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How to Respond to Anti-Catholic Sentiments in Recovery Meetings

When I first walked through the doors of a 12-step meeting over 13 years ago I was hopeless, helpless, and desperate for a change. It was by far the hardest and best thing I ever did and I immediately felt accepted in a room full of complete strangers. 30 days earlier while in treatment I realized I was addicted to alcohol as well as drugs (my drug of choice was cocaine). 

So, when I got out of treatment I made up my mind to attend AA as well as NA meetings because I needed the extra help. But my pride and ego were hard at work and it wasn’t long before I relapsed with alcohol and cocaine. The next six months were a living hell as I spiraled out of control. I almost lost it all: my husband, children, and home. 

Yet, God gave me a final invitation to surrender to His will. I stumbled back toward my recovery groups. I was grateful for the second chance, and I sought out a sponsor who not only had what I wanted but who was also Catholic. I earnestly began working the Twelve Steps.

I came to believe in God, turned my will and life over to Him, and returned to my Catholic faith. I had always struggled with others’ concept of a “higher power” that referred to a doorknob, another human person, or fellowship as a whole. I knew that humans were fallible (even those in organized religion) and felt that worshiping objects (e.g. a doorknob) was a form of idolatry. Unlike other people and objects, God was omnipotent, all-powerful, and loving. And I believed He was the only one who could make all things new if I clung to Him and allowed Him to enter my life through the Twelve Steps. 

I decided to do my fifth step with a priest, where I admitted to God, myself, and another human being the exact nature of my wrongs. I felt as if the years of pain and regret for my grave sins were washed away. As I continued working the steps and working with others I began to announce the truth and freedom that I had found in Jesus Christ. I shared how in finding recovery fellowship I found God and that He had called me back to the Catholic faith. 

Unfortunately, with this proclamation came a backlash and negative comments about God and the Catholic Church. I’m sure you’ve all heard others in recovery say things like, “grateful recovering Catholic” or “you’d drink too if you were forced to go to a Catholic church as a child.” I guess they forget that much of the wisdom in the Big Book stems from the very type of organized religion they dislike so much…

At one point, I became so discouraged I almost walked away for good. Thank goodness that I paused long enough to hear God speak to my heart, though, and tell me this:

“Take courage since you are now empowered by me and liberated through the Holy Spirit. My children are lost and starving, just as you once were, give them the bread that is you. When they offend you or me pray for them, saying, ‘Lord, forgive them for they know not what they do.’”

Praise be to God that I discovered Catholic in Recovery at this time, began weekly phone meetings, and continued working the Twelve Steps that, along with the sacraments, brought new life and vigor to my journey of sobriety. God has redeemed my past and it has now become one of His greatest assets. By the power of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of our Blessed Mother, I am frequently prompted to share my past traumas of incest, rape, and having two abortions in the recovery world. I share how God healed me, set me free, and how His healing is available to all. 

It’s important to remember that as Catholics we have many spiritual tools at our disposal. Here are some suggestions for arming yourself in the Spirit before engaging those in recovery:

  • Attend daily Mass, receive the Eucharist, frequent confession, and go to weekly eucharistic adoration.
  • Bless yourself with holy water, wear blessed medals and scapulars, and pray the “St Michael and Guardian Angel” prayer often. 
  • Ask God to direct your thoughts, words, and actions before your meetings. You can even pray a rosary quietly during your meetings as well. 

Remember, we begin and end every meeting in prayer, so wherever two or three are gathered God is there in our midst. We must shine the joy and light of Christ in order to penetrate the darkness that seeks to destroy. Even in recovery meetings, the Devil is always at work to destroy souls. Make sure to seek out your sponsor or spiritual director when you’re frustrated by anti-Catholic remarks or comments. And when someone really bothers you with a remark, remember, “principles before personalities!” 

Lastly, always remember to be who God created you to be in order to change the world—one recovery meeting at a time!


Kathleen Ann, by God’s grace, has been clean and sober since June 1, 2006. She is an active member of AA, CIR, and works part-time as the Project Rachel Coordinator in the Life office at the Diocese of Rockford, where she helps gently and confidentially guide those wounded by abortion to hope and healing in Christ Jesus. On most days you can find her at daily Mass, the gym, or caring for the needs of her family, young and old alike.


  1. Deacon Dave on February 4, 2020 at 10:28 am

    Amen! Due to rampant anti-Christian attitudes and ever-present anti-Catholicism in so many 12-step groups out here in California, I stopped gong to meetings several years ago. But I did not stop living the 12 Steps and I knew the value of fellowship so I found a couple of good Catholic guys also in recovery and we formed our own “private” fellowship I guess you could call it. All the Big Book requires is to share with ONE other human being so it works for us and no need for a large group. I also agree with you that I wonder if so many in 12-step fellowships have really read and absorbed its message which is rooted in the Scriptures? I think the concept of “God as you understand him” was used to get people to just come on in…with the hope that they would eventually find the Personal God of the Bible who is can be discovered in the Big Book.

    • Kathy Berkes on February 18, 2020 at 3:08 pm

      Thank you Deacon Dave for your reply. I’m glad you found the fellowship you crave. God bless!

  2. Stan S on February 18, 2020 at 2:48 pm

    In my 35 years of recovery in AA, I have never experienced the anti-religious attitude that permeates recovery in my area. I never understood why someone could claim religion and be attacked, while those against religion are heralded. A sign of our societal times.

    I have also, stopped attending, but still have fellowship with several members, and try my best to live the program. I have come to see AA as a necessary evil. I still encourage attendance, but draw the line at making meetings and exclusive fellowship. After all, we should be living our lives in the world, not hiding in meetings. Many people I know attend 7 to fifteen meetings a week. The follow the “Meeting Makers Make It” credo. Many reject my, “It’s not meetings that keep you sober, it’s God.”

    Maintenance come from steps 1, 3 and eleven. Of course all the steps need be applied, but these three are the core.

  3. Kathy Berkes on February 18, 2020 at 3:15 pm

    Thank you Stan for your comment. God bless us all as we trudge (walk with purpose) the happy road of destiny.

  4. Susan on February 19, 2020 at 11:20 am

    I am so grateful for your story. Thank you for sharing. My drug of choice is wine and food. I’ve just begun a 12 step program and am desperate to find other Catholics who are on the same journey. I’ve also suffered the pain of abortion and a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat began a journey of healing which I’m still working toward. Please pray for me.

  5. Kathy Berkes on February 19, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    Dear Susan,
    Thank you for your kind response. Remember one day at a time and we are all connected to the heartstrings of our loving Father! Our healing never ends as God continues to peel back the layers in His time as He is the divine physician. Stay close to the sacraments and the grace that abounds from them. I will pray for you Susan! Blessings & peace. Your sister in Christ, Kathy

  6. Monica Driscoll on March 6, 2020 at 3:22 pm

    I’m grateful that the 12 steps helped me to rediscover the gifts we have in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Eucharist!

  7. Kathy Berkes on March 7, 2020 at 9:26 am

    Dear Monica,
    We are so blessed to have a new way of life through the 12 steps and all the grace we receive from the reception of the sacraments. God is so good to all who trust in His will.
    God bless,

  8. Monica on September 21, 2020 at 4:42 pm

    I’ve just re-read this article and was a great reminder of how far I’ve come and that I still have work to do. I’m a full time caregiver for my daughter who has 2 autoimmune diseases, some of it heredity and much of it due to the fact that I drank heavily and smoked pot while I was pregnant with her. Due to the pandemic and her health issues, I’m unable to go to meetings as much as I’d like. But thanks to being able to read stuff on line, I’m able to stay focused as best I can.

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