What Are Fr. Richard Rohr and CAC Up To Now?

By Stephanie Block

In 2003, the Catholic lay organization Los Pequeños de Cristo presented a dossier to the Archbishop of Santa Fe, Michael Sheehan, concerning Fr. Richard Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) that he founded in New Mexico.  It was concerned, among other things, with the New Age and Call to Action distortions coming from Fr. Rohr and the Center.  (The dossier may be viewed at www.lospequenos.org.)

Four years later, the situation continues. Despite recent Pepper coverage (3-07) of Rohr’s officiating at the sacrilegious “St. Thomas Mass,” the Archdiocese of Santa Fe continues to recognize Father as a “priest in good standing,” and to permit his CAC all the privileges of a Catholic institution – such as the right to advertise its so-called “19th Annual Way of the Cross,” which commemorates “The Passion of the Earth,” in the Archdiocese’s Catholic Communicator (3-25-07).   An examination of Fr. Rohr and the CAC’s activities since 2003 in promoting New Age spirituality and Call to Action involvement is timely.

New Age Activities

     New Age spirituality is particularly seductive when it apes Christian language or adapts Christian elements for its own uses.  The blend of novel and familiar offers a stimulating kick of a “spiritual experience.”

     Fr. Rohr and the CAC provide a number of these experiences.

The Labyrinth: The website for the CAC (www.cacradicalgrace.org/resources) describes a Meditation Garden at the Center that includes a labyrinth.  A short photo-essay there shows the labyrinth being built and, in 2005 the CAC held a Summer Solstice Celebration that included a labyrinth walk in the CAC garden. A brochure has been prepared by CAC to assist the meditation of its labyrinth walkers.  It contains seven “messages,” including “There is no one, correct lesson or message [to life],” “Life is change and transformation and repentance,” “…life is not about ‘doing’ it right. It’s about ‘doing’ it.”

The Enneagram:  The Vatican’s recent statement, “Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life,” identifies the Enneagram as New Age.  Books offered at CAC’s bookstore include Richard Rohr’s Enneagram: A Christian Perspective; audio tapes by Rohr titled Enneagram: The Discernment of Spirits (CD or DVD) and Enneagram Evening (CD).

Zen Meditation:  CAC holds “regularly scheduled times of contemplative prayer and silence in the Center’s Zen-like prayer room.” [The Lay Contemplative website, www.laycontemplative.org, description of CAC]  In “A Brief History of the CAC” at CAC’s website, one reads: “One of the expressions of the radical nature of our work was our extensive inclusivity, bridging gaps within the spiritual and justice communities, building a rhythm of contemplative prayer and Zen meditation into our days, and even more fundamentally, believing that external behavior should be connected to and supported by inner guidance.” 

Centering Prayer:  Materials sold at the CAC bookstore include a book titled Contemplation in Action, among whose contributors are M. Basil Pennington and Abbot Thomas Keating, proponents of “centering prayer” – a syncretistic blend of eastern technique with Christian elements.     The CAC website invites guests to its chapel to join its community Centering Prayer: “We sit together twice a day, Monday-Friday, at 7:40 am and 4:30 pm.”

New Cosmology:  Catholic cosmology teaches that there is one God Who is the Creator and sustainer of the universe.  There is a hierarchy of beings within the universe.  Those of His creatures graced with intellect and free-will have the joy of knowing, loving, and serving Him.

     The so-called “new cosmology” teaches that there is an intelligent, self-organizing, living Universe.   There is no hierarchy of beings – everything is sacred.  Humanity has come to a critical juncture when it must either recognize its fraternal relationship to the universe or perish. 

     The Sophia Center at Holy Names University in Oakland, California was founded to disseminate the “new cosmology,” splintering from Matthew Fox’s Institute of Culture and Creation Spirituality in 1996.  Faculty at the Sophia Center includes Call to Action speakers Jim Conlon (the Center’s director), radical feminists Rosemary Radford Ruether and Miriam Therese Winter, apologist for the “new cosmology” Brian Swimme, John Shea, and Fr. Richard Rohr.   (Recently, Rohr was a panelist for an April 2007 “Forum on Women and Spirituality” at the University of New Mexico which had Ruether as a keynote speaker.)

Syncretism:  In April 2004, Fr. Rohr delivered an address as part of the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) Way of Peace initiative. He returned to speak at the WCCM’s 2005 John Main Seminar, held in Los Angeles. 

     WCCM promotional material asks:

Is there a connection between contemplation and the economic, political and social issues of our times which are so often the occasion for violence and conflict? The wisdom of the religious traditions has always sought a ‘still point in the turning world’ that would provide a vantage point to evaluate, love and serve the world and its needs. Meditation gives us such a ‘still point’ in its recurring tradition of ‘now’ teaching. But is this teaching meant to relate us to the world’s needs or remove us from them? Can stillness become right action that overflows into justice? The Greek philosopher Archimedes said that he could move the world if he had a lever and a place to stand. If meditation gives us a ‘place to stand,’ what is our lever? How is our way of responding to the needs of society different from that of the typical activist or the typical conservative or liberal? Does ‘the hidden wisdom of God’ of which St. Paul speaks show us the way? These are the issues Fr. Richard Rohr will explore with us within a context of lectures, open dialogue, prayer, silence and meditation.

This “still point” is not understood as Christian prayer to God but is believed to be a “wisdom” generically provided by all religious traditions and consistent with eastern prayer techniques and philosophy.  

“Male Spirituality:”   Men As Learners and Elders (M.A.L.Es) is a program that was developed in 2002 by the CAC “to carry out the vision of creating a school for male spiritual development by expanding the scope of Men’s Rites of

Passage programs throughout the country and abroad. One of the goals of M.A.L.Es is to form an extended network of initiated men and leaders who have an ecumenical vision of Gospel based male initiation.”  Initiated into what?

There has been a great deal written about Rohr’s Rites of Passage and some of its troubling aspects.  The bottom line, however, is that this is not an initiation into Christian thought but into Fr Rohr’s worldview.  For example, on the Men as Learners and Elders website, there are articles by Rohr that articulate the values he is evangelizing.  One, “Response to the Presidential Election” (undated), is concerned about the moral values that were and were not discussed during the 2004 US presidential campaign.   Rohr writes that citizens:

…want absolutes and a reference point so bad, we actually manufacture some, whether they are, in fact, absolutes at all. The Bible has made it very clear that the only absolute is God himself, and not any moral stance, nation, country, church, or explanation. Neither abortion nor homosexuality were ever a litmus test for Christian belief for the first 2000 years of the church! Only the Creed. Jesus never once talked about either of them. If any moral position was held absolute for the first 300 years, it was this: Christians would be non-violent, and would take care of the poor. Jesus talked plenty about both of these (That is historical and Biblical record).

Such comments betray Rohr’s blindness to the personhood of the forty-four million violently aborted people in the United States since Roe v Wade and his ignorance of both scripture and Church history.  Further, there is a sad irony that a priest who claims to care for the poor (and has contrasted that care to those who oppose abortion) makes his living through retreats that can only be afforded by the well-off.  Rites of Passage retreats cost about $400 (not including transportation or accommodations).  If one is not found to be “ready” for this experience (a good initiation-experience candidate must be “spiritually searching...have probably done some men’s work already, and are not in a major reaction against God, grace or transformation”), the seeker is referred to Rohr’s books and tapes which can be purchased from the CAC bookstore.

Call to Action Connections

      Call to Action is a coalition of dissident organizations whose purpose is to change Catholic moral teaching – notably that about abortion, contraception, and homosexual behavior – democratize the Church structure and politicize its members. 

     CAC has been associated with Call to Action for years, and continues to be.  For instance, it maintains a web link to Call to Action, identifying it as one of its “Colleagues in the Struggle.” (http://www.cacradicalgrace.org/getconnected/partners_links.html).  CAC, for its part, is listed as a Call to Action “Church Renewal Group.”

     The June 30, 2006 - July 2, 2006 CAC Conference, “Prophets Then, Prophets Now,” featured Sr. Joan Chittister, a frequent speaker at Call to Action conferences and a proponent of women priests, once going so far as to play chief “celebrant” at a CTA “eucharist.”  A September 2006 CAC hosted Conference in Pasadena, California called “Politics and Spirituality: Outer Witness, Inner Faith” had Call to Action as one of its sponsors.  Fr. John Dear, another Call to Action speaker, is scheduled to give a “Prophets Now” Conference at CAC on September 29, 2007.  Materials sold at the CAC bookstore contain the works of Call to Action speakers Daniel Berrigan, Edwina Gately, and Christine Schenk – who, over the years, have also spoken at the Center. 

     Whether or not Fr. Rohr and the Center for Action and Contemplation are in complete agreement with Call to Action on every position, it is apparent that Father and his Center are supportive of CTA’s work and the problematic positions held by many of its members.

Los Pequeños Pepper, May 2007

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