Magazine article Science & Spirit

Women, Faith, and Addiction

Magazine article Science & Spirit

Women, Faith, and Addiction

Article excerpt

Twenty-five years into life as a Catholic nun, Sister Mary Gene Kinney knew she had a problem. And she knew that the first step in dealing with the problem was admitting it. Kinney was an alcoholic.

"The first place I felt my addiction was in my loss of spirit," she said, explaining that she initially thought her crisis was one of faith. "I felt like I was dying inside." Faith is often a refuge in personal crises, but the alcoholism had so warped Kinney's spiritual experience that she felt adrift. "Church wasn't working," Kinney said. "I wasn't getting any sense of inner nourishment or inner peace from religious activities."

Kinney was speaking at a conference hosted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University in New York last year. She was the sole woman in a panel discussion about substance abuse in religious life. Being a nun who is alcoholic, she said, "makes it easier to hide it and more difficult to acknowledge it."

Though seldom discussed, alcoholism and drug use are not uncommon among men and women of the cloth. According to the National Catholic Council on Alcoholism and Related Drug Problems, an estimated ten to fifteen percent of clergy members struggle to reconcile a faith that says everyone needs God's help and a society that expects them to be perfect.

Adding to the problem, Kinney said, sisters--or "women religious"--are often left off official counts, marginalizing them and their problems. Nuns' addiction issues are easily neglected, in part because they are set in a faith tradition that focuses on its patriarchy and in part because women tend to fall apart in private rather than in public.

"Men act out their pathologies," said the Reverend Stephen J. Rossetti, president and chief executive of St. Luke Institute in Maryland, where a program to help nuns deal with a variety of addictions and mental health problems is located. …

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