Conference shows Catholic spirituality as tool for treatment of addictions

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By Matthew Gambino

A one-day conference on addictions drew 375 participants Nov. 5 to discuss clinical and spiritual approaches to recovery from addictions of every kind.

Alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex, shopping and eating were some of the addictions discussed by clinical therapists, pastoral counselors and some 70 archdiocesan and religious priests in attendance at the conference sponsored by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Catholic Health Care Services and held at the Sheraton City Center Hotel.

The conference began as a springboard from Cardinal Justin Rigali’s book on the Catholic approach to addictions published this year by Basilica Press, “Let the Oppressed Go Free: Breaking the Bonds of Addiction.”

Speakers discussed the contribution of Catholic spirituality in treatment and recovery of addicts, plus prevention of addiction in families. Participants noted the significance of the Archdiocese’s sponsorship of the all-day conference on addictions. {{more}}

“I’ve been hoping and praying for this for 20 years,” said Laura Harrison, a pastoral care worker in the Trenton Diocese and, like many participants, a licensed addictions counselor. She called alcoholism “a lonely disease” from which she has been in recovery for 32 years.

“I believe the stigma of drug and alcohol addiction kills more people than any drug,” Harrison said.

Praising the conference, she called for the Church “to get rid of the shame and stigma, and like Christ, embrace the suffering addict.”

The day included addresses by inspaniduals working in addictions treatment and counseling, plus workshops that covered addiction and recovery themes.

In a morning address to begin the conference, the Cardinal said the Catholic Church in its various works has addressed the need for advocacy for comprehensive care of addicts, for their spiritual guidance and for ensuring a strategy for prevention of addictions.

A workshop and keynote talk addressed the problem of addictions in families. Speakers Sis Wenger, president of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics, and psychologist Patricia Gorman said the Church’s clergy, pastoral workers and parishioners can help identify patterns of suffering caused by addictions in a family, and help children break the cycle of addiction recurring across generations.

Jesuit Father Gerard McGlone, executive director of St. John Vianney Center in Downingtown, an archdiocesan facility for treatment of clergy and religious, was one of several priest presenters. His talk noted the personal and pastoral concerns of sexual addictions and the Internet, and how to prevent the potential harm to men, women and children who use technology.

Father Edward Reading, a priest of the Newark Archdiocese and licensed clinical addictions counselor, said that of 10 people in a church pew, statistics show two are in need of treatment of addiction and four more are living or working with an addict. Since more than half the people in a parish need addiction recovery services, he suggested parishes adopt formal outreach services to addicts and their families.

The key to treatment, he said, was the 12-step recovery process developed through the group Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s.

The process stresses personal conversion through reliance on God, acknowledgment of one’s behavior and seeking forgiveness for it, plus service to other addicts through mutual support.

“Conversion is something that is integral to Catholic spirituality,” said Father Reading.

Addicts “can go from abstinence (of an addictive substance or behavior) to emotional recovery, but unless they make that spiritual jump, they’re missing a lot,” Father Reading said. “They have to know they are loved by God and forgiven, and by the very nature of recovery, they have to share that.”

Matthew Gambino is the director and general manager of the Catholic Standard & Times.