The Center for Action and Contemplation
by Stephanie Block
The Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) is situated on the parish property of Holy Family Church in Albuquerque. From this site, retreats and workshops are made available to the city’s progressive Catholics. The center is New Mexico’s Call to Action hub, and well-known CTA personalities, such as radical feminist Rosemary Radford Ruether and ’60s war protester Daniel Berrigan, have been speakers at the center in the last several years; also offered are alternative spirituality programs, such as Dr. Ruben Habito’s annual retreat weekend at the center that includes “instruction in the elements of Zen practice.”
CAC’s founder, Fr. Richard Rohr, is a prolific writer and retreat master. He has done as much as anyone to spread the study of the enneagram around the United States. He has been a prominent leader of the “men’s movement” (see accompanying article, “Coloring Outside the Lines,” elsewhere in this issue). And he has been a recent speaker at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress (February, 1997), the New Ways Ministry Symposium in Pittsburgh (March, 1997), and the Call to Action Conference (November, 1996).
It is not surprising to discover, therefore, that much of Albuquerque’s Call to Action activity emanates from the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) and from Holy Family Parish. The center describes its “vision” as providing “a faith alternative to the dominant consciousness.” It is faithful to its vision.
CAC’s bimonthly publication, Radical Grace, features articles of significance to the center. January, 1997’s issue contains the story “Bridge Building” by Thomas Williams, which describes the Bridge Building Community, a community inspired by the New Ways Ministry and operating out of CAC. The community’s gatherings “have addressed the homosexual’s role in the Church: celebration of the gift of homosexuality, coming out, and spirituality; and relationships, commitment, and roles.”
February-March, 1996’s issue of Radical Grace contains an article by Clarence Thomson on “The Parables and the Enneagram” in which Thomson informs the reader that “sin is trying too hard, doing the few things we know how to do.” The same issue announces that the Education Summit for the Industrial Areas Foundation local, Albuquerque Interfaith, promotes a men’s retreat with Fr. Rohr called “A Rite of Passage,” and advertises the center’s Seventh Annual Justice and Peace Conference.
To better appreciate the radical nature of this periodical and the center which produces it, it is necessary to examine some of the ideas and issues which define them. Are the center’s responses to those issues Christian, or are they modernist deviations which no longer bear any but the most superficial resemblance to the spiritual life of the Church?
The Center for Action and Contemplation has taught the enneagram for years in Albuquerque. Classes for the enneagram have been advertised in Albuquerque’s Catholic Communicator (a Sunday bulletin which is distributed weekly in many parishes throughout the diocese). They are also advertised in the center’s own newsletter, Radical Grace, and in diocesan “For Your Information” packets that are mailed monthly to priests and deacons.
The enneagram is purportedly a tool for helping a person to self-understanding. It has been described by Fr. Rohr as an “inner work that can lend authenticity to our spiritual path” (p. 15, Discovering the Enneagram, by Fr. Richard Rohr), and it has been compared by its supporters to other typologies of the human character, such as astrology and Jungian analysis.
Where did the enneagram come from? According to Fr. Rohr, who states openly that the “history and genesis of the enneagram are unknown,” its earliest roots may go back over 2,000 years, developed in the Sufi brotherhoods (although there is no proof for this), or it may (according to the same author) be the mescaline-induced invention of one man (ibid., p. 5 and p. 12). It is irrelevant to Fr. Rohr what the enneagram’s true beginning is, however, because he has been so impressed with its benefits. He writes that when he “first learned about the enneagram, it was one of the three great conversion experiences” of his life (ibid., p. 13).
Despite such an uncritical concern about the enneagram’s origins, the enneagram has nevertheless been used by numerous New Mexican Catholics to “promote ongoing conversion and spiritual growth” (from a Radical Grace advertisement, February-March, 1996). It is evidently of no concern to them that those origins (either one; either its possible origin as ancient Sufic “wisdom” or its possible origin as a drug-induced “wisdom”) will have a bearing on the sort of “conversion” or “spiritual growth” experienced by its practitioners.
There are nine enneagram types. Each is assigned a symbolic color and symbolic animals. According to Fr. Mitch Pacwa, who studied the enneagram in the early 1970s, in the enneagram’s structure there are “. . . not merely nine character types, but 9 divine ideas, the 9 faces on the mountain of God, or the 9 faces of God within creation. At the same time, the 9 types are 9 devils, personal demons with their own will and intellect. Each type is a neurotic behavior, making it a caricature of a divine attribute, or the ‘face of God turned upside-down.’ During the lecture [at an enneagram workshop], I understood these statements to be symbols, not thinking through their theological ramifications. Only in later years did their inconsistency with Christianity become clear” (Catholics and the New Age, pp. 100-102).
What are these inconsistencies? Fr. Pacwa unveils a number of them based on the writings of its various teachers, including bizarre occult connections. For example, there is the situation of Oscar Ichazo, the man who claims to have developed the use of the enneagram for personality work during a mescaline “trip.” Ichazo is “said to be a ‘master’ in contact with all previous masters of the esoteric school, including those who have died” (ibid., p. 114). This sort of “spirit contact” (assuming that Ichazo is in earnest) is forbidden by Scripture (Lev. 19:31; 20:6; 27; Deut. 18:10-11; Is. 8:19). Ichazo also holds views about free will which are in opposition to Christianity’s, believing that we do not have free will until we have reached certain stages of enlightenment.
It is conceivable that a Catholic, however, might use the enneagram “differently” than Ichazo. A Catholic might try to “baptize” it, by using its valid insights and discarding the more suspect elements. One has to ask, however, what the value or desirability of these “extra-Christian” spiritual journeys are. One needs to ask how this self-absorption with one’s personality type helps the individual to be a better Christian, focused on Christ, who is the way; on God, who is the goal; and on one’s neighbor, in active love.
Pacwa describes the enneagram’s “myths,” such as the teaching that Jesus Christ (the perfect Man) is a complete 9, and is a perfect embodiment of the whole enneagram. “Jesus our Lord made no mention of nine faces of either God or the Devil,” Pacwa writes. “I see no need to add an enneagram myth to our faith.” This is a human “addition” to the faith, an attempt to discover an esoteric, hidden key to salvation. This is not Christianity.
One is “free” to experiment with one’s soul, of course, but in the case of the spiritual life, everything is at stake.
One cannot blame all the instances of distorted feminism among the New Mexican Catholic population on the Center for Action and Contemplation, but radical feminism is clearly being nurtured there. CAC, for example, hosted speaker Rosemary Radford Ruether in the winter of 1996 (Radical Grace advertisement, February-March, 1996). Donna Steichen, writing in Ungodly Rage, says, “As a ‘feminist Christology,’ Ruether proposes that [and here Steichen quotes from Ruether’s own writing] ‘the mythology about Jesus as Messiah or divine Logos, with its traditional masculine imagery,’ be discarded [God-Talk, Ruether, p. 137]. Women ‘must emancipate themselves from Jesus as redeemer and seek a new redemptive disclosure of God and of human possibility in female form,’ [Ruether] says [ibid., p. 135]. ‘Feminism represents a fundamental shift in the valuation of good and evil,’ because ‘past descriptions of evil,’ rooted in patriarchy, were ‘themselves ratifications of evil’ [ibid., p. 160]. Destruction of ‘blasphemous’ patriarchy—’the idol with flashing eyes and smoking nostrils who is about to consume the earth’ — is, she announces, the primary goal of feminism [Women-Church, Ruether, p. 3].”
Steichen continues, “According to Ruether, the image of God as ‘Father’ is an idolatrous projection of ‘transcendent male ego’ that ‘sacralizes’ patriarchal culture and ‘inferiorizes’ woman as symbolic of nature [God-Talk, Ruether, p. 66].
“According to Ruether, the male enslaves the female because he images her as ‘a threatening lower “power”‘ seeking to ‘drag him down’ to the ‘realm of body and nature’ [ibid., p. 74 f.]. . . . The very name of God, Ruether proposes, should be replaced with gnosticism’s androgynous term ‘God/ess'” (quoting Ruether’s God-Talk, pp. 34,46, 67-71, from Ungodly Rage, Steichen, pp. 302-303).
Whether influenced by Ruether, or simply affirmed by her in his own convictions, Fr. Rohr spoke in Los Angeles at the 1997 archdiocesan Religious Education Congress, using multiple pronouns for God, both “He” and “She.” Rohr said, “I [not intending the speaker, but a hypothetical Catholic] want . . . a God who values the great risk of allowing us to sin, which clearly He does-She does, clearly this God allows us to break the rules, to color outside the lines” (emphasis added) (“Spirituality of Imperfection,” Fr. Richard Rohr, 1997 Religious Education Congress in Los Angeles).
The Industrial Areas Foundation
One of CAC’s social justice activities has been to help establish the New Mexican Industrial Areas local, Albuquerque Interfaith. As of late 1995, Albuquerque Interfaith had 28 organizational members. All of those organizations are religious communities. Thirteen of them are listed as Catholic, including the Center for Action and Contemplation. As there are 30 Catholic parishes in Albuquerque, this means that one-third of Albuquerque’s parishes have an Interfaith membership.
Albuquerque Interfaith is one of over 40 local affiliates around the United States. Each of these local affiliates is organized under the national umbrella of the Industrial Areas Foundation. The Industrial Areas Foundation (which was founded in 1940 by a man named Saul Alinsky) sends its professional organizers to train and engage, in each of these 40 locations, congregations from all denominations (Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim). The organizer’s job is to bring these denominations into a “relationship” which will enable them to act together on civic issues.
Questions such as how does the Industrial Areas Foundation function, how does it operate and organize, what are its activities, and what are the changes it is mobilizing member congregations around the country to bring about, are all worthwhile and interesting. The present discussion will concern itself only with those IAF activities within the Catholic Church which are expressly designed to change Catholic ethics and religious sensibilities.
The Industrial Areas Foundation has, for example, for the past several years, conducted a national project called IAF Reflects. IAF Reflects is a series of “intense, two-week seminars for veteran organizers” (Organizing the South Bronx, Jim Rooney, p. 249, footnote n. 23).
These retreats for the congregational leaders of IAF members are designed to put those “leaders in touch with the biblical tradition that might give deeper insight into their work together, bind them more closely, and empower them to go forward to build God’s reign. The IAF has come to realize that it is about holy work” (“Moving Beyond Anguish to Action: What Has Saul Alinsky to Say to Justice Education,” Suzanne C. Toton, published in Religious Education, summer, 1993).
Christian denominations and their individual congregations, as well as Jewish synagogues and Muslim mosques, are exploring the particular “vision” of social activism which the IAF holds out to them, and are trying to discern the spiritual foundation on which to root that activism.
Faith communities, writes the Catholic Villanova religion professor, Suzanne C. Toton, “must be conversant in two languages — the language of the faith and the language of public discourse,” which Toton equates to IAF-style activism. “Both are essential for communities committed to furthering God’s reign” (“Moving Beyond Anguish to Action . . .,” Toton).
Ed Chambers, national IAF executive director and a former Catholic seminarian, has a similar idea. He is quoted as saying, “I’d had a little training in philosophy. And I started forcing myself to look at what our kind of organizing meant to people. We worked with people in the churches, and their language was the language of the gospel. Their language was nothing like Alinsky’s language [Alinsky, recall, was the IAF founder]. His language was power talk. Tough, abrasive, confrontational, full of ridicule. And those are really all non-Christian concepts. So I started looking at it. Here are the non-Christian concepts . . . here are the Christian concepts. Are there any similarities? Is this just a different language for the same thing?” (“Gospel Values and Secular Politics,” Mary Beth Rogers, The Texas Observer, Nov. 22nd, 1990).
Alinsky explains where his power talk comes from. He writes, in the opening paragraph of his book. Rules for Radicals, that it is Machiavellian. “What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.”
Machiavelli’s The Prince used to be on the Catholic index, when the Church had an index, as forbidden reading. Why? Because the object of Machiavelli’s discussion was to protect the rich? No! Because the way Machiavelli taught the rich to hold power was unethical.
The “power talk” of Alinsky is also unethical. He teaches, at great length, that the “ends justify the means.” In fact, an entire chapter of Rules for Radicals is devoted to hammering home that point. Rom. 3:8, however, says, “it is not licit to do evil that good may come of it,” and Pope John Paul II, in Veritatis Splendor, has gone into great depth explaining this passage. These two positions are not reconcilable. They are not two languages saying the same thing. It is not moral to speak the language of pious ethics at worship, and then go out into the world and speak the language of opportunism and might is right and whatever else “the ends justify the means” ethics produces. A person who speaks this way is hypocritical.
Nevertheless, the IAF encourages its member clerics to find ways to teach organizing by using Gospel language. Last summer, Albuquerque Interfaith’s lead organizer, Tim McCluskey, during a leadership development seminar at Our Lady of Guadalupe, “interpreted” Scripture for seminar participants which was designed to compare the community organization to Moses’ selection of elders. McCluskey then went on to propose that he be allowed to interview and handpick people who would undergo “leadership training” with the IAF. Those IAF-trained leaders could then, in turn, help facilitate the parish’s RENEW program as well as serve on the parish’s Albuquerque Interfaith committee.
Besides retreats, like IAF Reflects, IAF communities in Los Angeles and Texas have experimented with “value-based organizing” through scriptural consciousness-raising. Writer Harry Boyte revealed that “in St. Timothy’s Church [in San Antonio, Texas], for instance, new catechisms connected biblical and Mexican historical and cultural themes with the current issues COPS [the IAF local] was working on. From such experiences [as at St. Timothy’s], the organization [the IAF] developed an ongoing process of community and parish renewal” (emphasis added; Community Is Possible: Repairing America’s Roots, by Harry Boyte, 1984, p. 149).
The IAF uses not only Bible study groups but values clarification techniques (which have been repudiated by their own originators as unethical and manipulative) to change the way Christians understand their faith. Peter Skerry writes, “Ten years ago IAF went into parishes and immediately began organizing around political issues. But in recent years its organizers have moved toward theological reflection, to the point where they have developed a series of Bible study classes to get prospective members thinking about the spiritual life of their parish. From the outside this may look opportunistic, but parish priests praise IAF organizers for challenging them theologically and getting them to rethink their clerical role” (“The Resurrection of Saul Alinsky: Neighborhood COPS,” Peter Skerry, The New Republic, Feb. 6th, 1984).
All of this is to say, that within given congregations, pastors have allowed the shepherding of their flocks, the evangelization, the Scripture interpretation, and the. moral formation of their people and of themselves to be “shaped” by the IAF, an organization whose founder, Saul Alinsky, writes in the “dedication” of his book, Rules for Radicals: “Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: From all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins — or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.”
Alinsky was, perhaps, meaning only to tweak those “bourgeois” values of the middle class with a shocking bit of humor, but the words have deep import, whether or not Alinsky himself understood them. Scripture does teach us that there is a “diabolical” relationship to the world and its power, as well as a correct relationship. Specifically, Christ’s third temptation was to be shown all the kingdoms of the world and promised by Satan, “All these will I bestow on you if you will prostrate yourself in homage before me” (Matt. 4:9).
Jesus’ response was, of course, to give “homage to the Lord alone.” Consider, though, what His temptation consisted of — power over all the kingdoms of the earth; power to multiply the loaves infinitely into bread, but not into His Flesh; power to heal the lame, but no longer the power to forgive sins; and power to build a Utopia on earth without hope of Heaven. If such “power” tempted Jesus, small wonder that it tempts us as well. For us, however, of weaker wills and smaller intellects, the temptation rejected in the clarity of prototype is reintroduced with countless variations, and myriad opportunities for spiritual compromise. The Prince of the World still tries to persuade us to grasp for his golden promises, while reassuring us that we will retain the Lord’s blessing.
Scripture must be reinterpreted if it is to be useful to Alinskian-based community organizations. Retreats, like IAF Reflects, and St. Timothy’s new IAF “catechisms,” create that “different” way of understanding the Scriptures. Peter Skerry writes, “Through their organizations [the IAF locals] they [congregations] learn to speak the truth where it is not spoken and to create the truth where it never was, for all to see” (“The Resurrection of Saul Alinsky: Neighborhood COPS,” Peter Skerry).
Create the truth? If a “truth” must be created, then it is a lie.
Professor Toton writes, “[T]he process of building Poor People’s Organizations reminds the church over and over again that it does not own ‘The Truth'” (“Moving Beyond Anguish to Action . . .,” Toton).
From passages like these, it is clear that .the religion which the IAF is feeding its people has been twisted. This is not what the Bible or the Catholic faith teaches. The “power language” of Saul Alinsky and his IAF simply does not contain the same concepts as Christianity.
Delivering On The Call To Action Agenda
The Center for Action and Contemplation, as the primary Call to Action (CTA) member in New Mexico, has assisted CTA in propagating its We Are Church referendum. Fr. Jack Robinson, the pastor of Holy Family Parish where the center is located, has been a speaker for the center and spoke at the We Are Church, CTA forum from the Aquinas Newman Center of the University of New Mexico in March, 1997. The Aquinas Newman Center hosted two Sunday afternoon talks, which were called, “The Catholic Church: What Changes? What is Constant?” Fr. Robinson spoke at the first session about taking “a general look at how our faith and Tradition develops over time” (sic — from a flier advertising the talks). Sharon Pikula of the Newman Center addressed “A Look at the Question of Woman’s Ordination” at the second session.
It was clear at both talks that at least one objective of these Sunday sessions was to generate signatures for the Call to Action Referendum. Fr. Robinson’s specific contribution was to examine those aspects of the Church which may legitimately be altered, and have been altered over the centuries, distinguishing them from the constants of the faith.
Unfortunately, Fr. Robinson illustrated his position with revisionary history and flawed Hebrew. For example, he seemed to have completely misunderstood the early Church’s lifting of Jewish dietary restrictions. He mistranslated the Hebrew root for “Israel” as “wrestle” in an attempt to demonstrate that Israel’s role was to enter as a people into “dialog” with God, “wrestling [being] a form of dialogue, right?” Father also developed the notion that only in the Church of the last 200 years has there been any understanding of the evil of slavery, a notion which must ignore the Church’s constant and heroic position against slavery since her inception.
Fr. Robinson used these and other mistaken illustrations in an attempt to make the legitimate point that there have been changes in the Church throughout its history. One instance has been the Church’s evolving attitude toward clerical celibacy (which has been toward greater support and understanding of the discipline, although this was not, of course, how Father developed the point).
Fr. Robinson failed to distinguish between those aspects of the Church which are open to change and those, such as the moral law, which are changeless. His talk seemed merely aimed at building acceptance for the Church reforms proposed by the CTA referendum, in which the act of change becomes valuable in and for itself. “To deny the value of change is to want to stop living, is to want to stop growing, is to want to deny that God has given us the ability to reason,” was Father’s impassioned conclusion.
Audience members challenged the We Are Church referendum on several points, particularly its apparent desire to move the Church away from its position that homosexual activity is intrinsically disordered and objectively sinful. Fr. Robinson, in turn, argued that there has been a long-standing misunderstanding of the several Scripture references pertaining to homosexuality. He felt, for example, that the punishment of Sodom and Gomorrah was due to their inhospitality to strangers, and not to their desire to sodomize them. Fr. Robinson’s unusual perspective came as no surprise to area Catholics who were aware that five months earlier, Fr. Robinson had co-presided with Fr. Rohr at the “wedding” of a lesbian couple.
If the CTA agenda were not plain enough, a table at the Newman Center provided literature for the forum participants, which carried the titles . . . And Woman Said, This Is My Body, This Is My Blood and A History of Celibacy in the Catholic Church.
Given the Center for Action and Contemplation’s relationship with both Call to Action and the Industrial Areas Foundation, the history of Call to Action is extremely interesting. It was established in 1976 with the organizational assistance of Alinsky disciple and IAF-trained Msgr. Jack Egan. Nine position papers were adopted by the 1976 Detroit Call to Action Conference, designed to stimulate an appetite among the faithful for a reconstructed, democratic Catholic Church, rebuilt along humanistic lines. The conference demanded, in 1976, much the same reform that it seeks in its 1997 We Are Church:
• that the People of God participate in the process of selecting their bishops and pastors.
• that the Church permit the ordination of women to the priesthood
• that priests may choose either a celibate or noncelibate way of life.
• that the primacy of conscience be the deciding factor in issues of sexual morality (for example: birth control and abortion).
• that the human rights of all persons regardless of sexual orientation be respected (and those human rights are considered to include the sexual activity of homosexuals — which CTA wants the Church to condone).
• and that theologians and others who exercise freedom of speech be welcome in the Church. Several of CTA’s principal speakers are Richard McBrien, Charles Curran, and Hans Kung; the latter two theologians have been forbidden to speak in the name of Catholicism, because their theology is not Catholic.
It is apparent that the Center for Action and Contemplation has become a magnet for the dissenting elements of the Catholic Church, particularly in Albuquerque. Parishioners around the city have begun to observe the connections between their parish’s IAF activities and the rebellious demands of Call to Action. At Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, for example, which is an IAF-organized parish (see The Wanderer, Jan. 11th, 1996, p. 4, “IAF Priest Envisions ‘Church 2000′” about Holy Rosary’s pastor Fr. Joel Garner, who has been very active with Albuquerque Interfaith), a petition has been circulated challenging the parish’s distribution of CAC’s Radical Grace on church property. Petitioners were extremely disturbed by elements of the publication which they perceived as a distortion of Scripture, an affront to doctrine, and a perversion of their Catholic call to holiness. They referred specifically to the enneagram, to the We Are Church referendum, and to the teaching that Scripture does not condemn homosexuality, all of which they had read about within the pages of Radical Grace.
“This is not Catholicism,” said one of the petition’s signers, holding up his copy of Radical Grace. “We don’t want this in our church.”
Catholic charismatics recalled Fr. Rohr from 15 years ago. “He was a wonderful, inspiring speaker back then,” they reminisced. “And he still is quite a speaker. He has a real gift. But somewhere along the way, over the years, he fell off the track.”