Last May, the United States Conference of Catholic bishops issued a statement condemning the occult practice of Reiki. That statement has had an ambiguous impact on religious orders, convents, retreat houses, and hospitals.
In the May statement, the bishops warned that Reiki blurs the line between science and superstition. Yet Reiki is still being practiced at some Catholic facilities, sometimes under aliases. The bishops’ statement is viewed in many quarters as an “opinion” rather than an authoritative condemnation.
Lauri Lumby Schmidt, who runs Authentic Freedom Ministries in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, openly champions Reiki and has defended it in publications such as the National Catholic Reporter. In a phone interview with CWR, Schmidt said Authentic Freedom Ministries provides “support for the spiritual journey” and caters to Catholics, but is not connected with any diocese. “I offer Reiki as part of my spiritual ministry,” she said.
Schmidt considers herself Catholic, saying that she learned Reiki from Franciscan sisters and the Sisters of Mercy. “I disagree with the bishops’ document. I believe as Christians, we’re called to follow Jesus’ example through compassion and healing. Jesus healed through touch. Many (scientific) studies have shown that Reiki supports relaxation, healing, stress relief…. The Mayo Clinic uses Reiki.”
The bishops’ document “saddens” Schmidt because “people won’t be able to share Reiki as part of their ministry.” She adds, “God has led me to Reiki as a spiritual tool. I’ve had nothing but grace. I can’t abide by the bishops’ prohibition as a matter of conscience.” Schmidt wonders why the bishops have targeted Reiki in particular, since “there are tons of hands-on healing modalities.”
The Living Water Spiritual Center in Winslow, Maine, is run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon. Barbara Joseph provides Reiki as one of her many services at the retreat center. In a phone interview, Joseph said, “I have a variety of skills. I am a healing arts practitioner, I’ve done cranio-sacral, energybased body work since 1990. I also do whole food organic nutrition. I give private Reiki sessions and always offer Reiki training. Yes, I still do Reiki there [the Living Water Spiritual Center]. I enjoy going over there.”
She noted that she is not affiliated with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Lyon. Describing her background, Joseph said that she was raised Jewish, but is now “a spiritual being who strives to live a life of service and goodwill personally, professionally, and globally.” Joseph considers the Living Water Spiritual Center merely a venue for her work. So far, the Sisters have declined to comment about offering Reiki at their center.
According to the website of Villa Maria, a retreat center run by the Sisters of the Humility of Mary in Villa Maria, Pennsylvania, Reiki has been offered there. But that mention was removed from the site after this writer brought it to the center’s attention. James Merhaut, the CEO of the retreat center, said in an e-mail, “We stopped offering Reiki for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, we stopped because the bishops’ document called us to discontinue the offering. Secondly, we probably would have stopped anyway because we were getting few registrants for Reiki.”
Merhaut said that Villa Maria now offers “therapeutic massage” as an alternative, because it has “scientifically verifiable benefits.” He said that massage is a “common practice in Catholic parishes, Catholic retreat centers, and Catholic health care facilities.”
Reiki goes under various aliases, such as Energy Healing, Healing Touch, Therapeutic Massage, and Quantum Touch. These “healing modalities” still speak of “energy,” and are Reiki in all but name. They speak of a vague, cosmic force that the practitioner controls for a fee. Insidiously, Christian terminology and even Scripture are often used to cover occult practices. Gnosticism is given a Christian guise. To make matters worse, some practitioners openly mimic sacraments. New Age practices are perversely “baptized” simply by using Christian language, objects, and rituals.
At the Christine Center in Willard, Wisconsin, which was founded by the Wheaton Franciscans in 1980, Roberta Hodges off ers “quantum touch.” Hodges calls it “revved-up, amplifi ed Reiki; energy is energy.” She said that it’s superior to Reiki because it has yoga breathing. In a phone interview, Hodges said, “Quantum touch raises life-force energy. It’s beneficial on the emotional level. Our emotional traumas that are buried can come to the surface…. It’s a mysterious thing.”
Sr. Cecilia Corcoran, who heads the Board of Directors at the Christine Center, discussed the bishops’ prohibition in a phone interview. Corcoran said, “We don’t do Reiki here. We don’t advertise it. We support bodywork like massage…. Personally, I don’t have problems with Reiki and Healing Touch therapy.” It is important to note that Sr. Cecilia links Reiki with “Healing Touch,” illustrating how similar these practices are in the view of their adherents.
Healing Touch is also popular at Catholic hospitals. Tammy Dragel, a Healing Touch coordinator at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa, Florida, defines it as an “energy-based modality that complements conventional therapies.” She said that she hasn’t taken any Reiki classes. Like Reiki, Healing Touch claims to be “energy-based.”
Healing Touch is also available at Holy Cross Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, run by the Sisters of Mercy. Coordinator Marcia Gill declined to comment, as did Barbara Stanivuk of St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart, Indiana, managed by the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ.
Christina Brugman of Kirkland, Washington, provides Healing Touch to the retired Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. She defi nes Healing Touch as an “energy-based healing system.” Brugman considers the bishops’ document “interesting.” She said she considers herself Christian, but has a Catholic background. Brugman compares energy to sunlight and water, which is available to all regardless of religious affiliation. In a phone interview, she commented, “I don’t understand the thinking of the bishops.”
Linda Smith leads the Healing Touch Spiritual Ministry in Denver, Colorado. She also belongs to the board of Energy Medicine Credentialing, Inc. Smith differentiated between Healing Touch and Reiki, saying, “Reiki is under a belief system of being empowered by a master. Healing Touch Spiritual Ministry is Judeo-Christian. God’s healing grace flows through a person. We’re conduits.” Smith was a Catholic nun for 27 years, but made the “personal decision to move on.” She said she started her healing ministry in 1997.
Smith defined Healing Touch further. “We’re scripturally-based, not denominationally based. I go to Methodists, Lutherans, and Episcopalians. We’re not talking dogma and theology, but Scripture.” Smith said that Healing Touch works with “therapeutic-grade essential oils like hyssop and cedarwood.” She describes Healing Touch as “vibrational healing: laying on of hands, prayer, and anointing with oil.” Clinical aromatherapy is another component.
Smith thinks it is biblical. “In the Old Testament, God gave Moses the formula for anointing oil. He had to anoint the tabernacle, the cups, and sacrificial animals.” Smith used the example of the healing of lepers, saying, “The priests were putt ing oil on the crown chakra to restore the leprous person.” She considers essential oils as providers of physical, emotional, and spiritual health.
Reiki, Quantum Touch, and Healing Touch are part of a spectrum of occult practices off ered to Catholics, often by Catholics, frequently at Catholic institutions. At the Christine Center, vision quests, Mahamudra (a Tibetan Buddhist meditation practice), full moon yoga and kirtan (Hindu devotional song) retreats are offered. The Living Water Spiritual Center has programs on New Age author Eckhart Tolle’s books, such as The New Earth, and on the Enneagram. There are labyrinths at the Franciscan Retreat Center at Mount St. Francis in Colorado and the Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center in Connecticut.
New Age practices have seeped into religious orders and institutions; Reiki is merely one example in this constellation. Fr. Thomas Weinandy, executive director of the Secretariat for Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a phone interview that it is up to individual dioceses to discipline these orders. It is the responsibility of local bishops to enforce the guidelines concerning Reiki, he said.
“New Age practices have become prevalent within some religious orders because they are considered to be more relevant and benefi cial than the traditional Gospel,” he said. “It is hard to conceive why anyone would think that the Gospel as lived and taught by the Catholic Church for over 2,000 years could be improved upon by employing New Age tenets, especially when these tenets are pantheistic and Gnostic in nature. Such New Age beliefs distort the truth of the Gospel, and instead of being beneficial actually harm the lives of those who hold such beliefs. Instead of living in the light and the truth o the Gospel, they have entered into the darkness of error.”