strange fires

The Catholic Charismatic Renewal: Spring Or Winter?

by Rafael Martinez, Director, Spiritwatch Ministries

The cry for the unity of the Christian Church has been ever present throughout its history by millions of believers, given voice out of a Christ-centered desire to answer to the wishes of the Lord Jesus Christ in his beautiful prayer for His people: ".. for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one, as thou Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:20-21). Surely, there can be no greater desire by the Lord to see the Body of Christ working  as one to the glory of God, yet church history records the seemingly endless and frustrating attempts by churchmen to foster all manner of organizational structure to bring that about, from leaderless small groups to centralized denominations. In a new millennium, the shining ideal of a wondrous unity of Christians still beckons. The vision of the restoration of the Body of Christ to just such a goal still has a powerful and profound impact. And with there rise of the twentieth century Ecumenical movement after World War II, such an objective seemed possible to many. Even the ages of unrelenting rigidity by the Roman Catholic Church to the Protestant churches seemed to mellow, and post-war optimism about a new direction for Christianity was tantalizing, heady, and infectious.

The Catholic Charismatic Renewal (hereafter referred to as the CCR) is a renewal movement within the Roman Catholic church that has as its ultimate goal a complete reformation of the Catholic Church by the dynamic of charismatic influence and the reestablishment of reunity with a similarly renewed Protestantism. The unprecedented manifestation of the Pentecostal movement around the turn of the century gave birth to the innovations of the Charismatic movement, which in turn profoundly influenced many elements of both the Protestant and Catholic churches. Thereafter, the CCR arose out of the open-minded climate fostered within the Roman church in the 1960's by the Vatican II church councils. It views itself as a Catholicism that has rediscovered its past by a reacquisition of the lost dimension of the charismatic experience. The central foundation of the renewal is, however, firmly Catholic in theological alignment - a marked departure from Protestant Pentecostal and Charismatic theology which is largely Evangelical. The means to the stated goal of the CCR is to so integrate it's dynamics into parish life that the overall spiritual character of the church itself is charismatically renewed. (1) It's actualization comes in the "renewal" of the individuals within the corporate life of the parish itself.

Any analysis of the CCR  must begin with the briefest of fascinating glimpses at Vatican II's self-examination of Roman Catholic piety. The conciliar documents which emerged from this church council (held from 1962 to 1965) never issued any clear mandate for such a bold and tradition-breaking direction as that of a CCR. Yet their stated purpose was to encourage the opening-up of the Church's corporate mind and soul to new developments in liturgy, lifestyle and spiritual devotion. Pope John XXIII was an innovation-minded prelate who deliberately cultivated what Kevin Ranaghan, a leader in the CCR, calls a "progressive light" (2) on the Council. This "light" was to soon profoundly overshadow the intellectual, social, ethical and spiritual dimensions of Catholicism worldwide. His prayer in the encyclical Humanae Salutis called for a "new Pentecost"; that prayer would be cited by the CCR, and subsequent restoration movement leaders and groups both Protestant and Catholic,  as a prophetical summons for such church renewal directions as the CCR.  Such a direction would be first taken by a restless American Catholic Church, longing for new life.

From The Grasslands: A Brief Review Of The Renewal's History

The Catholic Charismatic renewal , from the start was an almost entirely laity-engineered attempt to do just that. The renewal, birthed out of the zeal and longings of Catholic laity, was steered through its' formative years by their collective direction.  In 1966, the discovery of Evangelical Pentecostal practice and teaching  through the books of "The Cross and the Switchblade" and "They Speak With Other Tongues" was examined closely by four Catholic laity in the Eastern  United States. Ralph Keifer and William Storey of the faculty of Duquesne University in Pittsburgh and Steve Clark and Ralph Martin of the staff of an East Lansing, Michigan parish began to meet to discuss not only the fascinating aspects of Pentecostal power as the two books related them, but their own personal Catholic faith as well. They came to the conclusion that there was something direly needed in the life of the Church as well, and that it had to be an experience with the Holy Spirit -- which would "fill the void left by human effort" (3) -- that followed the direction of the radical new movement that was then beginning to take hold in mainline Protestant denominations, the charismatic movement. Certainly, the examples of the ministries of Protestant clergy like James Brown, David DuPlessis, and Dennis Bennett were in mind , as well as the compelling promise of a vitally defined and practiced faith. To them, this leap of faith might "fill the vacuum left by human effort." Their discussions became translated into a search for others who could help them articulate their longings for such an encounter.

In January 1967, Keifer and Stoney attended an interfaith prayer meeting where they requested prayer to receive the Holy Spirit. While prayer with the laying on of hands was made on the behalf of Keifer, he began to speak in tongues after making "an act of faith for the power of the Spirit." (4) His enthusiastic account of his faith's "livening" (5) eventually set off a chain of events that resulted in the birth of the CCR. Prayer meetings were held in Pittsburgh, in South Bend, Indiana (at the home of Keifer's friends Kevin and Dorothy Ranaghan) and at the University of Notre Dame, where Clark and Martin (who had also received this "baptism of the Holy Spirit") conducted with the Ranaghans a "retreat." This weekend retreat was unlike any other Catholic retreat, however: religious experiences were openly shared and open prayer was made for this "baptism of the Holy Spirit" by the laying on of hands in prayer groups. Most of the individuals involved in these events left them profoundly changed by these "infillings of the Spirit" - the change in their lives and their own testimonies began to spread word of the happenings.

Local and national church attention was aroused as well as that of the religious and secular media. CCR prayer groups appeared across the country to the amazement and consternation of most of the Catholic clergy and laity. Thousands of eager Catholics sought out these groups hoping for a renewed encounter with God and revitalization of sagging faith, as one CCR writer passionately observed:

After being baptized in the Holy Spirit, individuals realized they were not alone. They longed to be together with other Christians and praise the Lord. They formed prayer groups, thousands of them .. some kind of instinct or special gift of the Spirit enabled those involved in this new Pentecostal movement to know from the very beginning how important it was that they get together to learn how to foster this powerful reality ..(6)

Despite this enthusiastic embracing of the movement by a good number of Catholics, it was with considerable caution that the church hierarchy gave a low-key and uneasy approval of the CCR's initial activities in a 1968 report issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Only a heroic struggle waged by the CCR managed to cultivate a grudgingly acknowledged semblance of legitimacy for the movement among church and lay leaders outside of itself. (7)  In the eyes of most non-participating Catholics, the CCR was a bizarre and inexplicable movement which incorporated "phenomenon previously associated with lower class Protestantism and fundamentalism" (8) as well as rabid anti-Catholic religious fanatics. The church hierarchy moved slowly and hesitantly in their appraisal of the CCR, even though Vatican and papal observations in the late 1960's and early 1970's were cautiously favorable. This attitude prevails, for the most part, to the present. It was left to the Protestant Charismatic culture, and some Pentecostal influences, to welcome the CCR's consitituency into the "full gospel fold". To this day, interdenominational Charismatic conferences can expect upwards of 50% of conferencees to be members of the CCR.(9)

The Light Of Reality 

During the 1970's the CCR's growth rate peaked and declined, despite what appeared to be vigorous growth. 1975 was the watershed year for the fledgling movement, and it was at this time that the CCR began to get an indication of what was to come. Through a papal declaration that appeared supportive of CCR goals, the movement  was given a clear admonishment for submission to church authority. This was hardly the imprimatur that the CCR was seeking.  Although attendance at the national Notre Dame conferences (held annually after the "Notre Dame" weekend) would seemingly indicate otherwise, the growth rate of the CCR peaked in 1974 and declined annually thereafter. (10) Although 50,000 participants came to the 1977 conference (representing a decade-long growth rate of 1000%) (11), growth slowed after the initial great surge of membership from 1967 to 1974. From 1979 to 1981 the attendance at the conferences actually fell below 10,000 (12)  

It is interesting to note that the prophecies delivered in these CCR conferences prior to 1975, according to author-researchers Richard Bord and Joseph Faulkner, "foretold a triumphant expansionism of the movement" which would be be spearheaded by "Holy Spirit outpourings": it is more interesting to observe that from 1975 onward, prophecies began to be presented which proclaimed themes of "tribulation and disaster" (13) and that they came forth during a time of disillusionment with the CCR. At the conversion of singer John Michael Talbot in the mid 1970's to Catholicism (through the contact of charismatic Catholics), he reported hearing the Holy Spirit say to him "The Catholic Church, she has almost died." (14). New directives by CCR leaders advocated closer, more intimate community building in the movement. One response to this was the emergence of what became known as "covenant communities", groups of CCR participants who purposefully banded together to live in communal settings, such as the Word of God community in Ann Arbor, Michigan. To avoid the pressures of living apart in a hostile world, it was felt, ensuring that places of refuge where faith could be mutually built was a great step. This was hardly the kind of triumphal, overcoming tone that the CCR had taken in the past.The initial years of euphoria seemed to be inexorably disappearing into the hard light of reality.

This reality was that, for the most part, and despite widely scattered acceptance of the CCR in local parishes across the country, the Catholic Church had not as a whole been receptive to it. As Bord and Faulkner put it: "Speeches of the 1974 International Convention began to give way to some realistic pessimism" (15). Ralph Martin pointed out in 1976 that he had "little hope that every Catholic will someday join the CCR .. The charismatic renewal will not be integrated into the Church automatically. Indeed, it conceivably might never happen at all.."(16)  He went on to point out that it stood the danger of becoming little more than "an optional activity" in parish life and observed that this "is an accurate picture of the current status of prayer groups in many parishes." (17) It became abundantly clear throughout the late 1970's and early 1980's that the CCR's vision of a renewed Catholicism bolstered by its  restorative dynamics had encountered a Church far more resistant to change than had been previously thought. Despite papal blessings, observe Bord and Faulkner, the CCR's "most noteworthy impact on the institutional church may be behind."(18)  Even Steve Clark, one of the movement's most irrepressible leaders asked aloud what might seem to be an unthinkable question: "Has the Charismatic renewal peaked?" (19)

catchar3.jpg Today, the CCR's relative state of decline has taken some interesting directions.  First of all, concerning actual membership statistics, Kevin Ranaghan at one point in the 1980's  suggested that there are 190,000 to 700,000 Catholics active in the CCR live in the U.S. alone(20), while researcher Patrick Johnson - using the "conservative" estimates of well known missions researcher David Barrett - posits that "there are possibly 10,000,000 active Catholic Charismatics, and a further 60,000,000 post-Charismatics (those no longer actively involved in Charismatic gatherings)" (21) Whatever the precise number, the trailblazing days of vibrant expansionism and idealism appear to have long since passed for the CCR, yet it continues to hold its own.  Secondly, the CCR seems to have arrived at a rather static level of simple co-existence with other Catholic initiatives like the Cursillo movement, falling far short of its lofty goals of a radically renewed church, instead becoming an institutional auxiliary that fulfilled Martin's prophecy. The chief organizational oversight of the CCR is in the form of the International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Service (ICCRS), a council of CCR lay leaders and priests. While serving as the main liaison between the CCR and the Vatican, the ICCRS nevertheless is a secondary tier in the typically hierarchal authority system of Roman Catholic Church government, subject to the Pontifical Office of the Laity (only just achieving recognition by this Vatican council in 1993 - almost 34 years since the renewal's birth). From this bureaucratically isolated position, the CCR is a largely disenfranchised lay movement, lacking much meaningful influence or voice in the Catholic Church's hierarchical leadership structure, subject instead to the dictates of that hierarchy's decretals. A CCR leader in the diocese of Orlando, Florida, John Leagis, points out that the lack of priests who have embraced the renewal severely cripples it (22). This is likely because any lay-led Catholic movement, to achieve credibility and influence, must attract enough support of the priesthood to provide for it the kind of leadership and representation it needs to facilitate survival of the movement, let alone growth.

Thirdly, among Catholics residing outside the United States, the CCR has enjoyed considerable success. In a 1995 Charisma Now television report, of the 60 CCR prayer groups in the dioceses of Orlando, Florida, almost half of them are Filipino, Haitian or Hispanic (23). In many countries around the world, the only reason many Catholic dioceses enjoy growth and any sense of vitality is largely due to the activities of local CCR groups who enthusiastically attempt to bolster their churches. This single factor is perhaps why global Catholic leadership still tolerates the presence of the CCR, at a time when the Roman institution is in danger of the consequences of religious inertia in the face of rampant and world-wide currents of secularization and proselytyzation. A  fourth important direction is the CCR's growing openness to a wholesale incorporation of the sensational aspects of extremist Protestant Pentecostal and Charismatic culture - down to the embracing of controversial practices like the spiritually abusive practice of shepherding/discipleship in some covenant communities and even the adoption of purely experiential practices like "holy laughter," so-called "drinking meetings," and "warfare" praise, prayer and tongue-utterances (24). While most CCR participants have shown restraint in these areas, the fact remains that the renewal has been increasingly influenced by the larger Protestant Charismatic culture. And as with any dynamic spiritual movement seeking to change the status quo, the renewal has helped to produce it's own well known and well-followed figures such as the "healing nun" Sister Briege McKenna, Father Ralph DiOrio, and even Scott Hahn, the well known Catholic apologist. This has helped to set the stage for the inevitable debates and turf wars that have been created by the tensions between CCR innovators and Roman Catholic traditionalists.

The Tares Among The Wheat: Roman Catholic Errors Spread  By The CCR

Within the theology of the CCR is a rather puzzling and misleading syncretization of Catholic doctrine and aspects of Evangelical Pentecostal doctrine, practice, and vocabulary. A major portion of the CCR's formal catechetical content was initially authored by laymen - like Ralph Martin - but became streamlined and produced by clergy who had been impacted by the CCR's experiential influence - such as Belgian Cardinal Leon Joseph Suenens, Mexican theologian Salvador Carillo, and American Bishop Joseph McKinney. In 1973, Kilian McDonnell, a Benedictine priest,  authored a statement which delineated a typical sample of the CCR's theological parameters: " becomes obvious that those who wish to write within the renewal wish to be Catholic and wish to situate the renewal within the Catholic theological tradition. This is an expression .. of the fidelity of the renewal to the Church." (25) From this, we see that from the perspective of Roman Catholic CCR leaders, classical Catholic theology has been consistently viewed as the basis for the CCR's direction. The fundamentals of CCR teaching are firmly and irrevocably founded upon Roman Catholic dogma, which - as is often overlooked by ecumenically minded Protestants - continues to uphold incompatible doctrinal positions that directly challenge and contradict the very Reformation principles which birthed the Protestant movement and shape its essential spiritual identity.

catchar5.jpg To meet the crucial requirement of reconciling to Protestants what would appear to be the irreconcilable, the CCR's Catholic theologians and lay advocates have, since 1967, had to do some serious reassessments of the Church's teachings on the role of the Holy Spirit baptism in the lives of Catholics (while alienating and provoking the ire of many conservative Catholic laity, clergy and theologians). To do this, they have drawn heavily from obscure references in Catholic church history, the writings of Catholic mystics, and their own irenic and ecumenical observations about the validity of Evangelical Pentecostal piety to do so. In pursuit of their goal of providing a defense of the CCR, and firm guidance to the movement, its clerical leaders have also incorporated a misleading and false impression which leads Evangelicals and Pentecostals to accept Roman Catholic Charismatics as fellow believers. It is difficult to not resist speculation on how such a misconception plays into the longstanding Roman Catholic agenda to reunite Christendom under  its banner as "the One True Church," especially when considering the fact that the ICCRS directly serves two other Vatican offices - the Pontifical Council Promoting Christian Unity and the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogues, offices formed for the express purpose of promoting ecumenism.  A 1997 statement authored by the American National Committee for Charismatic Renewal, on the anniversary of the 30th year of the CCR's emergence, makes crystal clear just where CCR leaders are steering the movement and to what ends: "We believe that the Holy Spirit has been poured out in our day to bring about unity of the Body of Christ for which our Lord prayed (Jn 17:21). Thus, efforts in authentic ecumenism--e.g., the Congresses of the Holy Spirit and World Evangelization held in New Orleans (1987), Indianapolis (1990), and Orlando (1995), are some of the great fruits of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. As we stated in 1984, 'we see in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal an ecumenical force in which we rejoice.' "

This interaction of Roman Catholics and Protestants around a "full gospel" spirituality began from the the very beginning of the CCR. In his book "Catholic Pentecostals," Ranaghan heavily emphasized the Evangelical Pentecostal contributions made to the Notre Dame movement during its' first formative months. As the infant CCR groups met and tried to assume some sort of identity and structure within a purely Catholic context, he points out that men such as Ray Bullard (a local Full Gospel Business Men's Fellowship chapter president) and two Assembly of God ministers Roy and Doug Wead became involved in the group. Many other Protestant denominational and independant Pentecostal/Charismatic ministers (as well as laymen) found themselves drawn into contact, dialogue and fellowship with the CCR participants. The terminology that began to be used within the CCR ("release of the Spirit", "deliverance ministry", "a heavy anointing", "prayer language", etc.) as well as the exhortational phraseology used to encourage seekers to a "commitment to Christ" and/or "an infilling of the Holy Spirit" was most likely acquired at this time. A renewed attention to the terms like grace, healing, salvation, praise and worship, and the Gospel itself - with a minimum of any definition thereof - was also applied, and many a CCR writer and leader used and uses them abundantly. In reading their popular writings, listening to their sermons, hearing their energetic worship and exhortation, and interacting with them as they use this terminology, one is left with the impression this is the way it always has been in the CCR, and that usage of such terminology automatically means that both Protestant and Catholic beliefs are generally meaning the same. This would then lead one to assume that there really is some essentially substantial unity that actually does exist for both camps as they follow the lead of "the Spirit" in their interactions with one another and the world.

But despite the Evangelical slant and tenor these contacts most likely wrought upon the evolving CCR character, it's theological foundations are staunchly and unapologetically Catholic, a fact all but lost upon those in both camps all to ready to overlook it for the sake of "unity." The 1997 NCCR statement quoted previously is an excellent example of not only how the CCR's Roman Catholic distinctives are incandescently visible, but how nimbly such theology redefines the vocabulary and exhortations to Christian unity just mentioned. It not only represents itself as the new Pentecost of the 20th century that must culminate in union back with Rome, but does an end-running exploitation of the naive trust Protestant Evangelical Pentecostals and Charismatics put in their "ecumenical" work to heal the "wounded Body of Christ." The document's sectarian and revisionist view of church history only serves to obfuscate and blur the sharp differences in doctrine and recognized spiritual authority between Evangelicals and Protestants and Roman Catholicism itself: its' description of how the CCR's emphasis on "the baptism in the Holy Spirit" is to be understood in relationship to Roman Catholic views of sacramentally, Church-granted dispensations of grace attainable only through the Church itself is revealing:

In the Sacraments of Initiation we experience the action of the Triune God. As regards the Third Person of the Trinity, in Baptism we become temples of the Holy Spirit; in Eucharist we share in the Body and Blood of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit; in Confirmation we are empowered with the gifts and charisms of the Spirit to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. In this statement, we want not only to affirm the good fruit of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal but also the grace which is at the heart of this Renewal, namely, baptism in the Holy Spirit, or the fuller release of the Holy Spirit, as some would prefer (26).

A passionate fidelity and absolute obedience to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church is a hallmark of many Catholic Charismatics, whose devotion to the Catholic religion is the most singular commendation they can make for the CCR through their pious, zealous attempts to live out their faith. Their attendance to longstanding Catholic tradition, obedience to papal authority and passion for living a vibrantly practical Catholicism is, for many a Catholic parish, a very real visitation of religious fervor that can often energize whole congregations by their very example. Such a zeal is not lost on many lackadaisical Evangelical Pentecostal or Charismatic, who often can be heard commenting how blessed they were to see Catholics "getting the Spirit" and being more "on fire" than their own supposedly "fire-baptized" lives - without ever really taking time to discern the fundamentally Roman Catholic essence of it all. I've heard many a Pentecostal leader make comments on how this undoubtedly is the sign of genuine "revival" in the Roman Catholic Church. I can recall a well known denominational leader of the Church of God wax eloquently about this during a chapel service when I was a student at Lee College. If I am understanding this reasoning correctly, it is around such an experiential table of fellowship the Christian Church must gather so as to answer Jesus' prayer in John 17 that we briefly touched upon. The fact that the Roman Catholic view of sacramental grace and it's own claims to spiritual supremacy reckon Protestant understanding as heresy and accursed by God seem to entirely escape them as they spout such emotional, baseless rhetoric.

The Bliss Of Ignorance: The CCR's Fellowship Of Compromise

Two of the major CCR theological distinctives which differ sharply from contemporary Evangelical Pentecostal theological positions must be here clarified. First of all, for the Catholic Charismatic, salvation, as well as sanctification and the baptism of the Holy Spirit is conferred upon the Catholic in the sacraments of Baptism, Communion, and Confirmation - whether they fully recognized it or not, and only through the mediation of the organizational Catholic instituiton. Under the proper apostolic authority that only Roman Catholicism supposedly can bestow, these graces as bestowed in the administration of these sacraments by Roman Catholic priests: according to McDonnell, they are only "unexperienced" and must become a "matter of personal, conscious experience" (27). It is this and awakened awareness of latent sacramentally-bestowed power that is already present in the Catholic through sacramental grace - regardless of an evidence of it  in their lifestyle or even consciousness - that becomes the experience of the "baptism of the Holy Spirit." The 1997 NCCR statement makes this abundantly clear also. CCR communities accept this as gospel truth. So therefore, there are tens of millions of potentially Charismatic Catholics in the pews who only need to be revived from a spiritual malaise by divine acts of illumination, which the CCR would point them towards.

Yet for the Evangelical Pentecostal, these three graces of salvation, sanctification, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit are three entirely different spiritual experiences that can be appropriated only through individual faith-claims deliberately sought for by the seeker of God in Christ, the most fundamental of them all being obviously the need for salvation. To even recognize one's need for them can only be made possible through the deliberate and intentional work of the Spirit in the mind and heart of an unconverted person (Romans 2:4), who both subjectively and objectively exercises faith in the promises of God for salvation through  Christ alone. So the sacrament of Catholic infant baptism - which has been traditionally viewed as bestowing a redemptive baptismal regeneration  upon  newborn children that initiates them into Christian grace - cannot possibly save them. Only the Christian in a state of conscious regeneration could ever possibly be spiritually aware of a need for more of the visitation of the graces of God in their lives, graces made sure in the lives of "the just" who "shall live by faith" (Romans 1:17). 

And what makes the sinner a believer is the infilling of the redemptive Spirit of God (Romans 8:14-16, 1 John 2:27). Therefore, the Catholic (or anyone else) who does not recognize this work in his life through his plainly confessed need to trust Christ for salvation - and not a sacramental system based upon church association - very likely cannot be said to even be a Christian.  An individual must enter into a personal approach to God for such blessings through Christ alone by faith. Therefore, those tens of millions of potential candidates for CCR experience need to first ensure they are believers in the first place - that's what classical Christian evangelism does, and that is something not well received by Catholic leadership whatsoever when non-Catholic Pentecostals and Charismatics are doing it among them.

At this point, the unyielding dogmatic position of Rome upon its authority to sacramentally confer saving grace becomes crystal clear. Catholic writer James Rosage reiterates this when he insists that "no one, not even a classical Pentecostal, would teach that the Holy Spirit is not already indwelling in every person who is sacramentally baptized"(28) under entirely Roman Catholic auspices. The issue of sacramental conferral of salvation through Roman Catholic priestly authority is an ancient controversy that ignorance of the issues at hand and the popularist demands for ecclesiastical unity have done well to cover up in the grass roots efforts to foster "Christian unity." Since these graces, according to Catholic teaching, can only be authentically received through the ministry of priests ordained in "the mother church" - and since Evangelical Pentecostals would reject such a usurpation of Divine prerogative by human agency, the implications of such a fundamental difference over these three graces is most unsettling. We are completely overlooking and ignoring the most central question of all - how a sinner becomes reconciled with God through Christ - and tacking on a more exciting and politically correct agenda under the banner of "love and unity", at the expense of the historic truth of the Gospel.

A second distinctive of the CCR is its leadership's antagonism to whatever may resemble "fundamentalism" within CCR parish prayer groups, formation programs and covenant communities. This appears to have come to a head in the early 1980's when  the American National  Conference of Catholic Bishops' statement on the CCR  was issued, taking great pains to emphasize how seriously Catholic leadership is in opposing it. As defined by the National  Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1984  as a "false literalism in interpreting the Bible" (29), this "fundamentalism" is viewed as a serious challenge to Catholic ecclesial authority. With the onset of post-Vatican II Catholic openness to the "separated brethren" of Protestant persuasion came the CCR's wholesale absorption of Evangelical Pentecostal and Charismatic perspectives that upheld the supremacy of Scripture, illuminated by the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer, as the only source for Christian faith and practice.  As these movements also took to the "electronic church" and "pray TV" with the launching of Christian television networks, the participants in the CCR tuned in as well and encountered this classic Protestant principle of "sola scriptura".

This position directly and  squarely challenged the Roman  Catholic perspective on the interpretation Scripture, which asserted that "sacred tradition, sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church" defined the process by which the "correct interpretation" of Scripture could be found (30). By the mid 1980's, with Roman Catholic and Evangelical Pentecostal/Charismatic fraternity in high gear, the problem apparently had become quite widespread as frankly revealed in the NCCB statement:

Many have had awakened  in them a new spiritual awareness and hunger. It may happen that such  people judge that they cannot find in their parishes the food and fellowship for which they have an authentic need. Turning to sources they believe will  satisfy them, some then leave the Church. .. In other cases, however, there is a rejection of the Catholic Church and a harsh judgment upon it. Unfortunately, some even attempt to proselytize other Catholics.(31)

It is not surprising then when we find the CCR theologian Donald Gelpi gravely pointing out that "fundamentalism"  "remains the most serious obstacle to meaningful Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue" (32). This would appear to be true in light of established Catholic dogma, which teaches that a true interpretation of Biblical content is derived solely within authoritative Catholic tradition and the "magisterium" or present day teaching authority of the Church in present days. Entirely contained within the Roman  Church's hierarchal power structure, this belief effectively places all Protestant interpretation of the Bible outside of "the truth" and as subject to error and false doctrine and all the attendant evils that may follow them.

The Catholic view of interpretation was vigorously upheld in 1984 through the issuance of that pastoral statement by the Committee. It strongly encouraged the clergy and leaders within the CCR to take special pains to protect "the simple in faith" from "careless exposure to non-Catholic teachers and evangelists .. (This) poses real problems and should be discouraged" (33) Perhaps it is this exposure to the Biblical record and these non-Catholic individuals that have resulted in the encroachment of such practices among CCR participants as "rejection of the hierarchal priesthood (and) teaching that devotion to the saints and devotion to Mary is idolatry" as J. Massyngberde Ford, a professor at Notre Dame - and CCR critic - has lamented (34). Indeed, one of the most unwelcome effects of the CCR, insofar as the Roman institution is concerned, was to discover that while many "renewed" participants in the CCR became more ardent Catholics, many others also discovered that the very practices and teachings of their church were unbiblical and even heretical when given the opportunity to hear the views of discerning Protestant Pentecostals and Charismatics.  

For the Evangelical Pentecostal, the view of Scripture as the sole authority in all matters of faith and practice stands in sharpest contrast to such CCR belief. Scripture determines what the church should be, and does not give the church Divine sanction to determine what the Scriptures should be or how they should be understood. Although pastors, teachers and church creeds such as the Westminster Confession and the Church of God's Declaration of Faith did and still do fill a vital need in the local assembly of believers, the Biblical truth is that the Holy Spirit personally quickens the spiritual perception and understanding of natural men that they might be able to learn spiritual truthes (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:9-16; 1 John 2:20, 27). It was at this point, in a general sense, that Luther broke with Rome and initiated the Protestant Reformation that sought to reestablish a fidelity to Scriptural authority and contact of men with their Creator by encountering Him there. Yet it is this sort of regression to institutional interpretative authority that a "faithful" CCR group should submit to so as to be viewed faithful to the church. More could be said about other Roman Catholic errors that the CCR has helped to perpetuate, but these are perhaps two of the most serious examples.

How The CCR Functions In Parish Life

To the Roman Catholic, entrance into the CCR comes by participation in formation programs, such as the "Life In The Spirit" seminars which are structured as quasi-catechumenates that lead novices through a period of Scripture study, prayer, meditation, and teaching on the charismatic lifestyle as it is interpreted within a radically Catholic context. These seminars are the most well-known of the introductory programs. It is during these seminars that the forementioned concept of personal commitment to God's graces which the Catholic supposedly has already received but only needs to experientially realize is fully set forth. A CCR writer, James Byrne defines the logical and theological vagaries such a concept spells to seeking Catholics: "Sometimes these Catholics are confused by the insistence on a 'saving experience.' They have no such experience to point to and think that they are lacking something. Because of differences in vocabulary and piety, they may not clearly recognize that they have experienced God" (35).

Ford also observed that there two "types" of CCR community which can be entered into by these novices. There is the "type I" community which has developed a paraecclesial, "church within a church" structure, and there is the "type II" community, which is less structured but fully integrated into the theology and sacramentality of contemporary Catholicism. To Ford, of these groups, the "type I" group is most prone to the "negative influences" that the Bishop's Liaison Committee have already pointed out, such as the acceptance of literal interpretation of the Bible and rejection of Marian devotion (36). It is in the type I group that most, if not all, of those who affirm to be "evangelical Catholics" may be usually found, although admittedly there are many "type II" CCR participants who have found no problem reconciling their confession of faith in Christ alone with continued obedience to Roman Catholic dogma that compels catchar6.jpg their continued dependence upon the church to provide salvation (a position I, as an ex-Catholic, could never hold in good conscience). It is from among the type I community that most of the full scale exiting of CCR members out of Roman Catholicism has occurred, and it has been usually into non-Catholic Charismatic or Pentecostal movements where they have gone.

The primary purpose of the CCR prayer groups is to work towards the charismatic renewal of individual Catholics within their local parishes. "Two basic challenges face prayer groups: the integration of the charismatic renewal into parish life, and the renewal of parish life in the power of the Spirit." (37) The deep and abiding longing in many Catholics for deeper spirituality often becomes the driving motivation for them to seek out the CCR. "The rapid growth of the charismatic renewal is a sign that many Catholics have a spiritual hunger that is not being nourished in their normal parish life. I believe that it is a tragedy that it is not"(38).  Once parishioners have experienced the fellowship of warmth and love that accompanies CCR meetings and commit themselves to it, they too become charismatic renewal agents. Normal, yet fiercely committed participation to parish life is urged as well as a strong orthodoxy in piety and stronger loyalty to Catholic liturgy. In practice, Catholic charismatics should exhibit lives of blameless Catholic ministry and community (both secular and sacred) service. Through these, it is believed that pastors and congregations will become receptive and finally open to the direction that the CCR is pointing the Church towards - the charismatically renewed parish, diocese, and bishopric (39).

Unfortunately for the CCR, this spiritual endeavor has become largely bogged down in ecclesial bureaucracy, parish prejudice, and outright rejection by Catholic clergy. The stark testimony of many a frustrated and often former CCR leader simply cannot be ignored. It is tragic to see people of earnest zeal finding their sincerest and most passionate spiritual ideals being so utterly rejected, but they are not alone in Roman Catholic, let alone Protestant circles. I have met people who were in the CCR who left it for these reasons, who found that they were so out of step with church hierarchy they couldn't find understanding, much less acceptance, within the larger parish culture. A seminarian, asking a question about a perceived lack of CCR activity globally on a CCR website bulletin board elicited some responses that are telling: 

I am a CCRM band member in Iligan City, Philippines. I would like to tell you that the point of decreasing leadership in our group is generally arbitrary. But mostly, some parishes have left their CCRM communities in despair. They don't think to help it out to be serving the whole community. Instead, much of the trend nowadays is competing out the group with other secular activities like parish ministries apostolates, etc. To say, the group is just humble with the terms of the Church clergy themselves in a specific community. Other priests are too hard to be convinced about the disposition of the CCRM, thus they are too stingy about the matter. There is always the striving journey in us...

From what I can tell, CCR globally is rapidly growing, though not without some contentions, but that would be expected if it is truly from Holy Spirit (Satan always likes a good battle). Many of the Diocese in California have active CCR prayer meetings and conferences and I believe the Ranaghans are still active in their community in the Midwest, but overall, there is a lack of activity. Take for example, this website. I would have expected more responses by now. And most of the forum topics are not necessarily aimed at the CCR but are looking for a general Catholic response. I feel there is always a focus on the Western world and I do not mean to emphasize that once again. But maybe by learning how our brothers and sisters in the rest of the world are devouring the movement, we can learn how to bring it back home again.

On the same website, when a CCR participant asked about why more seminars were not being held to advance the renewal, a rather blunt answer came forth:

These seminars require volunteers with a vision and cooperative parish staff. I, personally, have not run into a parish where the seminars are forbidden by uncooperative parish leaders -- although some have been hard to work with. The problem I have most often seen is no volunteers, with a vision, willing to work to put things on.

Perhaps part of the hesitancy, suspicion and difficulty the CCR has experienced in its encounters with more traditional leadership of Catholicism can be attributed to certain provincial, defensive attitudes encountered there. To find relevant and sensitive spiritual leadership not from Father X but from the humble housewife Y whose lay ministry outshines his own in a parish community would indeed be a humbling experience that might not be well tolerated. But perhaps part of the problem also lies in the fact that profound concerns with the CCR itself have arisen in the context of controversy which institutional Catholicism, already sensitized to scandals in the priesthood itself, would be understandably unwilling to consider.

This issue of charismatic Catholic extremism is indeed a troubling reality that cannot be ignored. It has been difficult enough, in an increasingly nominal and secularized postmodern Western civilization, to deal with the stigma of Roman Catholic extremism found in religious orders and communities, but to find this in the context of a local parish is perhaps too much for the traditional priest to deal with. Through the years, various CCR figures and communities have been beset by charges of authoritarian and even abusive spirituality through which they have exploited many Catholics in the renewal, such as in the Word of God Community and in other scattered CCR meetings. Perhaps the most well known of these was the Mother Of God tragedy, in which charges of outright cultism, among other indictments, were levelled at a charismatic Catholic group in Maryland which resulted in the disruption and manipulation of hundreds if not thousands of people there for over two decades. Although we are not labelling the CCR as cultic whatsoever, the hard truth is that there have been high-profile incidences in which people supposedly "renewed" by the "charisms" of the Spirit of God instead sank into a tongue-speaking social circle whose cohesion relied upon the fear of man instead of the love of God. This certainly cannot help endear or commend an already castigated Roman Catholic movement seeking to reform it.

The End Of The Great Experiment

In conclusion, then, it must be emphasized that the CCR, however appealing in terms of service, ecumenism and fellowship, has what would appear to be insurmountable barriers that hedge it in from making the impact on Christianity it feels ordained to do. It has serious theological differences with Evangelical Pentecostal doctrine which all too often, for the sake of "Christian unity" are smoothed over by subjective expression of love, prayer in tongues, and jubilant worship. As previously mentioned, the implications of these doctrinal differences are dire indeed. The way of Life, according to Jesus, is a narrow one (Matthew 7:13-14) - and to ignore this plain fact to avoid controversy is to ignore the teaching of the Savior. I rejoice that through the influence of many Catholic Charismatics there has indeed been a preaching of the gospel of Christ to many Catholics who would never have received it any other way.

And yet my greatest personal sorrow - and it truly is that, a genuine anguish of soul -   is that most of these who have heard and responded to the Gospel in spite of their attendance to Catholic dogma that obscures it as presented by CCR members have been left to integrate their commitment to Jesus with the error they labored under in the first place. How can the abundant Christian life flow therein when the flesh is made to complete what the Spirit begins? Somehow, I feel, true Christian discipleship in Catholic Charismatic circles is happening .. but again, in spite of the larger Roman Catholicism culture and not because of  it. Catholics coming to Christ under these circumstances will find some running room within the contemporary Catholic parish, some freedom to express their newfound deepening of true faith. But the leash of Church authority will ultimately restrain them from where they could possibly go, from entertaining the sobering even chilling reality of recognizing the lost condition of those around them who claim to know God. This is a situation that truly is not unlike the German monk who nailed 95 theses on a door of a Wittenberg church five centuries ago in the spirit of legitimate spiritual inquiry and who quickly discovered how far legitimate questions and independent thinking got him when confronting entrenched corruption in the Roman institution.

It would seem axiomatic that the proper understanding of what the Gospel is along with its practical implications for a basic Christian life should be the foundation upon which truly Christian fellowship and unity be soundly established. Yet, as has been shown, such an issue has scarcely been addressed by the CCR's lay-leadership, since official church antagonism seems to keep it from happening. To quote Gelpi's dry comment concerning the CCR laity: "Ignorance of both Catholic and Protestant Pentecostal doctrine conbines with the euphoria generated at prayer meetings in order to blind the less educated Catholic charismatic to the serious doctrinal incompatibilities which still divide him from his Protestant Pentecostal brethren" (40). It is precisely at this juncture that R. Hollis Gause, a Church of God (Cleveland) seminary professor, agrees with Gelpi when, speaking on the subject, once said in one of my theology classes that "we elevate the phenomena above its essence." Experiential and subjective naivete, however appealing and heartfelt,  must not be allowed to sweep easily aside the established dialectic of truth and falsehood which must be examined by both the Catholic charismatic and the Protestant Pentecostal and Charismatic. Yet this is precisely what has, is and continues to occur. But that is only indicative of the spirit of the age, where toleration and pluralism have become the standard of discernment - and not Biblical mandates.

It is far easier for those weary of trying to grapple with these issues to dismiss them as the unspiritual hair-splitting of dry bone theologians and judgmental critics bent on their own agenda. But it would be wise for discrimating Evangelical Pentecostals and charismatics to remember the great Apostle Paul's admonition when confronted by the alluring spirituality of the Catholic Charismatic renewal: "Prove all things: hold fast that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21).


(1) Parish Renewal, George Martin, p. 13

(2) Catholic Pentecostals, Kevin Ranaghan, p. 1

(3) Threshold Of God's Promise, James Byrne, p. 15.

(4) Catholic Pentecostalism, Rene Laurentin, p. 12

(5) Ranaghan, ibid, p. 16

(6) Catholic Pentecostals Today, Kevin Ranaghan , p. 45  

(7) The Catholic Charismatics, Richard Bord and Joseph Faulkner, p. 109

(8) As The Spirit Leads Us, Kevin Ranaghan, p.116

(9) "Charisma Now!", Trinity Broadcasting Network, 15 April 1995

(10) Bord & Falkner, ibid,  pp. 7-9

(11) Laurentin, ibid, p. 14

(12) Ranaghan, p. 46 (Catholic Pentecostals Today)

(13) Bord & Faulkner, ibid, p. 123

(14) "A Troubadour For The Lord." Nancy Ward. New Covenant, April 1985, p. 9

(15) Bord & Faulkner, ibid, p. 122

(16) Martin, ibid, pp. 25-28

(17)  ibid, p. 26

(18) Bord & Faulkner, ibid, p. 150

(19) ibid, p. 151

(20) Ranaghan, Catholic Pentecostals Today, pp. 37-38

(21) Operation World, Patrick Johnstone, p. 24

(22) "Charisma Now!", Trinity Broadcasting Network, 15 April 1995

(23) ibid.

(24) -examine the "What Catholics Believe" link: points  21, 22, 23

(25) Kilian McDonnell, Statement Of The Theological Basis Of The Catholic Charismatic Movement, p. 4


(27) ibid, p. 9

(28) Rosage, p. 11

(29) National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), A  Pastoral Statement  On The Catholic Charismatic Renewal, p. 20

(30) ibid, p. 21

(31) ibid, p. 17

(32) Kilian McDonnell, The Holy Spirit And Power, p. 178

(33) NCCB, p. 18

(34) J. Massyngberde Ford, Which Way For Catholic Pentecostals? p. 24

(35) James Byrne, Threshold Of God's Promise, p. 33

(36) Ford, pp. 1 - 4

(37) Martin,  p. 25

(38) ibid, p. 37

(39) ibid, p. 45-46

(40) McDonnell, ibid, p. 175

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