The Catholic Church, 12 Step Movements and Resentments

There was a question and/or comment during my interview on the “‘On Call’ with Wendy Wiese” radio show regarding the Catholic Church and the validity or efficacy of 12 Step Movements.

The basic contention of the caller (I think it was “Tom from Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Treatment Centers”) was that I was dismissing AA and that Catholics shouldn’t use it. He suggested that because the Church sends priests and nuns to 12 Step meetings, or priests tell ordinary parishioners with a drinking problem to go to AA, that fully legitimizes the 12 Step movement and suggestions to the contrary are undeserved.

Yes, but up to a point. I think that people are automatically sent to AA because it is basically the only game in town. AA has been around since 1935, and while there are other recovery programs with a broad range of approaches, AA is the best known and is the default option because of that. It is like when you have a headache, you’re told to take an aspirin. If you have an allergic reaction to something, you go take an antihistamine. Same sort of thing; although there are other options, AA is the best known and the obvious choice for many.

The point that I have been trying to make since I began Sober Catholic in 2007 is that 12 Step movements may be a threat to your Catholic faith if you are not well grounded in it. If you have been drinking or drugging for decades, chances are good that you haven’t practiced your faith much in that time. Most likely you do not know it very well. Therefore, you are easily swayed by the notion that, “all churches are the same;” that “it doesn’t matter what you believe in, as long as you believe in something.” Many Catholics leave the Faith because they do not know what they are leaving. The caller mentioned that he has found that Catholics mostly leave because they found Jesus in other Churches. Well, the Catholic Church has a lot to answer for, bad catechesis is one of the big ones Church leaders at any level will have to account for. But the rank-and-file Catholics who leave should also attempt to know what they are leaving. No Jesus in the Catholic Church? Oh, really?? Have you looked?


Which leads me to another thing: virtually all alcoholics have resentments. Among Catholics, these resentments often include the Church. And yet in my many observations in the rooms of AA, ex-Catholics never seem to address these resentments versus the Church. It is almost as if they seek to maintain them in order to establish a type of credibility as “recovering Catholics,” who’s spiritual development no longer includes an archaic and stuffy “organized religion”, especially now that they’ve embraced 12 Step spirituality.

Catholics well grounded and versed in their faith don’t suffer from this. They can be exposed to 12 Step Spirituality and filter out anything incompatible with Catholicism.

Twelve Steps can be a fine way to establish one’s sobriety. After a fashion it may need to be shed. Just like you don’t need aspirin after the headache is gone, or an antihistamine once you stop sneezing, once you’ve achieved a nice level of sobriety, you may not need to continue attending meetings.

What is a “nice level of sobriety?” Perhaps once you’ve recovered what you lost (family, health, job) and have learned to react to things without the crutch of booze.

If, afterwards, you feel the need to continue meeting attendance to “give back,” then fine. Gratitude is awesome. However, if your Catholic faith has become instrumental in your sobriety, and you can maintain sobriety without meeting attendance, then maybe take advantage of this level of freedom. Since you don’t “need a meeting,” but are only going out of gratitude, then perhaps make an attempt to add something to your 12 Step work. Find the weak Catholic or ex-Catholic members of the Group, seek them out and perhaps evangelize them. Answer their questions about the faith and perhaps draw them back in. This needn’t have to be done in violation of the Traditions of the 12 Step movement, you can engage them in the little informal meetings and chats that take place outside the rooms. Show them how the Mass and the Sacraments, devotion to Saints and other traditional practices of the Faith were key in your sobriety.

Become “fishers of people.” Go after the “lost sheep.” So what, if they’re now members of a different Church? Engage them. It will take a long time, but you will be rewarded greatly by your Father in Heaven when you come Home.

Know someone, perhaps yourself, who might like Catholic devotionals for alcoholics? Please take a look at my books! (Thank you!!)

"The Recovery Rosary: Reflections for Alcoholics and Addicts"

and "The Stations of the Cross for Alcoholics"


  1. I whole heartily agree with your comment on why most Catholics leave the faith, they don’t understand what they are leaving. I was out of the church for 35 years or so, because I :knew better” which allowed temptation and sin into my life.

  2. “12 Step movements may be a threat to your Catholic faith if you are not well grounded in it”

    There’s a lot more wrong with the 12 step programmes than that, but you’ve hit on a good point. AA functions exactly like a cult, complete with uncriticisable leaders, unquestioning devotion to a system invented by a megalomaniac, and a complete reversal of critical thinking when trying to understand the programme.

    There are many ways people get sober, and I’m glad to see a Roman Catholic taking this seriously. For more on the AA programme, nothing beats the Orange Papers:

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