The 'Catholic' Charismatic Movement:
A Book that Shows Why It Is Not Catholic
Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.
Book-review on Close-Ups of the Charismatic Movement by John Vennari
(Los Angeles: TIA, 2002), 175 pp.
Seven human bodies are sprawled on the floor. One lady has her feet in the air and is laughing hysterically. A man oinks like a pig. A woman barks like a terrior. “Goo-goo-ga-ga-dife, goo-goo-ga-ga-dife” bellows out one man. “Fire! Fire! Fresh anointing! Fresh anointing!” screams a red-faced man on a stage. People drop unexpectly to the floor, face up. A lady nonchalantly walks over a stretched-out body. In a background, a music with a slow, steady tribal beat pounds: “Oom-pa, oom-pa, oom-pa...”
Where are we, you are probably wondering? Inside the crazed imagination of a hippie on an LSD “trip”? Watching a spectacle at some strange circus act? An intruder at a pantomine party where a bit too much liquor has been served?
No, we have wandered into a session of a charismatic celebration, a movement that is becoming “popular” among many Catholics today. It presents, at first appearance, an absolutely absurd spectacle that one could hardly imagine a rational Catholic would fall for. Yet they are. It would seem the lumen rationis was extinguished in these otherwise intelligent persons who seem oblivious to the absolute lunacy of the antics in these farcical shows.
What makes logical argument difficult are the endorsements the movement is receiving from celebrated Catholics and institutions. For example, Mother Angelica promotes some of the Catholic speakers of the charismatic movement like the egregious Babsie Bleasdell and “rap priest” Fr. Stan Fortuna. In fact, Mother Angelica and her sisters profess to follow a charismatic orientation, as does Steubenville University, which presents itself as conservative. University President Fr. Michael Scanlon has hosted Catholic Charismatic Leadership conferences there and openly defends Steubenville’s commitment to Pentecostalism and his own “baptism in the Spirit.” Then there are all the Bishops who either promote this movement or permit it. Certainly it is much easier in most Dioceses around the country to find a charismatic renewal event to attend than a Latin Tridentine Mass.
The movement, faddish in so many Catholic circles today, is nonetheless not Catholic. Finally a much-needed book has appeared that not only describes what is going on but also explains why it is wrong. This is what John Vennari has done in his recently released book, Close-ups of the Charismatic Movement.
What’s going on and why it’s wrong
Mr. Vennari’s methodology is ingenious and fits the problem comfortably. What he did was to attend several of the large charismatic extravaganzas where Protestant Pentecostalist speakers, now hand-in-hand (literally) with their Catholic counterparts, addressed auditoriums of people who were, sad to say, mainly Catholic. He viewed for himself, and took photos, of grown up people arm waving, dancing, and being “slain in the Spirit.” The written “close-ups” he presents of the events reveals the sheer idiocy and the absolute absurdity of the fad, and permits the reader to see how preposterous a spectacle it presents.
What he describes are phenomena you might have heard about, but just couldn’t believe are really going on with the approval and even active participation of Catholic Bishops, priests and religious. That is to say, you will read about goings-on (I can’t think of a better word, certainly not ceremonies!) like:
The vivid descriptions he makes along with the accompanying photos (13 pages) at these revivals would be evidence enough to convince many that something is wrong with this movement. But John Vennari does not leave it there. What makes this book so valuable are the arguments he gives to show how and why the charismatic movement clashes with the millennial teaching of the Church. For example, after presenting a colorful picture of people praying in tongues, he then goes on to demonstrate the error in light of Sacred Scripture and Tradition. (pp. 62-7). In a word, what he makes evident is that the “Catholic” charismatic movement is not Catholic.
- The Toronto Blessing, where “the Spirit” grabs a person who ends up rolling on the ground shrieking with laughter, oinking like a pig, or barking like a dog (pp. 22-31);
- “Holy Fire” sessions where Protestant preachers pray over Catholics, who drop to the ground slain in the Spirit (pp. 47-53);
- “Praying in tongues” where priests and preachers lead, as Mr. Vennari describes it, “indistinguishable gibberish sounding like the ghastly hum of a Hindu Ashram” (pp. 59-67).
I was talking to a lady who used to be involved in the charismatic movement who had recently read Close-ups. “I want you to know,” she told me, “that it is right on the mark. That is exactly what is going on. The more I got into it, the more I knew something wasn’t right. But no one was explaining what was wrong. Thank God, this book does it.”
At base, a Protestant error
The Church is distinguished by a holy and sacral mark. This is the opposite of the spirit of the charismatic movement, which elicits spontaneous eruptions of emotions and display. There is also an erroneous “doctrine” behind all this hollering and stomping and dancing and falling to the ground.
This kind of outpouring of “the Spirit” is a consequence of a basic Protestant error that denies any intermediary between the person and Christ. In this case, there would be a “Spirit” who is immanent in and hovering over the multitude of people. This is the “Spirit” that would “liberate” the Pentecostal stimulus in the people. Once liberated, the “Spirit” in each person would be released and manifest itself - sometimes in quite strange and extraordinary ways (e.g., the “holy laughter” of the Toronto blessing). The Holy Ghost would come down directly on the assembled “communities.” Thus, there is no need for the Church as an institution, with her hierarchy, Priests, Sacraments and ceremonies.
It is, therefore, in essence a Protestant movement, as Mr. Vennari shows quite clearly when he details its origins (pp. 10-15). Hailing from Kansas City myself, I was surprised and a bit embarrassed to learn the movement took root in the United States at a conference there in 1977, attended by 50,000 persons from 10 denominations. (No less a personage than Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens attended and lectured at the watershed event.) It was there, at the so-called “Holy Ghost Breakdown,” that the “Spirit” came down and fell over the multitude, which broke out in 17 “historic” minutes of exultant praising and arm waving.
The inter-denominational message behind the Charismatic Movement also clashes with the Magisterium regarding Catholics participating at non-Catholic religious events. Protestants always like to say they are returning to the thinking of the original Church Fathers. But, as Mr. Vennari points out, since its earliest days the Church saw the danger of inter-denominational meetings and strongly condemned them. For two thousand years the Catholic teaching on what is the Church of Christ has been clear, and Mr. Vennari provides ample documentation to demonstrate this.
So, why all this confusion today?
Let me quote this brief explanation from one of Mr. Vennari’s conclusions:
“Ironically, practically the only thing now ‘avoided like vipers and scorpions’ is the Church’s consistent teaching on the Catholic’s duty to oppose heretics, as well as the Church’s 2,000-year condemnation of partaking in religious camaraderie with them. ‘Religious fellowship’ between Catholics and non-Catholics is the new order of the day. All of this can be traced, as the progressive young Fr. Ratzinger gloated in 1966, to the Council’s new ecumenical teachings within its Constitution on the Church and its Decree on Ecumenism.
The charismatic Cardinal Suenens
“As such, Vatican II ecumenism is a head-on collision with Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition. It blasphemously implies that it is kinder than Christ. It quarrels with Divine Revelation while claiming fidelity to it. No wonder the Council’s ecumenism has spawned the dazed mutant ‘Catholic Pentecostalism’” (pp. 90-1).
I cannot conclude this review without a word on Part III, “The Charismatic Cardinal Suenens.” Obviously this false ecumenical movement could not have become so deeply entrenched in the Catholic milieu without the help of highly placed ecclesiastics. Mr. Vennari lays part of the blame on Cardinal Suenens, one of the architects of the Vatican II revolution who clearly outlined that ecumenism was the principle directing the Church’s new course.
In a 25-page masterful sketch, John Vennari makes the best synthesis I have yet read of the policies, thinking and goals of Suenens. Even though I was already well aware of the malice of these “reformers,” it was still newly shocking to see the arrogance and boldness of such ecclesiastics who imagine that they can reshape Church doctrine and institutions. Turning his back on her rich and holy patrimony, this Prince of the Church was bent on doing all he could to implant the revolution inside the Catholic Church and foster an egalitarian institution. It was Suenens who played a large role in “updating” the religious life and destroying convent life, and Mr. Vennari does not leave out a summary of the role he played in this regard (pp. 163-66). It is well worth the read.
My modest counsel
Make no mistake. More than just a fad, the charismatic “renewal” is a dangerous and heretical movement that is installing itself in the Catholic milieu. First, it attacks the Church’s character of exclusive mediator between Our Lord and men, which she possesses by divine mandate. Second, this kind of ecumenical gathering denies the exclusive nature of that mediation by encouraging inter-communion with other confessions.
Close-ups of the Charismatic Movement gives a clear picture of what is going on in this strange movement and why it is wrong. This is a book I recommend without reservation - to read yourself, and to give to any Catholic you know who is flirting with this strangely seductive movement.
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