Archdiocese releases statement on alleged visionary Charlie Johnston

Caution urged in face of claimed divine visions and messages  

The Archdiocese of Denver released a statement on the alleged visionary Charlie Johnston, urging the faithful to “exercise prudence and caution” with regard to his claims that he has received “divine visions and messages.”

The statement, released March 7, reveals that the archdiocese has conducted a preliminary investigation into the writings and speeches of Johnston that date back to 1998.

“Johnston claims to have received both visions and messages from the Blessed Mother, the Archangel Gabriel and other saints since he was young,” the statement discloses. “According to Mr. Johnston, the purpose of these visits was to train him to serve as a messenger for God and strengthen the faithful, particularly during a time of economic and moral upheaval, which he refers to as ‘The Storm.’

“In his writings and in person, Mr. Johnston also insists that the ‘prophetic’ aspects of his message are not essential and should not be the focus of those who follow him. However, it appears that those same predictions are what attract new followers to his message and give them a sense of urgency and zeal.”

Chancellor David Uebbing explained to the Denver Catholic that “the scope of the commission created to assess Mr. Johnston’s messages was limited to conducting a preliminary investigation. Should Archbishop Aquila later decide to launch a full-fledged investigation, the question of whether or not Mr. Johnston’s alleged visits from saints and angels are divine would be addressed. As a result of the preliminary investigation, Mr. Johnston will not be approved as a speaker in the Archdiocese of Denver.”

The full release is below.

Statement on the alleged visionary Mr. Charlie Johnston

On March 1, 2016, officials from the Archdiocese of Denver met with Mr. Charlie Johnston to inform him of the findings of a preliminary investigation into his writings and speeches. A special commission composed of two theologians and a canonist reviewed material from his blog, videos of presentations from various parts of the country, and an archive of writings detailing Mr. Johnston’s alleged visions as far back as 1998.

Mr. Johnston claims to have received both visions and messages from the Blessed Mother, the Archangel Gabriel and other saints since he was young. According to Mr. Johnston, the purpose of these visits was to train him to serve as a messenger for God and strengthen the faithful, particularly during a time of economic and moral upheaval, which he refers to as “The Storm.”

In his writings and in person, Mr. Johnston also insists that the “prophetic” aspects of his message are not essential and should not be the focus of those who follow him. However, it appears that those same predictions are what attract new followers to his message and give them a sense of urgency and zeal.

After hearing concerns and inquiries from Catholics throughout the United States and within the Archdiocese of Denver itself, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila decided to launch a preliminary investigation to advise him on the content of Mr. Johnston’s writings and presentations. It should be noted that the commission’s mandate did not include determining whether Mr. Johnston’s messages are divine in origin.

After reviewing the commission’s findings and in keeping with his pastoral office, Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver has decided to strongly advise the faithful to exercise prudence and caution in regards to Mr. Charlie Johnston’s alleged divine visions and messages. As has been demonstrated with other alleged apparitions, the danger exists of people placing greater faith in a prediction than in Christ’s words and promises.

For these reasons, Mr. Johnston will also not be approved as a speaker in the Archdiocese of Denver.

For those who are disappointed by this finding, the archdiocese encourages them to seek their security in Jesus Christ, the sacraments, and the Scriptures. The faithful should also remember Christ’s words: “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mt. 24:36).

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.