Are Richard Rohr's teaching Catholic?

We moved our family to a rural area with a little parish. At first we thought the priest was amazing with his reverent Mass and his gift for speaking. But then we noticed the homilies sometimes conflicted with Catholic magisterial doctrine. I recognized the language from my years in the New Age movement. The priest said he'd been reading Fr. Richard Rohr for 20 years. Like many serious Catholics, we didn't know much about Richard Rohr. What we found on investigation blew us away. This is Part 4 in this series.

Conflicts between Richard Rohr's theology and Catholicism
(and his conflict with all Christianity in general)

Below is a summary list of conflicts Richard Rohr has with the magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church. This article and others in this series provide examples from his talks and writings which demonstrate these positions.

  • Teaches that Jesus is not the Saviour to whom we must surrender for salvation. He's an enlightened example, an archetype.
  • Teaches that the belief that God punishes is immature, dualistic
  • Refutes the Second Coming of Jesus
  • He claims to teach Panentheism (God in everything) but analysis of his discussions show clear Pantheism (God is everything)
  • Describes the story of Adam and Eve as fiction, doesn't accept the idea of original sin, or any sin. He replaces sin/redemption with eastern religious concept of ignorance/enlightenment
  • Teaches that Hell does not exist. It's a tool used by the Church to scare people into obedience.
  • Teaches that gender and sexuality are for humans to exercise their passions in any gender direction as long as its consenting and "loving". Marriage is not necessary.
  • Belittles Catholics who take Church teaching on abortion or contraception seriously. Contrast this with his shrill defense of animals used in science.
  • Teaches that absolution is not the important thing about Confession, peer confession is more useful.
  • Teaches that the Church should not have a hierarchy.
  • Teaches that the Pope can't make infallible statements on faith and morals.
  • Teaches that the Eucharist is more about the people being the Body of Christ, than the host being transubstantiated into the Eucharist. He fails to articulate that we come into communion with the Body of Christ by consuming his Body in the Eucharist. He only mentions transubstantiation to crack jokes about it.
  • Embraces Liberation Theology, which is a 2 dimensional social theory based on Marxism. It flattens out the Gospel to a class struggle here on earth, and is condemned by the Church.

Richard Rohr fundamentally denies all 7 sacraments

  1. Baptism: Since he denies original sin, there is no need for Baptism.
  2. Reconciliation: If there is no original sin there is no need for Reconciliation.
  3. Eucharist: is about the people of God and not Transubstantiation.
  4. Anointing of the Sick: If there is no hell, it just a nice prayer to comfort people.
  5. Holy Matrimony: He's fine with divorce and same sex marriage. Matrimony is a social construct, not God's idea.
  6. Confirmation: He teaches that religion is tribal, so what use is Confirmation into the Catholic Church?
  7. Holy Orders: What need is there for the priesthood if there is no special anointing to administer the sacraments, and if none of the sacraments have any power?

Here's an example interview.

Notice the following:

  • The Gish Gallop of references to Scripture, none of which affirm his position.
  • Straw man arguments, which characterize Christianity's understanding of Jesus as "small", "tribal", where Jesus is a "divine mascot".
  • Then, ironically, he makes Jesus small by saying "the Universal Christ is a bigger, older, larger category than Jesus".
  • Assertion that his position is "not unorthodox or heretical" but "utterly new" to most Christians because (here comes the customary swipe at the historical Church) "they didn't tell us to pay attention to it".
  • Regurgitated Black Lives Matters talking points, as if the Church has never defended the underprivileged.
  • The apex of this talk is:
    ... what we're dealing with [is] the basis for a universal religion that doesn't need to be in competition with any other religion ... we're coming to a natural religion. (Richard Rohr, source)

Richard Rohr doesn't think absolution is the important thing about Confession

Richard Rohr says that peer to peer confession is better than receiving absolution from a priest. He uses AA as his example. But the AA literature tells Catholic members to go to confession with a priest. Let's compare what he says to what the actual text of AA's 5th step.

Accountability and healing from “another human being” was deemed so necessary ...that it became .... a “Sacrament.” Someone had to be trained and prepared for the dumping, ventilating, releasing, and forgiving that humans always need. Someone had to be prepared to sit in the “mercy seat” (Exodus 25:17-22) and declare with authority that what God forgives, they dare not hold against themselves or one another. There often needs to be a human mirror to reflect the unseeable divine gaze, especially if our heads and body are bowed in shame.

Step Five returned the mystery of confession to where Jesus first offered it—the larger group called “the disciples,”... (John 20:19-23 and Matthew 18:1, 18). The use of peer confession and peer counseling is a major strength of Alcoholics Anonymous ...Twelve-Step programs understand that true Gospel authority, the authority to heal and renew people, is not finally found in a hierarchical office ... (Richard Rohr, source)

So absolution doesn't mean anything for Richard Rohr. He calls it "sin management". He teaches that there is no such thing as sin and its a way the Church keeps its thumb on its members. Here's what the AA Big Book actually says:

Those of us who belong to a religious denomination that requires confession must, and of course will want to go to the properly appointed authority whose duty it is to receive it. (Pg. 74 Big Book of Alcoholics anonymous, 4th edition)

So the AA program is closer to Catholic doctrine than Fr. Richard Rohr. This makes sense because Fr. Rohr doesn't believe in original sin. Dr. Bob, one of AA's founders, said that "alcoholism is fundamentally a moral problem." The solution is to surrender to God and let him straighten out our moral lives and our drinking compulsion will diminish. AA members who don't do this either drink again, or they switch addictions.

Richard Rohr teaches that the Church should not have a hierarchy or a Pope

For Fr. Rohr, the hierarchy of the Church is an medieval structure to control people and to bind them in guilt and low self esteem to control them. We have a full discussion of hierarchy.

Richard Rohr's teaches that the Pope cannot make infallible statements

On Papal infallibility, Richard Rohr teaches its just a way for the papacy to assert doctrine without being questioned. We have a full discussion of infallibility.

Richard Rohr teaches that the idea that God punishes is immature, dualistic

People who have been raised in an atmosphere of threats of punishment ... operate with this cheap image of God. They need deep healing, because they are actually attached to a punitive notion of God... Most people who want to hold onto power view God as vindictive and validates their use of intimidation. Both Catholicism and Protestantism have used the threat of eternal hellfire to form Christians ... Threat of hellfire “works” because it appeals to the lowest level of consciousness, where we all start....Many of us were raised to believe this, but we usually had to repress this bad theology into our unconscious because it’s literally unthinkable. ... We’ve developed an unworkable and toxic image of God that a healthy person would never trust. The mystical, transformative journey cannot take place until that image is undone. Why would you want to spend even an hour in silence, solitude, or intimacy with such a god? ... Jesus ... knew that clear-headed, dualistic thinking must precede non-dual or mystical thinking. (Richard Rohr, source)

Here is what Jesus says:

"tell them the good news of my salvation and if they don't accept it shake the dust from your shoes." (Matthew 10:14)

That is pretty dualistic. But it gets better. The risen Jesus is as "spiritually mature" as you can get. Jesus says from Heaven:

12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. 14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. Revelation 16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony.... (Revelation 22)

Jesus never "matures" into "non-dualistic thinking". This is as binary as can be.

Richard Rohr teaches that the devil doesn't exist he the idea that Jesus protects us "immature". Jesus was warning people to turn from their ways, and that we can repent it if we turned the wrong way.

We love spending time with that kind of God. We want to know what to avoid and I want to know what to do. Why not read scripture at face value? We have a separate article on punishment.

Catholic Social Doctrine adequately addresses non-duality in the concepts of "solidarity", Common Good, Charity, and Making Satisfaction. This is how we identify with the poor and identify with our brothers and sisters, without watering down the Church with ideas like there is no Truth, or distinction between right/wrong.

It's healthy to say to oneself "this is true, this is not true". Relativism says that all ideas are subjective and that Truth cannot be known.

Pantheism vs Panentheism

Fr. Richard Rohr claims his position is Panthentheism (God in everything) rather than Pantheism (God is everything) but like so many other of his positions, an examination indicates a different story.

All of our human differences are “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

You are a child of God, and always will be, even when you don’t believe it.

This is why I can see Christ in my dog, the sky, and all creatures ... an ordinary beetle, a fish in the deepest sea that no human will ever observe ... source

Notice the reference to Scripture (Col 3:3) and the quick pivot to the exact opposite of the passage. Col 3:3 says:

  2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God

This is the opposite of seeing Christ in his dog, a beetle, etc. He says:

The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. —John 6:51

Jesus the Christ did not talk in this truly shocking way (see John 6:60) so we could worship bread and wine. He came so that we would recognize his presence in all things, not just in the human body of Jesus, not just in the human body of God’s people (1 Corinthians 12:12), but even in the nurturing elements of the earth, symbolized by the ubiquitous food of bread and wine (1 Corinthians 11:23), and therefore to the very edges of creation (Romans 8:19). ... Jesus talked this way so that we would recognize his presence in all things",  (Richard Rohr, source)

Actually, we Catholics DO worship the consecrated "bread and wine". It is God, unlike any other substance on earth. "It is the source and summit of our faith" (CCC 1324-1327). For Evangelicals, here's an article about the Eucharist. Fr. Rohr takes the troublesome position of flattening out the Eucharist to be like all other created matter, or the reverse, raising up of all created matter to the level of the Eucharist.

Notice the Bible references peppered throughout Fr. Rohr's writing. They have little to do with the point he is trying to make, which is the erroneous view that Jesus is not talking about the Eucharist, but rather in ALL of creation.

The Catholic Church and the Bible are clear that there is a bright line between God and his creation:

God is infinitely greater than all his works: “You have set your glory above the heavens” (Ps. 8:2; cf. Sir. 43:28). Indeed, God’s “greatness is unsearchable” (Ps. 145:3). But because he is the free and sovereign Creator, the first cause of all that exists, God is present to his creatures’ inmost being: “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). In the words of St. Augustine, God is “higher than my highest and more inward than my innermost self” (St. Augustine, Cof. 3, 6, 11: PL 32, 688) (CCC 300).

We are not “God” by nature as Richard Rohr is teaching. We are partakers of the divine nature through our surrender to Jesus. And this is extremely significant for us to know. In the words of Pope St. Leo the Great, written more than 1,500 years ago (and found in CCC 1691):

Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.

We partake in the divine life of God conditional to our surrender to Jesus. We have further information on Pantheism in our article Richard Rohr and the Bible.

The power of the Eucharist vs. Life Energy (Prana, Chi, Universal Christ, etc.)

For Richard Rohr, the Eucharist is more about the people being the Body of Christ, than the Host being transubstantiated into the Eucharist. He fails to articulate that we come into communion with the Body of Christ by consuming his Body in the Consecrated Host. It seems he only mentions transubstantiation to crack jokes about it.

On the other hand he loves the life force energy (Chi, Prana, or Universal Christ) that runs through the material universe. However, like all of the material world, this energy was compromised during the fall of Lucifer (Lk 10:18) when he became the "ruler of this world" (John 12:31) before the fall of Man (Gen. 3).

I experienced Prana and Chi before surrendering to Jesus. Now I would not trade all of the life force energy in the physical universe for one drop of Jesus' blood in Communion, or one crumb of his Body in the Eucharist.

This is why the most powerful meditation is not the Buddhist practice of emptying the mind, or the Taoist practice of moving the Chi, or Hindu practice of observing the Prana, but rather, Eucharistic Adoration is the ultimate meditation, because it brings all focus back to Jesus. We have a full discussion on the Eucharist.

To Richard Rohr, a personal relationship with Jesus is selfish.

Privatized salvation never accumulates into corporate change because it attracts and legitimates individualists to begin with.” 
― Richard Rohr,  The Universal Christ:

Here Richard Rohr shames Christians who encounter Jesus, repent and follow him. He fails to acknowledge that every saint, mystic, and martyr had a personal salvatory encounter with Jesus before they became selfless. To Richard Rohr, there is no such thing as original sin, so individual repentance and salvation is meaningless and selfish.

Many serious Catholics dismiss Richard Rohr too quickly and don't recognize the threat, because his propositions are so illogical, anti-Catholic and counter to the Gospel of Jesus.

On the other hand, most liberal Catholics are attracted to him and don't care that his positions are inconsistent with the Bible or the doctrine of the Church because they don't see those sources as authoritative or divinely inspired, nor do they believe there is an intelligent malevolent force in the spiritual realm. They don't see the harm in saying "there is no such thing as sin and everyone is welcome to celebrate communion, regardless of their state in life." They ignore St. Paul's warning:

“Whoever eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily ... eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.” (I Cor. 11:27-30)

When we have an authentic conversion with Jesus, we want to serve the Church, not argue with it

I had no religion in my childhood. I met Jesus alone as an adult and he rescued me from evil in the spiritual realm that I encountered via the New Age, and Jesus loved me back to health. He drew me into the Church against the tide of the anti-Catholic culture. He is amazing, alive, and ready to help.

The difference for me was Jesus. The Bible says "you'll know a tree by its fruit" (Mat 7:15) I've met others who have had this life changing encounter with Jesus and there are common characteristics:

  • We love the Bible. The words leap off the page and we want to conform our lives to it. We don't want to argue with it, minimize it, or make it fit our previous world view.
  • We find ourselves attracted to chastity and want to reconcile our gender expression with the gender that God gave us at our conception.
  • We want to orient our sexual expression to the teachings of the Church. We don't want to change the Church to fit our previous expression.
  • We are attracted to Church doctrine and find it interesting, engaging and life giving. We don't argue with it.
  • We love of the Church like our Mother. When there is an attack on her from the outside or inside we feel as if someone is attacking our mother. 
  • We are less attracted to navel gazing on our neuroses and we find ourselves thinking about how we can help others.
  • We love Jesus and want to evangelize, not because we need people to agree with us, but rather because we have been changed by him, and we want others to be free.

Richard Rohr would not value any of these indicators of an authentic spiritual experience. He's constantly undermining the Bible, telling people to sexually express themselves as they see fit, fighting the Church on just about every sexual and doctrinal issues, he calls our love of the Church "tribal", and he advises people to let their subconscious drivers run the show. He advises Christians to not evangelize when talking to non Christians.

One one hand, my experience is that everything good comes from Jesus. On the other hand Richard Rohr is saying something like:

I'll give you fruits from all the religions of the world, just don't pay too much attention to Jesus. Instead seek the energy that he tapped into so you can have it for yourself. You can use him as an example on your journey if you like.

The Bible gives us a perfect example of how we should respond:

 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9 and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” (Mat. 4:10)

Conclusion: There doesn't seem to be one area where Fr. Richard Rohr doesn't deviate from Catholic teaching

Richard Rohr's spirituality is immature, idealistic, sentimental and overly emotional.

  • Richard Rohr has emptied Jesus of his central role of suffering and redemption, taking on our punishment, and saving us.
  • Says there is no evil in the spiritual realm.
  • Teaches that the devil doesn't exists and that hell is not real.
  • Teaches that Adam and Eve never existed nor that there ever was a fall.
  • Teaches that the Bible is not the word of God.
  • He doesn't accept that Peter was the first pope.
  • Teaches that the Church should never have had a hierarchy.
  • He teaches that same sex activity is fine.

One wonders why he stayed Catholic. Perhaps because it gives him a platform to try to pull the Church in a new direction. The Bible provides our response:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:8)

Wow! that is pretty dualistic!

Related Articles