By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

How prevalent is addiction? Can people overcome addictions through willpower alone? How important are prayer and the sacraments for overcoming addictions?

Cardinal Justin Rigali spoke about these issues during an interview concerning his soon-to-be-released book, “Let the Oppressed Go Free – Breaking the Bonds of Addiction.” The 80-page soft-cover book is the latest in “The Shepherd’s Voice Series,” from Texas-based Basilica Press.

Each volume, priced at $5.95, is in question-and-answer format and written by a bishop, archbishop or cardinal.

“I found it (Q & A format) quite satisfactory,” Cardinal Rigali said. “The text itself could be quite precise because the questions were precise. That way we got around excessive generalities. The formula is something like the ‘Baltimore Catechism;’ there is something to be said about that.”

His particular topic, the Cardinal said, was chosen by him in consultation with Basilica Press.

“This is something that is very relevant and useful, and I was hoping by writing it I could make a contribution that could help people in their lives. I’ll be very pleased if it will get into the hands of people it will help or those who will help them.”

Although the Cardinal’s book cites such traditional addictions as alcohol and drugs, others noted didn’t exist a decade or two ago; for example, online shopping and cyber-pornography. This leads to the question, is today’s environment more conducive to addictive behavior than in the past?

“I believe today’s environment is much more challenging,” the Cardinal said. “Technology, for its many blessings, does present special difficulties. In that sense you can say the environment is more conducive to addictive behavior.”

As addiction is acquired, he said, “freedom is wounded.” It is important to try to ward off addiction long before it takes place because once it takes hold free will is gone.”

Addiction, he said, “actually leads to slavery, and in doing so we have tremendous violence done to one of our greatest gifts, which is the gift of free will.”

In the book the Cardinal advocates the use of spiritual advisors, prayer and the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist for those fighting addictions.

“Prayer is extremely important in overcoming addiction and avoiding addiction to begin with,” he said. “For those who are in the household of our faith, penance and Eucharist are so important. Their value, their power, can never be over-estimated.” To try to overcome addiction through willpower alone is absolutely insufficient. It is not only problematic it is impossible.

Cardinal Rigali likened this approach to the heresy of Pelagianism which said man can ascend to God by his own power.

“Just as that was successfully debunked over the years we know that in addictions you cannot raise yourself up by your own power alone,” he said.

Willpower is to be absolutely cultivated but it is to be combined with natural and supernatural means.

One of the natural means prominently covered in the book is the Twelve Step Program. It was originally designed to overcome alcohol addiction but has since been adopted for many other addictions.

“A very important principal of the Twelve Steps is to speak of the power of God or at least of a Higher Power, and that’s something essential to overcome addictions,” the Cardinal said. “It is a great thing that it is so recognized now, if not universally recognized, certainly greatly recognized, the need to rely on the power of God and His help through which we receive grace and strength.”

There are natural helps and supernatural helps, and “the Church draws our attention to this and says, ‘Don’t be discouraged. God’s love abides with His people.’ For those who have slipped into addictions it is possible, with God’s help, to overcome them,” Cardinal Rigali said.

“Let the Oppressed Go Free” is the seventh book in The Shepherd’s Voice Series, according to Alan Napleton, President and CEO of Basilica Press.

“I was fascinated that Cardinal Rigali chose that topic,” he said. “It was 100 percent his decision. Coincidentally, I had a family member struggling with an addiction.

“Addictions are really out of control and this book is a wonderful project.

“The initial press run will be 18,000 copies, which is the largest so far in the series,” Napleton said.

Following upon the early positive reception of the book, there will be a conference based upon the book and its topic of addictions through the lens of Catholic teaching, most likely to be held in Spring 2010 in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

“Let the oppressed Go Free – Breaking the Bonds of Addiction” will be available through Basilica Press’s distributor, Catholic Word (800-932-3826) or through religious book stores.

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.