| print this
PRIEST, August 1989
PRIESTS: ARE THEY EFFECTIVE PASTORS?
by Steven L. Berg
alcoholics are frequently known for their character
defects, it seems unlikely that an alcoholic could make
priest. However, participation in Alcoholics Anonymous brings
spiritual renewal. The article explains the spiritual growth
the priest gets in A.A. and argues that the recovered alcoholic
priest is an effective pastor.
two separate articles, Dean Marr has claimed that
alcoholics make better pastors.
similar attitude can be found in Bishop Michael Dempsey's
observation that "Some of the greatest priests in America
priests who have had an alcoholic problem."
the surface, such a position seems foolish.
Stewart claims that the alcoholic is childish, overly
sensitive, grandiose, impulsive, intolerant, and given to
author warns that alcoholics can rationalize lusty sexual
excursions into romance, that they too often enjoy gossip
with anger; have feelings of superiority, envy, righteousness,
gluttony, and sloth which they describe with less harsh
that they waste time wishing for what they don't have rather
working for it.
author has gone so far as to describe the alcoholic
personality as devilish, hardly a characteristic welcomed
Dean Marr and Bishop Dempsey would not only welcome these
alcoholic men into the ministry but also claim that they
superior talents as pastors.
irony of such a claim comes from the fact that Mr. Marr,
Bishop Dempsey, and others who recognize the gifts which
priests bring to the ministry are not referring to the alcoholic
who is still drinking.
they are talking about "recovered" alcoholic priests,
men whose alcoholism visited upon them the trials of Job
like Job, survived with a strengthened spiritual base.
are men who "were great priests before they had the
problem and often it was their dedication to their ministry,
hours of untiring service that brought on the problem.
does the alcoholic priest do, however, that is so
the material compiled at Guest House, we know that Father
James worked with the missions in Chile, that Father Vince
book on counseling, and that Father Georges wrote one on
Union, that Father William has a special ministry with minority
groups, that Father James' ministry is educating youth,
Father Jim helps the deaf hear the promise of God's blessing.
priests such as Father Joe and Father Vaughan work in
treatment facilities, and others, like Father Francis, conduct
seminars for seminarians so they too can be more effective
the fact they are all effective priests, the one
thing these men have in common is their involvement with
adressing the issue of A.A. involvement, it is
important to realize that alcoholism is a threefold malady:
physical, mental, and spiritual.
effects of alcoholic drinking such as a destroyed
liver are easy to measure.
thinking and rationalizations are examples of the
type of mental problems which alcoholics have. As their
progresses, they find it more and more difficult to function
world because they don't think and react like other people.
Although they might not be certifiably mentally ill, in
they live in a fantasy world.
describing the spiritual effects of alcoholism, Paul V.
Sullivan argues that "the person involved in the throes
alcoholism is in every sense alone." This sense of
caused by a separation not only from other human beings,
Sullivan explains, the alcoholic "isolates himself
even though he may still believe in God."
priests can isolate themselves from the God to whom they
have dedicated their lives if they do not practice a life
spiritual renewal. And a lack of attention paid to spirituality
characteristic of alcoholics.
alcoholism causes spiritual and mental as well as
physical decline, contented sobriety does not result by
act of not drinking. While the first step to recovery comes
not drinking, the character defects which are associated
alcoholics continue unless spirituality is addressed. As
Mark Mindrup explains, spiritual renewal is needed both
in terms of
religious development and in terms of recovery from alcoholism.
have found that A.A. brings spiritual renewal. After
making the decision not to drink, priests - like all others
suffer from alcoholism - are welcomed into the A.A. program.
fact, admission of powerlessness over alcohol and recognition
life has become unmanageable is the first step of A.A.'s
recovery program. And it is the only step that specifically
mentions alcohol. The remaining steps concern themselves
taking the first step of recovery, the priest who enters
A.A. is asked to turn his will and his life over to the
care of the
God he understands. In effect, he is asked to end his isolation
he reacquaints himself with his higher power, the priest
takes a moral inventory which he shares with another person.
C. Sellner is just one of many people who have compared
to the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
the inventory, A.A. - alcoholics ask God to remove
their defects as they go about the process of making amends
harm they have done.
J. Crotty, in an article on the "Basics of Recovery,"
argues that recovery, like the disease of alcoholism, is
progressive, that recovery is a process. And, like all other
process, recovery takes time.
the alcoholic priest works the pro,gram advocated by
Alcoholics Anonymous, he enters into a recovery process.
there are other recovery programs available, A.A. is
especially suited for the priest because of its spiritual
is for this reason that individuals working to help alcoholic
priests have historically recommended the A.A. program.
A.A. does not advocate any particular spiritual
program, A.A. meetings rarely address specific spiritual
The recovering priest, however, is able to find spiritual
with other Catholics if he becomes involved in a Calix,
a group of
Catholics who have recovered through A.A. In Calix, the
able to work with others who understand and have a strong
commitment to Catholicism.
alcoholic priests approach their ministry with a
continued sanse of spiritual renewal. However, when they
their work in parishes or prisons or missions or wherever
take them, recovered alcoholic priests are not the same
priests whom Bishop Dempsey described. They are better.
they continue to be dedicated to their ministry, their
recovery program in Alcoholics Anonymous helps prevent them
acting on the unhealthy character traits which led to their
eventual isolation from God and community.
the recovered priest's skills recognized by his
parishioner? A brief anecdote by Father William J. Clausen
this question in the affirmative.
a "recovered" alcoholic, was being transferred
another parish, a move he mentioned to a teenager in the
was leaving. He was surprised at the teenager's reaction.
the bishop sending us another alchy priest?" he asked.
my successor is not an alcoholic."
nuts!" he shot back.
it would be foolish to argue that priests who have not
suffered the effects of alcoholism are somehow are inferior
alcohic priests, Dean Marr's observation is essentially
an alcoholic truly recovers in A.A., they develop a
marvelous sense of balance. They learn to love again because
have lifted from them the thing that blinds them to themselves."
experiencing the spiritual renewal that is unavoidable
in A.A., the recovered alcoholic priest should be sought
bishops and requested by parishioners because as recovery
progresses he only becomes better.