Richard Rohr stepping down from leadership roles after cancer diagnosis

Catholic priest and Franciscan friar Richard Rohr, known for his best-selling books on theology and meditation, speaking at the Science and Non-Duality Conference in 2017.
Catholic priest and Franciscan friar Richard Rohr, known for his best-selling books on theology and meditation, speaking at the Science and Non-Duality Conference in 2017. | Screengrab: YouTube/Science and Nonduality

Bestselling author and Catholic priest Richard Rohr is stepping away from leadership duties at his Center for Action and Contemplation, citing a recent cancer diagnosis.

Rohr, who is known for his popular theological books, helped to found the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Center in 1987, and has served in various roles for the organization since then.

In a statement released Thursday, the center explained that the 79-year-old Rohr was stepping away from his leadership role, taking on the position of “Core Faculty Emeritus.”

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“However, at this stage in his life, Richard’s desire is to create space for the rest of us to step in and carry his work forward into the future,” stated the center.

“For several years, he has been engaged with CAC leadership in a gradual process of stepping back from public life. He has significantly reduced his speaking, travel, and day-to-day involvement in programming, and invited other members of our staff and faculty to assume new responsibilities.”

The center also noted that Rohr was “retiring as both dean of our core faculty and as a voting member of the CAC’s Board of Directors,” and will “no longer assume any new or ongoing teaching commitments.”

According to a report by the Jesuit publication America, the announcement of Rohr stepping down from his various duties comes after a diagnosis of cancer in his lymph nodes months ago.

America quoted Rohr as saying that he was optimistic about his battle with cancer, with the Franciscan friar explaining that “all signs are positive” and he is “in good spirits.”

“I have done what was mine to do. May Christ teach you what is yours,” Rohr added.

Born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1943 to a devout Catholic family, Rohr decided to become a friar after reading a novel about Saint Francis of Assisi, eventually being ordained a priest in 1970.

Before founding the center in New Mexico, Rohr helped to found what a 2020 New Yorker piece labeled a “radical Christian community” in Cincinnati, Ohio, known as “New Jerusalem.”

A diverse array of ministries and worship gatherings centered on lay Catholics living in the Cincinnati area, New Jerusalem recently celebrated its fifth decade of existence.  

“Rohr is slight, with a white beard and the starry eyes of a person who spends long periods in silence,” the New Yorker described him. “Over the past four decades, he has gained a devoted following for his provocative vision of Christianity,”  

Rohr has authored several notable spiritual books, including The Naked Now, Falling Upward, Immortal Diamond, The Wisdom Pattern, as well as works on daily meditation practices.

In 2019, Rohr had the book The Universal Christ released, which was centered on showing a deep cosmic meaning on what it means for Jesus to be considered the Christ.

“Drawing on Scripture, history, and spiritual practice, Rohr articulates a transformative view of Jesus Christ as a portrait of God’s constant, unfolding work in the world. ‘God loves things by becoming them,’ he writes, and Jesus’ life was meant to declare that humanity has never been separate from God — except by its own negative choice,” noted the Amazon description for the book.

“When we recover this fundamental truth, faith becomes less about proving Jesus was God, and more about learning to recognize the Creator’s presence all around us, and in everyone we meet.”

Rohr is not without his critics. Michael McClymond an author and professor of modern Christianity at Saint Louis University, critiquedThe Universal Christ in a 2019 piece for The Gospel Coalition.

McClymond argued that the book had “muddled messages” on theology and took issue with various claims by Rohr, believing that his theological framework “never addresses the ethical problem — endemic to all monistic worldviews — of distinguishing good from evil.”

“For if ‘Christ’ is the Jewish girl hiding in her bedroom trying to escape detection, then ‘Christ’ is also the Nazi storm trooper kicking in the front door,” wrote McClymond. “Rohr might wish to identify with the youthful victim in this case, but what if I preferred to identify myself with the brutality of the storm trooper?”

“I see no escape from this ethical problem, unless Rohr either jettisons his premise of a ‘universal Christ,’ or embraces a ‘universal Christ’ who is both good and evil, merciful and merciless. If he admits that not everything is Christ, his argument collapses. But the alternative is to assert that Christ is evil as well as good."  

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