In March, the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as an Alternative Therapy. This brief document is signed by Bishops William Lori (Bridgeport), Leonard Blair (Toledo), Jose Gomez (San Antonio), Robert Mc- Manus (Worcester), John Nienstedt (Minneapolis/St. Paul), Arthur Serratelli (Paterson), Allen Vigneron (Detroit) and Donald Wuerl (Washington).
The document describes Reiki as a “no-man’s land between science and faith.” The guidelines say, “This worldview has its origin in eastern religions and has a certain monist and pantheistic character, in that distinctions among self, world, and God tend to fall away.”
The bishops conclude that Reiki is based on superstition and opens people up to demonic influence with its invocation of “spirit guides.” They say it is “inappropriate for Catholic institutions” to promote the practice.
Reactions to the document from Reiki-practicing religious have varied. The Center for Ministry in the Diocese of Saginaw (Michigan) no longer offers Reiki classes. The Lourdes Wellness Centers in New Jersey, run by the Franciscan Sisters of Alleghany (New York), have stopped offering Reiki treatments to clients.
The Reiki Clinic at St. Celestine in Elmwood Park, Illinois is no longer on parish grounds. But Sister Terri Grasso can still be contacted for individual appointments off-site. The Sisters of Charity in Cincinnati’s website advertises Sister Mary Fran Davisson’s Reiki treatments and classes, ranging from $25 $420. But the web link to their “specialty” Reiki treatments has vanished.
Meanwhile, lay practitioners of Reiki see the guidelines as a matter of individual conscience. Dr. Olga Rasmussen, who was raised Catholic, still practices Reiki and teaches yoga in the Washington, DC/northern Virginia area. In an interview, she said, “I was pretty active in the Church, up until seven years ago…. For 25 years I taught theology and worked both as a campus minister and as head of my department for 18 years. I grew up in a Catholic family.” Rasmussen encountered Reiki in her early thirties. A fellow theologian and pastoral counselor introduced her to the practice; she did not train herself in it until 1999. “For a while, a friend of mine, who was also a nun and used Reiki in her pastoral ministry, and I would trade sessions,” she said.
Rasmussen doesn’t care about the bishops’ document. “I find engaging inthe practice of Reiki no different from ordained and religious individuals who add the practice of Zen meditation, or other eastern practices, to their own tradition. All of these practices enrich one’s faith.”
Elsie Kerns in Gibbsboro, New Jersey, runs Wellness Workers Holistic Health. She has been teaching Reiki since 1993. Kerns learned it through a fellow student at the Barbara Brennan School of Healing. She has also studied Integrated Kabbalistic Healing. Kerns was raised Catholic.
“I went through 12 years in Catholic schools. I went to a girls’ academy. It was very intense in those days. There was no question of authority in those days. I was taught by St. Joseph nuns. I went to church every Sunday. I had a very traditional upbringing,” she said. “As opposed to ‘religion,’ I think more closely about spirituality, Christ-consciousness rather than Catholicism. Jesus is one of our greatest teachers and masters.”
A common trait among many Reiki practitioners is their Catholic background, which allowed them to drift from religion to a vague “spirituality” in which the authority of the Church and bishops are irrelevant.
According to Father Thomas Weinandy, executive director for the Secretariat of Doctrine for the USCCB, the guidelines are meant to be a teaching tool for the bishops. Weinandy said, “It’s up to the local bishops in their local dioceses…. The diocesan bishops can do what they feel is appropriate. The Doctrine Committee has no canonical authority.”
The guidelines were drafted, he said, because bishops were concerned about Reiki. “They didn’t know what to do about it. It was going on at retreat houses and spirituality places. The Doctrine Committee studied it. It was quite extensive; we read the literature.”
“I think Reiki is New Age. It’s about being able to plug into cosmic forces, being able to manipulate them in the healing process. It’s also Gnostic. If you’re in the know, you can manipulate the divine forces. Reiki masters are in the know. In Catholic spirituality, you’re praying to Jesus, his divine authority. It’s Jesus’ free will whether he heals someone.”
Weinandy has lectured on the New Age in light of the early Church Fathers and the problem of Gnosticism. With Reiki, he says, “You’re buying into a cosmological system that’s contrary to Christianity and that becomes more of a superstition.… It’s a Gnostic way of healing. It compromises Catholics’ understanding of God and the world as well as Jesus as divine Lord, teacher, and savior.”
Weinandy continued, “Some say you can Christianize Reiki by using the names of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. What does Reiki add to the Christian gospel? You can call on the name of Jesus. Is Jesus enough?”
The fascination with Reiki, he concludes, masks a deep problem. “The people who practice it are not wellformed in their faith. Somehow, Jesus is not enough and they look outside Christian and Catholic tradition.”
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