2002-01-23 00:00:00

Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil of Ernakulam-Angamaly has called on Catholics in India to be vigilant against charismatic groups that deviate from Church teachings.

In a pastoral letter, the head of the Syro-Malabar Church (SMC) warned the Church members that some evangelists across the country are indulging in anti-Church teachings.

The letter was read during Sunday Mass Jan. 20 in the nearly 2,500 parishes of SMC´s 24 dioceses. The Oriental Church, based in the southern Indian state of Kerala, has 13 dioceses in Kerala and another 11 outside the state.

While lauding the charismatic movement for its spiritual renewal of the Church, the cardinal expressed regret that some groups are deviating from Church teachings.

Some retreat groups and evangelists use their own methods and work parallel to the Church, propagating spiritual missions such as healing the sick, driving out evil spirits and offering Sacraments independently, he said.

SMC spokesperson Father Paul Thelakat said that the cardinal´s pastoral letter aims to help people understand the charismatic movement and the Catholic Church´s decision to ban some retreat groups in Kerala.

In June and October last year, the Kerala Catholic Bishops´ Council banned two charismatic groups for organizing spiritual revival meetings that centered on misplaced Catholic beliefs and theological positions.

"The SMC bishop´s synod authorized the major archbishop to explain to the people about the distortions that have crept into the charismatic movement in recent years," Father Thelakat told UCA News Jan. 20.

In response to the ban, some evangelists who run retreat groups in various dioceses got together to send an explanatory letter to the bishops in Kerala.

Jose Anathanam, founder of the Upper Room charismatic retreat group, circulated an eight-page letter arguing that the ban on him is unethical, uncalled for and against the Church´s own teachings.

Anathanam, a Catholic who was banned after he was found baptizing people in rivers, said in his letter that he has a right to baptize his followers for Christ. He also criticized the Church practice of child Baptism, saying it should not be done at an age when one cannot make a commitment to Jesus.

Anathanam claimed his spiritual meetings have rekindled the faith of the people, including Catholics. He said God has given him the conviction and spiritual right to baptize others.

However, Cardinal Vithayathil´s letter said the Church does not permit any spiritual revival groups to act separately from the Church. He also insisted that relying solely on the Bible, disregarding Church teachings, is against the Catholic faith and practice.

"The Bible grew in the Church and she is the keeper and interpreter of the Bible. If evangelists break away from the Church and proclaim that they need only the Bible and not the Church, then it becomes a Protestant movement," said the Catholic Church leader.

He said no Catholic preacher should interpret Gospel passages separately from the Church or offer Sacraments according to his wish.

"Every spiritual renewal group has to grow within the boundaries of parishes" under the guidance of a parish priest, he said, adding that it was "unhealthy" that some groups operate "as parallel outfits" within parishes.

The Church does not teach that diseases will be cured through prayer, said the cardinal, who asked people to make use of modern medicine and psychiatry to treat and cure their physical or mental illness.

"No particular evangelist or charismatic group has been gifted with spiritual prowess to heal illnesses. Similarly, no charismatic group or evangelist should come out with any statement against any other religious community," Cardinal Vithayathil said.

The letter also reminded people and priests of the Church requirement that only priests authorized by local bishops could perform exorcism.

"Christian spirituality is simple. Spirituality is not an escape from the responsibilities of life. The charismatic movement should help people experience this spirituality and the responsibilities of their life better," the cardinal said.


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