Category archives for Dissident Priests

The Fr. Richard Rohr Phenomenon

The Fr. Richard Rohr Phenomenon

by Father Bryce Andrew Sibley

During the past few years, I’ve noticed among Catholic circles a marked increase in the attention paid to the work of Fr. Richard Rohr. Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Fr. Rohr wrote and spoke often on the Enneagram, but lately he seems to have abandoned “personality spirituality” for the now-popular “male spirituality.” Through several recent visits to my own diocese, Rohr has attracted quite a local following. So, in order to better understand the increasing “Rohr phenomenon,” I decided to purchase his most recent book, Adam’s Return, and attend a conference given by him titled “Men Matter: A Quest for the True Self.” Surprisingly, there were over 400 people in attendance, some having traveled hundreds of miles to be there. After reading the book, going through a few of his other writings, and then listening to his presentations, I have come to believe that Fr. Richard Rohr adheres to some very questionable, if not dangerous, beliefs. Although most of what he says and writes may appear harmless to most people, the discerning Catholic reader will notice that underneath the surface lie ideas and opinions, some of them fundamental to Rohr’s message, that reside outside of the realm of orthodox Catholic teaching. I would like to look at a few of these ideas here.

God the “Mother”?

Rohr began his presentation by speaking about the phenomenon of the “Father Wound” that he has noticed in young men throughout the world, but especially in the U.S. Many young men, he claims, grow up with weak, abusive, or absent fathers, which leaves the young men wounded. From that wound flows what Rohr calls a “Father Hunger” — a desire to have an authentic father figure in their lives. Rohr’s “masculine spirituality” uses symbols, archetypes, and rituals that, he argues, speak especially to males in order to help cure the “Father Wound.”

But Rohr fails to demonstrate a true Christian solution to the problem he diagnoses. I would argue that such a remedy must encourage a healthy family life and authentic fatherhood on earth, but most importantly must be founded in having the young men become aware of God the Father’s paternal love for them. Part of the reason that Rohr is unable to provide this solution is because of his flawed concept of Revelation, especially regarding the paternity of God.

Rohr makes it very clear that he does not want to be limited to having to call God “Father.” He writes in Adam’s Return (which was the basis for his presentations) that we must “find public ways to recognize, honor, and name the feminine nature of God….”

Rohr bases this claim on his belief that “God is the ultimate combination of whatever it means to be male and whatever it means to be female.” He asserts that God is in no way sexed, and here he seems to be in agreement with the Catechism, which states: “In no way is God in man’s image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes” (#370). However, this does not mean that it would be proper to refer to God as “Mother.” Rohr’s thesis runs into the problem of Divine Revelation: Christ has definitively revealed God as Father. To say that God could just as easily be called “Mother” is in direct contradiction to Divine Revelation. As the Catechism states, “Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard-of sense: He is Father not only in being Creator; he is eternally Father in relation to his only Son, who is eternally Son only in relation to his Father…” (#240).

Rohr’s problem also extends to his vision of the Church. During his presentations, he made several negative references to patriarchy, particularly to the Church as a patriarchal institution (patriarchy finding its roots in the Latin word pater, meaning “father”). The vague references he made during the conference become clearer when seen in relation to what he writes about the patriarchal dimension of the Church in his book Simplicity, in the first chapter, titled, “God the Father — God the Mother?” Here Rohr describes the structure of Catholicism as patriarchal. Jesus was happy to call God “father,” but “presumably that has something to do with his patriarchal culture.” The Gospel text then “reveals the beginnings of the bias against women,” and the beginnings of patriarchy. Our “liturgical texts are almost completely patriarchal, and they perpetuate this narrow image of God.” But fortunately (according to Rohr), “we belong to the first generation of the Church that has come to consciously recognize our patriarchal biases.”

Like many others today, Rohr thinks that patriarchy carries a negative connotation. Once again, however, he runs into the problem of Revelation. It was Christ who became incarnate as male, who deliberately chose men to lead His Church.

Although the Church is patriarchal by structure and office, the true symbol of the Church is not Peter, but Mary. Maybe having a more developed image of the Church as feminine would assuage Rohr’s desire to have God reveal Himself in feminine terms.

The ultimate irony here is that, while concentrating on the problem of rejecting our earthly fathers, Fr. Rohr rejects his heavenly Father. He also rejects the spiritual fathers whom God has called to be representatives of His paternal authority on earth. It follows logically that if someone rejects the definitive Revelation of God as Father, then it is very difficult to teach men to be good Christian fathers (or males) themselves.

Homosexual Advocacy

The reality of sexual difference — that man was created as male and female by God for a reason — is a basic teaching of Catholic anthropology and theology. Pope John Paul II wrote beautifully about the significance of sexual difference in his apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, in which he calls the reality of man being created as male and female a “truth which is immutably fixed in human experience” (#2). At first, I was encouraged to see that Rohr appeared to ground his “male spirituality” in the reality of sexual difference as one truly positive aspect of his presentation. However, when I took a closer look at some of his other writings, particularly those dealing with homosexuality, I began to question whether Rohr really holds a strong belief in the importance of sexual difference.

The website of Soulforce, a homosexual advocacy group, carries a letter written by Fr. Rohr (dated 2000) supporting this organization’s mission. Soulforce claims that its purpose is non-violent resistance to the “spiritual violence” perpetrated against “gay,” lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons by social and religious groups. The Soulforce website defines spiritual violence as “the misuse of religion to sanction the condemnation and rejection of any of God’s children.” Soulforce claims that spiritual violence is a misuse of God and religion to perpetuate society’s prejudices against “gays,” lesbians, etc. Needless to say, Soulforce protests the condemnation of homosexual activity and homosexual “marriages” by the Church and other religious organizations.

Rohr’s support of Soulforce and its goals is rooted in his interpretation of Jesus’ all-inclusive love. He writes that the Church has failed to live up to the Gospel values by “judging” and “excluding” homosexuals. He hopes that the Church will realize the error of her ways, but until she does he hopes that Soulforce will maintain its loving, inclusive position because “our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered brothers and sisters have been left outside of [Christ’s] realm of grace for far too long.”

Since homosexual activity is the ultimate denial of sexual difference, Rohr’s support of homosexual-advocacy groups such as Soulforce (and thus his implicit support of homosexual activity) is a radical contradiction of the apparent importance he places on sexual difference in his presentation on “male spirituality.” As the Catechism states, “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved” (#2357). “They do not proceed from a genuine sexual complementarity” clearly states that homosexual activity runs counter to the God-given meaning of sexual difference.

There is yet another irony. While Rohr endorses the work of a homosexual advocacy group (on that group’s website), he criticizes political conservatives active in the 2004 presidential election for their preoccupation with what he refers to as a “body oriented morality.” He writes in an essay posted on the website of his Center for Action and Contemplation, “In the upcoming years we must find ways to address this ‘body oriented’ morality, which has always held churchy people captive, but now seems to be widespread. The body holds human shame and inferiority, and people can be most controlled at that level…. We [i.e., political conservatives] want body morality, not really a demanding Biblical morality. No concern about social values, or justice values, or basic truthfulness, just puritanical concern for keeping human bodies so called ‘pure,’ by preoccupation with issues like abortion, those terrible gays, and stem cell research. All of which can be addressed by a more nuanced morality. But America does not like nuance or compassion…. These body issues, these pretensions at being pro-life, demand very little change of 90% of the population, but allow us to remain preoccupied with trying to change others. How convenient for the ego. How disturbing for the future of religion and state.” Rohr echoed these same sentiments in his conference when he said that religious people often use religion to condemn others, particularly those who participate in abortion and homosexual activity. Religious people do this, he claimed, so that they do not have to hear the Gospel message and transform themselves. (Of course, Rohr is condemning those who condemn.)

So, if Rohr thinks we should look beyond these “body issues” to a more “demanding Biblical morality” why is he so concerned with the “body issue” of homosexuality?

“He Was Paying No Debt”

And so our discussion of the body brings us to Rohr’s thinking on the Redemption that Christ brought about in His body. In the first chapter of Adam’s Return, Rohr makes this very puzzling assertion regarding the Incarnation: “‘Incarnation is already redemption,’ and you do not need any blood sacrifice to display God’s commitment to humanity. Once God says yes to flesh, then flesh is no longer bad but the very ‘hiding and revealing’ place of God.” Rohr is saying that the crucifixion of our Lord was not necessary for redemption; that the Incarnation already brought about redemption. This is made more evident in this passage from his critique of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, supposedly taking the teaching of John Duns Scotus as his justification: “As many of you know, I am a strong proponent of the Franciscan understanding of the redemption, based on the teaching of Blessed John Duns Scotus in the 13th century. He did not believe in any ‘substitutionary atonement theory’ of the cross: Jesus did not have to die to make God love us, he was paying no debt, He was changing no Divine mind. Jesus was only given to change our mind about the nature of God! (Imagine what we are saying about the Father, if he needed blood from his son to decide to love us! It is an incoherent world with no organic union between Creator and creature. No wonder so few Christians have gone on the mystical path of love, since God is basically untrustworthy and more than a little dangerous.) For Duns Scotus, Jesus was the ‘image of the invisible God’ who revealed to us a God’s eternal suffering love for humanity, in an iconic form that we could not forget. He was not ‘necessary,’ but a pure gift. The suffering was simply to open our hearts, not to open God’s — which was always open.”

I will not belabor arguing the point in detail that the crucifixion and death of our Lord was not only part of God’s eternal plan but also necessary for the atonement of sins. I would hope all faithful Catholics already know this. Rohr’s teaching here is at best confused. It does not seem clear to me that the “substitutionary atonement theory” teaches that the death of Christ was necessary for God to love us or to change His mind about us. What the atonement theory does teach, however, is that there is a real debt rendered to God when we sin, which is our death. How can we, of ourselves, mend a relationship initiated freely by God Himself? How could our sin, our rejection of the free friendship offered us by God at the creation, result in anything else but our death? In terms of our sinfulness, only God can fix what we broke, and He did. Christ died in our place. He himself suffered the real punishment for our real sins — He paid the debt — and therefore those who accept Christ have access to divine life.

Instead of focusing on Rohr’s error in claiming that Christ’s death was not necessary for redemption, let’s look at his teaching on Original Sin and how his teaching leads to an erroneous proposition. In the section on Original Sin in Adam’s Return, Rohr says that Original Sin “names the ‘corporate body pain’ that we all suffer from together.” It is the “tragic flaw in all of us” and we should not “waste time blaming anybody” for its existence. It is the collective hurts that have been passed on to us by our parents, just as they were passed on to them. Baptism washes away this “original wound” and “our endless capacity for self-rejection and self-hatred” by “situating one’s life in a much bigger picture.” For Rohr, Original Sin is the “original wounding,” it is the “shadow self that you do not understand,” “the dark side that seems to be in everything,” “the common pain of being human.” “It does not deserve punishment. It deserves tears.”

Clearly, Rohr has a very weak understanding of Original Sin. Once again, I do not think it necessary to go into great detail about the teaching of the Church on Original Sin (see the Catechism, #388-421). It should suffice to say that Original Sin comes as the result of the sin of the first man. It resulted in the loss of the state of grace and a tendency toward sin that is passed on through human nature. It is more than just a “tragic flaw” or an “original wound” — it is a loss of grace and divine friendship, which is what necessitates a Messiah and Redeemer. One paragraph from the Catechism explains this point particularly well: “The doctrine of original sin is, so to speak, the ‘reverse side’ of the Good News that Jesus is the Savior of all men, that all need salvation, and that salvation is offered to all through Christ. The Church, which has the mind of Christ, knows very well that we cannot tamper with the revelation of original sin without undermining the mystery of Christ” (#389).

Here we see the real root of Rohr’s redemptive theology. His “tampering” with the correct understanding of Original Sin truly leads to an undermining of the saving mystery of Christ. If Original Sin is nothing more than a “tragic flaw” or “shadow side,” if Original Sin is not seen from the perspective of the fall from grace, then the just penalty due for that, and hence the necessity of salvation, of Christ, His message, His death and Resurrection are all meaningless. As the above quote from the Catechism points out, one cannot have the Good News of salvation that comes through Christ without the bad news of condemnation that comes through Adam. Without a proper understanding of Original Sin, Christ is reduced to nothing more than a prophet who teaches us to love ourselves, and this is unfortunately who Rohr’s Christ turns out to be.

“People Who Creatively Hold the Tension of Opposites”

As we have already seen, Rohr is fond of the theology of John Duns Scotus. It is fair to say that between Scotus and St. Thomas, and therefore between Scotists and Thomists, there exists a significant difference in their regard for human reason. In comparison to Thomists, Scotists manifest a marked distrust of the native intellectual powers of the soul. This leads them, in some cases, to a greater trust in the will and the emotions, not only in theological discourse but also in the spiritual life. Rohr’s descriptions of the spiritual life often unfold in this vein, especially in Simplicity. He claims that “we tend to find out if things are true or false by engagement with them instead of thinking or theorizing about them.” But there are dangers in relying primarily on experience.

Throughout his talks, Rohr made a number of negative remarks about those who search for answers in religion instead of being willing to put themselves in a “liminal space” deprived of answers. There were also several subtle snide comments reserved for those concerned with orthodoxy and doctrine. Rohr has several sections in Simplicity criticizing those who feel compelled to be “right” dogmatically. Rohr claims that one should renounce being right and instead “‘go deep in one place’ and let your God lead you to a place of surrender, love, and humility.” Speaking from his own experience, Rohr writes, “I have found that a great deal of wisdom comes in the world through people who creatively hold the tension of opposites on difficult and complex issues.”

While elaborating on this nebulous position, Rohr makes condescending remarks about those who hold fast to dogma and doctrine, especially young laymen and young clergy. In Adam’s Return he asks why so many intelligent young people are attracted to “very conservative politics and fundamentalist religion.” He surmises that the reason is that young people need order in their lives, and they find this in tradition and dogmatism. He also notes that many young laymen and young clergy today have a longing to return to an earlier and false innocence that never really existed. As they get older, and hopefully undergo some form of “mystical” experience, however, Rohr hopes that they will realize the inadequacy of their youthful views. Rohr also notes in several of his works that Jesus never spoke about moral issues such as homosexuality and abortion. Jesus’ sole concern was effecting justice, loving the poor and marginalized, and bringing about the “Kingdom of God.”

However, God has given us the gift of reason so that we might understand His laws and meditate upon His Revelation. Faith is a supernatural gift for the intellect, which allows us to know what God knows. Both faith and reason must work together in spiritual life, and this necessarily creates in the Church a place for doctrine and dogma. By refusing to search for and acknowledge a definitive right and wrong, especially in the moral life, one becomes a fool, not a sage. It is just this type of muddled thinking that is used to justify the moral relativism present in the Church and in the world. And certainly this leads to moral chaos, when no one can claim to know right from wrong.

Rohr’s critique of the young who search for orthodoxy betrays a subtle ad hominem argument — he contends that it is just because the young are young that they believe such things. He does not address their position, but casts off the position outright simply because of their age.

In reference to his insistence on getting back to Jesus, Rohr seems to forget that there are other writings in the New Testament, also inspired by the Holy Spirit. For example, in his first letter to the Corinthians, we hear St. Paul making such dogmatic statements as, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts [active homosexuals], nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God” (6:9-10).

We also hear St. Paul say such things as, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths” (2 Tim. 4:1-4). These passages seem pretty insistent on dogma and sound teaching.

Pagan Ritual

A central theme of Rohr’s “male spirituality” is the importance of ritual for the transformation of the male. Through these rituals, these rites of initiation, the man is supposed to experience his powerlessness through some form of suffering, and later emerge as Jonah from the whale, a transformed and more spiritually aware man. Traditionally, the sacred liturgy and the rituals surrounding the Sacraments were the way in which Catholics (both men and women) experienced this ritualistic initiation and transformation (especially through the Sacraments of Initiation). Rohr, however, criticizes Catholic ritual for not having any efficacy in the form that it presently takes. His concern is that the Sacraments lose the ability to transform if their accompanying ritual does not produce a desired psychological effect.

I will be the first to admit that there is something lacking today in the Church’s sacramental celebrations, but Rohr’s proposal for solving this problem is strange. Instead of advocating an authentic renewal of the Sacraments and the rituals surrounding them, he has taken it upon himself to create new rituals that, he hopes, will speak to the men of today. In fact, the appendix of Adam’s Return gives an outline of a sample rite for men. The sponsoring of such male rituals is one of the main activities of Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Men from around America pay hundreds of dollars to “find themselves” in the New Mexico desert. What makes these rituals problematic for discerning Catholics is that they draw from and retain elements of various pagan rites of initiation.

Rohr argued at his conference that the rites that inspired him are Native American. Most disturbing was Rohr’s description of crawling around naked on all fours with a group of men in a Native American sweat lodge. He gushed about what a powerful experience it was for him. But Christ came to free us from such pagan rituals.

Rohr’s almost uncritical adoption of religious rituals alien to the Gospel brings us to the main problem with his theory of male initiation. Rohr’s rites can in no way bring about Christian redemption or a thorough understanding of who we are as baptized sons of the Father and brothers of Jesus Christ. Only a deep surrender to the person Jesus Christ, through prayer and confession of His Name, in and with the means made available through the Church, can do that. Only in Christ will man come to know who he truly is and find the spiritual transformation he is seeking. Pagan ritual cannot provide this.

To his detriment, Rohr, in his writings and conferences, gives the impression that Christ is not truly the divine Son of God, whose sufferings redeemed us from our sins, but rather just another guru, prophet, or great moral teacher, who like so many others before Him came to show us the path to self-enlightenment. Constantly quoting Buddha, Joseph Campbell, and Hindu aphorisms, Rohr’s syncretistic vision of Christ strips the Incarnate Son of God of His divinity and His uniqueness as mankind’s only Savior. Rohr’s unfortunate flirtation with paganism or Arianism leaves his wounded men naked, on all fours, crawling in the dark on the floor of the New Mexico desert, looking blindly for meaning in their lives, instead of humbly approaching Christ, their Lord and Savior.


At the conference I explained to another attendee that I did not think Rohr should call his “male spirituality” Catholic. This individual responded that I was being too rigid in my interpretation of Catholicism, that Rohr just has a very “broad” sense of what it means to be Catholic. To which I posed this situation in reply: Imagine that you, a Cajun, traveled to some state in the Midwest and went to a restaurant advertising that it sold “Cajun food” and you ordered a bowl of gumbo. But what was brought out to you was a bowl of watery soup with a few pieces of steak floating in it. Would you call that authentic “Cajun food”? Of course not. No Cajun in his right mind would. Then why would you be more dogmatic in your approach to food than in your approach to your faith?

In sum, Rohr’s presentation of his so-called “male spirituality” should certainly not be called Catholic. Though he claimed at his conference to sit in the “larger Christian and Catholic tradition,” he fails to demonstrate how referring to God as Mother, encouraging homosexual advocacy, denying the spiritual reality of Original Sin, denying the necessity of the Cross for redemption, and promoting pagan rituals resides within the Catholic or even Christian tradition.

The Rev. Bryce Sibley, STL, who holds a Licentiate degree from the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and the Family in Rome, is Pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Parks, Louisiana, in the Diocese of Lafayette.
©2006 New Oxford Review. All Rights Reserved. March 2006, Volume LXXIII, Number 3

The Center for Action and Contemplation

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 Enneagram

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.

Radical Feminism

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.”

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