The prosperity gospel is infiltrating Catholic churches
The prosperity gospel – the idea that God will reward people who donate to their church – has long been influential among Pentecostal and charismatic movements in the global south. But in many parts of Africa it is now finding its way into the Catholic Church too.
Last month a senior bishop raised the alarm. Bishop Ignace Bessi Dogbo of Katiola (pictured), president of the Ivory Coast’s bishops’ conference, said such ideas were “ravaging our churches” and were no less than a heresy. It is not uncommon, he said, whether on radio or billboards, to see miracles being promised and “prosperity offered with waves of a magic wand”. Even Catholic priests were promoting such practices, he said.
A similar warning was made in July by Fr Donald Zagore, a member of the Society of African Missions. Writing in France’s La Croix daily, he urged the Church to take “urgent, wide-ranging measures”, saying that the “essentials of Catholic faith are being corrupted more and more by [a] pagan Christianity”. He described how it had become common for a “liturgy of money” to begin after the post-Communion prayer at Mass, during which the faithful were urged to donate.
Meanwhile in Rwanda, the government has closed 1,381 Pentecostal prayer houses – as well as mosques and Catholic churches – ostensibly to counter “unscrupulous individuals [who] defrauded innocent followers”. In Ivory Coast the bishops’ conference has set up a hotline to help protect against “swindlers and impostors”. They have advised “prudence and vigilance” against those claiming to solicit donations on behalf of the Church.
For Bishop Dogbo, theologians also have a duty to safeguard the Church against false teaching. In his address in Yamoussoukro last month he urged them to provide “a rampart against such excesses” and ensure that “spiritual fervours” did not spill over into “tendencies closer to heresy”.
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