Saturday 21 January 2012

Is "The Way" leading Catholics astray?

I first encountered the Neo-Catechumenal Way  (NCW) about eight years ago. What initially made me curious about it was how secretive the members were about what went on in their closed, private services. I was puzzled as to why a local Catholic family who were clearly more than Catholics In Name Only went miles away to a parish that wasn't a Latin Mass parish (the only reason I'd ever found for people to travel long distances to Mass when there were plenty of local churches) and why they only ever went to Mass on Saturday night. I wanted to find out more about what they called "The Way" but I wasn't getting any information from the members... so I went to the Internet and found some information, and a lot of opinion. I  didn't like the sound of much of what I found but felt that the sources all had an axe to grind. What I wanted was to hear about the Neo-Catechumenal Movement (NCM) directly from Neo-Catchumenates themselves.

Fast forward six or so years. By this time I'd met many other Neo-Cat families but all had the same degree of caginess about talking their community. I found this odd -- I genuinely wanted to know more about them from them not from a secondary source. Also, most Catholics I know who are keen on their faith, are also eager to share - to evangelise. If you have a great parish, don't you invite people to Mass with you? If you're onto a good thing - and a good thing in this situation can save souls - don't you want to share it? In the case of the NeoCats I met - apparently not. Apparently this isn't uncommon - the NCM recruits from outside the Church, not from within.

In addition to the Neo-Catechumenal families I've met over the years, we've also had two aupairs from the Neo-Catechumenal movement. One wasn't fully "in" yet - although her mother had been a member for several years. The second is a fully signed member, several years into her journey, with her own "community" in her home country, and who found a temporary "community" to take her in while she was living in London. The first aupair - the one who hadn't yet committed to "The Way" was very positive about it, but limited in her knowledge: even though she had been to some Neocatechumenal "Eucharists" with her mother there were many things that she couldn't know unless she was to commit to joining "The Way". In her mid 20s and perspicacious, I felt that she was a very reliable witness. The second aupair was some eight years younger and full of enthusiasm for "The Way". She talked about how special it was to sing and dance around "the table decorated with flowers" (altar to you and me) and how all the children look forward to being able to bring the flowers home afterwards. But other things that she said gave me the heebie jeebies, although she obviously saw nothing wrong with them. The first was that her family rarely went to Mass together. Three of the children have their "own" separate Neo-Catechumenal communities, and the mother went to another with the youngest children. The father went to Mass alone in the "normal" (i.e. parish) church as he hadn't joined "The Way" : so that's five different Masses for a family of 7, and the assumption is that the younger children will eventually join their own communities which would make 7 different Masses!  At Christmas and Easter the family would go to Mass together in the local parish church, but the rest of the time they were fractured - at different services in different rooms often in the same building. She told me that even when a church is available, they prefer to meet in a small plain meeting room and use a table instead of the altar.

In 2005 Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments wrote a letter to Kiko Arguello, Carmen Hernandez and Fr Mario Pezzi (a member of the international team responsible for the Neo-Catechumenal Way) outlining serious concerns about irregularities in the way the NCM celebrated the sacred liturgy. Dated December 1, 2005, the letter begins:
“Following the conversations with this Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist in the communities of the Neocatechumenal Way, in keeping with the guidelines issued in the meeting with you on November 11 of this year, I am to inform you of the Holy Father’s decisions.”

The main points were that:
• The Neo-Catechumenal Way must enter into dialogue with the diocesan bishop in order to make it clear that the community of the Neo-Catechumenal Way is incorporated into the parish — even in the context of the liturgical celebrations. At least one Sunday per month, the communities of the Neo-Catechumenal Way must participate in the Holy Mass of the parish — community 
• As for any admonitions issued before the readings, these must be brief.
• On the exchange of peace, permission is granted to the Neo-Catechumenal Way to continue using the indult already granted, pending further instructions. [In the NCW Eucharist, the Kiss of Peace occurs before the beginning of the Offertory.] 
• On the manner of receiving Holy Communion, a period of transition (not exceeding two years) is granted to the Neo-Catechumenal Way to pass from the widespread manner of receiving Holy Communion in its communities (seated, with a cloth-covered table placed at the center of the church instead of the dedicated altar in the sanctuary) to the normal way in which the entire Church receives Holy Communion.
It seems that six years later nothing has changed. the Neo-Catechumenal way has not changed the way it receives Holy Communion (Kiko Aguilla the founder of the NCM said that sacrifice has no place in the Mass: "“Perhaps God requires the blood of His Son, His Sacrifice, to appease Himself? But what kind of a God have we done [sic]? We have arrived to think that God appeases His Wrath in the sacrifice of His Son in the manner of the pagan gods"), still encourages rambling "admonitions" (or personal reflections before and after the readings), and the NCM is no more integrated into the host parishes than it was in 2006. Furthermore, non-members of the NCM are not allowed to come to "Eucharist" (the term "Mass" is not approved of, because of the connotations of sacrifice).

Why do I care about this? There are loads of different "flavours" within Catholicism - I don't waste time moaning about folk masses, or evangelical groups, or even grey-muddy-beige novus-ordo parishes. But I think that the Neocatechumenal Movement (NCM) is different for many reasons, most of them worrying. 

[1] the NCM functions in a cult-like way. Note, I am not saying that the NCM is a cult, but it does use protocols similar to techniques that cults use to recruit and retain members, namely - separation of the individual from friends and family, creepy psychological techniques (public confession of sins and failings ["tell the group the worst thing you've ever done"] followed by "love bombing" to bond the individual to the group), 

[2] the NCM creates loyalty to "The Way" not to the Catholic Church, in fact many church teachings are derided or dismissed. The NCM belief is that the Catholic Church has become polluted with superstition and paganism over the centuries and "The Way" can show individuals how to worship as Christ intended. It might seem unbelievable that a respectable "new movement" could ride rough-shod over church doctrine, but Kiko is on record as saying 
“So we’ve got the assembly that meets. Nobody thought in terms of an individual rite. The Hebrews cannot celebrate a Passover unless there are at least eleven people in the family. For the sacrament is not only the bread and wine but also the assembly, the whole Church which proclaims the Eucharist. Without this assembly proclaiming the Eucharist there can be no Eucharist.” (source: The Neo-Catechumenal Way Gathers No Moss)
As Mark Alesso, member of the Neo-Catechumenal Way for 7 years and former NCM seminarian,says "Without this assembly proclaiming the Eucharist there can be no Eucharist. To the NCW founders, there is no intrinsic value to the Mass. It receives its power and its very reason for being from the assembly. A priest saying Mass by himself in order to make reparation to God and implore blessings for the world might just as well be playing solitaire." and notes that "[i]n the world-view of the NCW founders, the Mass quickly degenerated from a fervent and inspired banquet of praise to a static, superstitious routine filled with destructive images of “sacrifice.” Thankfully, the NCW founders happened along in the 20th Century to take over and set the Church back on course, via a “Eucharist” (the NCW founders seem to scorn the term, “Mass”) which at-tempts to recover the supposed joy of the primitive Christian “banquets.”

[3] A cult of personality built around Kiko himself: . I've heard many oddly gushing descriptions of Kiko the living saint, however what really brought this home to me was our young NCM aupair describing World Youth Day 2010 in Madrid. "Did you see the Holy Father?" I asked . "Yes" she replied "were were at his Mass but the next day we actually got to see Kiko - you know, the founder of the Neocatechumenal Way, we saw him in person, and that was wonderful". Pope - ho hum. Kiko - life changing experience. Hmmm...

See also 

If you wanted to destroy the Church from within, you couldn't find a better weapon than an ostensibly Catholic organisation that used persuasive psychological techniques to recruit and retain new members, whilst "recatechising" them and subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) undermining some of the most basic tenets of the faith. Tell them that to kneel is superstitious, and have them receive Our Lord sitting down. Tell them that the idea of the Mass being a bloodless sacrifice is a pagan pollution of Jesus's intention. Reject the idea of a priesthood, of altars, of altar stones: in Kiko's words
"“In Christianity there is no temple, no altar, no priest in the sense of religiosity .... The temple in Christianity are the Christians ... Neither are there altars in the sense of sacred stones which no one can touch or go near to .... Nor do we have priests in the sense of people whom we pick out from among men so that in our name they may get in contact with the Godhead. Because our priest, who intercedes for us, is Christ. And since we are His Body we are all priests.”" (Source:Where do Rome and the Neo-Catechumenal Way Stand In 2006?)
Denigrate the "Real Presence" by calling it a "problem" as Carmen does. 
Described as “an obsession as to whether Christ was in the bread and wine,” this problem was caused, says Carmen, by the theologians of the 16th Century, whose work she dismisses as “mental gymnastics with little biblical experience of where the Eucharist stems from.” So much for the theologians of Trent and the infallible dogmas of the Council of Trent! Carmen continues, letting us know in no certain terms where her doctrinal allegiance lies:“The mystery is centered in the Presence; the Protestants say this, Calvin says this. And the Catholic Church gets such an obsession over the Presence that for the Church the whole thing becomes the real Presence.”The NCW “Eucharist” is the perfect vehicle by which to give form to Kiko and Carmen’s liturgical agenda, an agenda based on a willful rejection of infallible Catholic doctrine that Catholics must believe for salvation. Jesus Christ is mentioned very often in the NCW Saturday night liturgy, but it is the men and women of the NCW communities who rule therein. In fact by the time one gets through the admonitions and the post-Gospel “sharing,” the distribution of the bread and wine seems like an afterthought."  (Mark Alessio, former NCW seminarian and member for 7 years)

Believe it or not, this is a First Holy Communion. photo: Rorate-Caeli

Yes, you read that right. The founder of the NCM is agreeing with Calvin and the Protestants on the subject of the Real Presence. They wilfully reject infallible Catholic doctrine. This would explain why they have no qualms using a normal baked loaf (to Kiko's recipe - two parts white flour to one part wholemeal: very similar to what my bread machine churns out every morning) to celebrate "Eucharist" and have no worries about the crumbs scattered everywhere.
While you were at it you might want to denigrate the priesthood further by removing the priest's communion from the "Banquet"  and have him wait until everyone has been served then  "eat the bread" at the same time as everyone else in a symbolic gesture of community.

How can this be described as Catholic? How can this be tolerated  -  and indeed, approved -  when it's still virtually impossible to get TLM celebrated in many dioceses, despite Summorum Pontificum?

I suspect the answer is numbers: there are over 40000 Neo-Catechumenal communities world-wide. Each of these has 20-30 members. Assuming an average of 25 that would make 1 million members of the neocatechumenate world wide. The vast majority of these are converts or reverts, so "new" Catholics. Clearly the NCM is good for the balance sheet: but will they translate into members of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church or will they remain a sort of internal separated brethren, members of the "Church of Kiko and Carmen"? 

Kiko has described the Neo-Catechumenal Way as being the fruit of the Second Vatican Council. I think it's fair to say that the success of the NCM is the result of the failure of mainstream Catholicism to reach out to souls hungry for contact with Our Lord, and that this failure can be directly attributed to the spiritual fallout from the "Spirit" of Vatican 2: relativism, lack of confidence, discarding of tradition, watering down the Faith, heterodoxy.

I have no axe to grind against individual members of the NCM, indeed I thought long and hard before writing this as there are many, many individuals in the NCM whom I hold in very high esteem as fundamentally decent people and exemplary Christians. I suspect that most of the ordinary members are attracted to the NCM because the movement has a confidence and an insistence on Truth that many ordinary Catholic parishes lack  What worries me is that, by being told that they're learning "The Way" - defined as something separate from the Catechism of the Catholic Church - which sets them apart from "mainstream Catholics":  they're being deprived of the full truth and the awesome beauty of the bloodless sacrifice of the Holy Mass. They're taught that mainstream Catholicism is tainted with pagan superstitions: the Protestant Truth Society couldn't come out with better anti-Catholic rhetoric than some of what Kiko has written.

As the former NCM seminarian puts it " The problem is that so many of the NCW members are men and women who had once been far away from the Church. The “Church of Kiko & Carmen” is either the only one they know, or the only one whose heads have spoken to them with fire and conviction. Thus, they believe that “the Way” is really and truly .... The Way. Period."

And that's what I think should set the alarm bells ringing.


  1. An excellent and very interesting and informative post, thank you!

    I, too, have grave concerns about the NCW. I truly think that it is a 'Church within the Church' or, more properly, 'a heterodox new religious movement within the Church'.

    They might be able to attract converts and vocations, but at what cost?

    Having said that. I do know a couple of priests who gained their vocation via The Way, but who seem totally orthodox in liturgical matters. They seem to have assimilated into the universal Church - even if I doubt I'll ever see them celebrate an old Rite Mass! I guess they're also still members of the NCW?

    Thanks again, Annie.


  2. To my mind, and from meeting some of its members several years ago, the NCM is diabolical because divisive at the heart of what constitutes Church, The Eucharist ( The Holy Sacrifice of The Mass).

  3. Fascinating post. I knew little about NCW, so have learned a lot here.

  4. Hi,

    I translated your page for our blog about NCW (Italian language). Everywhere in the world the NCW always produces the same bad results.

    Let me add a few notes.

    First, the letter from Arinze (English text here) starts and ends recommending NCW to follow liturgical books only. The letter (Dec 01, 2005) and the following Benedict XVI speech (Jan 10, 2006: «I am sure you will attentively observe those norms...») which confirmed it, are now part of the NCW Statute (art.13, comma 3, note 49) approved by a Pontifical Council in 2008.

    The «Holy Father's decisions» were again confirmed on Jan 20, 2012: «the celebration in the small communities — regulated by the liturgical books that must be faithfully followed...»

    Here in Italy it is no secret that NCW has great power (even to make BXVI apparently support it; but if you read his speech, you always find out "liturgical books that must be faithfully followed"...).

    Funny, in late 2005 NCW spokesman Giuseppe Gennarini at first tried to prohibite to publish the letter, then said it was "private" for Kiko-Carmen-Pezzi, and then tried even to say that it never existed. Have a look at Jimmy Akin's articles about "Neocatechumenal spin": link1, link2, link3

    You may also want to have a look at some English language documents.

  5. Neocatecumenal way is a real dangerous sect!
    Everywehre on the world, they was discovered on same attitudes, same lyturgie, same system to keep adept to introduce in theyr "washing brain" system.
    The confused and fragmented today's Church don't recognise this penetrated wound on bodie's Church and pope and many bishop don't want stop this "way".
    It's a real mysterium! We must pray to solve this and many other problems of our catholic Church.

    On Italy, on Spain, Portugal, Brasil and other many country, there is a reaction against this neocatecumenal way; but all reaction are starting from simple believers, not from priest or bishop.

    The only reaction, on the world, for good quantity of bishop, was on Japan.
    Some bishop went to Rome to explane what danger,what division was introduced from neocat. way.
    But they obtained suspension of neocat. system, only...It's a very deep and bad problem on the catholic world.
    They falsify the catholic faith for better understanding and acceptance, so many ignorant people could accept theyr lyturgie and strange theory on lyturgie.
    For this reason they want go to not-christian country, with theyr large family: to introduce to other people this adapted and deviated catholic faith.My large experience on Asian could tell it. Because it's easier than other catholic or christian country !
    Thank you for patience to read my elementary english.

  6. First off, you are completely misguided and misinformed regarding the NCW. I've grown up in the NCW and am now in my 30s and can attest to the fact that if it wasn't for being in the NCW I wouldn't have been able to get through extremely difficult moments in my life (and no, it's not something I've been brainwashed to think!!). I"ve been able to stay very close to the word of God and the support of the members of my community through these difficult moments both physically being there and praying for me helped me to see the love of God through the untimely death of my father, the diagnosis of my brain tumor, 4 brain surgeries and the diagnosis of my son with autism.
    To clarify your first misunderstanding, people may travel to parishes further away because they want to be a member of the NCW and their local parish doesn't have a community. Not every parish has been open to a catechesis (a series of meetings that results in the formation of a community that will meet together to pray and grow in faith together like the early Church). Why is that a problem?
    Also, I'm rather surprised about those families you met being so secretive because in fact, at a catechesis, the "stages" of the Way are explained and the Eucharists are open to anyone to wants to come. I'm not exactly sure what you're interested in knowing...
    This business about families being separated...there may be Saturday nights when some communities have their own Eucharist if several priests are available to celebrate with each of them. In these in instances, if older children are in their own communities they would go with their own community. This has all been placed into cannon law. Everything we are doing is valid and you are nit-picking. One thing everyone doesn't seem to understand is that everyone is FREE. You aren't forced to do anything. Noone is taking attendance. If youre missing for awhile people may call you to see how youre doing out of concern but not to tell you that youre going to be kicked out if you dont come back!!
    Mark Alessio was a member of the NCW in my parish. He left angry so his testimony can be taken with a grain of salt. Of course if you are bitter about something you are going to speak out against it!!
    We do call our "table" an alter that is treated with reverence and the actual alter is used in many instances. When other tables are used it is to create more communion among the assembly which is something that has been lost in many parishes ( not all). The proper linens are used and adorned with flowers (yes, that can be taken home after the Eucharist is over).
    I'm not sure what answers you're looking for but before you start to bash something, you need to make sure you understand it first. The NCW is not a cult. We are fully integrated members in the parish who contribute to the parish. If the Popes have/do approve of us (after much scrutiny), everyone needs to back off and stop reading posts from angry members that have left or people that arent getting what they want!!
    I hope I've clarified some of youre misconceptions. The NCW all over the world has helped many people come back to the church and has helped people who have been in the church for many years grow stronger in their faith.

    1. Thanks nohopelost. I'm a member of NCW now for 1.5 years. It's been a Godsend for me and my family (3 young daughters)

  7. Dear Nohopelost - thank you for your comments which I think make fair points, but don't fully address my concerns. Since writing this piece I've had even more contact with the NCW and the same questions remain: your comments themselves contains one of the points that concern me most namely that you say that even after a lifetime in the NCW it is the NCW that helped you through difficult points in your life, not Holy Mother Church. I thought that the whole point of the NCW was that it was a finite process of catechesis and that once it was completed the (former) members of the NCW would integrate into ordinary parish life as well-informed witnesses to the Faith.

    I think my primary concern is that the NCW runs the risk of becoming a "church within a church" and therefore somehow separate from the Catholic church as a whole. I'm not sure that the same can be said for other groupings within the Church - the traditionalist movement, Youth 2000, Opus Dei and so forth. I also have concerns about whether the liturgical abuses that the NCW were given two years to correct back in 2009 or 2010 have been corrected -- in particular the consecration of ordinary leavened bread. I would be glad to hear that these things have been corrected.

    I am also still deeply uncomfortable by the fact that families separate off into groups for Mass, only coming together at special times. I think that the NCW liturgical norms appeal much more to women than to men, and have seen fathers drifting away as a result of the feminised Mass -- although my sample size is admittedly small.

    I am not comfortable with the universal reception of Holy Communion in the hand in the NCW and the fact that nobody kneels during the consecration, which when combined with the fact that unleavened bread is used smacks of a lack of reverence.

    I know many NCW families and individuals and whist I think that they are wonderful Christian witnesses and admirable people, I'm not completely convinced that they're on board as part of the mystical body of Christ in union with the whole church.

  8. The Neo-Cats are Protestants. The foundation documents of the movement contrain explicit Lutheran doctrines and show a total contempt for the 2,000 years of the Church before the Council. Any Catholic Pope would suppress it immediately.