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By Prof. Michael Ogunu
President of the Executive Board of the World Apostolate of Fatima in Africa
Effects of Pentecostalism on the Catholic Faithful

Pentecostalism has positive and negative effects on the Catholic Faithful.

Positive Effects

Pentecostal Churches show a deep personal devotion and faith in Jesus Christ. They consider the Bible as the word of God and guide for all situations in their lives. There is zeal to evangelize, to convert others. “The aggressive quest for the knowledge of the Bible or the word of God has made most of our Catholic Christians to become more searching for the word of God, more disposed to become more friendly with the Bible, more cultured to pray in their own words when the need arises, more confident today to preach the gospel, more dynamic in translating what we profess and deliberate at worship into daily life” (See Rev. Fr. P. O. Ashiegbo, C.S.Sp: The proliferation of Churches in Nigeria:Theological and Pastoral Responses).

Members of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal are deeply committed to holiness of life and love of the word of God. If the leadership of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement in Nigeria could accept and obey the guidelines set up for the movement by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, honour the Blessed Virgin Mary and accept all the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and in the words of Pope John Paul II “Seek a sound theological formation … to ensure … a mature and complete understanding of God’s word…”, the movement could be a genuine instrument of spiritual renewal, and in the words of Pope Paul VI, a “chance for the Church and the World”.

Negative Effects

The errors inherent in the beliefs and practices of the Charismatic movement are many and grave. Dr. Story, one of the founders of the Catholic Charismatic movement in the U.S. who later left the movement, said that many Charismatics have a false sense of priorities concerning their own prayer life and their worship. “From personal experience”, he said, “We have seen that quite often, when given the choice of attending their own prayer meetings, or attending a Marian devotion with recitation of the Rosary, adoring Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, offering Holy Hours of reparation, attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, some charismatics – including religious – prefer and choose their own prayer meetings to the time-honoured devotions and Liturgical worship”.

Archbishop Patrick Ekpu of the Catholic Archdiocese of Benin City, Nigeria (now Archbishop Emeritus) in one of his Pastoral letters titled ‘Lend Kindly Light’ strongly condemns the attitude of “Catholic Charismatics who walk-out from Church whenever Mass or Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is about to begin”. By such un-Catholic behaviour, the so-called Catholic Charismatics “either betray their ignorance of their Christian doctrine or their MANIFEST DENIAL of the Catholic Faith”. From eleven and a half years experience with Catholic Charismatics, Rev. Fr. Patrick Moore, SPS of St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, Ikorodu, Nigeria, summarises the errors and dangers of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement “for submission to Archbishop A. O. Okogie (now Cardinal Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos)”. Among other grave errors, Fr. Moore stated the following:

  • The Charismatics are insensitive/indifferent to many basic doctrines of the Church.
  • When you tie most of those Charismatics down, you find that the Bible is the sole rule of Faith for very many of them especially among their own people. They feel free to choose from the teachings of the Church as they are “inspired by the Spirit”.
  • They are gradually substituting their own Rites for the Sacraments of the Church. For example, ‘Baptism of the Spirits’ replaces the Sacrament of Baptism: “Confess your sin to each other” replaces the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Penance); Anointing one another with blessed oil replaces the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick: ‘God is Every Where’ replaces the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, “Charismatic Mass” replaces the Roman rite Mass, ‘Priesthood of the Laity’ replaces the Ministerial Priesthood.
  • Practically all the Church’s teaching on Mary is dismissed. For example, they say ‘Mary is blocking our way to Jesus’.
  • They are infiltrating all societies of the Church particularly the Legion of Mary and Rosary Crusade by becoming Officers of these societies, thereby weakening the societies and drawing people to the Charismatics, under the cover of righteousness. Using their positions of leadership in these societies, they prevent other members from challenging them and their teachings.

This appears to me a very insidious thing: they parade themselves under the banner of Mary while rejecting everything these societies stand for.

  • They regard the Pope and most Bishops as living in “The dark ages of the Church and have not yet seen the ‘LIGHT’”. And this view is being passed on by Charismatic Priests to lay people.
  • Priests who are Charismatic appear indifferent to many doctrines of the Church. Even when they do not deny or reject any of the doctrines themselves, they may not take any strong action when a particular doctrine is denied or ignored. They are not disturbed on hearing of any doctrine being called in question. They simply put one off “with a smile”, “a shrug of the shoulder” or “why get excited”.
  • Many, if not most, hold that the Catholic Church is only one among many Christian Churches and Ecumenism is mixing of all the Christian Churches to eventually produce the ideal “Charismatic Church”.
  • Priest members (of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement) generally and in varying degrees are indifferent to wearing Clerical dress. Traditionally approved prayers of the Church like the Rosary, the Angelus, even the Divine Office are little esteemed if not completely disregarded. They prefer Charismatic “Prayer Group Sharing”, “Charismatic Mass” and “Spirit inspired Prayers”.
  • Statements, Regulations or laws issued by the Pope or Bishop are taken lightly, if at all.
  • It is very difficult to convert any Charismatic member especially the leaders. These leaders have become very influential in the Church because everybody looks on them as having ‘Supernatural Powers’ and a ‘direct Telephone line’ to God and can put through the people’s prayers and problems to God independently of the Church.

Conversion of Catholics to Protestantism

One of the most tragic effects of Pentecostalism on the Catholic faithful is its silent conversion of Catholics to become Protestants. Some Catholic Charismatic Communities are indeed protestants who under the guise of “Catholic Charismatics” are working hard within the Church to turn Catholics away from their Catholic faith.

The inter-denominational, Protestant stance of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal Movement in Nigeria is further confirmed by Rev. Dr. Taddoe Onoyima in the following statement from his paper titled “The Catholic Charismatic Movement and the Church” delivered at the Institute of Manage­ment and Technology, Enugu, 1984:

It is not surprising to see some of the members, Catholic and non-Catholic of our movement mount opposition against the Catholic Church. It could be because of the basic Protestant doctrinal stance which probably and consistently remain within the movement after its inception in Nigeria.

It is clear from the above that most of the Catholic Charismatic prayer groups in different Parishes and Mass Centres in Nigeria are inter-denominational prayer groups. Little wonder that Catholic teachings are either watered down or totally rejected to make the non-Catholics happy and comfortable.

Writing in ‘The Leader’ (a Nigerian Catholic newspaper) of Sunday, May 4, 1997, Declan Biadue of St. Thomas Parish, Eziedu, Mbaise, Owerri Archdiocese (Eastern Nigeria) complains as follows:

I wish to use this medium to bring it to the attention of our spiritual leaders that Protestants have infiltrated into the Catholic Church.

The infiltrators will be found mostly among Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) communities. Visit some of these charismatic communities and you will easily spot the infiltrators.

They will never make the sign of the cross; they are anti-clerical; they will prefer their prayer meeting to the Holy Mass; they will never bring their rosaries to prayer meeting. They don’t have any. The way they pray is absolutely un-Catholic. There is a world of difference between the way a Catholic prays and the way a Protestant prays. At many CCR prayer meetings you see many so-called Catholics praying like Protestants. They command God; they shout and babble.

Honouring the Blessed Virgin Mary is a remarkable characteristic of Catholics. Catholics compose hymns and prayers in her honour. But in many CCR prayer meetings, you hardly see members giving reverence to Mary. The unfortunate thing is that these infiltrators usually wangle their way into leadership positions. And when they get there, they use their position to turn a charismatic community that should be Catholic into a Protestant community.

I am therefore appealing to the leaders of the holy Catholic Church to please look into this. Let them be careful in assigning chaplains to Charismatic communities. A Charismatic chaplain should be someone who has the courage to go against the current.

What to do to stop the Exodus of Catholics to Pentecostal Churches

It seems obvious from the foregoing that Pentecostalism poses real danger to the Catholic faithful in Nigeria and other African countries who are exposed to the various devices aimed at winning them over to Pentecostalism. The following measures are recommended to stop the drift:

  1. There should be greater involvement of priests in the lives of the faithful. Efforts should be made to reach out to Church members and help fill the void in the various areas of their lives. To this end, counselling centres should be set up in each parish and a sound counselling programme installed to enable priests attend to the spiritual and other needs of parishioners. The Church should show more concern for the needs of its members. To this end, time should be created for counselling and prayers. There are many Catholics who flock to prayer houses and prophets for counselling and prayers. Some of the conditions they are given is that they should change their faith. As part of the concern, there should be visitation teams and the basic Christian Communities should be made more active.
  2. The Church should make it mandatory for all parishes to have bible classes for children and adults outside the Scripture reading periods at Mass. Only Catholics of unquestionable orthodoxy should be in charge of such classes. The bible classes should be used as avenues of explaining the Mass and Catholic faith and doctrine. There should be a continuous study of the Catholic doctrines especially during the Mass and other Church celebrations. Emphasis should be placed on those controversial aspects of the doctrine. Also, seminars and workshops on the Catholic faith should be encouraged in Churches. Priests and Church leaders should spend more time in talking about the Word of God, especially at Mass than on other things like money, tithes and seed-sowing. The Sunday-Sunday Word of God which Catholics hear when they attend Mass is grossly inadequate. Bible reading/study should be a mandatory part of all zonal meetings and Church Societies. Church bulletins should carry out not just Bible readings but also explanations of the readings.
  3. Effective guidance should be given to Catholic Charismatic Renewal groups. Only those Charismatic groups which are willing to abide by the directives and guidelines laid down by the Conferences of Catholic Bishops for the movement and are seen to be actually obeying the guidelines should be allowed to exist.
  4. Bishops should not hesitate to discipline any erring charismatic priest who fails to observe the laid down guidelines however great his financial contribution to the Chancery may be. The salvation of souls should be the utmost consideration.
  5. The faithful should be given adequate education on the teachings of the Church. Short-term programmes (ranging from 3 months to a year) designed to give theological education to the Laity should be set up.
  6. Outreach programmes – Rosary Crusades/Carnivals, Seminars, Workshops, and so on aimed at the spiritual enrichment of Catholics should be organised at parish, Deanery and diocesan levels.
  7. There should be greater integration of youths in the life of the Church, especially at the parish level.
  8. Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary should be intensified. More positive encouragement should be given to the daily recitation of the Rosary and practice of Five First Saturdays devotion of reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Rosary walks, Rosary Crusades and Carnivals should be regular features in the programme of Parishes and Deaneries.

Prof. Michael Ogunu is President of the Executive Board of the World Apostolate of Fatima in Africa

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