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


Alcoholics Anonymous is a society of alcoholics who meet to reinforce one another in their efforts to become and stay sober. The A.A. fellowship takes its name from its text Alcoholics Anonymous. Known affectionately by A.A. members as the “Big Book,” it was compiled by Bill Wilson in 1939 from the experiences of original A.A. members.

This preamble, read aloud at A.A. meetings, describes A.A. from the viewpoint of A.A. members themselves:

Alcoholics Anonymous is a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism.

The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership; we are self-supporting through our own contributions. A.A. is not allied with any sect, denomination, politics, organization or institution; does not wish to engage in any controversy; neither endorses nor opposes any causes. Our primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics to achieve sobriety.5

The primary purpose of the A.A. program is recovering from alcoholism, a maladaptive habit manifested in certain people for reasons that are not very well understood. Many other recovery groups have emulated the A.A. technique, and participants report success in using the Twelve Steps to conquer ills such as drug addiction, compulsive eating, and gambling obsessions.

The focus of twelve-step programs is overcoming the malady that members share in common. Membership is open to anyone with the same problem, without regard for religion, nationality, economic status, sex, or education. With such a mélange, it is not surprising that points of difference are de-emphasized or even suppressed for the sake of unity.

For the traditional Catholic, this policy of uncritical tolerance can make a twelve-step meeting a hazard to his faith. For example, he might be tempted to use the term “Higher Power” when referring to God simply from repeated exposure to it, or so as not to offend the agnostics and atheists present. The failing can be even more severe: this author knows a woman who quit the Catholic Church because she wanted to just “worship God in A.A.” Though many members of twelve-step programs would protest that their meetings are not a substitute for religion, many, too, describe A.A. as their “church.” In any event, clearly there is at least a risk of syncretism stemming from a premise that makes a virtue of heterogeneity.