Father Peter Pantsoff, is both a self-proclaimed alcoholic and devoted 12-Stepper. He has been active in AA ever since the church suddenly re-assigned him from the rector at the St Anselm School for Boys in upstate New York, to a low profile office position in the Chicago Diocese. He has worked with and sponsored hundreds of alcoholics in the past twenty years. Stinkin’ Thinkin’ decided to ask Father Pantsoff a few questions about talking to our higher powers:
ST: Obviously it is your faith that brought you into the AA fold, and you have made no secret of your own drinking problem. Is there any specific passage in particular from the Holy Father in the good book that inspires you to help alcoholics?
FP: “An alcoholic in his cups is an unlovely creature.”
ST: I believe that is actually a quote from Bill Wilson in The Big Book. I meant the other book.
FP: Oh, I’m sorry. How about, “We want to find exactly how, when, and where, our natural desires have warped us”.
ST: That is Bill W again, this time from Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.
FP: Hmmmm. Let’s see. Oh…”Archangel, Darkangel; lend me thy light through death’s veil, until we have Heaven in sight”?
ST: Those are actually the lyrics from a song by the group “Cradle of Filth”, but I’ll go ahead and skip to the next question. To the lay person, it might appear as though AA is contradictory to the teachings of The Bible.
FP: Absolutely not. Could you give me one example?
ST: Sure. One of the Ten Commandments states that a person can have no god before the Christian God. Yet, you promote the idea of anything or anyone or any group being a higher power: a pet rock, David Hasselhoff, an AA group itself, whatever. Does this not go against your faith, and the faith of the founders of AA?
FP: Well, if you want to nitpick, yeah. But those commandments are really just suggestions. Just take what you want, and leave the rest. Of course, you have to live the consequences of not taking those suggestions.
ST: You seem to have just contradicted yourself.
FP: Looks to me like you are just angry.
ST: Let’s talk about the higher power a little more. Steps five and six deal with asking God to remove our shortcomings and character defects. These things seem to be what you in AA believe leads us to drink, yet more than nine out of ten AAs wind up going back on the sauce within a very short time. Do you see lack of efficacy in the use of prayer to help a drinking problem?
FP: Absolutely not. I think the problem lies in how we ask Him. God hears lots of prayers in multiple languages, and your drinking problem is competing against a lot of other things. At any given time, you have American housewives hoping for a new BMW, kids in Burma wanting a bowl of rice and priests like me hoping Notre Dame covers the point spread against USC. That is a lot of competition up against our drinking problems. It’s enough to make the good Lord’s head spin. The idea is to focus, and barring that, just ask more often.
ST: So is this why a street vagrant might remain a hopeless alcoholic, while AAer in middle class suburbia might have a better chance to recover from their addiction? Because they know how to pray better?
FP: Sure. The Big Book teaches us this. This is where ninety meetings in ninety days come in handy. This helps to hone our praying skills, and to bring God’s focus onto our problem. It gets pretty cold out there, and that homeless guy’s prayers might be all over the map. He might be asking for a jacket or a bowl of soup to go along with a cure for his addiction. Heck, he might be even be contradicting himself by praying for both a cure AND a can of Old English 800 malt liquor. That would confuse God.
ST: Have you ever asked God to replace your missing eye, to go along with fixing your little drinking problem?
FP: That’s a ridiculous question. God doesn’t replace missing eyes, just as he doesn’t grow back limbs or stop famine. He is very selective about the things in which he intervenes. Luckily for us, our drinking problems are among them.
ST: Why doesn’t He intervene into the lives of alcoholics outside of AA?
FP: Because they are too resentful.
ST: I notice you have sponsored close to a hundred AAers in the past.
FP: Yes I have. That is part of the beauty of AA. I have a mandate from God, but I want to set an example to others, and show them that sponsoring others is a way to give back to the organization.
ST: My understanding is that all of your sponsees have been women. Isn’t having a sponsor of a different gender unusual in AA, as they are aware of the problem of 13th stepping?
FP: Well, I am a priest.
ST: Is it just a coincidence that all of your sponsees are single mothers with boys between the ages of seven and twelve?
FP: Uh. Hmmm. Imagine that! I never noticed this. Well, I’ve always been good with boys.
(Next: we ask Father Pantsoff about step twelve)