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"BLUE BOOK", Vol. 10, 1960
RE-ARMAMENT AND ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
Reverend John C. Ford, S.J.
of the original inspiration of A.A. came from the Oxford
Groups, which are now called MRA, or Moral Rearmament. It
Oxford grouper who first came to Bill W., the co-founder
in November, 1934, to tell him how he had found sobriety
help of God and the Oxford groups. And when Bill W. went
Ohio, in May, 1935, and almost had a slip, it was through
group people that he was introduced to Doctor Bob S., the
A.A. severed all connection with the oxford groups early
in its history. The New York A.A.'s withdrew in 1937, the
A.A.'s in 1939-at a time when the total membership of A.A.
cities was about a hundred people.
of the reasons for this withdrawal are given by Bill W.
in Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age. He says that the four
absolutes of the Oxford groups (absolute honesty, purity,
ness, and love) were too much for recovering alcoholics
that they rebelled against the "rather aggressive evangelism"
Oxford groupers, and could not accept the principle of team
guidance" from the group. Furthermore, the Oxford groups
prestige through publicity for its prominent members, while
was developing a fundamental principle of anonymity.
has always acknowledged the debt it owes to the Oxford
groups in its early days. Fortunately, however, when they
company, A.A. left behind those elements of Buchmanism which
unacceptable to Catholics. For instance, Catholics would
to open confession within the group practiced by many Buchmanites.
But in A.A. the fifth of the Twelve Steps reads, "We
God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact
our wrongs." A.A. members often "tell their story"
at A.A. meetings,
but a group confession, in an objectionable sense of the
not part of their policy or their practice. There are also
found still traces of Oxford group terminology in A.A.;
the word group itself. And the phrase "group conscience"
in A.A. literature is reminiscent of a Protestant type of
revelation, or at least of a theological position which
does not do
justice to the unique place occupied by the Church of Christ.
A.A. however, the phrase group conscience, if it ever had
theological meaning has long since lost it. It merely means
opinion of the major et sanior pars. And although it is
the hope of
all concerned that decisions be arrived at prayerfully,
or in a spirit
of submission to the will of God, it is not the thought
that God has made A.A. the instrumentality of special, private
ations. Besides, the decisions in question do not have to
religious or theological matters, but only with the practical
to be taken to help the sick alcoholic to recover.
the differences between the fundamental attitudes of
the early A.A.'s and the Oxford groupers were so pronounced
there was never a real ideological integration of A.A. into
movement. There was initial inspiration and association
integration. A.A. sprang from the Oxford groups but almost
sprang away from them.
IS NOT A RELIGION
questions that are occasionally raised today, about participation
of Catholics in A.A. are these: is A.A. a kind of religion,
or a non-Catholic religious movement? If so, Catholics must
take no active part. Or is it at least a movement which
peculiar dangers of religious indifferentism for the Catholics
participate in it? Is it unacceptable for Catholics in the
MRA is unacceptable?
participation in MRA was ably discussed by R. Bastian,
S.J., and J. Hardon, S.J., about two years ago: "An
Moral Rearmament," American Ecclesiastical Review,(135:
pp. 217-226). The authors unhesitatingly reject active cooperation
of Catholics in this movement. MRA is a religious movement
fundamentally Protestant, theological orientation, and involves
Catholics in serious dangers to their faith. Nevertheless,
Hardon does not believe that A.A. is a similar religious
or is subject to such censures as these, nor does he believe
participation in A.A. is dangerous to the faith of Catholics.
the contrary, he is emphatically of the opinion that A.A.
not be repudiated by Catholics. Father Hardon has kindly
us to print the following excerpt from a letter of his:
is in reply to your welcomed letter... to which I have given
considerable thought and offer the following as my personal
In answer to the first question, whether I consider A.A.
as the same
thing as MRA, I would say they are not the same. Evidently
that I know more about MRA than about A.A., yet enough about
latter to say that the two differ in several important respects:
MRA is directly concerned with a man's relations with
God; whereas A.A. is immediately concerned only with the
problem of drink.
MRA professes to give men a new insight into religious
truths by means of revelation from God; A.A. uses established
truths which are known from sound ethics and natural theology.
MRA began as a type of Protestant revivalism and only
later developed its present transectarianism. Its principles
still, to my mind, avowedly or implicitly Protestant. A.A.
never, to my mind, been formally associated with Protestant
and its principles, (to the best of my knowledge) are acceptable
to Catholics without prejudice to their faith.
MRA from the beginning has been looked upon as a kind
of religion; A.A. is not so regarded by its leaders or active
the second question, whether A.A. should be repudiated
by Catholics, I would answer emphatically, no. Years of
have shown how much good can be accomplished through A.A.
be a pity to deprive Catholics of its benefits. However,
I do believe
that proper care should be taken to safegaurd the religious
of Catholic A.A.'s by having them associate by preference
persons of their own faith, be directed by a priest, learn
depend on the Catholic means of sanctification, especially
Sacraments-all of which I am sure is being done..."
cannot be denied that there are religious elements in the
A.A. program. A.A. encourages its members to turn to God
as they understand Him, and to rely on the help of God.
Thus there are
elements of natural religion, and elements which Catholics
interpret in terms of supernatural grace. Dependence on
God is of
the essence of religion. It is also fundamental to the A.A.
Furthermore, these ideas as they appear in A.A. betray rather
obviously their Christian origins. But since A.A. avoids
in its own
organization program every trace of denominational or organized
religion, its members never speak of the religious elements
program. They speak rather of the spiritual side of the
A.A. has no official theology and professes no theological
The only theological proposition I find in A.A.'s more or
official literature is the proposition that alcoholics should
on God as they understand Him, accept His help, and do His
This minimal theological content is eminently acceptable
Catholics. The Twelve Steps are a practical, ascetical program
on this minimum of theology. They, too, have nothing in
them to which
Catholic Spiritual writers would have to take exception.
contrary, they are remarkably consonant with Catholic asceticism.
- NO THEOLOGICAL SYSTEM
undoubtedly Protestants when interpreting the Twelve
Steps will be likely to do so according to their own theological
presuppositions, and Catholics will do likewise. But the
they stand are objectively compatible with Catholic theology
asceticism and so are capable of adoption by Catholics.
important of all, A.A. itself has no theological system
theory or in practice which gives the twelve steps any other
A.A. meaning within the organization.
founders of A.A. made it an essential part of their program
almost from the beginning not to become theologically involved,
to be theologically committed to anything. In Alcoholics
Comes of Age, in a footnote for p. 232, Bill W. has this
for Doctor Bob and myself I would like to say that
there has never been the slightest intent, on his part or
trying to found a new religious denomination. Doctor Bob
certain religious convictions, and so do I. This is, of
personal privilege of every A.A. member.
however, could be so unfortunate for A.A.'s future
as an attempt to incorporate any of our personal theological
into A.A. teaching, practice, or tradition. Were Doctor
with us, I am positive he would agree that we could never
emphatic about this matter."
these are convincing reasons for asserting that membership
in A.A. is far from being a forbidden participation in a
Catholic religion or in a non-Catholic religious movement.
the beginning, however, many expressed fears of the practical
dangers to faith that might arise from an atmosphere of
indifferentism. These dangers have simply not materialized.
by the thousands have returned to the practice of their
through A.A. Whatever may be said of others, Catholics do
A.A. their religion. Rather, they use it as a means to remove
obstacle to the practice of their religion, the obstacle
the beverage alcohol. They do not forsake their Catholic
or practice for a new A.A. faith and practice. There are
Catholics in A.A. who because of bad marriages do not practice
their faith and cannot approach the Sacraments. Some of
get some of the "consolations of religion" out
of their A.A.
associations. But it is the bad marriage, not A.A., that
from practicing their faith. There are others who while
lost their faith and became agnostic. Most of these, the
majority in fact, on sobering up return to their faith.
A few do
not. But in their case the net result is that instead of
with a drunken agnostic you find yourself dealing with a
agnostic. Obviously, your chances of saving a soul are better
the latter case.
is no doubt about the fact that there are practical
dangers of religious indifferentism wherever we go in the
States today. In this country it is a part of the air we
There is no escaping it in A.A. or anywhere else. But it
said that A.A. offers any peculiar hazards in this regard.
beginning this was feared. But the wonderful record of returns
active Catholic faith and practice shows just the opposite.
type of association raises larger problems than that of
A.A. participation by our people. It is the general problem
cooperating with our brethren outside the Church in various
works and moral endeavors. For instance, we would like to
into the public schools, along with them, a program of moral
spiritual education. This is being attempted now in some
with the blessing of the hierarchy. But as soon as the word
is used in any such program there is danger of theological
and heresy. And undoubtedly there will be heresy in some
because, undoubtedly, some will give the word God an heretical
same problem arises in the character guidance programs
which have done and are doing so much good in our armed
The moral instructions have to be given to the men on a
non-sectarian basis if the program is going to be instituted
The problems raised by this kind of cooperation are much
serious in my opinion than anything that arises in connection
with A.A. In spite of certain difficulties, I think the
are being worked out satisfactorily, for the sake of the
which can be obtained for our own servicemen and all servicemen
in no other feasible way.
we are going to cooperate with our non-Catholic brethren
at all in matters of morals and the soul and the natural
God (and Pius XII has urged such cooperation) we cannot
using words that have a religious and theological connotation;
especially the words "God" and "grace of
God." But nobody believes
that we must forego all the good that can come from such
merely because the other man's theology is erroneous, or
the interpretation he may make is heretical.
would call attention, however, once more, to the importance
of a point made by Father Hardon. Catholic A.A.'s should
encouraged to strengthen their own spiritual lives by a
participation in the riches of their Catholic faith, especially
by frequent reception of the sacraments. Sometimes Catholic
gather together in associations formed for this purpose,
Calix society, or the Matt Talbot Retreat Movement. At other
times they proceed on an individual basis, or through Church
societies of a more general kind to deepen their Catholic
practice. Priests who work with A.A. find an endless and
fertile field for apostolic work of this kind. We are fishers
men. In A.A. the fish are just waiting to be caught. Once
the possibilities of spiritual growth and sanctification
Catholic A.A.'s through the Sacraments of Christ are immense.
from a letter to Father Ford from His Excellency,
Most Reverend Thomas L. Noa, D.D., Bishop of Marquette,
on the foregoing article.
just read your discussion on the relationship between A.A.
and MRA in The Blue Book, volume 10, which arrived this
week. In my
opinion, there is a great difference between MRA and A.A.
respect to the application of religion.
is concerned with guidance from above with respect to
the removal of an obstacle, viz., the sickness of body and
soul which results from alcoholism. It is a plain fact that
A.A. is not connected with any religious denomination and
avoids discussions on religion.
as I know it, points to a total way of life and not
merely to some problem in life. You refer to team guidance
group conscience in MRA. According to my experience, from
lengthier and shorter conversations with various individuals
in MRA, this
aspect constitutes a real danger to the purity and integrity
the faith of Catholics. They carry their notebook with them
the time, and are always making entries into it, relating
inspirations and thoughts that they acquire from prayer
quiet time. They share these thoughts with others and claim
policies are formed.
my opinion, there certainly is a certain select group of
individuals who act as formulators of these thoughts and
and testimonies. These individuals certainly do not have
authority for the entirely spiritual elements in these policies.
Thus, Catholics receive spiritual guidance from persons
not authorized to do so by the Church. To me this is the
final conclusion based on a theological and psychological
analysis of their
way of life. Moreover, Frank Buchman's name is always inserted
explicit or at least implicit thought that he is always
some of the Catholics in MRA seem to profess great
loyalty to the Church and teaching authority of the Church,
do not realize that the way of life of MRA is for them also
Other Catholics speak quite openly that they need MRA in
the Church. Thus indifferentism and syncretism creep into
way of thinking.
1955 and 1956, Bishop Charriere of Lausanne, Switzerland,
drew up a list of seven points which would safeguard the
of Catholics. These points were not accepted by MRA on the
that MRA is not an organization but an organism, and as
cannot operate by way of human directive. These latter words
given exactly as written by one of their leaders in a letter
I have. My conclusion is that MRA proposes a system of morality
based on inspiration from God.
fail to see how any dangers to the Catholic Faith can come
from working with A.A. with respect to the problem of alcoholism.
I feel that the general policy of the Church about joint
but independent action, can readily be applied to A.A. but