A Catholic church in England has barred a “spiritual yoga” class from its church hall on the grounds that the class organizer misled the church and that the class is “not compatible” with the Catholic faith.
“Yoga is a Hindu spiritual exercise. Being a Catholic church we have to promote the Gospel and that’s what we use our premises for,” Father John Chandler, a priest at St. Edmund’s Church in Southampton, told the British newspaper The Sun.
He said there is a problem with a “different religious practice going on in a Catholic church,” but the action does not mean the church is saying “that yoga is bad or wrong.”
“On one hand we say to our parishioners ‘be strong in your faith,’ and on the other hand there’s this other religious belief that’s not part of our faith,” Fr. Chandler said.
The church canceled instructor Cori Withell’s booking for a yoga and Pilates class 10 days before they were to start.
She told The Sun her class focused on exercise, not meditation.
“Yoga is not religious: spiritual, but not religious,” she said. “I do not object to anyone having a religious viewpoint, but it seemed terribly petty to cancel the classes.”
The priest said the church was “misled” by the booking because the hall was first booked for Pilates before it learned about the spiritual yoga.
A spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth said it is not possible for Catholic premises to be used for non-Christian activities. There is a “dilemma with yoga” because it can be seen as “Hindu meditation or as relaxation.”
The spokesman said there is no national policy on yoga in churches and the decisions rest with each priest.
The Catholic bishops of various countries such as Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have at times cautioned against or even condemned yoga.
However, the Vatican has only rarely touched upon the topic. An October 15, 1989 letter to the Catholic bishops from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, said efforts to harmonize Christian meditation with eastern techniques must be subjected to a thorough examination “to avoid the danger of falling into syncretism,” which says that contradictory beliefs can be held.