Charismatics and Catholics

Opinions are divided as to where the Catholic renewal movement is heading next.

Raoul Dederen,,  is professor of theology at the Andrews University Theological Seminary and an associate editor of The Ministry

THE charismatic renewal is the most exciting and vital thing happening in the Roman Catholic Church today. To many, it is also the most frightening.

It is part of a larger charismatic movement that has cut across denominational barriers, beginning in Topeka, Kansas, at the turn of the century. This development is usually referred to as the classical Pentecostal movement. The second major wave took place in the 1950's and early 60's, often called the neo-Pentecostal movement. Once again it occurred within the mainline Protestant churches. The third stage of the charismatic renewal is its Roman Catholic expression. In 1967, a group of faculty and students at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a Catholic university run by the Holy Ghost Fathers, came in contact with some literature of the Pentecostal movement. They prayed for baptism in the Spirit, and began the Catholic charismatic renewal movement which, conservatively, now involves 300,000 per sons in the United States and Canada and some 150,000 elsewhere in the world.1 Its leadership is generally regarded as grounded in the Charismatic Renewal Services Committee, the People of Praise community, Notre Dame, Indiana, and the Word of God community, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Those involved report that the movement has changed their lives radically, frequently causing an instantaneous deepening of prayer life, the experience of a shared faith, and a strong desire to read the Scriptures. Those "baptized in the Spirit" usually claim to have received the gift of praying in an unknown language or some other gift of the Spirit, such as healing, inspired teaching, and prophesying. Still, for some, the movement is frightening in its elitism, in its Biblical fundamentalism, and in its overemphasis on charismatic gifts to the detriment of the full Catholic tradition. Frightening, too, in its very growth.

There is little doubt that the charismatic movement has fostered a growth of spiritual consciousness unprecedented in the history of the Catholic Church in North America. After years of relative silence and some incredulous smiles, the Catholic bishops are beginning to issue statements, not merely praising the movement but also advising the faithful about it.

While cautioning against some dangers that continue to exist here and there, more precisely elitism and Biblical fundamentalism, which it regards as contradicting the teaching of the church, the Report of the U.S. Bishops' Committee for Pastoral Research and Practices, early' in 1975, endorsed the "positive and desirable directions" of the charismatic renewal.

Shortly after, in a message dated April, 1975, the Bishops of Canada, too, underlined the positive characteristics of the movement while warning that "it has negative aspects also, . . . the inevitable price to be paid for anything new." 2 In May of the same year, at the time of the meeting in Rome of an inter national Conference on the Charismatic Renewal, Pope Paul VI, who had been under pressure to condemn the movement, praised the "spiritual renewal" going on in the Catholic Church. With out giving an explicit green light to all elements in the charismatic movement, he clearly indicated that a movement faithful to the guidance of bishops, and fostering "contemplation, praising God, attentiveness to the grace of the Holy Spirit, and more assiduous reading of the sacred scriptures" could only be welcomed by the Catholic Church.3

This public acceptance of the renewal as a fact to be reckoned with seems to be paralleled by a development taking place within the movement itself. The freshness of new ventures tends to be replaced by standardized patterns and well-defined concepts of organization. For the first time also, severe criticisms by informed persons are being voiced, criticisms that cannot be ignored by Catholic authorities. Most of them are directed to the highly structured "covenant communities" that attempt to provide environments for members to live "more fully in the Lord" than is believed possible in secular society.

Call for Investigation

It was, for instance, alleged abuses at one of these covenanted communities, True House at South Bend, Indiana, that led Dr. William Storey to call for an investigation of the movement by the nation's bishops to safeguard "authentic Catholic tradition and the rights of conscience" of its members. An associate professor of liturgy and church history at Notre Dame University, and one of the few founders of the movement at Duquesne University, Storey made his evaluations public in an interview with John Reedy, C.S.C., editor of A.D. Correspondence,4 which appeared in the May 24, 1975, issue of the publication and was described by Reedy as "prob ably the most significant article I have published in my 22 years as an editor." 5

Storey left the movement about five years ago because of its leadership policies, but remained close to participants in many parts of the country. This was the first time he formulated his criticism publicly. He rejects any idea of a complete suppression of the movement by church authorities, but recent developments, he said, "have contributed to abuses and conditions which constitute very serious dangers, theological errors, and patterns of religious response which cannot be reconciled with authentic Catholic tradition." 6

Among Reedy's specific criticisms are: a pattern of authoritarianism in which "the only option for those who disagree is to resign from the leadership"; a con fusion of worship priorities in which the center of worship is sometimes shifted from the eucharist or communion service to the charismatic prayer services; a pattern of purpose where small and spontaneous prayer meetings become "groups in which people surrender their lives and consciences and property, all in the name of community"; an extraordinary development of authoritarianism which "combined with certain prayer practices, has produced a coercion of consciences, an invasion of the internal forum which Catholics identify with the privacy of the confessional."

Such practices, Storey argues, "have given leaders a frightening control over the lives of participants," and have resulted in situations in which matters of sin which would be best left to the privacy of confession have become a subject of open discussion within the communities. To the Notre Dame professor, "the pattern of a very forceful national leadership is moving the movement more and more away from authentic Catholic tradition."

Not surprisingly, the interview generated a great deal of attention.7 Charismatic leaders dismissed the allegations as unfair. To Kevin Ranaghan, a member of the National Committee and president of Charismatic Renewal Services, Dr. Storey's criticisms of the charismatic renewal are "grossly exaggerated and unjustified." While it is true that, in the spontaneous atmosphere of the charismatic renewal, "certain theological and pastoral problems have arisen," and that "aspects of the renewal are controversial and may demand debate within the Church," the overwhelming majority of participants and leaders are deeply committed to the Catholic Church and proud of their record of long and open communication with the U.S. bishops and the Roman See. 8

Not all were satisfied with the reply. Some, of course, have hardly ever shown any liking for the movement. "It is our view," writes, for instance, the editor of the National Catholic Register, "that the Charismatic or Pentecostal movement in the Catholic Church today is an extremely dangerous phenomenon, pregnant with many errors, the seed bed of dissensions and divisiveness among the faithful, and the fomenter of a false spirituality." 9

But others decided to take a closer look at Storey's charges and the answers given. In a series of six articles, National Catholic Reporter's Rick Casey related his findings on covenanted communities and leadership in the U.S. charismatic movement.10 These findings are disturbing, and while Casey's articles do not suggest that the now defunct True House community in South Bend, Indiana, and the Word of God community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, are typical of all covenanted communities, they do, nevertheless, indicate that some of the dangers underlined by Storey are far from imaginary. Ranaghan's attempt to dismiss Casey's findings as founded on isolated facts, or the author as unable to understand issues that frighten him,11 has simply tended to underline the relevancy of Storey's request for an investigation into the movement.

There seems, in fact, to be two types of interpretation developing within the Roman Catholic renewal movement. One is described by Dr. Josephine Massynderde Ford, another Notre Dame scholar, as a closed, rigid, and authoritarian movement typified by the covenanted communities in South Bend and Ann Arbor, and which produces much of the national leadership of the whole movement. The other', larger in number, is more open and spontaneous in its development. 12

Charges are becoming increasingly specific and loud, especially with regard to the highly structured covenanted communities that have grown out of some prayer groups. Two are more frequently mentioned: a blurring of the theological differences separating Roman Catholics and Protestants usually in an effort to build ecumenical bridges between them, and the possibility of a leadership paralleling but separate from the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Such groups seem to have the ability to institutionalize patterns of government and highly organized communities be fore the local bishops get around to offering advice and counsel. The issue might very well have become ecclesiological, not so much a new form of prayer as a new understanding of the church.

Deadlock Now Being Broken

Considering the growth of the movement, it is surprising that such a development has not come to public attention earlier. It is true that American bishops have had groups studying the charismatic movement as such, but there has been little if any of the tough-minded study one would expect. It seems that theologians have been so impressed by the good elements that they have over looked some things they might have regarded as isolated excess. Besides, priests have been reluctant to do any thing about charismatics because they have been waiting for the Pope, and the Pope has been reluctant to move because he has been waiting for the bishops.

This deadlock is now being broken, as for instance the messages of the American and Canadian bishops mentioned earlier indicate. But what is necessary is an extensive, probing investigation. The charismatics have said they are willing for such an investigation to be conducted, and Dr. William Storey has been calling for no more than that. The question seems to be whether there will be such a probe and who will carry it out.

The bishops, to be sure, would have to move carefully, and collectively rather than in isolated action. Any precipitous action would be quite dangerous, for many charismatic communities are profoundly convinced that they are fol lowing the guidance of the Spirit. Chances are that if church authorities told them to abandon what they view as inspiration, it would be extremely hard for them to do so. It is indeed Storey's opinion that if Catholic ecclesiastical authorities flatly condemned them "there will be a schism." 13

Opinions Divided

Opinions are divided as to where the Catholic renewal movement is heading next. Those involved in it are usually unanimous in their hope that a sustained climate of mutual understanding will enable their movement to succeed in having its main points accepted by the Catholic Church and thus be come indistinguishable from it. Others, though, believe that "it is becoming more and more a phenomenon in its own right rather than a movement within the Church," 14 and that it has already gone too far down the road of organization to simply melt away in this fashion.


1  For  some  basic  information  on  the  major  stages  of  the charismatic renewal see Ralph Martin, "How  Shall  I Relate to the  Church?"  The  New  Catholic  World,  Nov.-Dec.,  1974,  pp. 249  ft.,  and J. Rodman Williams, "A Profile of the Charismatic Movement,"  Christianity Today, Feb. 28,  1975, pp.  9-13.

2  For  the  text  of  the  Bishops'  message  see  The  Catholic Mind, October,  1975, pp.  55-64.

3  The  complete  text  of  the  Pope's  remarks can  be  found  in Origins, IV, 50 (June 5,1975), pp. 26-28. It is interesting to no tice  that while  Vatican  sources  interpreted the  speech as the Pope's clear belief that the charismatic renewal movement is a part of the work of the Spirit, Paul VI never explicitly equated the two.

4  "Reform  or  Suppression:  Alternatives  Seen  for  Catholic Charismatic  Renewal,"  A.D.  Correspondence,  May  24,  1975, pp.  2-8.  A.D.  Correspondence is a biweekly published at Notre Dame,  Indiana.

5 A.D.  Correspondence, May 24,  1975,  p.  1.

6  Ibid., p.  2.

7  Fr. Reedy was asked to  send out copies of the interview to all American bishops, and lengthy reports appeared (were run) in most of the diocesan papers. See A.D. Correspondence, July 1, 1975, p.  1.

8  For a  summary  of  K.  Ranaghan's  public reply to  Dr. W. Storey see  A.D.  Correspondence, June 21,  1975, p.  1.

9  National Catholic Register, Dec.  15,  1974, p.  4.

10  The series began with the August  15,  1975, issue.

11  See his "Charismatics: Ranaghan Replies," National Cath olic Reporter,  Oct.  17,  1975.

12  Dr.  Ford  currently  has  a  manuscript  on  Catholic  charis matics under publication by Harper and Row, New York.

13  A.D.  Correspondence, May 24,  1975, p.  8.

14  William  Storey,  A.D.  Correspondence, May  24,  1975, p.  8

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Raoul Dederen,,  is professor of theology at the Andrews University Theological Seminary and an associate editor of The Ministry

May 1976

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