Reiki and the Catholic Bishops, Again

Sister Madeline Gianforte is a Reiki master in Milwaukee, and a Roman Catholic nun with the Sisters of Saint Agnes.

Kim Lawton, a correspondent for the PBS show “Religion and Ethics,” interviewed Gianforte and another Reiki master who was trained by Catholic nuns. Lawton also interviewed Rev. Tom Weinandy of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which advised in the spring of 2009 that Reiki practice is not appropriate to Catholics.

As Reiki becomes more visible to the public, Reiki practitioners and students will come across more people who are interested in Reiki, and also people who dismiss or oppose it. It is critical that a mature Reiki practitioner understand the arguments that are made against Reiki and be able to address them reasonably.

A thoughtful discussion of the issues raised would benefit the Reiki community, and I hope you will share your perspective after watching the video.

What points did you find particularly useful? Do you have a well reasoned rebuttal to any of the points made? Are there other questions or points that you would have liked to see raised?

Let’s use this as an opportunity to practice communicating about a controversial issue without being inflammatory or disrespectful of other perspectives. In this way, we honor Reiki founder Mikao Usui’s advice, Today only, do not anger. Only comments that honor this request will be posted.

Let’s make a connection. Join the email list!

Related posts:
Bishops’ Syndrome
Reiki & the Bishops in the Boston Globe
Want Reiki, Have Nun?


25 thoughts on “Reiki and the Catholic Bishops, Again”

  1. Takata-trained Reiki master Paul David Mitchell is a practicing Catholic. He will speak to me about Hawayo Takata, Catholicism, and the future of Reiki in a free webinar at 6 PM EST on Monday, January 30, 2012. Click here to register now and you will receive the recording link even if you are not able to be with us live. Registration closes when the event starts.

  2. I am an RN, Reiki Master and have practiced energy therapies for over 20 years. I recently treated a Catholic priest with Reiki (and related) both at the rectory and in hospice(Catholic facility). He found his sessions provided pain and stress relief during his last stages of brain cancer. He was completely supportive and said Jesus did this kind of healing. It was an honor to be at his side until he crossed over.

  3. That’s a very good question, John, the answer to which Reiki practitioners would do well to try to understand.

    The Catholic hierarchy clearly doesn’t think that Reiki is a frivolous matter, or they wouldn’t bother condemning it. We don’t have to agree with them to understand where they are coming from, and when we make the effort to understand where those who oppose our values are coming from (instead of just condemning them for condemning our values), we are better equipped to dialogue. One would hope that healers would be uniquely equipped to engage in a productive dialogue even when our values are attacked.

    There is a non-involved public watching this controversy unfold. What do the Reiki practitioners look like to them?

  4. Why does the Catholic hierarchy strain to find things to condemn, especially if they benefit humanity (such as Reiki, gay rights). Don’t they have better things to do?

  5. Very interesting and exciting that this conversation is taking place…that in itself is encouraging. I personally do my best to realease my judgments of the church…not always entirely successful in this as they are deeply ingrained, but i do try to remember that the churches opinions are as valid to them as mine are to me. Must be that i am human? Huh? go figure.
    I did note the statement that Jesus should not need to be supplemented. Apparently that didn’t apply to modern medicine, or to prayer as Allison mentioned. Pray then take an asprin…that is ok, but no Reiki. Am I interpereting their position incorrectly? There is more to it I know. It really is very interesting how everyone’s views of life are so different. No one sees things or interperates them the same way. We all have our very own illusion of life don’t we?! How fun. It would be so boring if we were all the same.
    I am very glad that people in general are at least becoming much more aware of the alternative ways of approaching healing. Reiki has brought me much closer to “God” by whatever name, including Jesus, so for me I suppose, in my life Reiki has succeeded where the traditional church failed me. Viva la difference! and let the conversation continue!

  6. First off, I completely agree with every Allison says about prayer & the laying on of hands – really well said.
    What a shame that the person presenting the Catholic viewpoints here had such an incredibly narrow view of Reiki. I do think that this kind of black and white thinking is prevalent in the Catholic church but it is by no means the view of all Catholics. The beautiful thing about Reiki is that it does connect us in directly with divine energy – and that means it is suitable for anyone to use, regardless of their background. As has been suggested in the comments, all you’re talking about then is an issue of language. My students would all describe this connection to the energy source in different ways, depending on whether they are christian, pagan, hindu, buddhist, muslim, or anything else.
    Reiki can fit within different spiritual frameworks and this is what makes it so inclusive. What is wrong with explaining this energy in terms of a faith one already holds? Only one speaking from a place of fear and insecurity could suggest that to deepen one’s spiritual practice outside of the confines of the church is to ‘downgrade Jesus’ (or any other emanation of divine energy). I think Rev Weinandy is a very sad spokesman for the Catholic church on this issue; what is even sadder is that the narrow stance has made many Catholics feel the need to hide their practice and will stop many Catholics using Reiki as part of their healing, which they could get so much benefit from.
    I have a friend who is a Catholic priest in America and a Reiki Master, and he tells me that the American Catholic church is more closed to these sorts of practices than the Vatican, something that these comments agree with! I didn’t know that the Pope had a more open stance, so thanks for sharing that information too! Unfortunately the American Catholic church’s stance on this has led to a real crisis of faith for my friend, and many in his area to speak out against his Reiki work. They may lose a priest who is compassionate, loving and healing – what a terrible shame. So while I agree with you Pamela that not everyone goes the New Age route and a holistic route to healing can exist within religions, views like Rev Weinandy’s do put up a block to this happening for many people.

  7. Welcome, Kathleen. Do you see the irony in your comment that today’s inclusive society has no room for narrow views? How inclusive is that? Wouldn’t a truly inclusive society have room for those with narrow views as well? Otherwise we’re just substituting a new version of intolerance for the old one.

    Also, not everyone who seeks essence goes the New Age route. There are many options, some of which exist within religions.

  8. Kathleen D. Parker

    I think that the responses here today were wonderful. As a “Recovering Catholic” I have spent many years searching for God. I feel that it was His/Her guidance that led me to Reiki and the fulfillment of my Karma. Have I become “New Age”? Probably, but only because I seek and follow the Spiritual essence of the Universe ( God ) as opposed to the dogma of man. Narrow views have no place in todays inclusive society. We need to expand our ability to love, not criticize.

  9. Thank you for bringing up a couple of important points, Bea.

    Human nature is such that people are often afraid of what they don’t know. This is why, if we want the public and conventional health care to consider Reiki, which is to them a new approach to healing, it is critically important that we present the practice in neutral terms. Some people may be more drawn to Reiki when it is wrapped in New Age ribbons, but most people are put off by woowooness (I’m sure that is not a word, but you know what I mean).

    Your last point reminds me of a quote by a famous scientist (Einstein?) which says that the hypothesis determines what is studied. This may seem obvious, but what about the possibilities that never make it into hypotheses?

    We each do our own informal “research” as we go through life, looking at our experience through the lens of our personal hypotheses, grabbing what we can as proof that we are right, and disregarding the rest. This faux research closes the door to growth, and demonizing other perspectives deepens the isolation.

  10. Fortunately, not ALL Catholics are opposed to Reiki. I was a Reiki volunteer at a Catholic Healthcare West hospital’s Cancer Center for many years. Reiki volunteers were welcomed by the hospital’s oncologists, nurses, patients and nuns alike.

    However, I did get tossed out of a health fair at a Baptist church once. Members of the local American Holistic Nurses Association had been invited to participate and demonstrate /offer alternative and complementary therapies. Church officials observing a hands-on Reiki demonstration claimed it was the work of the Devil. They asked those of us doing Reiki, Healing Touch and Therapeutic Touch to leave. We were told that only Jesus could heal with his hands. We tried to explain that “we” weren’t healing anyone, etc, etc, but we were escorted out, nevertheless.

    At another time in history, we’d have been burnt at the stake. Right? Some things don’t change much, do they. Like it or not.

    What make me sad is that most people in our society have no faith in their ability to self-repair, thus no incentive for self-care. Whether the it’s church “prescribing Jesus,” or the medical establishment prescribing pills and surgery, most people believe that the fix for whatever ails them is going to come from something outside of themselves. When I remind people that the doctor may take out your appendix, but it’s your body’s wisdom that knows how to stop the bleeding at the site, grow the cells back together to close the wound, send white cells to the area to prevent infection, etc, they get it, and you see the “ah-ha” on their face. Then I explain that Reiki just helps your body do what it already knows how to do.

    Everyone has had the “miraculous” experience of a cut finger healing. Was it Jesus? Was it God? Was it Reiki? Was it body wisdom? Was it the Neosporin? Was it the vitamin A in your baked yam? Was it mom who kissed your boo-boo? Do you even know? Can you even know? I doubt it. But, it you are a Bishop, or a Neosporin manufacturer, or a mom, or other stakeholder, you will proclaim to know, and worse likely declare all other “knowing” is blasphemous.

  11. Welcome, Elizabeth, and thank you for your comment.

    I am glad you brought up the point about “divine forces” coming through Reiki practitioners into the patient. Frankly, the Catholic bishops aren’t the only ones who don’t find that appealing. I bet the public at large would find this a bit alarming, and I myself would not have been drawn to practicing Reiki had it been presented to me like that.

    Since one need not believe in divine forces to practice Reiki, it is unfortunate that Reiki practice is so often wrapped in such beliefs. If we want Reiki to be respected and taken seriously by a wider audience, we need to respect and take seriously people’s concerns, rather than characterizing people who don’t agree with us as not open.

  12. Elizabeth Bartolf

    I am so very sad the Catholic Bishops are so opposed to the practice of Reiki, especially since it has helped so many people. The first Reiki session I had, I was totally exhausted and stressed with quite a bit of body pain. When the session was finished – I felt like I was given a new body – totally centered, relaxed, balanced and with no more pain. Plus, while I was receiving Reiki, I was overcome with an overwhelming feeling of graditude and awe. I kept thanking God over and over again to myself. I knew right then that I wanted to learn Reiki and help others experience this wonderful feeling of peace and love that I experienced that day. I am now a Reiki III practicioner. However, there are many people out there that do not understand what Reiki is either, and they are not so open, so I do understand the fear of the Catholic Church. It is because we are saying that “divine forces” are moving through the practioner into the patient, and they are reluctant to accept them as forces coming from God. Plus, I don’t see how Reiki is replacing God?? Doesn’t God give us many tools and ways for us to get closer to him? Prayer is one of the ways – but I think Reiki goes much deeper. It awaken the soul and brings a person much closer to God. What the Church is really against is that we are saying God is working through us, and who are we to claim such.

  13. I completely agree, Kris. It doesn’t align with the Reiki Precepts and it keeps us from looking at how the way Reiki is often communicated helped make the practice vulnerable to this.

    Click here to find out more information about my friend and colleague Wanja Twan and the Polish nun she inititated, who received Pope John Paul II blessing to practice Reiki. Please help publicize this information as you are able.

  14. I understand the frustrations of many about the Church’s stance at this time on Reiki. But I do think and feel that a blanket, mean-spirited assessment of the Catholic church is uncalled for and lacking in compassion and charity. Bitterness isn’t attractive.

  15. John Janssen, Reiki Master

    Thanks for revisiting this subject, Pamela.
    I still don’t see all the fuss about what the American Catholic Bishops think of reiki is about. Any time I get questioned about this, I inform the person asking the question that Pope John Paul gave his blessing on a Polish Nun’s work with Reiki. Lets see…. American Bishops or a sitting Pope…. who’s who in their organization.

  16. I TOTALLY agree with Allison’s commentary on the interview with Rev. Weinandy….I couldn’t have stated it better. I tend to relate MORE with the positive comments made by the reiki practitioners that were interviewed by Ms. Lawson. As a Catholic myself, I couldn’t help but feel that Rev. Weinandy, for one, was speaking from a place of ‘fear of the unknown’ and possibly not truly understanding what reiki in the purest sense represents which, as Hawaiio Takata once called it, “God power”. I would not be surprised, somehow, if that would also be mis-interpreted by the Catholic Church, simply out of fear as to what was meant by “God power.” If reiki is “God power”, I can’t help but to be filled with a spirit of humble gratitude, to be able to be a facilitator taking part in a divine healing process, rather than a “channeler of energy” as Rev. Weinandy put it, which leads me to think that he feels that reiki practitioners attempt to “manipulate” the outcome, which would not be true.

  17. Reiki was not characterized as sinister in the bishops’ report.

    As Allison pointed out, at least some of the basis of the bishops’ stand is a matter of interpretation. They are, of course, interpreting much more narrowly than we are. They are, after all, part of the hierarchy of an international organization.

    If we want people who have different orientations to be able to consider Reiki even-mindedly, we might start by considering what we are expecting of them. The language commonly used to describe Reiki presents a huge challenge not only to the bishops, but to many other people as well.

  18. Watching this video actually made me sad for the Catholic church! Reiki (translation from rei universal + ki life force) is the channeling of loving energy from God – “the source” – without expectation or personal agenda on the part of the pratitioner. The energy and love flows to where it is needed most by the receiver. God and that mind, body, spirit do the work, and yes sometimes there is healing, but not because the practitioner claims to be a miracle worker. An effective Reiki Practitioner sets their ego aside and allows Divine energy to flow through them, to the receiver, with pure intentions. One never knows what the outcome will be – only God knows, and the receiver may or may not figure it out later. But what the receiver does know is that someone cared and brought them peace. I am not sure how that translates to something sinister?

  19. The catholic church is only concerned that people will learn to meet God on their own. And that means less attendance to the church. Less attendance means less money collected.

  20. Thanks so much for posting this. I found a few points in the interview with the Catholic priest, Rev. Weinandy of particular interest.

    This first statement stood out to me:

    “Christians can pray for one another, lay hands on a sick person and ask Jesus to heal them but you’re not channeling divine energy through your hands” (Rev. Weinandy). I am curious to know, in this case, what Rev. Weinandy thinks happens during prayer (of any faith) – so in this instance, I think it would be interesting to hear his explanation or definition of prayer. I am curious to understand what he thinks prayer is because stating it’s okay for Christians to lay hands on others and pray but that “you’re not channeling divine energies” is confusing to me. So I would be keen to open a discussion with the person putting forth such statements about what prayer is for him or her.

    Another of Rev. Weinandy’s statements that stood out for me is:
    “If you try to plug Reiki into Christianity, what you’re saying is, Jesus is not good enough on his own, he has to be supplemented by something else, in this case, the divine forces. So you’re either downgrading Jesus and Christianity or you’re taking the heart out of Reiki.

    Again, in this regard, my interpretation of him stating “your saying… Jesus is not good enough…. and needs to be supplemented…” is again that we seem to have different understandings of prayer, in general. If we follow his logic, is prayer not “supplementing” Jesus? I had never thought of prayer supplementing Jesus or any other deity; however, I do see it as the vessel to connect more deeply to the higher spiritual energies, which I would interpret as the god in which you choose to believe (if you believe in a god).

    In this regard, the practice of prayer (which I would explain as the act of facilitating a deeper connection to the Spiritual energies of your beliefs) is synonymous with the practice of Reiki.

    If the problem for the Catholic bishops is the “Reiki practitioner’s” involvement in the channeling of energy or the prayer – I believe the evident lack of understanding of what Reiki is comes into play (made clear on many counts during the interview, including his specific reference to “massage”).

    I would equate a Reiki session facilitated by a Reiki practitioner or a group meditation to group prayer. Do Catholics not pray together weekly? Do Catholic parents and children not kneel together at bedtime and say their prayers? Do they not worship in congregations and also receive further spiritual connection via their priests, deacons, nuns, choirs, ordained ministers, fellow parishioners, etc.?

    I wonder if the fear factor here for the American Catholic bishops (because I do believe that these decisions were made due to fear and not due to any kind of fact or logic) is an insecurity that they feel they are being replaced by Reiki practitioners.

    How do we address that? Perhaps, by openly discussing people’s views on prayer, objectives and outcomes. And perhaps by the Catholic church reflecting on its own beliefs, history and practice: beginning with just what they think happens during prayer or why the laying of hands has such an important role in Catholic practice.

    Thanks for sharing the interviews.

    1. Thank you for this wonderful website and the the wonderful responses.
      As a Catholic who practices Reiki i have been getting a lot of negative responses from friends of mine who tells me that the church is against reiki and not to practice it. I recently had a talk with one of the priest at my local church about it. this priest told me that the church is not against the practice. it is the bishops here in the United States of America that doesn’t understand it. I also was given permission from him to continue with my studies in it.

      all reiki is is a energy massage technique to help people heal. i took my first class in it at a local convent that offered it a while back. i’ve also talked it over with other friends of mine who has a better knowledge also agrees that people doesn’t under stand the practice. all they are doing is saying oh reiki it’s evil. don’t practice it. It’s all a misunderstanding that’s how i feel about it.

      All we are doing is just laying hands on people and praying over them asking god to help heal them. isn’t that what jesus did ?

      1. Thank you for your comment, Meredith. Your priest is correct that it is only the American Catholic bishops who have released a statement against Reiki, and not the Catholic Church itself — at least not yet.

        However, Reiki is not an “energy massage technique;” it is a spiritual healing practice, like meditation and yoga, and this is what it has been since Usui began the practice.

        Reiki practice does not involve prayer. If a practitioner adds prayer to a Reiki treatment, it is ethical to tell the receiver that first to give the client the opportunity to give or decline permission for prayer.

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