Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Q. Is it true that Reiki is viewed negatively in Catholic theology? I heard that a new Church document warning about the use of Reiki was recently published. Do you have any information about this?

A. The recent document that addresses the problem of Reiki was issued by the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in late March of this year. The formal statement simply reviews the history and the theological deficiencies of the practice so that Catholics, as well as Catholic-sponsored agencies and institutions (e.g., hospitals, retreat houses) might have adequate Church information to make ethically correct assessments of this form of "therapy."

Reiki has long been a problem from a theological perspective, according to which it has long been properly assessed as a superstitious practice. A formal doctrinal statement, however, is helpful because the practice was occasionally deemed acceptable by those who failed to understand the issues involved, or who were somehow unable to acquire adequate knowledge to make such an evaluation.

The recent Bishops’ Statement recalls that historically speaking, Reiki was invented in Japan during the 1880s and was strongly influenced by Buddhist ideas. Illness, it holds, is "caused by some kind of disruption or imbalance in one’s ‘life energy.’" Healing is accomplished through the placing of a practitioner’s hands in certain ways on a patient’s body, with the purpose of assisting the "currents" of Reiki, the "universal life energy," to flow into the ill person. Somehow, it is alleged, a practitioner is not the source, but simply a channel, for healing energy. Reiki practitioners are specially trained and must undergo an "initiation" or an "attunement" from a Master. (There are three or four degrees, as it were, for practitioners; on the highest scale, a healer can allegedly be a conduit of energy even at a distance from a patient.)

Reiki proponents hold, it seems, that the concept does not fall into the category of a religion per se. However, in the words of the Bishops’ document, "it does have several aspects of a religion." Too, advocates describe it in terms of a "spiritual" kind of healing, as contrasted from generally recognized medical healing procedures. Reiki literature abounds with references to God, Goddess, "divine healing power" and "divine mind." (ibid.) In applying Reiki, moreover, practitioners speak of "sacred ceremonies," "sacred symbols." Reiki vocabulary even includes references to a "way of living" and "Reiki Precepts" in an ethical context.

To be fair, one has to admit that Reiki can be partially understood in terms of natural healing processes, many of which are not quite understood.

Unfortunately, some proponents have attempted to link Reiki with Christianity, even to Christ himself. However, as the Bishops’ Statement insists, the essence of Christian healing is not found in human techniques used by human beings, but rather in prayer.

Thus the Bishops’ document concludes in part:

"For a Catholic to believe in Reiki therapy presents insoluble problems." Also, "to use Reiki one would have to accept at least in an implicit way central elements… that belong neither to Christian faith nor to natural science… A Catholic would be operating in the realm of superstition…"

Consequently, the Bishops’ assessment cautions that recourse to Reiki is inappropriate for "Catholic institutions, such as Catholic health care facilities and retreat centers, or persons representing the Church…"

All of the above has long been known and applied, but the Bishops’ concise doctrinal admonition assembles all the pertinent data in an easy-to-understand format, and, of course, in an authoritative summary.