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Friday, March 27, 2009

US Catholic bishops group denounces Reiki

We had to hold the presses overnight for this week's edition of The Reiki Digest to bring you coverage of an important story that broke just as we were about to publish our email edition: The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops committee on doctrine issued a ruling denouncing Reiki, calling it "not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence" and "therefore inappropriate for Catholic institutions."

You can read the full text of the ruling (in PDF) here.

It's breaking news, but this Reiki story has been developing for some time. Over the past few years, especially since Pope Benedict XVI replaced Pope John Paul II in 2005, various individuals in the Roman Catholic Church have made similar statements not only about Reiki, but yoga, acupuncture, and other modalities. Ironically, many Catholics, including nuns, have been practicing and teaching Reiki, often in Catholic institutions, for years. One of them, Sister Roseann Kasayka, Ph.D. and Reiki Master Teacher, of the Order of St. Francis, was the subject of the very first obituary in The Reiki Digest when she died in 2006. She was a pioneer in the field of geriatric care, and in December 2006, a different committee of the same organization that denounced Reiki this week dedicated a training conference to her memory in recognition of her contributions to the field

While Pope John Paul reached out to other religious and spiritual groups, Pope Benedict has been more confrontational, controversially criticizing other religions as well as science. Benedict has yet to make any statements on Reiki himself, at least not publicly. This week's ruling comes not from the Pope, but from the official leadership body of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

The document speaks for itself and we recommend reading it in its entirety, but the key points are in the conclusion:

"For a Catholic to believe in Reiki therapy presents insoluble problems . . . a Catholic who puts his or her trust in Reiki would be operating in the realm of superstition, the no-man's-land that is neither faith nor science . . . Since Reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching or scientific evidence, it would be inappropriate for Catholic institutions, such as Catholic health care facilities and retreat centers, or persons representing the Church, such as Catholic chaplains, to promote or to provide support for Reiki therapy."

The document cites some sources, including a few books about Reiki, but the major reference books on the subject are conspicuous by their absence.

We've been in touch with several Catholic Reiki practitioners since the ruling, but perhaps understandably, most declined to speak publicly about it. One of them wanted to spend some time in prayer before commenting, and others said they have no plans to abandon their Reiki practices because of the ruling. 

Dr. Olga Rodriguez Rasmussen of suburban Washington, D.C., a Catholic theologian who practices and teaches both Reiki and yoga, had this reaction:

"I read the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' Guidelines for Evaluating Reiki as Alternative Therapy with great interest - as a Catholic, a theologian, and as a practitioner of Reiki.

It is first of all, important to note that the operative word in this document is "guidelines." While everything in the document is consistent with traditional Catholic teaching, it does not carry the binding force of an Infallible Papal pronouncement or the weight of an Encyclical Letter. There is a hierarchy of importance that is accorded to documents that are released by the Vatican, and by local Conferences of Bishops.

There are many Catholic practitioners of Reiki, including religious women and priests, who have beautifully integrated the practice of Reiki in their healing ministry. I have had the pleasure of working with some of them who are deeply committed to their faith and their vocation. There are also a legion of individuals whose lives have been transformed by this practice.

Currently, there are many studies that are taking the practice and effects of Reiki under consideration. I for one, have humbly witnessed the healing of many of my Reiki clients - on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. In some cases, Reiki has helped some to die and reconciled them to their faith.

It is also important to note, that the Catholic Church has historically taught that each individual must ultimately respect the dictates of his or her informed conscience. Personally, I do not believe that the practice of Reiki is inconsistent with my own faith. I believe that God is revealed in many ways, and many practices - if one is but open to the Presence of the Divine in one's life.

The practice of Reiki has become very mainstream and I believe it will continue to flourish."

Olga Rodriguez Rasmussen, D.Min.

Thanks, Olga.

As our regular readers know, The Reiki Digest has made an effort to correct misinformation about Reiki since our founding nearly 3 years ago, and we feel obligated to do the same in making a few points about this controversial ruling. 

The ruling states that "Reiki is a technique of healing that was invented in Japan in the late 1800s by Mikao Usui" -- actually, Usui founded the system of Reiki in 1922.

It also states, "According to Reiki teaching, illness is caused by some kind of disruption or imbalance in one's 'life energy.' Perhaps some Reiki teachers say that, but so far none of the teachers we've encountered in three different Reiki master programs has put it quite that way. Instead, they made the point that in Reiki we do not diagnose. If we do not diagnose, then we don't claim to know where any illness comes from. That's not our job.

The document states: "Much of the literature on Reiki is filled with references to God, the Goddess, the 'divine healing power,' and the 'divine mind.' " We don't know what literature on Reiki the bishops are referring to as they do not cite a source, but, again, that's not what we learned from any of our teachers.

". . . Likewise, the various 'attunements' which the Reiki practitioner receives from a Reiki Master are accomplished through 'sacred ceremonies' that involve the manifestation and contemplation of certain 'sacred symbols' (which have traditionally been kept secret by Reiki Masters). Furthermore, Reiki is frequently described as a 'way of living,' with a list of five 'Reiki Precepts' stipulating proper ethical conduct," the document states.

First, sacred ceremonies are not exclusive to either Catholicism or Reiki, nor are they necessarily in conflict with them. For example, my daughter received her bachelor's from a major European university that was founded by a 14th-century Holy Roman emperor. Her studies began with a sacred (but not Roman Catholic) ceremony with some secret aspects, the same ceremony used to initiate students since the school was founded in 1348. Second, which, if any, of the Reiki Precepts is in conflict with the Roman Catholic Church?

For today only:
Do not anger,
Do not worry,
Be humble,
Be honest in your work,
Be compassionate to yourself and others.

The document further states that ". . . Reiki lacks scientific credibility. It has not been accepted by the scientific and medical communities as an effective therapy. Reputable scientific studies attesting to the efficacy of Reiki are lacking, as is a plausible scientific explanation as to how it could possibly be efficacious."

People used acetylsalicytic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin, for thousands of years before there was any "scientific explanation as to how it could possibly be efficacious." There is no record of the Catholic Church denouncing it before scientists found an explanation.

The document continues, "The explanation of the efficacy of Reiki depends entirely on a particular view of the world as permeated by this 'universal life enegy' (Reiki) that is subject to manipulation by human thought and will. . . for the Reiki practitioner the healing power is at human disposal." Again, that's not what my Reiki teachers taught me. On the contrary, they taught that the meditative techniques used in Reiki help us keep ourselves out of the way as much as possible when giving a treatment, and the better we get at using them, the less we interfere with the energy. 

Another point on which all my teachers have been in agreement is that Reiki is not a religion, and neither the practitioner nor the recipient need believe anything in order for it to work. 

From a scientific perspective, we can reasonably conclude that the e. coli bacteria who received Reiki in laboratory experiments had no belief in Reiki at all and no opinion as to whether it would help them.

More unfortunate misconceptions: The document claims that Reiki is ". . .a technique that once mastered will reliably produce the anticipated results." In the footnote on that sentence, the authors state, "Reiki Masters offer courses of training with various levels of advancement, services for which the teachers require significant financial remuneration. The pupil has the expectation and the Reiki Master gives the assurance that one's investment of time and money will allow one to master a technique that will predictably produce results." They do not cite a source for any of those claims, all of which are completely contrary not only to what I learned from my teachers, but what I paid them for my training.  I do not tell my students anything of the sort, nor do I require "significant financial remuneration." I have heard that members of the Reiki Alliance once had a standardized fee of $10,000 for Reiki master training, but if that is still practiced then it is the exception rather than the rule, and Alliance members are now greatly outnumbered by practitioners who are not part of that organization.

It appears that rather than doing comprehensive research or reaching out to request information from Reiki teachers and practitioners, whether Catholic or not, the bishops have created a straw man version of Reiki, then ruled against it. What a pity that a significant part of the ruling is based on misinformation.

Meanwhile, I am reminded of what a Reiki colleague of mine was told when she showed up for her regular volunteer shift at a local hospice. "The archbishop says no Reiki," she was told by a sympathetic nurse there, "So from now on, just call it Therapeutic Touch."

Readers, we invite your comments on this issue. Add them to this post (click on the word "comments" at the bottom of this post on our web site -- you don't have to log in, just scroll down in the comments window and type into the blank white rectangle. Or you can email your comments to


Blogger Chicky said...

Ha ha ha! Religious leaders are simply hilarious... all across the world! :-D

6:49 AM  
Anonymous Lori Wilson said...

Because I write grants for a Franciscan group and am a Reiki volunteer at a local Catholic medical center, I felt compelled to respond to this article. While I am not Catholic and may not have an entirely unbiased perspective, it does seem as if there is a disturbing trending away from Reiki and other forms of alternative healing since Pope Benedict XVI replaced Pope John Paul II.

But here's the interesting thing: the leaders of my Reiki volunteer group at the medical center are also lay Catholic ministers and perform pastoral functions for the patients. They are passionate about Reiki and their ministry in equal parts.

And, if the Catholic-based corporation that runs the medical center did not approve of our band of Reiki volunteers (which includes at least two nurses and one nun), it would have never let us offer Reiki in the cancer center, in med-surg, in pain management, or the ICU. We are expanding into other different departments of the medical center because Reiki works: it does no harm and can only help at physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. A few of our patients and their caretakers are leery of the offering of Reiki, but so many more are glad to receive it because they realize that it just might be another avenue to recovery or comfort might support their healing in other ways.

I might add that the other major hospital in our city, which is secular, does not have a Reiki volunteer program. Thus, we offer a unique and helpful service, regardless of whether it's Catholic or not.

After reading over the Bishops' guidelines, I suspect that they may be purposely clouding the concepts of both Reiki and healing that can be otherwise translated across any belief system (or no belief system, for that matter). That tells me that, at the very least, Reiki is starting to make inroads in places that we might not have seen it in as few as five years ago.

So, while I'm definitely concerned about witnessing a kind of fear and suspicion that faintly echoes back to the Inquisition and earlier, I am heartened to know that Reiki is becoming more and more visible and accepted as a healing system by the public and that there are many, many liberal Catholics who will take their own counsel about Reiki and not the Bishops', as they have with other controversial issues in the Church.

8:24 PM  
Blogger JoAnne Robinson said...

I realize that this document is considered "The Word" according to the US Catholic church, but note which particular bishops signed the actual document, not one is from a major metro area like New York, Los Angles, Chicago. I just have to wonder why such a controversial topic did not get enough backing from the major areas of the country to warrant their signatures?

In my opinion, all publicity is good publicity. Reiki certainly is getting people to take a look and think about many things. It saddens me that many will suffer as a result of this document.

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Graxwarrior said...

I state a vested interest: I am a Reiki practitioner and a failed agnostic.
Statement of Fact.
Reiki is a Complementary Therapy. Not an "alternative" to anything!
Personal opinion
From the title onwards the "Bishops" have got it wrong, but the Roman Church has never been hot on truth; only "The Truth" - as they want everyone to believe it.

As for "Reiki lacks scientific credibility"; Have these people ever sought any scientific credibility for the events that they celebrate on the Friday of Holy Week? When they do, perhaps they'll be better qualified to comment on things they evidently do not understand.

Perhaps they should stick to astronomy.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

I am blown away every day at how our religious leaders attempt to 'control' the many sisters practice this healing technique, will they be banished! The Pope has not yet given his blessings either way, how did it get this far without it! But then again, a Pope who has no time to visit with victims from an earthquake in the most holy of lands shouldn't be expected to think about peoples healing....

10:18 AM  
Anonymous John Coleman said...

It is encouraging to see that the Bishops are aware of Reiki. It is disappointing to see that they appear to fear Reiki for what it can facilitate (self empowerment for one and why would they fear this, I wonder!!).
Some years ago in Ireland a leading Catholic Priest came out with a similar stance on Reiki. The result was a growth in the use of Reiki by many Catholics. I trust the same outcome will come as a result of this sad publication.
Interestingly they are guidelines only, surely if they felt so strongly about Reiki they would make it compulsory not to use it, or do they simply usual.. to spread fear in the minds of the laity who still respect them.

2:11 AM  
Anonymous Maria Doglio said...

People usually ridicule what they don't understand and it is usually out of fear. As a former Catholic I know first hand that the Catholic leadership controls through fear tactics to keep you in the club and here is just another example. Today we have a Pope who preaches the misinformation that condoms spread aids. Have they proven what they are stating and with what scientific methods? (smile)We could all send the unenlightented Bishops Reiki to help them rise to a higher consciousness and retract their statement. If we all hold that intention, then change will occur. Maria

3:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This was my first experience with Reiki the other night. I had never heard of it before this lady came over while in the restaurant the other night and put her hands on my brother-in-law. He is very feeble because of lung cancer that left him without a voice box a few years back. His health is failing but my sister trys to take him out if he wants to go. The lady said she was a Reiki student and after she did that to him he seemed to liven up and smile. even though he is very fragile he did seem happy. We are Catholic and I didn't see anything different then the laying of hands they used to practice.

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can a bishop condemn Reiki but accept the notion of praying for a third party, which I think could be described as (long) distance healing?

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an ordained minister, Yoga instructor and Reiki practitioner, I am saddened by the Bishop's decision. It has been my experience that the Church tends to condemn anything they, at first, see as a threat to their power and control. This is by no means exclusive to the Catholic church! It amazes me that the "laying on of hands" to heal the sick could be thought of as wrong, but then Jesus was declared a heretic by the church of his day.

2:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being a christan and a Reiki practioner I believe in the trinity and Reiki does not interfere with my beliefs. It is a stress and pain reliever. It is helpful in many ways.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Jugnu Bagga said...

Being a lawyer and a reiki pactitioner, i believe in the reiki as a wholistic healing therapy.
Archbishops views on reiki are unasked for and probably are stemming from lack of information and scientific validity. In my course of co-teaching reiki in India, where religion plays a predominant role,my mission to spread reiki has met with resistance surely but the transformation which has come about in me,visibly in my conduct specifically acceptance of all unconditionally, treating others with respect and by following the five principles of reiki in my day to day life for universal good of all has brought a shift in religious fanatics around me. Reiki is energy work,where one practitioner transfers his/her energy to the other, thereby healing the deficiency of energy in the healee. Being universal energy itself, the purest form of energy, initiation to reiki ideally brings about transformation at all levels of existence. If one ractices reiki regularly, one is able to unwind ones issues and free oneself completely from karmic bonds. Lets hope that with time and very soon , this purest and easiest form of energy transfer will surely be accepted cross religions.

6:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have just started my reiki journey and have found it to be amazing. I am very open minded about others' faiths.

Although I am sad for the misinformation and what I feel are invalid conclusions, I must acknowledge and respect their decision. It is not my place to judge.

Each person who comes to me has the right to their beliefs and feelings. I trust people to make their own mind up and follow their hearts.

5:10 PM  
Anonymous Margaret said...

I know this feed is old, but I would just like to say that I myself am a Catholic who loves her faith have just done first degree reiki which helps me enormously.

I wonder, have these American Bishops who have banned reiki maybe thought about all the sick people who have already received it, how they will feel or would have felt to be told it is wrong.

Or is this another episode whereby once upon a day children who were not baptised would be in limbo, now it has been reversed.

Jesus said Love one another as I have loved you. It is the heart that we should be listening to not the head. If we truly lived the gospel we would see that nothing that is good can be of anything else than of God. Let us move on to the 21st century please.

2:51 PM  

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