The Religious Roots of Alcoholics Anonymous
and the Twelve Steps
After the War, and Trouble with the Catholic Church
After the war, Frank Buchman and his Moral Re-Armament were not very
popular, to put it mildly. Both
the American and the British people had long memories, and
Buchman's admiration of Hitler, and
the group's attempts at draft-dodging, didn't sit well.
And then there was the total failure of Buchman's appeasement-oriented
"God's Plan" to save the world from war.
Buchman had lost his credibility — how could he claim to be receiving
messages and Guidance directly from God when he was so terribly wrong
about so many things?
And MRA had lost its biggest pre-war draw: fear of the coming war.
In 1944, when travel bans were still in place, some British Buchmanites
wished to travel to Mackinac Island to attend an assembly. Lord Salisbury submitted
a special request for them. Foreign Office Secretary Anthony Eden
was strongly opposed to such a special favor...
Eden had written across Salisbury's letter in red ink,
'Surely these are deplorable people? and it is staggering that
Lord S should wish them well.'
Garth Lean, On the Tail of a Comet: The Life of Frank Buchman, page 331.
Tom Driberg, the London newspaper reporter who got himself elected
to Parliament, didn't want to even let the Buchmanites back into
Britain after the war. On May 3, 1946, he protested against the Home Secretary
James Chuter Ede granting entrance visas to a group of 100 Buchmanites,
including Frank Buchman. Driberg denounced Buchman as a "soapy
Driberg raised the issue again in the House of Commons on July fifth:
DR. BUCHMAN'S GROUP
SCORED IN COMMONS
LONDON, July 5 — Asking why facilities had been granted
for entry to Britain of 100 members of the Oxford Group led
by Dr. Frank Buchman from the United States, Tom Driberg,
Labor member, said in the House of Commons today that the
movement had a great deal in common with the Nazis.
Mr. Driberg asserted that Dr. Buchman had praised Adolf Hitler
and Heinrich Himmler and that leaders of his Moral Rearmament
had been enthusiastic Hitlerites.
The group's standards, Mr. Driberg stated, were "marked by
remarkable duplicity," by "intrigue, backstairs methods
Mr. Driberg also attacked the movement on industrial grounds.
Its program seemed "nothing less than spiritual strike-breaking,"
he said, adding that in his opinion it was at its worst
anti-socialist and anti-democratic.
Home Secretary Chuter Ede, repudiating any idea that he had
shown special favor to Dr. Buchman's group, stated that fewer
than fifty American citizens were in the party that was allowed
to enter Britain. The New York Times, July 6, 1946, page 8.
Things just went from bad to worse for Frank Buchman.
The Catholic Church got fed up with him, too.
In 1952, the Archbishop of Milan denounced Moral Re-Armament:
MORAL REARMAMENT HIT
Archbishop of Milan Warns It Is
'Morality Without Dogma'
MILAN, Italy, June 17 (AP) — Ildefonso Cardinal Schuster,
Archbishop of Milan, said today that the Moral Rearmament
Movement endangered both Catholics and non-Catholics.
He described the movement as heterodoxal — at variance with
the teachings of the Catholic church — in a warning note to
the clergy and Catholic faithful of his Archdiocese.
Cardinal Schuster attacked Moral Rearmament as a movement "of
Protestant origin and system, outside the guidance and control
of the Catholic church." He called the movement dangerous
for non-Catholics because it presents a "form of religion
cut in half and suggestive, morality without dogma, without the
principle of authority, without a supremely revealed faith —
in a word, an arbitrary religion, and therefore, one full of
errors." The New York Times, June 18, 1952, page 8.
Then, in 1955 and 1957, the Vatican banned MRA:
VATICAN AFFIRMS ITS BAN ON M.R.A.
Implies Sympathy With Aims
but Cautions All Catholics
Against Serving It
by ARNOLDO CONTESI
Special to The New York Times.
ROME, Dec 9. — The Roman Catholic Church indicated today that it
was in sympathy with the aims and purposes of the Moral Re-Armament
movement but that Catholics should beware of collaborating with it.
The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano recalled that secular
and regular clergy were forbidden to attend any meeting of
Moral Re-Armament and that lay Catholics were forbidden to serve
it in any responsible capacity.
These prohibitions were issued in 1955 by the Vatican's Sacred
Congregation of the Holy Office, which is in charge of all matters
pertaining to faith and morals. L'Osservatore reminded Catholics
that both prohibitions were still in force.
The Catholic Church's main objection to Moral Re-Armament,
L'Osservatore Romano indicated, is that it presents itself as
"a movement with a true religious ideology of its own
of a nature different from Catholic ideology."
Catholic Members Claimed
MACKINAC ISLAND, Dec. 9 (AP) — Ray Purdy, a spokesman for
M. R. A., said, "It's all news to me."
He said many Catholics had worked in the movement in the past
and many were working in it now. He declined to comment further.
No Comment Here
A spokesman at the New York office of the Moral Re-Armament
movement said yesterday that there would be no comment on
the article. He reported that Dr. Buchman was not in the city. The New York Times, December 10, 1957, page 21.
Frank Buchman, Ray Foote Purdy, and Admiral Richard E. Byrd
In 1961, another bishop, Bishop Noa of Marquette (Detroit, Michigan, USA),
re-stated the Vatican's position that Frank Buchman's
doctrines were incompatible with the Roman Catholic faith,
and the Bishop introduced his paper with this statement:
Last fall (1960) it appears that many Catholics in Switzerland participated
in meetings with MRA, including some prominent Benedictine Monks who
addressed the World Assembly in Caux.
The publicity department of MRA made a big show here in the United States.
In addition to mimeographed sheets, they distributed a pamphlet entitled
"Swiss Catholics Welcome Moral Re-Armament".
High church authorities were quoted in praise of the movement.
The implication was that it is all right for Catholics to participate in MRA.
At the time that the present pamphlet was in the process of print, Bishop Noa
was informed authoritatively that the Holy See disapproved of the presence
of these Benedictines at the World Assembly of MRA in Caux, and what they said.
This fact shows plainly that the Holy See has not changed its attitude
with respect to Catholics and MRA. This incident is a sample of how
misleading MRA publicity can be.
MORAL RE-ARMAMENT and the CATHOLIC LAY APOSTOLATE,
Thomas L. Noa, D.D., Bishop of Marquette,
1961, page 2.
The following document gave much further information about the Catholic Church's banning of
Frank Buchman's religion:
Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Its Technical and Religious Nature in the Light of
Catholic Teaching, by Rev. Clair M. Dinger, S.T.L.
(The Catholic University of America Press, Inc., 1961. Printed by the Abbey Press,
St. Meinrad, Indiana, U.S.A. Dewey: 248.25 D613)
This is a dissertation submitted to the faculty of the School of Sacred Theology of the
Catholic University of America in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree
of Doctor of Sacred Theology.
The Appendix says:
The history of the heirarchical appraisal of the movement began in England in 1938, when
Moral Re-Armament was still known as the Oxford Group.
His Eminence, the late Cardinal Hinsley, Archbishop of Westminister, had this to say
of the movement:
"The group movement is so tainted with indifferentism, with the error that
one religion is as good as another, that no Catholic can join it to take any
active part in it or co-operate with it formally."1
On the assumption that perhaps the nature of the Oxford Group has changed under its
new title of Moral Re-Armament, the movement was again examined by the Heirarchy
The following statement was drawn up at the October meeting of the Heirarchy of England and
Wales, and now has been circulated to the clergy of the respective dioceses:—
"'Moral Re-Armament.' —This movement is so tainted with indifferentism, with the
error that one religion is as good as another, that no Catholic can take any part in
such a movement, or formally co-operate. Catholics should be warned not to attend their
meetings or gatherings, even as spectators."2
According to the Rev. Clement Tigor, S.J., this was still the attitude of His Eminence Cardinal
Griffin and the Heirarchy in 1954.3
In Germany, His Eminence Cardinal Frings, Archbishop of Cologne, mentioned the following in a
sermon on Whitsun, 1950:
"The Church likewise makes a stand regarding the movement at Caux called Moral Re-Armament.
She is of the opinion that the principles on which this movement is based are simply a
vague and dangerous religious syncretism which completely conditions moral influence.
The Church therefore takes every opportunity to counsel the faithful, and priests above all,
not to take any part in this movement."4
In 1951, the Holy Office sent the following instruction to the Bishops throughout the world:
The Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office has been asked whether it is fitting that the clergy
and members of religious communities should take part in the reunions and meetings of Moral
Their Eminences the Cardinals and the priests of this Sacred Congregation, in a plenary session
on August 8, 1951, attentively examined the proposed question and decided to issue the
It is not fitting for either diocesan or religious priests, and much less for nuns, to
participate in the meetings of Moral Re-armament.
If exceptional circumstances should make such participation opportune, the permission of
the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office must be requested beforehand. This permission
will be granted only to learned and experienced priests.
Finally it is not fitting that the faithful should accept posts of responsibility in
Moral Re-armament, and especially not fitting that they join the so-called "policy team."5
In 1952, His Eminence Cardinal Schuster, the late Archbishop of Milan, made this statement:
This movement, Protestant in origin and structure... is dangerous... because it offers a kind of
diminished and subjective religion... an arbitrary and therefore highly erroneous religiosity.
What is found at Caux is a subjective pietism which bears the unmistakeable stamp of Protestantism.6
During the same month, August, 1952, the following statement was made by His Eminence Cardinal
Van Roey, Archbishop of Malines, in the name of the Belgian Heirarchy:
The episcopate of Belgium bids the faithful beware of any participation of whatever nature in
activities of "Moral Re-Armament" which has its European centre at Caux; this is because the
movement contains concealed dangers to the integrity of the Catholic Faith.7
Monsignor Brown, Bishop of Galway, had this to say about the Group:
To recapitulate our review, we think it certain that the Oxford Group forms a heretical sect....
It follows that no Catholic can become a member without rejecting the teaching of the Church.
To become a member of the movement and to accept all its opinions would be for a Catholic
be the equivalent of apostasy.8
Bishop Suenens quotes a statement of an American Bishop in October, 1952:
We consider the MRA as a non-Catholic sect in process of formation, and we regard
as a dangerous symptom the attitude of certain Catholics involved in the movement.9
In the pastoral letter of Monsignor Leonard, Bishop of Madurai, India, the following
pronouncement was made:
You must know that this is a movement Protestant in origin and bearing the stamp of Protestantism.
Although it works frankly for the betterment of morals, the movement embodies important
errors from the very fact that it separates morality from its firm foundations, namely
revealed truth, as well as from the necessary principle of authority; also from the fact
that it reduces religion to a religious subjectivity, independent of all dogma and of
all profession of faith, thus opening the door to religious indifferentism. No Catholic
may take part in the movement.10
Because of the beneficial results of MRA activities in certain phases of endeavor,
the Cardinals and Archbishops of France have permitted a restricted participation
under certain conditions:
The assembly of the Cardinals and Archbishops of France has issued a statement on
the "Moral Re-Armament" movement.... Recalling an earlier statement of November 27, 1947,
and endorsing the recent judgements of the Swiss Bishop of Fribourg,... make two
recommendations to the Bishops of France:—
No Catholics should attend meetings of Moral Re-Armament except those who are well
instructed in their religion and have first taken advice from a priest who is sufficiently
informed of the conditions that are necessary if a Catholic is to participate
Priests and religious, and, a fortiori, seminarists, will not attend Moral Re-Armament
without having obtained the authorization of their Bishops or their religious Superiors.
They will in any event take care not to let it be thought that their presence implies
any approval of the movement in principle on the part of the Hierarchy!11
In the United States the center of Moral Re-Armament is at Mackinac Island
in the diocese of Marquette, Michigan. Bishop Thomas L. Noa issued the following
statement on MRA in August, 1958:
The Vatican City daily, the L'Osservatore Romano, is consider to be the semi-official
organ of the Holy See. The latest authoritative Catholic opinion about MRA was voiced
in this organ on December 9, 1957. The writer of the editorial does not question the
good intentions of persons of sincere and good faith who are a part of the movement.
However, the editorial maintains that MRA is a religious movement with a religious
ideology of a nature different from that of Catholics.
Catholics are reminded in this editorial that the directives of the Holy Office on MRA
remain in force for the entire world. In view of the dangers to the purity and integrity
of faith, the writer adds: "It is therefore not surprising if some authoritative members
of the Catholic hierarchy have forbidden the faithful of their jurisdiction to take
part in Moral Re-Armament."
In this Pastoral we have presented an instruction about the teaching authority of the
Church on faith and morals. We have pointed out the dangers encountered by Catholics
in MRA to the integrity and purity of their faith.
Until Holy Mother Church should declare that no danger to the faith for Catholics is to
be found in the movement, the present Pastoral Instruction concludes with the
following directive: Catholics of the Diocese of Marquette and all other Catholics
whenever they may be within the limits of the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Marquette
may not attend the meetings of MRA, or participate in or promote its activities.12
Statements of Moral Theologians:
The Rev. John Ford, S.J., and the Rev. Gerald Kelly, S.J.:
Whatever be the theoretical assertions of the Buchmanites that the Movement is not a religion,
in actual fact it is not only a religious movement but is distinctively Protestant in its background
and in its attitude towards basic religious questions. Christ for them is the Protestant
Christ who does not live in an authoritative Church and in the Eucharist.
The Church includes all denominations, and the Bible is interpreted independently
of the Church. Obviously, a movement like this has dangerous consequences: religious
indifferentism; quietism, because of insistence on individual guidance through
the whisperings of the Holy Spirit; and a form of existentialism, since moral
problems are solved according to their interior individual guidance and
not according to objective and unchanging principles.13
The Rev. J. McCarthy:
...its origin, aims, practices, doctrines and organization has shown that the Movement
is nothing more or less than a heretical religious sect.14
The Rev. Aloysius McDonough, C.P.
But we [Catholics] know better than to depend on individual vagaries,
private judgement, emotional feeling, momentary caprice, and the like,
as norms for guidance by the Holy Spirit.15
1 The Catholic Herald (London), March 11, 1938, as quoted in Suenens, op.cit., p. 80.
2 The Tablet (London), Dec. 14, 1946, p. 330.
3 See The Tablet (London), Sept. 4, 1954, p 235.
4 Rheinische Post, May 31, 1950, as quoted and translated in Suenens, op. cit., p. 81.
5 Noa,op. cit., pp. 81-82.
6 Suenens, op. cit., pp 81-82.
8 Ibid., p. 82.
9 Ibid., p. 82.
10 Ibid., p. 83.
11 The Tablet (London), August 14, 1948, p. 108.
12 Noa,op. cit., p. 26.
13 The Rev. John C. Ford, S.J. and the Rev. Gerald Kelly, S.J.,
"Notes on Moral Theology, 1953" Theological Studies XV (1954), 78-79.
== Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Its Technical and Religious Nature in the Light of
Catholic Teaching, by Rev. Clair M. Dinger, S.T.L., pp 125-130.
(The Catholic University of America Press, Inc., 1961. Printed by the Abbey Press,
St. Meinrad, Indiana, U.S.A. Dewey: 248.25 D613)
The most comprehensive criticism was the one by
the Rev. John Ford, S.J., and the Rev. Gerald Kelly, S.J., who included
reliance on "Guidance" — basing one's actions on the whisperings that
he imagines he hears coming from the Holy Spirit, and then a sort of existentialism
where everyone follows the morality that they hear in their own heads.
That is indeed dangerous. People can do all kinds of crazy things, and sincerely
insist that God told them to do it.
Notice that no one mentioned
the Nazi social philosophy
of Frank Buchman's religion as a reason for banning the Oxford Group and MRA.
And no one mentioned the idea of instant perfection, where people expected to get
changed into spiritual people in just one confession session.
Speaking of which, no one mentioned public confessions, which the Church also forbids.
One of the best criticisms of Buchman's church is still the one that was written by Tom Driberg:
For — to sum up the main criticisms — MRA is irrational in its mystique
and authoritarian in its methods; it rejects free discussion; it practises
with insufficient discrimination
the dangerous, and often deadly,
doctrine that the end justifies the means; and, by seeming to proclaim
the possibility of instant perfection, it raises hopes that cannot be
fulfilled. In short, it is essentially non-Christian and anti-democratic. The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Frank Buchman and His
Movement, Tom Driberg, 1965, pages 304-305.
And still, in spite of all of that, the true-believer sycophants continued
to fawn over Frank Buchman. In 1955, on his 77th birthday, his followers
sent him the following "report" from Mackinac Island:
Our guidance on Frank's seventy-seventh birthday was that his greatest
years are at hand...
He lives a statesmanship — ambition-free — which will be normal for
millions. It is astounding what he does by not doing it!
He can ... give the thinking for the next stage of history — yet he
makes few speeches...
He has never written a song, yet because of him a new music is being
He has never cooked a meal, yet because of him there is a new perfection
in the kitchen...
Doe and Peter Howard
Enid and Morris Martin The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Frank Buchman and His
Movement, Tom Driberg, 1965, page 194.
The Buchmanite true believers were as much in denial as any alcoholic
who insists that he doesn't have a drinking problem. They stubbornly overlooked
Frank Buchman's failure to morally reform the Nazis and save the world from war.
They refused to even look at the total inadequacy of Frank's
"infallible Guidance" and "God's Plan to save the world from war".
They simply continued to proclaim that civilization was tottering on the brink
of destruction, and that only Frank Buchman and MRA could save the world.
The British Buchmanite R. C. Mowat, formerly of Hertford College, Oxford,
wrote in 1951 that:
People everywhere will turn to spiritual reality on a mass scale as it is correctly
presented to them through Moral Re-Armament. But it is a race against time,
because the forces of destruction are also moving ahead swiftly.
"Good and Evil are pitted against each other in the history of man. It takes
more than diplomacy to cure evil. It takes more than lip-service to fight for God.
... An extreme of evil must be met by an extreme of good; a fanatical following
of evil by a passionate pursuit of good.... Only a passion can cure a passion.
And only a superior world-arching ideology can cure a world divided by warring
This message must be brought to the millions before it is too late.
History is moving at tremendous speed to a high point of colossal catastrophe
or a high point of colossal change. We can either be the last survivors of
a declining age, or the pioneers of an entirely new order of society, which will
bring a flowering of the human spirit such as the world has never seen.
This is the promise of Moral Re-Armament. It is making possible the dawn of
a new age. Through it "we are reaching the end of the era of crisis
and pioneering the era of the cure." The Message of Frank Buchman, R. C. Mowat, pages 51-52. (The contained
quotes were from Frank Buchman.)
Talk about fear-mongering —
Mowat tried to use fear to stampede people into joining MRA:
"the forces of destruction are ... moving ahead swiftly..."
"History is moving at tremendous speed to a high point of
"We can either be the last survivors of a declining age or
Likewise, the French Buchmanite Gabriel Marcel described the
world situation in 1960 as:
A relentless flood threatens to engulf many nations.
Men try here and there to raise a frail barrier, but their timid efforts
only win them a little time before they are suddenly submerged.
In some countries the masses are taken over by a system of ideas.
Suddenly there arises a revolutionary wind which with a single blast
topples great structures, though men fancied that they were standing fast.
An idea invades a nation without the formality of a declaration of war. It
takes prisoners without firing a shot and conquers whole countries, while
parliaments continue with their debates.
Is there a road that the nations of the world could walk together?
While the succession of international conferences and the disappointments
that follow them seem to say that the answer is 'no', yet the work of
Frank Buchman and the men committed with him proves beyond question that
this road does exist. Not only does it exist, but already men and nations
have decided to take it. Fresh Hope for the World: Moral Re-Armament in Action,
edited and introduced by Gabriel Marcel, 1960,
translated from the French by Helen Hardinge, pages 177-178.
Those Buchmanites used everything except "the sky is falling".
In 1960, Gabriel Marcel even complained about the criticism that
Frank Buchman received by writing:
The strangest alliances have arisen to block his path, alliances of people,
who although their interests are directly opposed to each other, nevertheless
have weaknesses in common drawing them together. The charges brought against
him [Buchman] have been mostly contradictory. They have consisted of whatever
slander, at any time or in any country, happened to be the most damaging.
The same men have first sarcastically criticised him for not attacking some
world figure, and then tried to entangle him with this same person. Fresh Hope for the World: Moral Re-Armament in Action,
edited and introduced by Gabriel Marcel, 1960,
translated from the French by Helen Hardinge, pages 158-159.
The unnamed "world figure" whom Buchman would not attack was, of
course, Adolf Hitler. That's why Marcel tip-toed around the issue and
didn't bother to mention his name.
Talk about "strange alliances". The Frenchman Gabriel Marcel was actually
defending a Nazi apologist after World War II.
Thirty years later, another die-hard old Buchmanite declared that the world was
still tottering on the brink of chaos, and that only Moral Re-Armament
could save the world:
"I know for sure: all men everywhere must be different. Otherwise what will
happen to the world of my grandchildren and great grandchildren, sinking into
unbelievable chaos. Can people change? I have experienced that I can change and
that people around me can also become different... I have travelled through all the
continents and saw how many people changed completely when they met the ideology
of Moral Re-Armament... It is an incomparable, an historic revolution.
Whatever a person is, Christian, atheist or materialist, black or white, rich or
poor, he changes. If he passionately accepts an unconditional commitment under
God's guidance, his thinking and his whole being changes. This change in men
is essential. There is no substitute for it. We miss the meaning of our
life if we want to remain as we are. Without this men do not change. Only
in this way can the world once again be brought under God's dominion and be saved
Paul Kurowski, 1989 (aged 89).
(Underlining in the original.) Preview Of A New World; How Frank Buchman Helped his country Move from isolation
To world responsibility; USA 1939-1946, Arthur Strong, page 315.
By the way, when was the first Golden Age?
That old guy talked about bringing
the world "once again under God's dominion"....
Well, when was it ever that way? When was the first time?
That obviously conflicts with the Buchmanites' repeated claims that the
Oxford Groups and Moral Re-Armament were
something brand new and original.
It can't be something brand new and original — "an historic revolution" —
if we are supposed to return to what existed way back in "the good old days"....