Why the Church Needed a New Catechism
One of the most remarkable religious phenomena in the decade preceding the advent of the third millennium of Christianity was the promulgation and publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the first major catechism setting forth what the Church holds and teaches issued in more than four hundred years. Solemnly presented to the whole Church by Pope John Paul II on December 7, 1992, the Pope described the document on that occasion as a "gift which the heavenly Father gives to his children today, offering them with this text the possibility of knowing better, in the light of his Spirit, the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ's love (cf. Eph 3:19)." The new Catechism is "authoritative", the Holy Father said very plainly on this same occasion of promulgating it, and it "faithfully reiterates the Christian doctrine of all times".  21
The Catechism of the Catholic Church quickly became a best-seller in country after country, as successive translations of it appeared. Within a year after its publication, over three million copies of it in nine languages had already been printed and distributed.
In the United States, advance orders for the Catechism mounted up to well over a half million even before the English translation finally became available in June 1994. Thereafter, copies numbering well over two million were quickly sold. A rather surprising number perhaps, considering that the book was a hefty 803-page tome, immediately recognizable by its light brown cover and distinctive motif of an ancient shepherd with his crook, watching over his sheep.
Inside, the text of the Catechism consisted of no fewer than 2,863 separate numbered paragraphs, extensively indexed and cross-referenced to each other and containing mumerous footnotes, quotations, scriptural references, cross-references, and indices. At first sight, none of this appeared to promise very smooth or easy reading; indeed the book's whole aspect seemed positively forbidding—hardly an item for the bedside table. Or so anyone might have thought.
Experience quickly proved, however, exactly the contrary. The book turned out to be ideal for the bedside table, among, other places; it proved to be a book one could read in, read through, study intensively, or look things up in. The 1983 session of die Catholic Church's Synod of Bishops in Rome, which had originally called for the preparation of a universal catechism, had said at the time that what was needed was a reliable "point of reference" for Catholic teaching. In promulgating the finished product, Pope John Paul II had also styled it a "reference text". Both terms proved to be very apt descriptions of the book at least in one of its aspects. 22 but it was considerably more than just a reference book, as the mass sales of the volume almost immediately proved.
In this country, the Catechism was published in a uniform edition by a consortium of some sixteen separate publishers licensed by the United States Catholic Conference, to which the Holy See had given exclusive rights to publish and distribute the book in the United States. The total sales of the book had to be counted as especially phenomenal when we consider that the hardcover edition sold for $29.95 and the trade paperback edition for $19.95. Nevertheless, eager buyers of the book quickly materialized nearly everywhere. And this was before the U.S. bishops awarded a contract to one of the country's major commercial publishers, Doubleday, for a mass-market paperback selling for less than half of the hardcover price. This paperback edition was to be available on newsstands, as well as in drugstores, supermarkets, airports, and similar places where people who never go near a bookstore might see and buy this book. Large numbers of the original sales of the Catechism had in fact been mail orders rather than bookstore sales. Sales of the book evidently extended far beyond those who frequent bookstores.
The mass-market paperback had a more striking cover, with a silver-lettered title (although the familiar shepherd motif appeared on the title page inside). In outward appearance, this paperback did not seem out of place with the thrillers, mysteries, and romances often displayed on the same book racks. Considering its subject matter, of course, it was remarkable that such a book could be found on these racks at all.
The mass-market paperback contract was expected to make the Catechism one of the best-selling religious titles in history. From the moment it appeared, the book broke most of the rules for religious publishing, and yet it was still 23 able to achieve its huge sales. Moreover, the book continued to sell steadily. Between April and July 1995, over four hundred thousand copies of the mass-market paperback were sold in the United States. Worldwide, the result was pretty much the same. By the summer of 1995, well over eight million copies of the book in some twenty languages had been sold.
In short, a publishing phenomenon. Where did all these buyers come from, people suddenly interested in "Catholic doctrine", of all things? Catholic doctrine, in many if not most quarters of the modern world, had seemingly long since been relegated to the category of things considered passé, if not fundamentally incredible and simply to be dismissed. A book seriously setting forth Catholic doctrine, as if it might be something of interest to anyone, had to be a phenomenon. In the minds of many, it could surely only be some kind of inexplicable holdover from the ignorant and static past, if not something right out of the Middle Ages. What was happening?
As good an explanation as any for the instant and phenomenal popularity of the Catechism of the Catholic Church was provided by one of the principal architects of the volume, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the Church's Roman Curia. "People want to know for themselves what the Church teaches and what she does not". Cardinal Ratzinger wrote.
This seemed to be especially true in today's world because, for a variety of reasons, there had already been for some years no little confusion in the air about what the Catholic Church really does teach and what she does not. Sometimes confident assertions about what the Church teaches seemed to depend on who was talking; other times the fact 24 that the Church holds or teaches something might well he admitted—but then, in effect, immediately dismissed as of little or no importance, if it did not square with what was considered "modern knowledge" or, let us stay, with "what modem Catholics believe", according to various polls and surveys.
The very idea that the Church might have a teaching of her own, which, in the final analysis, was the Catholic teaching, and necessarily so, was an idea that sometimes tended to get obscured in the peculiar climate of today's world. In this climate, there was a kind of confusion, as Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out, that was too often "generated by the vicissitudes of theological hypotheses and by their often highly questionable diffusion in the mass media". 
Modern theologians, it seemed, were apt to come up with ideas that were not always necessarily the Church's ideas. Moreover, it soon became very clear, the modern mass media, perhaps even understandably, generally like to publicize such variant ideas almost in the degree to which they diverge from established Church doctrine.
The situation the German Cardinal was alluding to, then, was something that had become rather well known: the Catholic faith in the modern world was widely understood to be in a state of crisis. The truths and indeed the relevance of many of the Church's ancient beliefs were increasingly being subjected to widespread denigration and even denial, often from inside as well as from outside the Church. This crisis of faith, as many knowledgeable people had come to realize, had been slowly developing in our society virtually 25 since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, if not before. The Catholic Church, with her hierarchy, definite teachings, and firm discipline, had for a long time seemed relatively immune to the acids of modernity that were otherwise steadily eating away at the foundations of the civilization of the West and its Christian ideals.
But the appearances of the Church's solidity or, at any rate that of some of her members, were in some ways deceptive. It would soon come out that many Catholics were, in fact, often as affected as anyone else by the powerful and self-confident, even though increasingly morally decadent, secular culture of the day. Catholics were by no means immune to the aggressive viruses of modernity.
The crisis of Modernism in the Catholic Church at the beginning of the twentieth century had demonstrated that members of the Church were not entirely impervious to the corrosive effects of modern scepticism, relativism, and even outright unbelief. One French priest and scholar, Alfred Loisy, who had started his career with the aim of benefiting the Church by means of modern historical and biblical scholarship, had ended up rejecting both his priesthood and his Church and disbelieving all the articles of her Creed except the purely "factual" one that affirms that Jesus had "suffered under Pontius Pilate". This kind of development, where the initial adoption of certain seemingly neutral modem ideas could sometimes lead to radical disbelief in Christ and his message, constituted an object lesson that was hard for the Church to ignore.
The Modernist crisis also demonstrated him, the Church has typically and necessarily identified and rejected ideas contrary to her faith. This has been true down through history: the Church rejects alien doctrines the way any organism rejects foreign bodies. The Modernist crisis, however, 26 also revealed that faith, in the modern climate, could no longer be very effectively defended merely by authoritative condemnation of those modern ideas that undermined and contradicted it. Often these ideas appealed to certain Catholics, who then introduced them into Catholic discourse in the guise of "bringing the Church up to date".
In this kind of "updating", it was not always clear at first that certain ideas did undermine and sometimes even contradict Catholic doctrine. Some of these ideas might have seemed to be perfectly assimilable to Catholicism at first. Given their strength and popularity in the world around the Church, moreover, such ideas were almost bound to infect members of the Church, at least in some measure, sometimes without their being fully aware of it.
What was needed to face up to the challenge of modernity, therefore, was not merely the condemnation of those modern ideas at variance with the Church's faith and vision but a restatement and a reaffirmation of what the Church really did believe in the face of the modern challenge. What was needed was a fairly radical effort that really did bring the Church up to date in a drastically changed world, but that did so on truly Catholic terms.
It was the providential task of the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65 to restate essential Catholic
teachings in a modern context and to reform a number of Church practices along the same lines. Vatican II was expressly
convened in order to deal with the prospects faced by the Church and the Catholic faithful in a modern world that,
despite some appearances, was essentially in the process of abandoning 27
Vatican II thoroughly revised many aspects of the Church life and practice, while providing, especially in its great Constitutions on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), on the Church (Lumen Gentium), and on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), crucial restatements and applications of many of the Church's ancient beliefs. These restatements and applications were made in order to enable the current and subsequent generations of Christians to meet the challenge posed by an ongoing and often destructive modern culture, which continued to exert powerful influences both inside and outside the Church.
The sixteen documents issued by Vatican II, properly understood and utilized, do provide the Catholic Church with an indispensable doctrinal and intellectual foundation and means to challenge and counter the typically destructive ideas of today's modern culture. Moreover, the popes have been neither lax nor slow in building on the legacy of Vatican II in their encyclicals, apostolic exhortations, and other documents issued since the Council.
Following Vatican however, what immediately ensued was not a betterment but rather an aggravation of the symptoms of the modern crisis of faith, one that sometimes assumed rather dramatic proportions. Religious Modernism, for example, had not so much been destroyed as simply driven underground In the stringent measures that Church authorities had initiated against it. beginning especially with the encyclical issued by Pope St. Pius X in 1907, Pascendi Dominici Gregis. Many Catholics, and among them, precisely, educated Catholics, including clerics and religious, remained profoundly affected by certain currents of modern 28 thought and culture. Right along, such people formed a strong Modernist and, later. what we may call a Neomodernist, element inside the Church. Often, these people tended to be in academic or teaching positions; and thus they were able to disseminate their ideas and attitudes among those whom they were teaching.
Neomodernist elements in the Church did not see themselves as subversives; they tended to see themselves as trying to make the Church more "credible" to the modern world, as they often stated it (of course, the original Modernists had generally pictured themselves in the same light). If only the Church could divest herself of some of her traditional ideas and practices that now seemed antiquated, and even quaint, they thought, then the Church would be much more likely to attract "modern men" into her ranks. In some cases they may even have been correct about this.
Ominously, however—and like the original Modernists—some of these Neomodernists viewed already established and firm Church doctrines as out of date and as hindrances to the Church's relationships with the modern world and with other Christians. The very idea that authentic, established Catholic doctrines could be downplayed or dispensed with in such a fashion denoted a careless attitude toward, if not an actual ignorance of the nature of, Church teachings: none of this boded at all well.
Later, such a careless attitude toward, or ignorance of, established Catholic teachings would facilitate the rather uncritical introduction into Catholic life and discourse of alien ideologies such as radical feminism, extreme environmentalism, liberation theology, and the like. Indeed, the surprising thing, perhaps, was how tenaciously some of these alien ideologies were able to catch on among some supposedly professing Catholics in the postconciliar era. 29
One of Pope John XXIII's principal motives in convoking Vatican II in 1959 had been what he called aggiornamento or bringing the Church up to date. Of course this jovial Pontiff always understood aggiornamento within the framework of his own traditional Catholic faith and deep piety. For people infected with Neomodernist ideas, however, the whole concept of bringing everything up to date provided an ideal climate in which to introduce some of their ideas and agendas and desired reforms. Vatican II had decreed all these many changes? Very well, there were a few other items that needed to be changed as well!
It was in this fashion that various changes were in fact introduced into the Church's life and practice that were thought or said to be in "the spirit of Vatican II" but that could nowhere be found either in the sixteen documents of Vatican II or in the Church's official postconciliar enactments.
Indeed, it sometimes seemed as if everything in the Church were up for grabs, that there were no limits on what might be "changed". At any rate, many voices, including, unfortunately, many clerical voices, some in positions of importance and authority, were asserting that this was the case; and, certainly, very many Catholics were acting as if it were. Psychologically, the stage was set for the rejection even of some firm Catholic teachings that had been handed down in the Church with the assistance of the Holy Spirit and authoritatively proclaimed by the Church's teaching authority. Formerly, it had been nearly universally understood by professing Catholics that certain authoritative Catholic teachings could never be changed or repudiated; but in the midst of all the other changes, this traditional understanding itself became obscured.
Then, in 1968, when Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical 30 Humanæ Vitæ reiterating the Church's moral condemnation of artificial birth control, he was not merely laughed to scorn outside of the Church. For the first time in anyone's memory or, or imagination, large numbers of Catholics, including theologians and others in official positions in the Church, openly and publicly rejected a solemn teaching document from the Vicar of Christ. A Time magazine cover story of the period, featuring what it called "the pope's unruly flock", gave some idea of the confusion into which the Church, along with many questions concerning her established faith and morals, had fallen. The contrast with the Church of just the day before, which had exhibited such rocklike coherence and stability, could not have been more marked.
Catholics, then, it turned out, had not remained unaffected by the powerful intellectual and cultural currents of the modern age, many of which were inimical to the Catholic faith, indeed, to any supernatural faith. This was not always immediately or completely perceived, however. Within the Church, what we may call the Church's professional and knowledge class, including especially theologians and biblical exegetes, now often seemed to be more influenced by what all Catholics once, in good Johannine fashion, had commonly called "the world" (cf. I Jn 2:15-17) than they were by the Church's teaching authority, or Magisterium, formerly understood by everybody to have the last word in doctrinal Matters.
Many of these same Catholics, including theologians and others in Church leadership positions. came to question openly whether the Church's Magisterium really did enjoy the special assistance of the Holy Spirit, as the Church always held (and holds). If the Magisterium enjoys the special assistance of the Holy Spirit, it was often asked, rhetorically, then how could the Magisterium have been so wrong 31 in Humanæ Vitæ? For many this seemed to settle the question; they failed to ask themselves what the consequences would be if, in fact. the Church were right in this encyclical. They failed to ask this question because, henceforth, it was the world that was going to provide the new standards by which everything, including faith and morals, was seemingly going to be judged. This was precisely the agenda of Neomodernism, in fact: henceforth the Church's faith and morals were to be subject to the scrutiny of "modern knowledge".
It was to this widespread crisis of faith—unprecedented for the Catholic Church, for, like her divine Founder, she has always taught ''with authority" (Lk 4:32)—that Cardinal Ratzinger was evidently alluding when he spoke of "the vicissitudes of theological hypotheses and their often highly questionable diffusion in the mass media". The Church, through her Magisterium, has never failed to be absolutely clear through all these vicissitudes, indeed, through all the manifold confusion of the past several decades, about what she holds and teaches. The Church has been a model of clarity, in fact; the teaching of the Church has not ceased to be there for anyone willing to take the trouble to find out what it was and is.
However, it has been considerably less clear in recent years how wide and deep the acceptance of what the Church holds and teaches has been among all Cathohcs, especially among those Catholics who belong to what we have called the Church's professional or knowledge class. It has been considerably less clear, in other words, whether and to what extent at least. some Catholics even continue to believe and to assent to what the Church, for her part, has never ceased teaching. On the evidence of what they themselves say, it is questionable whether some fairly prominent Catholic 32 theologians and exegetes can any longer even be considered "Catholic" in any traditionally understood sense of that word.
It is in this kind of situation, then, that "many
of the faithful", according to Cardinal Ratzinger, "want to inform themselves personally regarding the teaching of the
More than that, though, as the Cardinal himself added, "among its intended readership arc agnostics, seekers, and inquirers, to whom it is offered as a help to becoming acquainted with what the Church teaches and tries to live."  This latter idea, that the Catechism just might also he a fit instrument by which the Church might now begin to regain some of the ground lost to the secular world, might now even begin to reevangelize a world desperate for Christ's saving truths, was a persistent theme of the German Cardinal, an eminent theologian in his own right. The Church is obliged to go on proclaiming the saving message of Jesus Christ, even in an era when many of her own children are no longer following the path to which she insistently continues to point.
In presenting the Catechism to the international media on December 9,1992, Cardinal Ratzinger similarly pointed our that:
"The Church of all ages": this is what the Catechism represents. The idea that, after all, the Catholic Church just might have some wisdom to offer to a world in serious social and moral disarray surely can be credited as one of the factors that helped push the Catechism of the Catholic Church to the top of today's hest-seller lists. And even though some Catholics have apparently ceased to look with respect to the teachings of "the Church of all ages", Many others have not forgotten what the Church is and what she represents; and, in the midst of today's confusion, many of them were even hungry to obtain an "uninterpreted" version of her teachings, which the Catechism was instantly seen to provide. At the very least, there appeared to he much more to the Catechism—and to the Church!—than perhaps at first met the eye.
At the same time that the Catechiser of the Catholic Church was breaking sales records for religious books, another unusual Catholic religious book also came on the market, and it promptly climbed to the top of the best-seller lists as well. 34
The phenomenon of the Catechism was duplicated. This second book was a work personally authored by Pope John Paul II, entitled Crossing the Threshold of Hope; it appeared in translation in no fewer than thirty eight languages.
In this book, among a fascinating variety of personal papal responses to many of the religious questions on people's minds today, John Paul II also offered his own explanation for the unexpected and unprecedented interest in the new Catechism "The world, tired of ideology, is opening itself to the truth", the Pontiff wrote. "As the year 2000 approaches, our world feels an urgent need for the Gospel." 
In the Pope's view, the success of the Catechism was surely bound to confound the experts, including many within the Church: "Some theologians, at times whole groups," the Pope wrote, "spread the notion that there was no longer a need for a catechism, that it was an obsolete means of handing down the faith, and therefore should be abandoned. They also expressed the opinion that it would be impossible to create a catechism for the universal Church." In reality, however, the Catechism could only be considered "indispensable", according to Pope John Paul ll's carefully considered opinion.
The Pope's reference to "theologians, at times whole
groups," who did not want any Catechism was unfortunately true, especially in the United States. The old Baltimore
Catechism, upon which three or four generations of American Catholics had been brought
up, had not only fallen into disuse after Vatican II. It had also, and quite unjustifiably, become something of
an object of mirth and scorn as well. 35
It was not just the Baltimore Catechism that was considered to be the problem, however; the very idea, or genre, of a "catechism" had come to be considered obsolete. This development came about in part because knowledge and acceptance of "Catholic doctrine" itself was no longer universally considered to be an essential and indispensable requirement of being a Catholic. Catholics have a always professed, of course, a specific Creed, which is to be recited communally and aloud at Masses on Sundays and Holy Days; and the presumption has always been—indeed, could hardly have been anything else—that Catholics necessarily believe the things they profess to believe in this Creed. Vatican II's Lumen Gentium expressly says that the faithful "must profess before men the faith they have received from God through the Church" (no. 10).
In spite of what should have been a simple and absolutely indisputable point, then, namely, that Catholics are supposed to believe the Church's Creed, and that believing it is essential to being Catholic, a whole school of thought nevertheless strangely grew up after Vatican 11 that held that believing "doctrine" was not only not essential to being a Christian but was in some sense an obstacle to being one. "Doctrine", held to be arid and boring, was deliberately downplayed in religion hooks, and Christian "experience" was substituted for it. The rich and ancient concept of the "pastoral", which went hack to the revelation of the saving truths that Jesus had committed to his Church for the sake 36 of those he called his "sheep", was illogically transformed into an antonym of "doctrinal". Doctrine, which was nothing else but a systematic statement and development of the saving truths Jesus had revealed, was nevertheless, somehow, "out". Things like being positive and building a better world were suddenly "in'', as though these things were necessarily opposed to "doctrine".
If doctrine was out, the same thing obviously had to apply to any catechism, since a catechism, by definition, is nothing else but an organic and systematic presentation of doctrine—of the saving revelation that Jesus committed to his Church, to be guarded and handed down to all generations. Somehow any catechism at all, however, was now seen to be inessential to the life of the Church and her members. The necessary connection between doctrinal beliefs and pastoral practices became severed in the minds of many.
This whole aberrant trend or attitude, which downplayed or even dropped doctrine (or, at any rate, some doctrines), was actually felt by many to have been justified by Vatican II. This claim was made in part because the Council had not called for a new catechism. Unlike its great predecessor, the Council of Trent (1545-63), which both mandated and gave its name to the Catechism of the Council of Trent (also called the Roman Catechism), Vatican II did not, in fact, mandate any catechism. Instead, the Council called for the preparation of something called a General Catechetical Directory.
Many were quick to conclude from this fact that catechisms as such would henceforth have no place in the renewed Catholic Church that was being brought up to date by a myriad of Vatican II-inspired and mandated reforms (and, as we have noted, by a number of other changes not really inspired or mandated by the Council). But it was erroneous to conclude that catechisms were therefore obsolete. 37
A catechism would very soon prove ro be necessary, in fact. Doctrinal difficulties had begun to arise in the Church even before the end of Vatican II. In more and more areas, it was becoming increasingly clear that many Catholics no longer necessarily or seriously believed what the Church continued to hold and teach.
The need to commission an authoritative catechism for the Church became especially apparent after the Dutch bishops sponsored their own, questionable, new "Dutch Catechism" shortly after the Council, in 1966. Entitled simply A New Catechism, no sooner was this work published—to a nearly universal chorus of praise from liberal theologians and self-selected Vatican II updaters (why did they despise "catechisms" in general but not this catechism?)—than Pope Paul VI was obliged to appoint a special commission of cardinals to examine the book's orthodoxy. This commission issued a detailed statement setting forth no fewer than ten different doctrinal problem areas where the Dutch Catechism was seriously deficient and needed to be corrected.
The Dutch Catechism, unfortunately, represented a faithful reflection of a "new theology" and a "new exegesis", which no longer thought that the fact that the Church's Magisterium had decided a question was necessarily decisive.
The corrections Rome ordered to be made in the Dutch Catechism were never made. The report of Pope Paul VI's commission of cardinals was simply printed as an appendix to subsequent editions of the book, and the resulting volume was then presented as "the Authorized Edition of the Dutch Catechism" (emphasis added).  This was another ominous 38 new sign of the way in which Church authority was coming to be treated.
Especially in view of the difficulties connected with the Dutch Catechism, Cardinal Ratzinger later explained: "At the time, the question arose spontaneously whether the best response to the difficulties connected with this volume might not be to compose a catechism for the entire Church." For his part, though. the Cardinal gave his opinion, an opinion he subsequently held to, that "the time was not yet ripe for such a project." In his view, the full extent of the doctrinal errors, distortions, and omissions that were to mark the three decades that followed Vatican II "had simply not become visible . . . [A] process of fermentation had just begun which could lead only gradually to the clarifications necessary for a new common word." 
Thus, although the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith granted here that a contemporary, authoritative statement of the faith would no doubt have been desirable in the immediate postconciliar era, in his view it was not really possible to compose one at that juncture. The fact remained that the Council itself had not called for a catechism; no immediate plans to prepare one were therefore made. Instead the Council prescribed the preparation of what it called "a directory for the catechetical instruction of the Christian people". 
This was the origin of the General Catechetical Directory, a key teaching document issued by the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome in 1971. The GCD aimed to formulate and lay out the basic principles involved in catechesis, or the 39 teaching of the faith. This Roman document has sometimes been considered to be concerned with methodology how to teach the faith; actually it is concerned with doctrine as well, what to teach as well as how to teach. The GCD proved to be very conscious of the changed world in which the Church was henceforth obliged to try to impart the faith of Christ. It took for granted that contemporary human society was "a society disturbed by great socio-cultural changes" and that the Church's unchanged mission 'to proclaim and promote the faith" could not but be a particularly arduous and difficult one today. 
According to the GCD, however, it was not only "society" that was "disturbed" today, thus affecting adversely how effectively the faith could he taught. Rather, this Roman document was one of the first official Church documents to recognize that the faith was endangered also from within the Church, in the minds and hearts of many members of the Church, who, increasingly, were beginning to tune out Christ's authentic message as taught by the Church, presumably as they tuned in more sympathetically to the world's often alluring but false message.
The CCD noted that the problem of doctrinal deviancy was especially to be found within the Church's own educational and catechetical structures. This 1971 document frankly spoke of "errors which are not infrequently noted in catechetics today" (emphasis added). These errors could be "avoided only if one starts with the correct way to understanding the nature and purpose of catechesis and also the truths which are to be taught by it", according to the 40 GCD,  thus confirming that "teaching truth" was fundamentally and necessarily what catechesis is indeed all about. The GCD itself undertook to lay out all these things that needed to be taught, as well as the best methods of teaching; them, for the benefit both of the pastors and teachers in the Church as well as for the faithful generally.
The GCD succeeded in laying them all out with uncommon skill and lucidity. Had the GCD been heeded and followed to a greater extent than it was in the postconciliar years, especially in matters concerned with the preparation of religion textbooks and of catechetical teaching materials as well as with the development of teaching methods and strategies, the Catechism of the Catholic Church might not have been thought necessary.
In the event, of course, this was not to be. The GCD was not generally heeded and followed, particularly by the new class of professional religious educators who were becoming more prominent and widespread in the Church's educational programs in these same postconciliar years. Nor did their mentors and teachers pay much attention to the GCD. The mentors and teachers of the new catechists, of course, were the members of the new class of theologians, scholars, and exegetes who were busily engaged in establishing their claimed scholarly knowledge and expertise as the new standard for judging Church teachings.
Soon, the judgments of the Catholic bishops teaching in union with the pope ("the Magisterium"), which had always been the norm in the Catholic Church—and which Vatican II had quite pointedly reaffirmed in number 25 of its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium— 41 were no longer considered to be either decisive or definitive. Instead, the decisions of the Church's Magisterium were henceforth to be subject to the critical judgments of a new, self-proclaimed "second magisterium", composed of theologians, scholars, and other experts in various human disciplines.
Among this class, the very existence of the General Catechetical Directory was itself often cited as the reason why catechisms were no longer deemed necessary: Why do we need a catechism when we already have a directory? So the argument ran. Whether or not one actually used the GCD, or whether or not one used it properly, was a different question entirely. Meanwhile, the line that no catechism was any longer necessary for teaching the faith was nevertheless argued and often adopted, even though the GCD itself plainly said that "the greatest importance must he attached to catechisms published by ecclesiastical authority." 
Meanwhile, too, as John Paul II himself was eventually to note, and as we have already quoted him as saying, in certain quarters catechisms as such came to be considered "an obsolete means of handing down the faith".
The postconciliar history of how Catholic professional religious educators (the "religious-education establishment") have failed to teach the Catholic faith properly, and how they have trained others to do the same, is a long, complicated, and rather depressing history. It need not be retraced 42 here, except in briefest outline, especially since it is a story that has already been told. 
Highlighting a few major points of this history will suffice here to establish the proper framework for our discussion of one of the basic problems of religious education: namely, how Christ's authentic message can properly be handed on if many of those in the Church with responsibilities for teaching the faithful have themselves come to downgrade and even discard important elements of the Church's teaching that they are supposed to be handing on.
The new Catechism, of course, does not fail to teach the integral and authentic faith of Christ. But what about those engaged in teaching the faith at many levels in the Church who, evidently, and on their own testimony, do not agree with the Catechism? Unfortunately, they exist. Farther on we shall be looking in some detail at how some of them arc presenting the Catechism. It will become very clear that the problem is a serious one. Few problems, indeed, could he considered more serious than the fact, as we shall show, that the authentic Catholic faith now integrally set forth in the Catechism is not being properly taught in some of the Church's own educational and catechetical programs.
To be sure, the Catechism surely remains every bit the great providential "gift" to the Church that Pope John Paul II, on repeated occasions, has said it is. Nevertheless, by itself it is just a book, and therefore it cannot be entirely self-implementing. It has to be consciously and deliberately made the new basis of the Church's various educational and training programs that are currently located 43 in Catholic schools, CCD programs, adult-education programs, conferences, workshops, graduate institutes, and the like. It has to be consciously and deliberately Made the basis of what parents henceforth teach their children about the faith.
Some basic questions therefore have to be asked and answered: Is this happening? Is the Catechism now being made the basis of the Church's religious education? How is the Catechism being received, not only by typical religious educator in the Church, but by those who form and train these same religions educators?
These questions are neither hypothetical nor unimportant, especially when we consider the deficient state of religious education that has too often obtained in the post-conciliar years. Examples abound, unfortunately, not only of significant errors, omissions, and distortions in many of today's religious-education programs, texts, and teaching materials, but also of an apparent determination on the part of many in the religious-education establishment to continue promoting a "new catechesis" developed over the past half century. Some professional religious educators persist in promoting this new catechesis, in spite of its manifest failures, as evidenced by the lack of religious knowledge on the part of those who have been subjected to it.
The new catechesis came into vogue in the years immediately preceding the Second Vatican Council. After the Council, it largely came to dominate the Church's official religious-education enterprise. this was the case even though there never ceased to be considerable dissatisfaction about it, a dissatisfaction that very often translated into complaints from parents, pastors, and teachers. These complaints were sometimes quite vehement, and often those who registered them were dismissed as "right-wingers" for 44 protesting against what the professionals were doing. Test results concerning the knowledge of the faith of those being catechized, however, surely supported the position of the complainers.
Conscious of the general dissatisfaction and itself quite uneasy about the whole catechetical situation, the hierarchy over the years issued a succession of statements and guidance documents intended to remedy a perceived problem within modern religious education. However, there was generally little or no concrete follow-up by the hierarchy to determine whether anybody was really being guided by all the guidance that was issued.
In fact, few ever really grasped what the problem with religious education was, and hence, generally, no fundamental challenge was ever made to the positions and assumptions that lay behind the new catechesis, positions and assumptions that the religious-education establishment bad by and large adopted. Usually the religious-education establishment went on stubbornly defending the new catechesis, even in the face of massive complaints, as well as in the face of sometimes plainly contrary guidance and direction coming down from Church authorities. The soundness of the new catechesis was considered to be self-evident, and, by and large, the catechetical establishment goes on obstinately defending it to this day.
As one generalization, the new catechesis no longer looks primarily to the Church's Magisterium for its fundamental guidance and inspiration. Rather, it looks to the modern social sciences and to fashionable new secular educational theories. Within the Church it tends to look especially to what we may aptly call the new theologians, the new exegetes, and the new liturgists—those who believe Vatican II transformed them into independent and autonomous experts— 45 in short, to some of the same revisionists and minimizers responsible for much of the confusion and dissent in the Church.
Throughout the postconciliar period, new catechetical texts based on the new notions of what was entailed in catechesis were published and widely distributed. Religion teachers, not only professionals but volunteer teachers in CCD programs, soon began to be trained, not in the Church's traditional catechesis of the faith, as it had been authentically handed down in the Church, but rather in the new catechesis based on the modem social sciences and on the ideas of dissident theologians, historico-critical exegetes, antd liturgical innovators. These. very same leaders and theological gurus, often Neomodernists, regularly made the circuit of catechetical conferences and workshops, laying out and reinforcing all the tenets and methods of the new catechesis for a generally eager class of new catechists.
In condemning the original Modernists, Pope St. Pius X had spoken of "the domineering overbearingness of those who teach the errors, and the thoughtless compliance of the more shallow minds who assent to them, create a corrupted atmosphere which penetrates everywhere, and carries infection with it."  This sentence could have been written about the relationship of the dissenting new-theological establishment with today's compliant new-catechetical establishment.
The new catechesis caught on both quickly and widely. Typically, it consists of generous elements of an ersatz, Neomodernist nonfaith, when it does not actually contain certain elements of what could only be described as an antifaith. We 46 shall be citing plenty of examples of it, and the reader can judge. The consequences of the new approach also became evident rather quickly: neither the Catholic children nor the Catholic adults who were subjected to the new catechesis any longer knew or professed their Catholic faith properly.
They no longer knew it because they were no longer learning it properly. They were no longer learning it properly for a very simple and understandable reason: in many, many instances, they were no longer being taught it properly. The faith of an entire generation of Catholics—some say two generations—was gravely compromised in this manner within a very few years.
Over the years, of course, there were numerous cases in which parents, pastors, and teachers tried to point out that what was being imparted was no longer the authentic Catholic faith. By and large, however, such protests seem to have had little impact, and the protesters usually earned for their pains nothing but a reputation as troublemakers. The pastors and the hierarchy, meanwhile, have been seemingly little able to deal with, or often, indeed, even to admit, the existence of a situation where some of their own people are evidently the "problem". The degree to which the Church's official religious-education establishment has meanwhile become honeycombed with many dissenters from Catholic teaching has never really been recognized or conceded to this day.
As a result, dissenters from Catholic teaching have too often gone on selecting the books, training
the teachers, and managing the programs that are supposed to hand on the official Catholic faith. That this faith
has been successfully transmitted is unfortunately shown by few of the results obtained. Too often also, the whole
lamentable state of affairs has actually found defenders on the grounds that 47
Unfortunately, some of these new approaches seem almost to require the watering, down of the faith understood in any doctrinal sense. Even when the new catechists claim successful results, what they think is success is not necessarily related to the Authentic Catholic faith. For example; one of the most recent national studies On the "desired outcomes of catechesis," a study on which the catechetical establishment has roundly congratulated itself, actually claims that: "Something is working! It could he that everything is working . . . . The present programs are having their intended effect." 
This particular national study, funded by the Lilly Endowment, was conducted by the prestigious Educational Testing Service, which "utilized the expertise of leaders from national Catholic organizations serving catechesis and religious education (the United States Catholic Conference. the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership, the National Catholic Education Association, and the National Association of Parish Coordinators and Directors of Religious Education)".
It sounds impressive When we look more closely at 48 what the desired outcomes of catechesis utilized in the study were supposed to be, however, we soon find that an instilled knowledge and personal transformation in the revealed word of Jesus Christ, issuing in conduct in conformity with that same word, were not the focus of this particular study. Rather, the following "qualities of adult Catholics" represent what catechesis is supposed to be aiming at, according to the designers of this study:
Now there is nothing wrong with these "qualities of adult Catholics" as far as they go. One would hope they would always be true in some measure of those who are catechized. But in no way can such general and even vague objectives be considered the proper aim of catechesis; nor would possession of all of them at once add up to being properly grounded in the authentic, saving Catholic faith. Not a single one of them refers, even indirectly, to "repenting and believing"—which. Jesus specified as the first requirements for his followers (cf. Mk 1:15). Not one of them is specifically Catholic; they could be predicated of someone professing only the vaguest and most tenuous kind of Christianity; most of them could be the possession of someone professing no Christianity at all.
"Having no faith identity" or "considering oneself a disciple of Jesus" are not the equivalents of believing and practicing 49 the Creed and tenets of the Church. The important question is not whether one "considers oneself a disciple of Jesus" but whether one is a disciple of Jesus. These are objective criteria of authentic discipleship. Do the "adult Catholics" possessing all these qualities believe, or not, that Jesus is the Son of God who died on the Cross for their sins and rose again and ascended to open heaven for them?
It cannot be considered sufficient to justify these ill-defined "qualities" by saying something like, "Oh, we take all those beliefs for granted." "Those beliefs" represent precisely what is missing from this sort of catechesis. This is what is meant when it is said that modern catechesis lacks proper "content"; the very heart and core of God's revelation of himself and of his Son become blurred in the midst of these vague "Christian"-sounding sentiments. True doctrine is as absent from such an approach as it has been absent from catechesis generally in the postconciliar era.
Meanwhile, the new catechists congratulate themselves on a successful survey conducted by the Educational Testing Service; the "professionalism" of it all is what impresses them. But it is fluff; it is vain—if the revealed doctrine of Christ is not present. By what authority do these modem religious educators abandon the aims and objectives of catechesis according to such Church documents as the General Catechetical Directory in favor of such notions as the "qualities of the adult Catholic" when defining the desired outcomes of catechesis?
Of course the hierarchy never stopped issuing documents and statements aimed at correcting the problems that existed. Unfortunately, however, the entrenched religious-education establishment usually found ways of not really implementing or applying the documents and statements that the hierarchy periodically issued. This tended to remain true even when lip service was prudently paid to such guidance from the hierarchy.
In not a few cases, however, the religious-education establishment has also rather openly undermined and nullified some of the measures taken by the hierarchy to correct a catechetical situation perceived to be deficient. For example, a year after the General Catechetical Directory was published by the Congregation for the Clergy, the National Conference of Diocesan Directors of Religious Education in the United States simply declined to "receive" this Roman document. Instead, the NCDDRE published its own interpretation of the GCD in the guise of a "commentary" on it, which deftly softened, and in some cases simply nullified, the GCD's basic directives.  This was in 1972.
The next year, the bishops of the United States, responding 51 to complaints about deficiencies in the teaching of religion, published their own directives, entitled Basic Teachings for Catholic Religious Education.  This bishop's document, too, was downgraded in its importance and effect by the publication of a so-called Study Aid purporting to assist religious educators in understanding the bishops' directives, but in reality promoting dissent from the "basic teachings" of the Church. Anyone who read the books recommended in the Study Aid got the clear Message that the bishops' Basic Teachings did not really have to be followed. Yet the Study Aid in question was published by none other than the Division of Religious Education-CCD, an arm of the bishops' conference itself. 
Essentially the same story was repeated in the course of carrying out, beginning in 1972, a series of elaborate nationwide consultations and then developing and revising successive drafts of what became, six years later, a National Catechetical Directory for Catholics of the United States. The U.S. bishops themselves devoted some of their meetings to the development of this NCD, in the end voting hundreds of specific amendments to what became the completed text. This text then underwent an almost year-long examination by several Roman congregations before the final version was approved and promulgated in October 1978.  Like the General 52 Catechetical Directory before it, the National Catechetical Directory was quite a good document—if only more people had consented to be "directed" by these Directories! Thus, the already fairly long and melancholy history of rather bold "nonreception" of hierarchical documents by the religious-education establishment was again repeated in the case of the NCD. All this surely has an important bearing on how the Catechism of the Catholic Church is being received today as well.
The record of the religious-education establishment in the United States today shows that it has never been unduly impressed by documents from, the hierarchy. Even a document as painstakingly reviewed and meticulously revised, both by the U.S. bishops and by several Roman congregations, as the U.S. National Catechetical Directory could not, in its view, simply be given to the faithful. No: this time it was the National Conference of Diocesan Directors of Religious Education that expeditiously produced yet another document of their own "explaining" the NCD, this one entitled a "Discussion Guide" (rather than the "Commentary," the NCDDRE had produced on the GCD). Of course, little of substance was left of the original NCD after the "discussion" by this group, an official organization of Catholic diocesan religious-education directors.
Meanwhile, the Department of Education of the United States Catholic Conference published a special issue, devoted to the NCD, of the professional religious-education journal it sponsors, The Living Light. In this special issue, again, several "name" religious-education experts, not very subtly, made fairly short work of the NCD, which the authorities 53 of the Church had gone to such great and even inordinate lengths to prepare for the benefit of the Catholic faithful. 
It may seem to be a rather remarkable thing that the specialists and experts and leaders in Catholic religious education should themselves have been the ones who most effectively undermined their own enterprise and brought it to the low estate from which it has only now especially with the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, begun to recover; but the facts of the case speak for themselves. One of the more able of these American catechetical specialists, as it happened, fairly early on began to have second thoughts about what was being done to Catholic religions education. putatively in the name of renewing it and bringing it up to date. This was the Rev. Alfred McBride, O. Prætm., who had grown increasingly sceptical of some aspects of the new catechesis because it had become progessively more clear to him that its subjects no longer knew their faith. No one has described the general problem of Catholic religions education in the immediate postconciliar years better than Fr. McBride:
While Fr. McBride's indictment here is certainly a strong one, he himself felt obliged to qualify it in certain respects, and we believe the qualification Fr. McBride added should also be included here in order to serve both justice and balance:
Given the overall situation that had come to prevail, however. it became increasingly clear that additional directives from Church authorities—and even lengthy directories—were not really going to remedy what afflicted Catholic catechesis. Still, the Catholic Church seemed to move with unhurried deliberateness in the matter, in keeping with an institution that is said to "think in centuries". In 1977, around the same time that the U.S. bishops were putting the finishing touches on the NCD, the Synod of Bishops in Rome adopted as the topic of its official deliberations the whole vexed question of "the state of catechesis".
At the conclusion of this session of the Synod, the Synod Fathers transmitted to Pope Paul VI a valuable body of synodal discussions and recommendations on the subject of catechesis, stressing the necessary "Christocentricity" of any Catholic treatment of this subject. Following the death of Pope Paul VI in 1978, these synodal recommendations were fashioned into a first-rate document on catechesis by Pope John Paul II; this was the apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradenæ, on Catechesis in Our Time, published in Catechesi Tradendæ, on Catechesis in Our Time, published in 1979. 
Catechesi Tradendæ was one of the first of the long series of outstanding magisterial documents that have been issued during the remarkable pontificate of John Paul II. Moreover, Catechesi Tradendæ did correctly diagnose much of what 56 ails religious education today; it also prescribed a number of important remedies. This apostolic exhortation of John Paul II remains, even in the new era inaugurated by the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, one of the best sources available for clergy and religion teachers in their study and reflection upon what the handing on of the Catholic faith truly does entail.
In the nature of the case, however, no mere. "exhortation", no matter how brilliantly done, could really get at the most fundamental of all the problems connected with religious education today, namely, the fact that too many of those responsible for religious education, whether catechetical experts, catechists, teachers, or even some pastors and parents, evidently no longer wholly agree that it is what the Church's Magisterium says the faith is that has to be handed on. We now live in an era of "cafeteria Catholicism", when many individuals believe they can decide what the essence or tenets of the faith are that have to be handed on. This same era is one in which the right of dissent from Catholic teaching is often considered to be a more fundamental principle than the Catholic's responsibility to believe with real assent what is professed in the Creed.
In the meantime, the new catechesis expressly aims at passing on a new and truncated, Neomodernist-type version of the faith in which crucial teachings have been importantly modified, if they have not been distorted or omitted outright. At the same time the tenets of other ideologies alien to the faith—radical feminism, extreme environmentalism. liberation theology, and, as Fr. McBride remarked above, so-called "New Age" eclectic religious notions—have often been incorporated into modern catechesis and are now sometimes taught as tenets of the faith every bit as "dogmatically" as ever Original Sin, Transubstantiation, or the 57 Real Presence were taught by those now scorned as rigid "Traditionalists".
Nevertheless, John Paul II's Catechesi Tradendæ was able to identify at least one of the basic causes of today's all too typical faithlessness and falling away from the teaching of the Magisterium. The basic cause is the influence of some theologians and other experts who have in our day come to see the Magisterium as just one of the many elements or sources that constitute the whole faith—of which they, rather than the pope and the bishops, are henceforth to be the final judges (from whom there can he no appeal). They base their claim to this "authority" on their claimed scholarship and professional expertise.
Speaking of the influence contemporary theology has had on religious education, Catechesi Tradendæ points out "that every stirring in the field of theology also has repercussions in that of catechesis . . . . The same must he said of hermeneutics with respect to exegesis." Pope John Paul II, in this document fashioned from the results of the deliberations of the 1977 Synod of Bishops, went on to "insist" that:
The actual catechetical situation that has obtained in the postconciliar era, at least in the United States, has been closer to the opposite of what the Pope insists is called for: many of the truths that have not ceased to be affirmed by the Magisterium are exactly the truths that have become blurred in modern religious education. Meanwhile, the pet ideas of certain modern theologians and exegetes have practically become enshrined as new dogmas—as we shall have abundant opportunities to verify in the pages that follow.
It should be clear from the relatively brief sketch that we have essayed here that by the 1980s, the need for a universal catechism had become pressing, if only in order that, amid all the reigning confusion, people could at least again find out for themselves "what the Church teaches and what she does not", in Cardinal Ratzinger's words. It is to the genesis and development of the Catechism of the Catholic Church itself that we must now turn in the next chapter. One of the most striking things about the whole subject is how the Catechism came about in spite of, not because of, the reigning majority sentiment of those most visibly involved in theology and religious education.
15. Quoted by Robert Colbert, "Toward Shaping the Agenda: A Study ot Catholic: Religious Education/Catechesis", NPCD News, the publication of the National Association of Parish Coordinators Directors of Religious Education, October 1994.
20. National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), Sharing the Light of Faith: National Catechetical Directory for Catholics in the United States (Washington, D.C., 1979) (The text was approved was by the NCCB at their general meeting, November 14-17, 1977, and approved by the the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, Second Office, October 30, 1978.) For a brief account of the preparation of the NCD, see Wrenn, Catechisms, 176-178.
22. Rev. Alfred McBride, O. Præm., " Why We Need the New Catechism: Vatican II Promise and Post-Vatican Reality." in The Church and the Universal Catechism, ed. Rev Anthony Mastroeni (proceedings from the fifteenth convention of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, Pittsburgh, Penn.) (Steubenville. Ohio. Franciscan University Press, 1992), 39-40
23. Pope John Paul II, Catechesi Tradendæ, Catechesis in Our Time, October 16, 1979 in Austin Flannery O.P., ed., Vatican Council II: More Postconciliar Documents (Northport, N.Y.: Costello Publishing Co., 1982), 762-814.
Copyright ©; Kenneth D. Whitehead and the family of the late Msgr. Michael J. Wrenn. 1996 & 2009.
Version: 16th May 2009