Before the comboxes fog with any public misperception of addiction, and for the sake of clarifying my own take on personal responsibility, I offer the 12 Steps with some appropriate links:
- Step 1 – We admitted we were powerless over our addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable
- Step 2 – Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
- Step 3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God
- Step 4 – Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves
- Step 5 – Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs
- Step 6 – Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character
- Step 7 – Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings
- Step 8 – Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all
- Step 9 – Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others
- Step 10 – Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it
- Step 11 – Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out
- Step 12 – Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to other addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs
I want to make clear that admitting one’s addiction does not involve a publicist, nor does it involve calling a press conference in Hollywood or New York. We may be numbed by an actor’s or athlete’s multiple journeys to rehab. But unless you’re addicted to celebrity watching, I wouldn’t pay attention.
Instead, note the actual Twelve Steps of Recovery, and especially note the truth-telling of the first three steps, particularly the commitment to God in step 3, the examination of conscience in step 4, the confession of step 5, the contrition of 6, the humility of 7, the acts of satisfaction in 8 and 9, the ongoing maintenance of ten through twelve.
That bishops have been so tragically and catastrophically codependent in the management of the sexual behavior of their clergy pretty much tips the scale in my thinking that we are witnessing a system of addiction. A healthy system would have isolated instances of wrongdoing. But those offenses would be dealt with honestly, openly, and in appropriately firm ways.
Addiction is not about Lindsay Lohan or Charlie Sheen making promises to do better and turning recovery into a fad. (Honestly, you’ll know a celebrity is in real recovery when you stop hearing about their craziness. Showing up for rehearsals or training camp clean and sober and keeping one’s nose clean isn’t news.)
Bishops are acting very much like the spouses of addicts. They make excuses. They blame others. They lie to protect the addict. You can take the Twelve Steps and in many cases, outline where bishops have done the exact opposite from the principles listed here.
I want to be clear: when I suggest priest predators may be addicts and bishops their codependents, I’m not giving them a free pass. Far from it. An addict is still responsible. Addiction is not a worm that crawls into someone’s ear in the middle of the night and takes control of the brain. Addicts make choices. Recovering addicts choose to get better, then their actions back up their words. Usually with little or no fanfare.
Recovering addicts will admit all their mistakes. They will accept jail time as well as financial consequences as part of the process of making amends. Make no mistake: priest sex abusers are still immoral criminals. Bishops who have covered up their crimes are guilty of conspiracy, fraud, incompetence, lying, gross mismanagement, and in some cases have, by their actions or inactions, cooperated in the abuse of innocent people. The worst offenders among them would not be out of place in prison. That these sinners may be accurately described as codependents does not absolve them of crime or sin.
To be honest: I’m not 100% sure all of the Church’s sex abuse and cover-up can be pegged to addiction. But if people experienced in addiction were to look at the Catholic Church, I would be very interested to hear what they have to say.