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NA meeting confession fires up readers

Dear Abby: I'm writing about the letter you printed from "Somewhere in the South" (May 26) who heard someone confess to a crime he had committed at age 12 during one of his Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meetings. The person asked if he should go to the police. You advised him to talk about it to the "group leader."

Abby, in a 12-step program, there is no formal leader who has a responsibility to report anything to the authorities. There are usually discussion groups led by someone chosen for the night.

I am not condoning what the person did at that young age. It was a horrible act. But 12-step programs are based on ANONYMITY. Reporting what is heard at meetings is completely against what 12-step meetings are all about. It was unfair of you to place responsibility on someone who is there for his OWN addiction to tell on another group member. – Anonymous in the USA

Dear Anonymous: I received a ton of criticism for my response to that letter. Readers like you wrote to point out that I was misinformed about how these programs work; others berated me for not insisting the writer notify the police immediately.

I was – and still am – of two minds on the question. While it would be satisfying to see "justice done," I could not bring myself to recommend going against the principle upon which these 12-step programs that have helped thousands of people is based.

Another principle of these programs is that people who have hurt others must make amends for what they have done. However, this is the responsibility of the person who committed the crime – NOT someone who overheard mention of it at a meeting. Read on:

Dear Abby: I have been a member of NA for 26-plus years (drug- and alcohol-free for that entire time). I also work in the field of mental health, where I have certain reporting duties as part of my professional code of ethics. I learned long ago how to separate my professional responsibilities from my membership in NA. If I obtain information about abuse or neglect in the conduct of my profession, THEN I have a duty to act. Should I overhear something at a meeting, in the mall or some other social setting, I have no specific duty to report. – Clean, Free and Living Life

Dear Abby: As a 30-year member, I can say with certainty that some meeting attendees are grandiose and others are mentally ill. I have not infrequently heard disclosures that I later determined to be not true. The advice for members offered by our NA traditions is, "Take what you can use (in one's own recovery) and leave the rest of what one hears at a meeting." – Charles in Illinois

Dear Abby: I disagree with your answer to that letter! Yes, this needs to be reported. If the victim died in that incident, it is a cold case and the boy's parents – if they are still alive – would have never had closure. There may be siblings who would want to know what happened to their brother.

I am not a believer that if you confess to murder in NA, AA or with a priest in a confessional that they are bound not to tell. That is HOGWASH! For some crimes I would say OK, but not something this serious. – Jim R., Lancaster, Calif.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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