministering's
to afflicted slaves.
fact, here is a challenge to Catholic members of Alcoholics
Anonymous; make your work thus distinctive, as is that of
the Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America, by dealing
principally, or in a fifty-fifty proportion, among the poorer
of alcohol's victims.
Catholic lay member of Alcoholics Anonymous recently wrote
to me in zealous words concerning his five years of work
in the organization. His silence on the subject of any discrimination
against or neglect of persons in the lower brackets of tax
payers gives encouragement to the hope that they are not
excluded. I quote him:
agree with a prominent priest who is familiar with the results
of this organization that Alcoholics Anonymous can be the
greatest living force in the Church for abstinence, if properly
guided. Its basic principles are sound, practical Catholicism,
and it has been the means of bringing back many fallen away
properly guided" surely embraces "the poor you
always have with you" in this all-out commendation.
Accordingly I would stress this point at the moment to him
and his Catholic fellows that if the movement is "properly
guided" by "basic principles of Catholicism"
it will not exclude but, on the contrary, seek out the begger
as well as Dives.
principle for Catholic workers among the Alcoholics Anonymous
ever to hold fast is the old one in the Catholic Total Abstinence
Union and similar organizations among Catholics, viz., the
complete return of the alcoholic to the practice of the
Faith. This is fortunately stated by my correspondent in
his testimony that it has been the means of bringing back
many fallen away Catholics."
Anonymous have accomplished a striking amount of good. For
it they deserve praise and encouragement. The first serious
objection to them was that they were tinged with a streak
of agnosticism. Without doubt that has been disclaimed in
theory and disproved in practice. If the second objection
were valid - namely, that their efforts were only for the
wealthy - the A.A. would limit their good work.
the hope that these two-reflections on the A.A.'s are not
essential to their principles, I have perused carefully
their latest bit of literature to reach me. It is a pamphlet
published by the Cleveland branch of the A.A.'s, entitled
A Way of Life, and republished from articles by Elrick B.
Davis in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The brochure is published
at P.O. Box 1638, Station C, Cleveland, Ohio, but there
is the request that non-Clevelanders write for information,
etc., to The Alcoholic Foundation, Box 658, Church Street
Annex Post Office, New York City. I mention this address,
as I have received several requests for it.
the end of the pamphlet, Twelve Essential Steps Leading
to a New Way of Life are printed in prominent type. Seven
of these refer to "a Power greater than ourselves,"
"to the care of God as we understood Him," "Admitted
(confessed) to God," "ready to have God remove
these defects of character," "humbly asked Him
to remove our shortcomings," "sought through prayer
and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God
as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His
will for us and the power to carry that out," "having
had a spiritual experience as the result of these steps,
we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice
these principles in all our affairs."
expressions at times are not those of carefully defined
Catholic theological propositions but an ordinary well instructed
layman should have no difficulty in translating the Catholic
sense into catechetical language. A Christian could sum
them up in Saint Paul's words: "By the grace of God
I am what I am." The practices advocated are charitable;
one member reported that he "made a list of all persons
he had harmed and became willing to make amends to them
all." And "made direct amends to such people wherever
possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."
are the A.A.'s exclusive? Do they shun the poor? A statistical
reply is difficult. Certainly their general set-up is not
such. The A.A.'s rather boast that their is no graft in
their organization, no chance for any "muscling-in,"
no money-making in it. The members pay no dues. It pays
no staff. Its meetings are informal; its parties are "Dutch"
treats. It makes the statement that hospitalization, the
usual first step to a cure, must be paid by the patient
either directly or through his family or an advance from
his employer or credit from his friends. I can see a difficulty
here for a poor patient. It is not insoluble, as arrangements
can be made for payments or credit through any Catholic
its worst, though, granting that the A.A.'s in the past,
through accident I should hope, have confined their praiseworthy
efforts to the class of Dives, rather than to that of the
begger at his table, there is open to the Catholic A.A.'s
a distinct field of zeal for Catholic Action. I am sure
Catholic A.A.'s will agree with me that they would seek
a supernatural as well as a natural reward for their strenuous,
self-denying labors. The former, they know, is greater when
it is had from doing good to the least of Christ's brethren.
the pamphlet of the A.A.'s mentioned above, I find the following
respectful use of Scripture: "Did you ever hear 'Freely
ye have received, freely give'?" To it may I add another
question. Did you ever hear "As long as you did it
to the least of My brethren"?
similarly to the series of tornadoes which recently roared
through six Southern and Midwestern States, alcoholism leaves
untold wreckage behind it. In both cases the poor suffer
the most. In alleviating misery resulting from "acts
of God," American charity knows no distinction between
Jew and Gentile, white and black, rich and poor. So when
the work of a comparatively new organization, for the rehabilitation
of human wrecks due to the abuse of alcohol became known
to the American public, especially through the splendid
article of Jack Alexander in the Saturday Evening Post,
our newspapers and magazines were most generous in their
praise and encouragement of the movement. They surely could
not envision the poor being excluded from such relief work.
one, I am at least naive enough to believe that the A.A.'s
do not exclude deliberately the least of Christ's brethren.
As a young organization, perhaps its forces have not been
sufficiently consolidated; its numbers not large enough
to open up a new offensive. But its amazing victories to
date arouse the hope that it will in due time extend its
ministrations wherever possible and that no image of God
will be excluded.
Catholics Alcoholics Anonymous in particular, I am making
bold to address such an appeal for Catholic Action.