As many of Buchman’s Protestant clergy followers abandoned Moral Re-Armament and its squishy theology, the Catholic Church maintained its official opposition to the group. Starting in the 1930s when the cult was known as the Oxford Group, Catholic bishops objected to its Protestant (Lutheran) origins, its claim that all religions were equally compatible with it, and its practices including Guidance.
“The group movement is so tainted with indifferentism, with the error that one religion is as good as another, that no Catholic can join it to take any active part in it or co-operate with it formally.”
– Cardinal Hinsley, Archbishop of Westminster, 1938
A 1946 review of the group under its new name Moral Re-Armament yielded a nearly word-for-word identical statement, but this time appended with the following sentence: “Catholics should be warned not to attend their meetings or gatherings, even as spectators.” In 1955 and 1957 the Vatican formally banned MRA allegiance among Catholic clergy worldwide.
The Roman Catholic Church indicated today that it was in sympathy with the aims and purposes of the Moral Re-Armament movement but that Catholics should beware of collaborating with it.
The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano recalled that secular and regular clergy were forbidden to attend any meeting of Moral Re-Armament and that lay Catholics were forbidden to serve it in any responsible capacity.
These prohibitions were issued in 1955 by the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, which is in charge of all matters pertaining to faith and morals. L’Osservatore reminded Catholics that both prohibitions were still in force.
– The New York Times, December 10, 1957
In 1960, after some Benedictine monks addressed at an MRA crowd at Caux, Switzerland, the cult tried to portray this unlicensed participation as proof of Vatican endorsement for the heterodox cult.
The publicity department of MRA made a big show here in the United States. In addition to mimeographed sheets, they distributed a pamphlet entitled “Swiss Catholics Welcome Moral Re-Armament”. High church authorities were quoted in praise of the movement. The implication was that it is all right for Catholics to participate in MRA…
This fact shows plainly that the Holy See has not changed its attitude with respect to Catholics and MRA. This incident is a sample of how misleading MRA publicity can be.
– MORAL RE-ARMAMENT and the CATHOLIC LAY APOSTOLATE, Thomas L. Noa, D.D., Bishop of Marquette, 1961
As Buchman shifted his group from “winning souls” to dodging war service, and as he dropped mentions of Christ in favor of appealing to Muslim and Buddhist adherents, he lost the respectability that pastoral members like Rev. Sam Shoemaker lent his cult. At the same time, politically connected members and interested lurkers like US Senator Harry S. Truman distanced themselves. As that respectability declined, open criticism of the group increased.
For — to sum up the main criticisms — MRA is irrational in its mystique and authoritarian in its methods; it rejects free discussion; it practises with insufficient discrimination the dangerous, and often deadly, doctrine that the end justifies the means; and, by seeming to proclaim the possibility of instant perfection, it raises hopes that cannot be fulfilled. In short, it is essentially non-Christian and anti-democratic.
– The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament; A Study of Frank Buchman and His Movement, Tom Driberg, 1965