Four years ago, Jan Kendall's chronic lower back pain sent her to a chiropractor for help. The doctor told her there was not much he could do.
She then went to William Lee Rand, a Reiki master teacher and founder of the International Center for Reiki Training in Southfield, Mich., and underwent Reiki therapy.
"I have not had any back pain since," Ms. Kendall said.
Reiki (pronounced RAY-kee) is a technique in which practitioners massage a person's "universal life energy" to reduce stress or bring healing. Developed in Japan in the late 1800s by Mikao Usui, it has become a widespread alternative medical treatment in the United States.
In recent decades, Reiki therapy and training have been offered at numerous holistic health centers as well as Catholic facilities across the country, including many in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.
But two months ago, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops effectively called a halt to the use of Reiki at all Catholic institutions.
The bishops' Committee on Doctrine, of which Toledo Bishop Leonard Blair is one of eight members, called Reiki therapy "incompatible with Christian teaching or scientific evidence" and that "a Catholic who puts his or her trust in Reiki would be operating in the realm of superstition."
Bishop Blair declined to comment, referring questions to the Rev. Thomas Weinandy, a Capuchin priest and executive director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices in Washington.
Father Weinandy said the bishops spent more than year researching Reiki and concluded that it was "not compatible with Christianity and the way Christians view God and his relationship with us."
He said the bishops' panel has no authority to enforce the guidelines and that it is up to the local bishops to decide implementation. He said the guidelines were requested by U.S. bishops who had Reiki practitioners in their dioceses and "didn't know what to make of it."
The guidelines, issued March 26, marked the first time U.S. bishops addressed the topic of Reiki.
Several Catholic nuns who taught and practiced Reiki locally for years declined to comment on the guidelines except to say they are now following them.
One local Catholic retreat center, Our Lady of the Pines in Fremont, stopped offering Reiki workshops after the guidelines were issued. Before that, the center stated on its Web site that "our retreat center uses a Christian interpretation based on the life, mission, and teachings of Jesus Christ. Nothing and no one replaces his power. Reiki here is offered in the context of prayer."
The bishops strongly condemned such logic in the six-page document.
"Some people have attempted to identify Reiki with the divine healing known to Christians. They are mistaken," the bishops said. "Some practitioners attempt to Christianize Reiki by adding a prayer to Christ, but this does not affect the essential nature of Reiki."
Father Weinandy said the bishops collected "quite a large dossier of documentation from both books and Web sites trying to discern what Reiki holds and what those who practice Reiki hold."
He said it was "an academic study" and acknowledged the bishops did not interview Catholic Reiki practitioners or people who underwent Reiki therapy.
"At the time, we felt it was not that important. The literature is out there," Father Weinandy said. "Since the publication, myself and a number of bishops have had personal contact with people, obviously because they disagreed with us."
Those discussions have only reinforced the bishops' decision for issuing their guidelines, he said.
Mr. Rand, of the International Center for Reiki Training, released a six-page response to the bishops' document.
"The statement was based on research the committee had done involving information found on the Internet and in Reiki books," Mr. Rand said. "Overall, the Internet isn't a good source of factual information because there is no requirement that information published there be checked or approved for accuracy."
Many Reiki Web sites are "riddled with inaccurate ideas" that get copied and republished, he said, so reliance on the Internet "runs the risk of accepting rumor and misinformation as fact."
For example, he said, it is often wrongly reported that Mr. Usui, the originator of Reiki, discovered the secret of the energy therapy while reading Buddhist texts.
Mr. Rand asserted that was not the case and that Mr. Usui said Reiki "came to him spontaneously during a spiritual experience on a sacred mountain."
He also said Japanese Reiki masters with knowledge of Buddhism have said "they can find nothing from Buddhism in the practice of Reiki and that Reiki is religiously neutral."
Several nuns have testified on the Web site ChristianReiki.org that they believe God called them to practice Reiki as a means of healing people.
"I found answers to the questions I had about Reiki in the Bible," said Sister Mary Mebane, a Franciscan sister in Santa Maria, Calif. "Laying on of hands is a gift of God and was used extensively by Jesus and his followers and still is!"
Jerry Herr of Sylvania, a Catholic layperson, Reiki practitioner, and president of Our Lady of Toledo Shrine in Oregon, said, "I don't see Reiki as a conflict as far as religion. Religion is just theology and doctrine. This is more of how we can be of better service to each other."
The National Institutes of Health are conducting several studies of Reiki to gauge its effect on a range of health issues including stress, prostate cancer, and AIDS. Six clinical trials are under way, including one being conducted at the University of Michigan's Taubman Center on Reiki's effect on coronary disease and diabetes.
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