Orbiting Dicta

Monthly Archives: April 2009

The Bishops and Reiki

In their struggle to regain the moral high ground following a decade of embarrassment over negligence with regard to sexual abuse and financial mismanagement, the bishops of the United States Catholic Conference have boldly taken on the Dark Side of the Force in their recent condemnation of Reikian hands-off massage diagnosis and therapy.  A number of Catholic-sponsored spiritual health centers have employed Reikian therapists from time to time, but now their banishment seems to be imminent.

The reason for the bishops’ ire is twofold: Reiki lacks “scientific credibility,” and it smacks of non-Catholic religiosity, having emerged over a century ago in Japanese Buddhist circles.  (For anyone curious about the time and energy devoted to the effort to root out this alien intrusion into nice Western medical and spiritual practice, the committee report is available at http://www.usccb.org/dpp/Evaluation_Guidelines_finaltext_2009-03.pdf.)

The bishops’ statement neglects to cite a single example of a medical or scientific study that disproves or even questions whether Reiki produces measurable results as a diagnostic or therapeutic procedure.  Surely gentlemen with such faith in science could have consulted just a bit.  The more likely thorn in the episcopal side is the Buddhist provenance of the technique.  But Reiki is not a branch of Buddhism or even Shinto.  Like acupuncture and acupressure and a number of other healing practices emanating from east Asia, its origin among practitioners of a non-Christian religion has no bearing on its scientific or medical credibility.  As with yoga and Zen meditation, practice can be disengaged from doctrinal positions.  This has been convincingly argued by theologians for over fifty years, including the Benedictine monk Dom Jean-Marie Dechanet, Dom Bede Griffiths, another Benedictine, and the noted Jesuit scholar, William Johnston.

Ironically, if not entirely comical, for years at their conferences the Catholic bishops delighted in having Richard Rohr and other proponents of the Enneagram regale them with insights into their compulsions and personality types, using a system that has far more questionable origins than Reiki.  Developed by Bolivian-born Oscar Ichazo and Claudio Naranjo on the basis of pseudo-Sufi speculations originating in the school of the occultists G. I. Gurdjieff and Madame Helena Blavatsky, “Enneagram theory” was introduced to the United States in 1971 by the Jesuit, Robert Ochs, and became wildly popular in Catholic circles in the 1980s, especially among religious men and women.  And bishops.  Despite heroic efforts, no one has succeeded in providing the Enneagram with a shred of medical or scientific credibility.

And while the bishops are at pains to defend prayer and faith healing, these elements of therapeutic practice remain highly controversial in the medical and scientific community despite decades of efforts to test them rigorously.  No matter that many believers pray themselves to death rather than seek competent medical assistance, prayer is, the bishops know, good for you.  Reiki isn’t.

What Reiki lacks is not scientific credibility, but rigorous scientific scrutiny.  But even if it doesn’t work better than praying or whatever placebo might be employed, is it really worth getting those scarlet knickers in such a twist?Â

The Papal Prince and the President

Even in far-off Ireland word quickly spread last week mainly via Pro-Life channels that Chicago’s Cardinal George had launched a verbal fusillade against President Obama as he tried to make good on his promise to loosen restrictions on abortion put in place during the Bush years.  However repugnant Mr. Obama’s approach may be to many Catholics, Evangelicals, and other people, there is something darkly ironic about a Cardinal Archbishop, a “prince of the Church,” calling the pot…”despotic.”

Unlike Cardinal Archbishops, Presidents of the United States are elected (doubly so, given the resilient anachronism of the Electoral College, that very undemocratic institution) and serve for a limited number of years fixed by law, not by age.  He (or even she) cannot enact legislation nor (unlike Cardinal Archbishops) rule by fiat, George Bush’s efforts to do so notwithstanding.  Congress and the legislatures of the individual States produce laws.  In the first instance, the President is charged with executing and enforcing such laws.  In the second, the Supreme Court of the United States ultimately rules on the constitutionality of state legislation when it is challenged.  The President is largely restricted to signing or not signing laws (which may be passed over his veto), submitting budgets, funding or defunding various programs, ensuring the safety of U.S. citizens, and conducting foreign policy with the advice and consent of Congress.  The acts of the President are also subject to scrutiny by federal courts, paramount among them the Supreme Court.  And the President can be impeached.  Otherwise campaign promises are no more than the words imply, and in fact little more than rhetorical flourishes subject to the vagaries of time, circumstance, and the machineries of legislative and juridical process.

The U.S. system of checks and balances may be cumbersome but it manages to protect both States’ rights and individual liberties to a remarkable degree.  (As my old friend, the late Herbert McCabe, was fond of saying, as a democracy the American system is a pretty dismal institution; it just happens to be better than all the others.)

It is understandable that Catholic bishops are distressed by Mr. Obama’s left-of-center attitude toward abortion, gay rights, and other red-button issues.  But “despotic”?

Even harder to understand is the long silence of the episcopacy in the face of a former President who pushed the nation into an unjust and ruinous trillion-dollar war by means of subterfuge and prevarication, who presided over the establishment of secret military bases for the detention and interrogation of alleged terrorists denied access to legal counsel and defense, who countenanced the torture of prisoners, who fiddled while New Orleans drowned, who gutted decades of protective environmental legislation, who avoided leading the nation into bankruptcy only by dint of selling the national debt to China, and who in effect came perilously close to undermining the foundations of the U.S. Constitution.  But he was against abortion.

Episcopal tunnel vision is perhaps better than no vision at all.  But not much.

Investigation of Citizen above Suspicion?


Within a week of taking up his cabinet position as Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman was twice interrogated by Israeli police regarding allegations of bribery, money laundering, and corruption.  He’s in good company with Ehud Olmert still dodging accusations of malfeasance and former president Moshe Katsav indicted of rape during his term as tourism minister and sexual harassment and obstruction of justice while in office of president.  The sleaze at the top of the Israeli heap may not be unparalleled in the world of crooked politics, but it suggests that the rot goes much deeper.

Years ago when in Baghdad I found grimly amusing the nickname given the pitiless attacks on that city by American missiles in 1998 – the Lewinsky Bombing (which followed attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan four months earlier, as the threats of impeachment began their crescendo).  Attacks on a real or alleged enemy provide an effective smoke screen for public or even private wrongdoing.  The steady pillorying of Gaza and the Palestinians of the West Bank has served both the Olmert and Netanyahu administrations admirably well in that regard.  In the meantime, the death toll continues to rise in Gaza.  Of the seven Palestinians killed by ordinance left over from the January blitzkrieg, six were small children playing outdoors.

Why, one wonders, are they allowed to play in areas where there is likely to be unexploded weapons?  Simply because they have nowhere to play.