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Seattle Catholic
A Journal of Catholic News and Views
10 May 2002
Close-ups of the Charismatic Movement
John Vennari
   reviewed by Peter Miller

Untested spirits and idle minds

There was once a time, not so long ago, when Catholics shared a common aversion towards certain cultural elements which, although billed as "Christian," didn't seem quite right. Such elements and practices were once dismissed as "too Protestant" and altogether avoided due to a healthy fear of proximity to heresy, apostasy and supernatural evil. One of the more unfortunate consequences of the changes to take place since the Vatican II days has been a blurring of those distinctions. Certain sights which once would send faithful Catholics in flight became not uncommon occurrences in Catholic liturgies and diocesan-sponsored events. Through the proliferation of dancing in the aisles, "gospel" music, "evangelistic" sermons, "Christian Rock" and performance liturgies, some of the more obvious and visible boundaries between the Catholic Church and the realm of extra ecclesiam have become obscured. Nowhere is this more evident or unsettling then in what has been termed the "Charismatic Movement."

Deriving its roots from the misleadingly-named "Pentecostalism," the Charismatic Movement in the Catholic Church has been around since at least the late 1960's; its longevity giving it an undeserved degree of respectability. Worse still, approval for this phenomenon has come primarily from those institutions claiming adherence to "conservative" and "orthodox" Catholic values. Various Charismatic proponents have been featured on EWTN, a cable television network serving as the flagship for "conservative" Catholicism, while the biggest supporter and promoter has been the Franciscan University of Stuebenville, a supposedly "conservative" university whose staff boasts that 75% of the students have been "baptized in the Holy Spirit" (i.e. actively participated in Charismatic/Pentecostalist events). Even Stuebenville faculty member and famed convert Scott Hahn, a man who draws significant lecture crowds and sells countless books, has repeatedly voiced support for this "movement." This enthusiastic acceptance apparently extends to the Vatican where Pope John Paul II has received in audience and sent encouraging letters to various Charismatic leaders and groups.

Charismatic antics

Just what is Charismaticism and where did it come from? These are questions explored in John Vennari's new book, "Close-ups of the Charismatic Movement" which includes eye-witness accounts of some of the more bizarre "Christian" occurrences imaginable. From loud rock music to body convulsions to falling upon the floor "slain in the 'spirit'," this is a revealing and necessary look at Charismatic antics. The accounts and stories quickly go from silly to disturbing as the performers claim to receive messages directly from God and audience members receive the "gifts" of speaking in and interpreting "tongues." As noted researcher Msgr. Ronald Knox warns:

Based on a faulty understanding of the Pentecostal gift received by the apostles from the actual Holy Ghost to preach to men in different languages at the same time, these nonsense vocalizations have become one of the defining characteristics of Charismaticism. Former Pentecostalist Gerry Matatics recalled an experience he had as he started to suspect something amiss with the Pentecostal rallies he was attending. Having memorized the twenty-second Psalm in Hebrew, he exclaimed the equivalent of "The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want" during one of the "revivals," only to have it interpreted by the "translator" as a message from God instructing the audience to help build an extra wing on the local pastor's house!

The Catholic teaching regarding discernment of spirits is replaced by open and enthusiastic support for anything and everything presented by the "movement" with seemingly little sincere prayer or critical analysis. Ignored are the warnings of St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, the two great Mystical Doctors of the Church:

With more new cultists, healers, prophets, stigmatists, apparitionists and visionaries popping up every day, the need for vigilance is now more important than ever. Uncritical acceptance of liberal ideologies and modernist mantras is bad enough. Getting exciting about a heretic parading around a stage while an audience twirls and makes animal noises is patently ridiculous.

The sort of cacophony on display is the stuff of oft-repeated and rightfully-derided stereotypes parodied in various media outlets. But the antics detailed in this book are even more ridiculous and transparent than the cable televangelists they emulate. Yet rather than dismissively changing the channel, Catholics are tuning it in significant numbers, travelling across the country to "revivals" hoping to "catch the spirit." Is a "spirit" that results in one making unintelligible noises, wildly flailing extremities about and surrendering judgment to a professional Protestant "leader" claiming to receive finance-related messages from God really a spirit that any reasonable individual, much less one blessed with the treasure of the Catholic Faith, would want to "catch"?

An ecumenical affair

There is a significant ecumenical aspect to this "movement" which may explain its appeal to the Vatican. Given that Charismaticism started with and is assisted by protestant organizations and the "revivals" are attended by Catholics and non-Catholics alike, it is a widespread example of ecumenical "progress."

Despite the inherent error of protestants invited to "preach" to Catholics and offer some sort of "gift" missing in Christ's Church, explicit repudiation of Catholic doctrine can also be found in these "revivals." Whether it's a denial of the sacramental necessity of penance by having your sins "washed away" by the non-ordained, or the enthusiastic speeches espousing anathematized beliefs on faith, sin and salvation, Divine Truth bears little prominence in these spiritual hootenannies. Infallible doctrine is replaced by emotional experience; "feelings" replace Truth. "Full and active participation" has never been so full or active as it is in Charismatic revivals where anyone can receive the "spirit" or "baptize" the person beside him, "washing away" his sins. Who needs sacraments when one can "experience" God directly? All it takes is a little cash, significant suspension of judgment and the guidance of a hired protestant.

In what seems to be becoming an all-too-often-needed reminder, John Vennari provides an excellent recap of the traditional Catholic teaching on salvation outside the Church and interreligious gatherings. For those who are part of the "prior pontiffs were condemning something different" crowd, for once I'd agree. I don't think Blessed Pope Pius IX or Pope Pius XI could have conceived of something so horrible in their worst nightmares.

As can be found with modernism and ecumenism, some apologists are quick to offer the defense that there is a world a difference between "good" and "bad" (or "true" and "false") Charismaticism. Convinced that something endorsed by various "conservative" Catholics and the Vatican itself cannot be fundamentally flawed, they tell us it must be the "abuses" and "misinterpretations" that are to blame. Offering a defense which they perceive to echo the opinions of selected superiors, they feel secure that in doing so they are being good and loyal Catholics. Once again, such reasoning only leaves them unwittingly wandering down strange paths in futile attempts to defend the indefensible.

Beware these angels of light

Even in areas or parishes which have not been exposed to Charismaticism in all its frivolity have perhaps unknowingly seen its influence permeate various Catholic retreat movements, diocesan youth ministries ("rallies"), parish education programs and the constantly devolving American liturgies. Considering its spreading influence in all levels of the Church, awareness as to the nature and origin of the Pentecostalist "gifts" is crucial, especially for the young generations who are always the prime target of revolutionaries.

In addition to disturbing stories and photographs of Charismatic "revivals" and an analysis of the ecumenical nature of the movement, "Close-ups of the Charismatic Movement" contains an entire section dedicated to Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens, a "Charismatic" who was instrumental in the revolution the Church went through in the 1960's. His own testimony concerning the drafting of Vatican II documents, his opposition to Humanae Vitae and his disdain for traditional religious life stand in stark contrast to those who maintain that the Church underwent only holy and beneficial developments or that those Churchmen in high positions of power were all well-intentioned individuals whose laudable work was hijacked by a handful of insignificant priests and theologians.

The events and accounts depicted in this book would be comical if it weren't for the real and serious danger to Catholic souls taking place without scarcely a fight. When the shepherds are lethargic or complacent in such destruction, one must arm himself with the Truth of the Catholic Faith and a sense of what has always been and will forever remain dangerous to one's soul.

Peter Miller
Seattle, WA

"Close-ups of the Charismatic Movement" can be purchased from Tradition in Action

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