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“We have to be careful who gets their hands on it”

And what is it, you wonder?

(Image: Carl E. Olson)

Why, the Catechism of the Catholic Church of course!

Over the past few weeks, the Catechism has been trending here and there for a couple of reasons. First, Benedict XVI’s death, which prompted folks to recall the Catechism as part of his legacy. Secondly, the Catechism in a Year podcast, which is proving to be as popular as the Bible in a Year podcast. Both are in the top 12 Apple Podcasts as I write, and I know the Catechism edition was #1 for at least a few days when it started at the beginning of the month.

Aren’t we so grateful to Pope Benedict for the Catechism? What a gift! What would we do without it!

Well, I am here to offer, as I like to do, a little bit of historical context. In case you didn’t know it, the Catechism was strongly resisted when it was first promulgated in 1992. This article from Homiletic and Pastoral Review was published near the beginning of the process and reflects the environment:

The sense of published responses to the Catechism by individuals long associated with what might be called “the catechetical establishment” have ranged from serious caveats to shrill alarms. One can see a weather reporter pointing grimly to the arrival of a wintry blast of dangerous storm patterns on the weather map. Some have suggested that the Catechism not be distributed widely to the faithful, that it is not designed for classroom use, that it is only a set of guidelines and certainly not a text to be read at home, that it is only a framework for adaptation and not the result of the adaptation, that it represents merely one ecclesiology among many rather than the fruit of the Council. We are told far more about what the Catechism is not, than what it is, what we are not to do, than what we might do. At this point we are ready to put on a trench coat and flee for the hurricane shelter.

The whole thing was so fraught, an entire book was written about it, titled Flawed Expectations: The Reception of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press, 1996). You can actually access the entire text here – as it says, Ignatius Press took it out print, so the content is online here with their permission.

This is something I experienced myself. At on point during those years, I was in a diocesan meeting of parish Directors of Religious Education. The bishop of that diocese was there and the topic was the forthcoming Catechism. He said to us, We have to be careful who gets their hands on this.

The diocesan Director of Religious Education, a religious sister, agreed: We have to make it clear that it’s for pastoral ministers, not the laity. If they think of it as something for them, they’re going to start comparing our programs with what they read in the Catechism. 

As my mother used to say, You think I’m making that up.

I’m not.

It was one more element in the anti-John Paul II/Cardinal Ratzinger gestalt among church professionals at the time, which was widespread and assumed to be normal. It was difficult to publicly articulate hostility to John Paul II, because he was so popular, although I did hear this same diocesan director saying something about ….when this Pope dies, as she prepared to lead us in the prayer service she’d written, lighting the candles atop the kente runner on the conference room table.

But Ratzinger, of course, was easy and practically required for them to hate – hate, along with every bit of his thought, from theology to liturgy. Understanding this will help you understand the mindset of those of that generation who are still in Church leadership.

If I had to summarize the mindset I’d say…Why are so you childish that you need to be told what to believe rather than exploring your own mature vision of faith? Oh, exploring includes that book? Nope, sorry. Not for you.

It’s from the same family of ideas as: We’re a listening Church….oh, but not to you. Also: Sensus Fidelium for everyone! Hmmm, that thing over there is getting kind of popular. We should probably shut it down.

(Editor’s note: This post appeared originally on the “Charlotte was Both” blog and is reposed here in slightly different form with the kind permission of the author.)


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About Amy Welborn 27 Articles
Amy Welborn is the author of over twenty books on Catholic spirituality and practice, and has written extensively on gender issues at her blog, Charlotte was Both.

31 Comments

  1. I disagreed with the skepticism on the catechism. It has a useful and clever structure, and the summaries are helpful. That said, it isn’t a perfect document. It is a summary. Contradiction and confusion didn’t begin in 2013. There are some variances with liturgical law and sacramental theology. It’s a good first word, but a serious scholar will trace the footnotes and references to the source of the words.

  2. I’m still waiting for a priest to give a homily on the Catechism or even mention it in passing, but it’s not surprising given the arbitrary, uneven and often erroneous means of RCIA instruction at various parishes within our dioceses.

    Despite our best efforts, people still convert to Catholicism but many more cradle Catholics leave the church.

  3. Great article, Miss Amy.

    I read this book way back in the early 2000s. I was just stunned by the opposition to the CCC. (I also recommend Msgr. Wrenn’s “Catechisms and Controversies”.)

    I would encounter DREs who would flatly deny certain doctrines of the Faith. When I pointed to the CCC why they were wrong they just remained silent. (It wasn’t long afterwards I was dismissed from teaching CCD.)

    If anyone is interested, I have two copies of “Flawed Expectations” and would be happy to pass one along.

  4. I am 65 and so lived through much of the immediate past history of the Church. Brief as it is. I agree with the comment about hushed hostility toward JPII. It was real. It was fierce but submerged. It was let lose on Benedict XVI apparently after having so many years to opine negatively about him. Francis I is highly regarded and working hard to undo the ‘turn back’ by his previous two popes. So much for my assessment of the the more liberal and older parishioners by me. I certainly never heard the CCC referred to in any homily. So its restrictions real or just understood may be the way it is. We do us it and refer to it in our RCIA process. We have for +20 years. I am not smart enough to find faults in it. I am glad it is clearly written. I tell our RCIA candidates and catechumens, the bible is written by God. It has no index. You have read it, pray about it and seek understanding. The CCC is the bible written by men. It is indexed and sorted to make it easy, not better. The CCC is unlikely to lead you to salvation, but it wasn’t supposed to.

  5. Fear of truth seems to be the “felt banner” of the left, always pushing the world towards the demons wandering throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.
    The catechism is a great tool, as are so many learning teaching elements.

    St Michael, the Archangel, pray for us!

  6. Well, I am here to offer, as I like to do, a little bit of historical context. In case you didn’t know it, the Catechism was strongly resisted when it was first promulgated in 1992

    In the aftermath of 9/11, I started taking my faith, more seriously, and so I offered to help out with my territorial parishes RCIA program. When I suggested to the DRE that we use the catechism, or a catechism based on it, you would have thought I’d suggested poisoning the pastor.

    “It’s not intended for the laity … It changes all the time … Our job isn’t to turn them into theologians … We aren’t using the catechism.”

    Great piece, Amy!

  7. I knew an older nun who really did have an authentic love for the poor & those on the margins of society. She walked the walk & made things happen. But she expressed some thoughts on JPII that were pretty unfortunate. It always made me feel a disconnect in our conversations.
    It works that way when I hear similar things said about Pope Francis.
    There’s an old saying ” Least said, soonest mended.” The hierarchy are human beings & as such can be confusing & disappointing. Truthfully, Pope Francis has been a puzzlement to me but when we don’t speak in charity about others it undermines our good works.

  8. I did experience this.People actually did not want the catechism used for RCIA. JP11 at the same time Put into practice RCIA for those who were entering the Catholic Church.
    Obviously Priest lay People did not want to follow the true teachings of the Church.
    It was about CONTRACEPTION morality divorce and on and on and on…
    surprised me. Also RCIA instruction,was not opened to those in the congregation who would like to attend, simply to learn more about their faith..

    • That’s a pity. The Roman Catechism admits it’s own limitations, ie. That it is treating of faith as “knowledge” only, and not of a number of other aspects of faith. That was during the time of the reformation, and so faith as knowledge (of the propositions of faith)was given priority. Faith was defined simply as “assent to all that God has revealed and all that the Church teaches.”

      More recently, the Holy Spirit has been saying to the churches that faith is indeed that, and also much more than that. We do well to discover the “more”.

      • Dear Miss Carole,

        If the “more” is something like the German Bishops Conference is promoting (the acceptance of homose*uality, transgenderism,… et al) a Catholic may doubt that it is the Holy Spirit.

        BTW, what you quote from the Roman Catechism is also in JPII’s & Benedict’s Catechism (CCC 1814).

    • As a sidenote, Bishop Athanasius Schneider highly recommends the Roman Catechism along with that of Pope Pius X and other pre-concilliar versions.

    • What you label as “modernism” are likely representative of authentic and orthodox advances made in theological development in the last century (St. John Henry Newman, anyone?) across the any number of sectors. Heresy?! Cite one or two instances. You’ll be wrong. Your assertion amounts to libel against the magisterium.

  9. Amy Welborn markedly explains how the Catholic left, now ever more Woke created an informal index of forbidden literature. It’s similar to the selective approval of Christ, rejection of the complete reality. Consistent with the oppressive new paradigm ideology infecting Christianity. Christ the savior of the environment.

  10. It can safely be assumed that any “Theological Establishment” (Ch. 6 under the link to “Flawed Expectations”) which undoubtedly assumes Proportionalism (vs. Pope John Paul II’s “Veritatas Splendor”), will be allergic to catechetical, dogmatic statements about the objective nature of sin, as well as their embrace of hyper-historical biblical criticism, vs. Pope Benedict XVI’s synthesis of historo-critical and Patristic interpretation.

  11. Two comments related to the Catechism: an earlier conversion story, and something about the fetid environment of today:

    FIRST, for those interested in how well-received the Apostolic Tradition used to be received, we can consider the testimony of the prolific novelist, Frances Parkinson Keyes who, still a few years prior to the Council, said this of her conversion:

    “At the same time that I was absorbing the essential joyousness of Catholicism as contrasted to the essential austerity of Puritanism, I was also observing the unswerving policy of the Catholic Church in regard to what, for lack of a better expression, might be called basic decency. With this, so I discovered, it never compromised. In the midst of a confused and chaotic world it remained steadfast in its attitude not only toward the famous Seven Deadly Sins, but toward degeneracy and depravity in any form. It declined to countenance lewd literature or debased dramatics. It stood unswervingly for the permanence and sanctity of family life. It encouraged and upheld its children’s groping efforts to achieve and maintain a state of grace, guiding and forgiving, but never condoning.”

    SECOND, that was in the late 1940s, before the 1962-65 Council and before Catechism stuff was gang-raped by McCarrick & Co. and now by Hollerich’s signaled intent to bury it—sexual abuse yesterday and now textual abuse! Today, this:

    ONE now meaning circular Russian roulette instead of Unity;
    HOLY meaning wholly sociological accommodation instead of sacramentally graced Reconciliation;
    APOSTOLIC meaning bishop “facilitators” rather than Bishop “Witnesses;” and
    CATHOLIC meaning a synodal plebiscite rather than a divinely commissioned Church.

    No wonder the 1992 Catechism was resisted! In the Introduction, we find the following:
    “This Catechism aims at presenting an organic synthesis of the essential and fundamental contents of Catholic doctrine, as regards both faith and morals, in the light of the Second Vatican Council, and the whole of the Church’s Tradition.” For those interested in the 1997 fine-tuning of the supposedly “flawed” Catechism, here’s a link to the edits: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/updates.htm

  12. “It’s not intended for the laity”. I wasn’t paying attention when this sort of assessment/insult was making the rounds but I see now that I lived in its shadow. Well, Fr. Mike Schmitz’s Catechism in a Year most assuredly is intended for the laity. Let’s see. 1992 to 2023. That took only 31 years. Happy listening, folks!

  13. Just two days ago I read in CWN Headlines (citing a 17JAN2023 article published in the *Catholic Herald*) that “Pope Francis told Spanish seminarians that a priest should never deny absolution to a penitent, even if there is no intention to repent. In extemporaneous remarks, the Pope said that priests who deny absolution are ‘delinquents’ engaging in ‘evil, unjust, and moralistic judgment’.”

    The CWN editor noted that “The Pope’s remarks contrast with *The Catechism of the Catholic Church*, which teaches that repentance is a necessary condition for absolution.”

    As a (former) catechist, I always had my copy of the 1992 Catechism at hand. I decided to resign from my duties at my parish because of the increasingly glaring differences between the Faith as laid out in the Catechism and the Faith as taught by Pope Francis and my bishop (an outspoken supporter of everything Francis says). Nobody drove me out, but I felt I could not in good conscience teach the kids preparing for Confirmation in a way that would inevitably contradict either my bishop or the Catechism.

  14. As we have learned in these recent past weeks, Joseph Ratzinger wrote in 1958 that the Church itself was already in the majority populated by pagans, from pew-sitter, to priest to Bishop. He got in big trouble with his local Bishop for admitting the plain fact.

    And I commend regular commenter Peter Beaulieu for very aptly describing what was going on under the US Church under McCarrick, and what continues to go on in what remains in truth “The McCarrick Establishment,” even as he approaches his own death, apparently unrepentant, and not publicly called to repentance by the same McCarrick Establishment.

    It was, and remains, and persistent process of psychological grooming and, as Peter B stated, “gang-rape.”

    One simple manifestation is that among the 200-or-so colleges and universities nominally called “Catholic” in the United States, the Cardinal Newman Society can only recommend about 10% as faithful, having what St. Paul called “the mind of Christ.” The rest have what “the McCarrick Establishment” wants: “the mind of McCarrick.”

  15. Carole Brown, the Catechism can be read as knowledge and it is true just as it is, pure and simple. But it is also a compilation guiding spirit and prayer; it points to God and to fidelity. I would add that each of its 3 first parts individually indicates that faith is not something static precisely because it is a grace offered by God Who is Living; and that this aliveness carries forth in true prayer, the 4th Part, through the Church. Since it affirms the Eucharist as source and summit, it can be said to be complete in as much as this meets with what it is according to its own type of medium.

    Your implication that there is a deficiency that “the Holy Spirit is now making up for”, is frankly groundless. It blows empty. I do not mean to be insulting; only repairing.

  16. In 2007, I started a 4-year course offered by one of our diocesan theologians, which he had formulated (God Bless him!), in which we went through every single paragraph of the Catechism with his commentary and our discussion. It was like heaven on earth. At one point, the theologian, in seeing our evident joy at studying this supposedly dry, awful “catechism” quipped, “You all seem to be enjoying this.” Not one to be emotional in public, I actually got a bit teary and stated, “I am so moved and grateful that the Church took the time to provide us with this gift. The thoughtfulness in each paragraph is overwhelming.” I still feel the same way and when anyone disparages the catechism, their unstudied ignorance resounds in my ears and I say,”Well, I have studied every single paragraph in depth and you are missing out on a great gift.”

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