Reiki and the Catholic Church


Originally broadcast February 12, 2010

KIM LAWTON, correspondent: At the CORE/El Centro natural healing center in Milwaukee, Sister Madeline Gianforte is using Reiki on one of her clients. In this Eastern healing technique, practitioners place their hands on or above someone in an effort to enhance the body’s flow of energy. They say that can lead to physical and spiritual healing.

SISTER MADELINE GIANFORTE (CORE/El Centro): As a practitioner, I’m just facilitating that energy. But you are doing your own healing in the sense of connecting to the divine and the healing that happens within.

LAWTON: Gianforte is a nun with the Sisters of Saint Agnes. She’s also a trained Reiki master. She says Reiki fits well with her faith.

Sister Madeline Gianforte

GIANFORTE: It’s an incredibly spiritual, prayerful experience for me. It calms the inner part of my being so much that I can tap that deepest place, the core place of who I am.

LAWTON: But the US Catholic bishops say Reiki is superstition, and they’ve urged Catholics not to provide or support it. Reverend Tom Weinandy is executive director of the bishops’ doctrine committee.

REV. TOM WEINANDY (US Conference of Catholic Bishops): The problem that we had with Reiki, in the end, was that we felt it sort of fell between the crack, that it was neither really a medical or scientific technique nor was it a religious technique that was compatible with Christianity.

LAWTON: Reiki, with its strong emphasis on the spiritual, was developed in Japan in the early 20th century. Using various hand positions, practitioners help their clients access what they call a universal life force, a spiritual or divine energy force. They claim that energy force can reduce stress and accelerate the body’s natural healing process. A favorite of New Age centers, Reiki is also increasingly used in hospitals and medical clinics.

GIANFORTE: I did a lot of Reiki with my mom when she had cancer, and she was very, very sick with chemo and radiation, and one of the greatest things for her was that it alleviated a lot of the side-effects and the symptoms of radiation and chemo, and then ultimately in her final stages it kind of allowed her to peacefully go.

LAWTON: Gianforte helped found the nonsectarian CORE/El Centro as a place where everyone, but especially low-income people, could have access to alternative medicine and natural healing techniques. Reiki is one of many practices here based on an Eastern holistic philosophy focusing on the body, the mind and the spirit.

GIANFORTE: If the spirit isn’t addressed, and only the body is, a complete healing won’t be possible.

LAWTON: Lauri Lumby Schmidt uses Reiki in her ministry as a spiritual director.

LAURI LUMBY SCHMIDT (Authentic Freedom Ministries): There is a wide range of things that people can experience, but it does tend to be much more profound than just straight relaxation.

LAWTON: Schmidt did her Reiki training or “attunements” with Catholic nuns, who she says, taught it from a Christian perspective.

post02-schmidtSCHMIDT: When I really look at Jesus’ ministry and what he was all about, it was about healing, and he empowered his disciples to do the same thing. He commissioned them to go out and heal.

LAWTON: But the Catholic bishops say they received more and more questions about Reiki, so they commissioned a study, and last year released guidelines which said “a Catholic who puts his or her trust in Reiki would be operating in the realm of superstition.” And the guidelines concluded “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.”

WEINANDY: God is God, and human beings are human beings, and we can petition God, but we can’t manipulate him, and we felt that this was what was happening in the context of Reiki, that the person learned how to be in touch with the divine cosmic forces such that they could now manipulate it through a laying on of hands or a massage or something that the person could be healed.

LAWTON: Many Reiki supporters were taken aback by the statement’s tone.

GIANFORTE: It’s not a religion. It’s just a practice that assists people in connecting more deeply to the more spiritual soul places within themselves, so I was pretty surprised by that.

LAWTON: The document said the Church recognizes two kinds of healing: natural means through the practice of medicine and healing by God’s divine grace. In the Christian tradition, there is the sacramental anointing with oil and the laying on of hands.

WEINANDY: Christians can pray for one another, lay hands on a sick person, and ask Jesus to heal them, but you’re not channeling divine energies through your hands.

LAWTON: Weinandy says sometimes individuals or even places such as the pilgrimage site in Lourdes, France appear to have a special gift of healing. But he says physical healing is never guaranteed, and it’s always up to the will of God.

WEINANDY: It’s not that he loves one person more than the other, but we don’t know why the Lord would heal one and not another person, but it is a mystery.

LAWTON: Reiki practitioners deny that they are trying to manipulate God.

Rev. Tom Weinandy

SCHMIDT: You can tell when you are facilitating and sharing Reiki with someone that you are not guiding it, you know. You can tell that there’s a higher power that is doing the work.

LAWTON: Schmidt says she chooses to give the credit to God.

SCHMIDT: For me, Reiki is another form of prayer. It’s allowing myself to be a vessel through which then God’s healing can then be experienced by the person that is receiving the Reiki.

WEINANDY: If you try to plug Reiki into Christianity, what you’re saying is Jesus is not good enough on his own. He’s got 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.

LAWTON: The bishops’ document is not a mandate, and local dioceses may implement it as they choose. But Reiki supporters say it’s already had a chilling effect. Many Catholic institutions, including hospitals and retreat centers, are no longer offering Reiki, and most nuns are reluctant to speak publicly about their use of Reiki.

SCHMIDT: Some people, I think, find comfort in the perceived security of a black and white theology, and Reiki doesn’t fit within that black and white theology, and so in those kinds of situations there tends to be judgment, there tends to be fear, there tends to be reaction.

LAWTON: Schmidt says she’s sad the bishops would oppose something that has meant so much to her spiritually.

SCHMIDT: I see Reiki as being life-giving. It definitely flows out of my relationship with God. It’s drawing me closer in my relationship with God. I certainly have grown in my awe and wonder over how God can work in the world.

LAWTON: But Church leaders say they believe Reiki is spiritually dangerous.

WEINANDY: I want to stick with Jesus. I don’t want to open myself up to other forces that may be, you know, supernatural in some sense but not of God. I think it’s a risky business to be playing around with this sort of thing.

LAWTON: While the theological debates continue, the National Institutes of Health has funded a study on the possible health effects of Reiki.

I’m Kim Lawton in Milwaukee.

  • Judy

    Isn’t that what hugging means? Isn’t that what old folks need to make them feel better? That was a study long ago. That’s what perks people up and they like you. They found even having a pet to pat helped. Yeah, our brains are run with electricity….and the more we share, the stronger we get. Would you call that a healing force or just basic miraculious healing like Jesus did? Or would you call it ‘sharing’?

  • EJ Madden

    I would be interested to know how many men/priests actually practice reiki vs. women/nuns. This seems to be one more example of how the men of the church are afraid of women. It’s more hogwash.

  • alaina

    Just another fearful power play against mostly feminin healing techniques that have an Eastern origin. Originally, Yoga an Eastern practice was feared and condemned by the religious right. Probably frowned upon by Catholic authorities.

  • Nancy

    I think the bishops are missing this wonderful opportunity show their love for (to fill a need within) the congregation of the Catholic Church. People need to be touched appropriately. It is a natural need.

    What I get from listening is that there is a void in practice within the Catholic Church to help people (sick in mind, spirit or body) to become closer to the spirit of God, Jesus and the Blessed Mother through spirtual practice.

    Rather than criticize this existing practice – why don’t the Bishops come up with an accepted practice of laying on of hands with a protocol for catholics who are interested in getting closer to their God in this way. Therefore, both the people who want to touch (appropriately) and those who want to be touched (appropriately) can fill their need, with the guidance of the Bishops of the Catholic Church

  • EJavaM07

    So Tom, what on Earth would make you think that God can be manipulated?

    If you’re so concerned with following Jesus on all issues, why have you not stuck with Jesus on His Sabbath? Look at Mk 2:27,28 – if He is the creator, as John 1 states, then He is Lord of the Sabbath, and He is to be worshiped as our Creator.

    Do not be afraid of of Reiki. No one who has experienced the Life Force associates it with anything but the Creator. It is is simply too amazing and too powerful to be anything but our Life Force. These people are just providing circuit links where they are currently damaged or broken, such that the Life Force can flow again.

    If Christ is our Creator, and our Redeemer, then isn’t it reasonable to assume that He is our Life Force as well?

  • MGCT

    Black and white theology, fear, judgement, … ? Anyone experience a full-blown Catholic Charismatic healing Mass ? Hello, …

  • marie

    You may be right. In any case, it’s extremely disappointing. The church is taking a very misleading stand by insinuating that a person using reiki is “opening themselves up” to “other” supernatural forces. Saying that using reiki means “Jesus isn’t enough” is just ridiculous! Just because the medicine cannot be completely explained by modern science doesn’t mean that a person who uses it is not faithful. What’s next? Acupuncture? Herbal remedies? Another example of the church portraying something good as something evil or dangerous. Historically, I believe when the church is threatened by something, they paint it as dangerous or devilish. More hogwash, indeed. I completely agree with that!

  • Brenda

    Isn’t this similar to “laying on of hands” that Baptist’s and other Pentecostals do? Sounds like a fear of pneuma or Holy Spirit by a great big hierarchical social institution, i.e Catholic Church, which is not all surprising since they still don’t get along with Eastern Orthodox church no matter how much PR they do. Eastern Christian faith would not have so much issue with this I am willing to bet.

  • Annette

    Jesus was the first Reiki Master.

  • Anne Howington

    I just saw the program today – it was an eye-opener. I found Rev. Weinandy’s comments absurd – and – unfortunately – he sounded “snide” to me. This from someone who still preaches that absolution can only come through a priest – sounds like “channeling” to me.

  • Anne Howington

    Dear Ms. Lawton – thank you for the excellent job you do – the subject was interesting and the women and practice was presented professionally. Rev. Weinandy may have only been repeating what his superiors told him to say, but his apparent attitude did him no credit.

  • Gerre

    The bishops don’t get it.
    It’s just another thing over which they (think they) can exert control.
    I continue, as a Christian, to use Reiki successfully in my practice as a clinical social worker in Hospice Care.

  • nuria

    It’s dang funny to hear the US Catholic Bishops decry anything because it’s superstition. Oh the irony.

  • Nancy

    The thing that confuses me about Reiki is the liniage (I come from the lineage of Jesus Christ) .

    If a person is using the healing energy of Reiki (central intelligence – or universal energy) that is called Reiki

    Is the using of the healing power of Jesus Christ is called laying on of hands?

  • Cullin R. Schooley

    If the bishops are so concerned about superstitious practices perhaps they should examine the Roman Catholic devotion to the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The tradition is that if a person, believer or non-believer, dies wearing the scapular he will not suffer hellfire. Doesn’t such a tradition make the sacrifice of Christ on the cross somewhat redundant? Isn’t this more scandalous than the use of Reiki? There are millions of people starving in the world and the bishops are concerned with Reiki?! Now THAT’S a scandal.

  • Frank Hayes

    It saddens me to hear the dismissive and uninformed comments by the Bishop’s spokeperson in this clip. It would be helpful to know by whom the study was done and whether a serious scholastic endeavor was made. With it’s focus on evangelization the Bishops must have in place a serioous feedback mechanism and advisors who while faithful to the Catholic faith have explored in a loving and ecummenical spirit the streams of Wisdom embpdied in other traditions. We see the damage of fundamentalism and extremism in the worls – it is painful to see it in my own Church. If only the Bishops communicated with the loving language of Jesus – perhaps many would remain in the Church – perhaps many more would be drawn to it.

  • LinusQ

    @ Cullin R Schooley: the Carmelites were forbidden to teach belief in the sabbatine privilege attaching to the brown scapular in 1613.

  • hsb

    How sad that their fear has spread like a disease and their need for power has eliminated the chance for people to experience Reiki. A perfect example of religious leaders trying to keep their power and control over others using fear and negativity. God is love. Why are people like this considered to be representatives of God? They have no authority, yet people give it to them. A bishop or a pope is no holier than anyone else. No human has any authority over me. We are ALL blind and divine.

    I used Reiki when my father was dying from Mesothelioma, and it was a wonderful, peaceful time for us. I imagine Reiki as tapping into divine energy, and since it is something anyone can do (with training), the bishops feel threatened. …

  • Chris

    I thought the reverends arguments were level headed from the Churches point of view,at least not a hint of Heresy – Yet.
    I have always felt that there is a schism between any established religious heirarchy,and what ordinary/extra-ordinary people define as the spiritual through there personal experiences of the divine.
    In my opinion,this is because ,from what I see ,Organised religions quickly loose touch with the original truth upon which they purport to be founded, and become concerned with wordly power,duality and thus ,well ,our sad history to date.
    When I first experienced reiki,I thought it does seem to challenge the churches hard fought ( and I mean ,millions have died and suffered throughout history for this ) role as Intermediary between God and subject.
    But if you do some research ,you will see Reiki is subject to what I imagine are similar forces that come to shape and control the divine when it is expressed through humans.ideas that “My” reiki is special..your symbols are wrong,fables about the founder ,Right and wrong ways.Perhaps it is our individual and collective destiny to evolve to the point where knowing the divine just feels like loving your neighbour,without Judgement,and I have yet to find a better way to do that than channeling Reiki ,whatever it may be.however I fear that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” cuts little ice if one is held fast by Dogmata.
    Systems are collapsing everywhere at the moment,let us all practice in whatever way we can,ways that open us to feelings of unity and love for all.

  • TOM



  • fed up

    Wow – why is religion so backwards and weird about anything they don’t control?

    yes it is a mystery………… religion should not and can not claim reiki like they try to claim everything else in this world. really guys?

  • Jasper

    My sister and I have been going to free healing sessions at least once a week now. At first I was a little reserved because I wasn’t convinced. Now I am so relaxed and at peace. I’m glad she convinced me to go. I think everyone should give reflection a chance.

  • cynthia

    I must first say, I am not here to bash any paticular denomination, but this certainly to me feels like the Holy Church is once again afraid of loosing control over its members! I grew up an Independent Fundamental Baptise, with a Pentecostle Grandmother! If talking in tounges is not Channeling then you reallly need to sit through a whole service!
    And it seems that from what I read this is the biggest issue? So, are these so called Wise Men saying that channeling even if it is the Holy Spirit Of God wrong???? Lately, there are so many things about the Catholic Church which seem to be an oxymoron? Let’s give then another few hundred years if God gives us that long, and just like with the UFO’s they will conceed that they exsist!

    God made us in his image and Christ gave his diisiples and all followers this charge and spiritual gifts for the asking – Corinthians 12:28, John 14:12, and Luke 9:49-50.

  • Cynthia

    Forgive me for saying, This is another oxymoron of the Church, in my opinion: When I first experienced reiki,I thought it does seem to challenge the churches hard fought ( and I mean ,millions have died and suffered throughout history for this ) role as Intermediary between God and subject. From Chris, 8/29/2010 post. Exsactly why does one need an intermediary? Is that not a direct slap in the face of my Jesus Christ being put on the cross for my sins? I need only to goto God through his Holy Son Jesus Christ! Just saying, its agreat example of the idea of control the Church does not want to loose.

  • coco

    Wouldn’t “divine forces” be God? Doesn’t divine mean from God? There IS only ONE God. Laying on of hands in Reiki sounds the same as people laying hands on someone when they pray. Difference is Reiki depends completely on God’s healing and laying on of hands hopes for God’s healing Since when can Satan heal? If it is possible for Satan to heal, please let me know, because this is confusing.