"What Shall We Do?"
A new bookstore recently opened on the lower level of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception near Catholic University in Washington, D.C. The shrine is visited by many thousands of pilgrims each year and has long since become one of the most visible and abiding symbols of the public affirmation of the Catholic faith in the United States. A quality bookstore offering good Catholic books on this site seems to fill an obvious need. The wonder is perhaps that a good Catholic bookstore was not a part of the Shrine complex from the beginning. When this bookstore was finally opened in 1995, it was dedicated with great fanfare by Cardinal James Hickey of Washington.
It was gratifying on one's first visit to the Shrine bookstore to see an enormous display table in the center of the store piled high with copies of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. There were stacks of them in the original hardcover and trade paperback editions and more stacks of the newer mass-market paperback edition. The Catechism was also available in Spanish. For more in-depth study, boxed copies were available containing the Catechism, together with 325 the Ignatius Press Ratzinger-Schönborn Introduction to it, 1 and the same publisher's Companion volume,2 containing the texts of the 3600 references in the Catechism to Scripture, conciliar texts, papal documents, and the writings of the saints and of the Fathers.
The whole display was another heartening sign that the Catechism continues to be taken very seriously by many Catholics in the United States—no sign of any neglect or downplaying of it here! It is to be hoped that the Shrine bookstore's diligence and imagination in mounting this display has been rewarded by hundreds of individual sales of the Catechism to the crowds of pilgrims from all over who regularly visit the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Any genuine effort to promote the Catechism, of course, would also want to promote and provide the appropriate tools for further study and mastery of it. This proved to be the case here too. In addition to the Catechism itself, there were also stacks of the various commentaries on it that have appeared in English to date. The commentaries were neither as numerous nor as prominently displayed as the Catechism itself. Nevertheless they were there, and precisely for the serious student or reader who wished to go more deeply into the Catechism.
There was The Catechism: Highlights & Commentary, by Brennan Hill and William Madges.3 There was the Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, edited by Michael J. Walsh.4 There was Exploring the Catechism by Jane E. Regan.5 Nor would this collection of "tools" to "help" the reader of the Catechism have been complete without Fr. Berard L. Marthaler's volume arising out of a conference on the neighboring Catholic University campus: Introducing the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Traditional Themes and Contemporary Issues.6
All these books were there. A couple of them were even featured in the Shrine bookstore's front display window, along with the Catechism itself. No one could have been faulted for imagining that all these volumes were wholly legitimate aids to the study of the Catechism. (The People's Catechism had not yet been published at the time of the visit to the Shrine bookstore.)
Of course the Shrine bookstore could never be criticized for stocking and displaying these commentaries, either. How could it be? They are currently standard items. No doubt they are to be found in many Catholic bookstores right alongside the Catechism. All of them are published, after all, by seemingly mainstream publishers who stay in business publishing Catholic books: the Liturgical Press, the Paulist Press, Twenty-Third Publications. Two of these publishers are actually copublishers of the Catechism itself, licensed by the U.S. bishops.
Anybody who has read the present book up to this point, however, now knows that all these commentaries, far from being "tools" to "help" anyone understand the Catechism, are wholly unsuitable for that purpose and seem to have been, in fact, deliberately written to subvert it. 327
Knowing how easy it is for anyone who ventures to criticize the current theological and catechetical establishments to be labeled "uncharitable", "preconciliar", or even "extremist", we have not been content merely to state the case against these books. We have gone to considerable length to insure that the case is proved against them for anyone not antecedently unwilling to recognize that the present catechetical establishment simply does not much like the Catechism of the Catholic Church and does not intend to use it to any greater extent than it has to.
Moreover, it is quite evident from what we have seen that many in the current theological and catechetical establishments are using the positions they enjoy within Catholic academia and Catholic education to spread a very different message about the Catechism from the Church's message. As often as not, as in the conferences and workshops where they are speakers, or in the classrooms of the institutions where they have tenure, these people are doing this under at least semiofficial Church auspices.
Almost as a matter of course, these rebels against Church authority—for we have certainly shown them to be that— are being aided and abetted in their efforts at subversion of the Catechism by established institutions that insist on bearing the name "Catholic", and accepting contributions from Catholic donors, even while they reject any oversight from the Church. They are similarly being aided and abetted by mainstream publishers who benefit enormously from their sales in the Catholic market.
We need only consider the situation: the Pope and the bishops go to enormous lengths and exert huge efforts over nearly seven years in order to produce and publish a Catechism. No sooner have they solemnly presented the results of all their labors to the Catholic people and, definitively, 328 said, "this is your faith", than prominent leaders among the very people the bishops have "sent out"—whose salaries for the most part continue to be at least indirectly paid by the contributions of the Catholic people—immediately have recourse to all means available to them to reply, in effect, "No, it is not!"
And again, it is this dissenting word, rather than the authentic word of the Pope and bishops, that gets out to many of the very people who are involved in religious education. At this point, there are no doubt already considerable numbers of catechists and pastoral ministers who now "know", as a result of the training given them under Church auspices, that the Catechism is really no big deal and that anybody who is really "with it" in religious education will want to continue looking elsewhere for the "answers" (if there are any "answers").
In public administration terms, what we have here is a case where many "staff", or members of specialized bureaucracies, have broken loose in significant ways from the oversight or supervision that the "line", or executive function, is supposed to exercise over them. In a formal sense and in some significant ways, of course, the executive function does continue to remain over them, if only in the sense that the Pope and the bishops still retain the ultimate power to appoint or dismiss them.
But in other important ways (that is, with respect to the content of the faith being imparted), the "staff", or bureaucratically delegated catechetical functions within the Church, are currently both disposed and able to escape effective "line" control on a fairly wide scale, indeed, just about wherever they decide to do it, it seems. In other words, the overseers are often not overseeing what is actually being taught; they are overlooking it! 329
Instead of responding to the very clear direction the hierarchy of the Church has given in issuing the Catechism, many members of the Church's specialized knowledge class are instead looking to other specialists for their primary guidance and direction. Thus, the catechetical establishment currently looks to the theological establishment for its basic guidance, while the latter presumes to establish its own standards and criteria for faith, supposedly based on scholarly and scientific considerations and conclusions.
In the case of modern catechesis, other elements in the Church besides those directly involved in teaching can be equally deceived in the present climate. Catholic book publishers, for example, can be similarly coopted and, as the most natural thing in the world, can begin looking to the current theological establishment for basic guidance concerning what should be published. There appears to be no indication whatsoever on the part of the publishers of the books we have examined in these pages, for example, that these publishers ever saw anything untoward at all in coming out in the wake of the Catechism with commentaries trashing it. Nor did the typical reviewers of these books apparently see anything unusual about it either.
There appears to be a whole "culture" out there, in fact, that now simply takes "dissent" and "private judgment" for granted where Catholic doctrine is concerned. And often nobody even appears to question this state of affairs; eyebrows are only generally raised, not at what the dissenters are doing, but at anybody who might venture to call attention to or to criticize them. The psychology is the same as that found in the First Book of Kings, where the people had turned away from the Lord to worship idols. When the prophet Elijah called attention to this unfortunate state of 330 affairs, King Ahab taxed him with being the "troubler of Israel" (I Kings 18:17).
How widespread is the overall problem of dissent and disloyalty in the Church's current religious-education system? As we have noted, this question cannot be answered with statistical accuracy. But we have surely demonstrated in this book that the problem is widespread enough to compromise significantly the implementation of the Catechism that is currently underway. Orders may have been issued to implement the Catechism all right, but how are these orders being carried out?
We do hasten to add, though, that the problem is not universal. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has already proved to be an outstanding success in the United States in incalculable ways, as it has been around the world. It has been widely received by the Catholic people with both gratitude and enthusiasm. It is manifestly going to make its own way in the world; it has already caught on in crucially important ways. Nor can all the subversive commentaries, on it taken together even begin to compete with it (although they can, we repeat, do significant damage to the proper implementation of it).
It is also true, moreover, that the commentaries we have examined in this book are not the only ones available. There are some other commentaries out there that are quite good, expounding and explaining the document in a way that really is helpful to the loyal Catholic who wants to understand and assimilate the Catechism. There truly are, in other words, proper tools out there to help the bishop, pastor, teacher, or catechist desirous of understanding the faith better and teaching it authentically, according to the new Catechism.
In the category of good commentaries on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we mention in particular the book 331 Essentials of the Faith, which Fr. Alfred McBride, O.Præm., originally wrote as a series of articles in Our Sunday Visitor.7 There is also Fr. James Tolhurst's A Concise Companion & Commentary for the New Catholic Catechism, published both in the United States and in the United Kingdom.8 It is gratifying to be able to report that both of these books were also available among those on display at the National Shrine bookstore. We earnestly hope that these two volumes have been outselling the other commentaries offered!
Another outstanding commentary, on the doctrinal part of the Catechism only, is the book published in Scotland by Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P., called The Splendour of Doctrine: The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Christian Believing.9 Fr. Nichols' thoughtful commentary clearly brings out what a solid and in-depth work the Catechism really is, in spite of the allegations of its detractors to the contrary.
For anybody involved in religious education who is serious about truly implementing the Catechism, two other books on display at the Shrine bookstore would also be helpful. One of them is the very concise and readable guide that Msgr. Francis D. Kelly has written entitled The Mystery We Proclaim.10 Msgr. Kelly was one of the forty international 332 consultors for the writing of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.11 This little book not only warns about and gently steers the religious educator away from some of the excesses and errors of recent catechesis; it also outlines a solid and serious methodology for teaching the faith in the new era inaugurated by the Catechism. This is the kind of book that needs to be in the hands of all DREs in this new era.
Another book that turned out to be something of a pleasant surprise for the present writers is Fr. Robert J. Hater's New Vision, New Directions: Implementing the Catechism of the Catholic Church .12 This book was commissioned by the National Conference of Catechetical Leadership (NCCL), one of the strongholds of the catechetical establishment, and it was published by a publisher whose catechetical offerings are not uniformly desirable, and so we were initially a little apprehensive about it. In fact, although it is still wedded to some of the typical new catechetical language and approaches, the book seems wholly accepting of the Catechism and prepared to implement it properly. Moreover, because of its NCCL sponsorship, it is likely to reach an audience that might not be reached by some of the other good commentaries on the Catechism.
These two books represent particularly hopeful signs, since both authors have been in some ways identified with the catechetical establishment in the past. Msgr. Kelly was for many years executive director of the Department of Religious Education for the National Catholic Education Association 334 (NCEA), while Fr. Hater is a professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton. The fact that both have now published important books seriously aimed at implementing the Catechism surely indicates that those we have been calling "the new catechists" do not have a monopoly on religious education in this country. Many who can help. usher in the new day in religious education that the Catechism undoubtedly calls for are also at work and will make a difference in the end.
Yet another good sign that a new and positive spirit is perhaps arising within some of the Church's principal educational organizations is the recent spiral-notebook publication of the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) entitled The New Catholic Catechism: Workshop Resources, by Sr. Mary Ann Johnston. This is an excellent outline presentation designed to be given in workshops introducing the Catechism to teachers and others. Half the publication consists of graphic charts that can be easily reproduced as overhead transparencies; the other half consists of an outline that the presenter can follow in using these same transparencies to introduce the Catechism. The presentation is straightforward, accurate, and surprisingly complete. If all catechists were being introduced to the Catechism in this manner, we would not have the problem we have been describing in this book. The NCEA and Sr. Johnston have performed a most useful service here.13
And then, of course, we also have the fine commentary on the Catechism written by Cardinal John O'Connor of New York, based on the series of homilies on the Catechism that 334 His Eminence delivered from his cathedral pulpit in the course of the year 1994. This book is entitled A Moment of Grace.14
Thus, the various signs on the reception and implementation front for the Catechism are not entirely negative. In addition to the very imposing fact of the Catechism itself, its outstanding excellence and utility, the heartening popular reception it has enjoyed nearly everywhere and the commitment made by the Pope and the bishops to its proper implementation, it is also especially important that there is still to be found at least a nucleus among the Church's "staff" specialists today who are prepared to respond positively to the direction given by the Church's "line" executives, the Catholic bishops. This is something the Church can definitely build on.
Although the reception given to the Catechism of the Catholic Church may be considered quite favorable from a certain point of view, the evidence examined and evaluated in this book points to a much more troubling overall conclusion. In spite of the favorable factors we have noted, significant numbers of theologians and religious educators who, in normal times, would have been considered the bishops' first line of support in implementing the Catechism, nevertheless today do not, on the evidence, appear to accept the Catechism. They not only do not accept it; they do not intend to implement it in any real sense; some of them intend to 335 prevent or subvert its proper implementation to the extent they can.
The evidence we have accumulated in these pages in support of this negative conclusion is quite strong. We could have, and we could still, adduce yet further evidence in the same vein. Any expectations the Catholic bishops or the Catholic people may have entertained that the present theological and catechetical establishments would accept and automatically help implement the Catechism can now be seen to be flawed expectations.
Those within the Church's professional or knowledge classes who do not accept the Catechism—or, alas, among the Catholic people who follow their lead—basically do not accept the Catechism because they no longer accept the Catholic Church. Or, to be a little more specific, they do not accept the Church for what she really is.
It was Vatican Council II that said it: "The Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. It is her duty to proclaim and teach with authority the truth which is Christ and, at the same time, to declare and confirm by her authority the principles of the moral order which spring from human nature itself."15
This is what the Council teaches, but today's typical dissenters, with all their talk about implementing Vatican II, no longer really accept that what the Church teaches is, precisely, truth. In their view, the Church can no longer issue catechisms that bind or obligate people for the simple reason that the Church can no longer teach binding truth at all. The Church may all the while remain a "community of believers" in some sense, never well defined; but, like some 336 Protestant communions that reject any official Church Magisterium, or teaching authority, the regula fidei that is still supposed to be professed by this "believing community" is no longer really enforceable. Nor, prudently, does anyone attempt to enforce it. Nor, sadly, do many of those who perhaps go on professing their belief in "the holy Catholic Church" when they recite the Creed any longer think real belief in what the Church teaches to be a requirement for membership in the "believing community".
What this means is that truth can no longer be defined and proclaimed with any certitude. Henceforth truth is understood as something that is merely sought after or searched for, usually by employing scientific methods of inquiry and verification. God forbid, however, that anyone should ever claim to have found truth! Or should ever claim to be able to teach it, as the Church in fact claims to be able to do. These things are held by the modern mind to be contradictions in terms.
This view of truth has pretty much reigned in our society at large since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. The Church has strongly and steadily resisted it, but it nevertheless gained a substantial foothold among Catholics, particularly educated Catholics, at the time of Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanæ Vitæ. When the Pope publicly reiterated the Church's constant teaching condemning artificial methods of birth control, and declared that each and every marriage act must be open to the transmission of life, he obviously went against the nearly universal contrary opinion of the modern world.
"And they laughed at him" (Mt 9:24; Mk 5:40; Lk 8:53): the position the Pope espoused against artificial birth control was considered to be not only false but almost too ludicrous for words. Open dissent against this papal teaching 337 proved to be nearly as massive inside the Church as it was outside the Church, although the position on birth control that the Pope was reiterating had been the universal position of all Christian believers up to the year 1929, when the Church of England's Lambeth Conference broke ranks on it for the first time in Christian history. Since then, of course, most Christian denominations have been tripping over each other in the rush to approve the contemporary secular view of birth control as a great boon to humanity. The Holy See was virtually alone in its opposition to that view, a position providential for the Catholic Church as a whole.
Many Catholic theologians and many others in the Church's knowledge class, however, instead judged the Church's stand on birth control to be anachronistic if not simply ridiculous. Many of these same people soon decided that what the whole Humanæ Vitæ affair really proved was that the Church's Magisterium could err. If the Church's Magisterium could err, it followed as a necessary consequence that the Church was not the teacher of truth, as Vatican II had claimed. For, in their opinion, the Church had now grievously erred in the view of the whole world. And no Church that had so dramatically missed the boat on birth control could possibly be thought to "bind" people's beliefs and practices on any other matters, it was decided.
Henceforth many theologians and members of the Church's knowledge class therefore came to believe that they now had to become the interpreters and arbiters of what had to be believed and affirmed in the Church. The hierarchical Magisterium had now dramatically failed in the task, in their view, and somebody had to take up the slack. And thus it came to be thought that the many great and controversial questions that concerned and often divided people would 338 now have to be decided on the basis of acquired specialized knowledge and expertise. If that were the case, it was only logical to conclude that the experts and specialists, not the pope and the bishops, would have to be the ones to decide henceforth.
In addition to this Neomodernist approach to Church doctrine, the experts and specialists, along with many educated Catholics generally, also took a new approach to society and to the world. At Vatican II, to repeat a common comparison, the Church "opened up the windows" to the world. Pope John XXIII and the Council Fathers probably intended this action to allow the light of Christ to shine out, as Lumen Gentium declares. In practice, however, most people have interpreted it as meaning that the winds from the world and from the culture should blow in, and this is exactly the position most of the members of the theological and catechetical establishments have adopted.
In conformity with this secular outlook, they now equate social activism with Christian action; they are better-worlders. Following Vatican II, they decided that building a better world was the real point of Christianity, and hence they have quite consciously tried to move away from Christianity as salvation from sin and happiness in heaven and move toward social activism and building a better world. This is yet another reason why they are impatient with "mere" doctrinal questions, as they see them.
The principal task of religious education in the new perspective they have adopted is precisely to move people away from their old preoccupations with avoiding sin and saving their souls, considered self-centered, and to orient them toward better-world activism. Suddenly, in this new perspective, even the notions of sin and wrong-doing, thought to have been laid aside along with other hidebound 339 doctrines, have suddenly been revived in a new way and once again represent something to be eschewed and shunned: sin and wrong-doing are now equated with "conservatism" or "traditionalism"—usually equated simply with "extremism". People with "extremist" views do not believe in a better world. That is why it is possible to be "judgmental" about them; they have transgressed the bounds of what is now acceptable to modern enlightened progressives.
The idea of building a better world, of course, has been the core idea of a number of modern ideologies virtually since the time of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Some of these ideologies have had ample opportunity to show what they could do toward actually bringing a better world into being. Nevertheless, as everybody knows, the world has not become noticeably better. Nor does it seem that anything that post-Vatican-II liberated Catholics are likely to add to the mix will contribute significantly to a world that really is better. However, people who have been taken over by ideologies are sometimes not notably discouraged by a lack of any real results.
However that may be, these are the kinds of basic attitudes, as we have seen, that pervade most of the commentaries on the Catechism that we have studied and cited in this book. These attitudes have become so general in the current theological and catechetical establishments that for the most part they are no longer even argued. They are now simply taken for granted, along with the really basic idea that it is now the trained experts who have to decide for Catholics, where formerly the pope and the bishops decided. This attitude was already well established among the Church intelligentsia long before the Catechism came along. The new theologians and the new catechists, almost 340 in direct proportion to their formal theological training, seem utterly convinced of it and have long since been acting upon it.
But they are wrong. The Church has not ceased to be "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15). The Magisterium of the Church has not ceased to teach this same truth. The Magisterium has been right all along, in fact, and was so in Humanæ Vitæ as well. It is the modern world that is now visibly afflicted, is possibly even dying, of the disease identified by Pope Paul VI in this encyclical: the belief that the use of sex can be artificially separated from its natural life-giving potential. Today's virulent epidemics of divorce, abortions, fatherless families, sexually transmitted diseases consequent upon promiscuity, including and especially AIDS—all these modern plagues stem directly from the erroneous modern belief that the human sexual faculty can be electively used as people today decide they want to use it, while its procreative dimension is suppressed by artificial contraceptive means (and by abortion if and when these means fail, as they regularly do).
For the moment, the modern world has completely bought into the belief in the necessity and efficacy of contraceptives; and one of the other results of this belief is that among most Western, formerly Christian, formerly Catholic, nations, the birth rate has now fallen below replacement levels, so that the very future of the world—and the Church—is going to be very different from the past.
Pope Paul VI warned in Humanæ Vitæ of the catastrophic consequences that would follow upon the general separation of the procreative dimension of sexuality from its unitive dimension. These consequences have not failed to follow in the modern world at large just as the Pope predicted. The encyclical Humanæ Vitæ has proved to be one of the watershed 341 events of our times. Meanwhile, though, the defection of a substantial part of the Church's educated knowledge class over the encyclical meant that these Catholics were abandoning the Church for the world at the very moment when the world was entering upon a perhaps irreversible slippery slope of moral corruption and bankruptcy.
Many of these same members of the Catholic knowledge class still remain in a 1960s time warp. For them the only thing that Pope Paul VI's encyclical supposedly proved was how badly the Church's Magisterium could err. This is pretty much where many of them stand today as far as the Catechism is concerned: If the Magisterium can err, the Catechism can err, and it is up to them, therefore, to say the way things should be. If the Catechism can err, then the task is to read it "critically", rather than accept it gratefully as a gift from Christ's Church. And many of these same experts believe that the Catechism has erred in important ways, as we have noted in some of the texts we have reviewed.
Obviously this current problem of the trahison des clercs, or "treason of the intellectuals", with regard to the Catechism, is far more serious than any mere question of variant "theologies" or "methodologies". It turns out that some "theologies" are simply incompatible with the faith that has been handed down and is now set forth in the Catechism (some "methodologies" are incompatible with it too, for that matter). As a result of the trahison des dercs, it is now to be feared that the Church is faced with an enormous problem, perhaps one on a much more serious scale than dissent from Humanæ Vitæ, since, with the Catechism, we are dealing with the Church's statement of her own basic faith.
Dissent from this Catechism would seem to place someone strictly outside the bounds of Catholicism. Yet many who do dissent from it are the very people who are supposed to 342 be primarily responsible for its implementation. How is the Church ever going to resolve this dilemma?
Our contemporary culture tells us that we must generally not be "judgmental" about people, even when they err. This common contemporary viewpoint, by the way, is not the same thing as the old Christian idea of loving the sinner while hating the sin. (For one thing, our contemporary culture no longer appears to hate the sin all that much.) In its common "Christian" or "Catholic" version today, this modern attitude against being judgmental is frequently equated with being "charitable". And being thought guilty of "uncharitableness" today, in fact, soon effectively removes people from having their views even taken into consideration.
Today's strong cultural reluctance to be judgmental (except in the case of "extremists" who flout the accepted Zeitgeist) very often means in practice that people within organizations can no longer really be disciplined for failing to follow the organization's line; they are sincere, after all, and who is to judge them? This phenomenon is by no means confined to the Church. It is, we repeat, a strong feature of our contemporary culture, and people often act in accordance with it without entirely realizing they are doing so; it just seems to be the natural and logical thing to do.
We should learn to recognize the sources of this attitude in the contemporary secular culture, however, and we should not imagine or be persuaded that it arises out of some Gospel imperative of "charity" toward those who are out of line. The fact is that both justice and truth can be denied when people come to be automatically excused out of charity, no matter what they do.
This reluctance of our culture to judge the actual behavior of people is matched in importance today by another one of our contemporary culture's strong imperatives, namely, 343 the idea that substantive matters must normally be left to "the experts in the field". Heads of organizations are not supposed to meddle in the "technical details" (such as, for instance, what is actually in the new religion books or actually being taught in the classroom). This almost reflexive confidence in professional expertise can be combined with yet another idea also considered almost beyond dispute in our era, namely, that the one in charge of an organization must first choose the right people, then delegate responsibility to them, and give them their head. Attempting to "micro-manage" what they do is considered counterproductive, as is failing to defend them against criticisms that come from the outside. Americans in particular are inveterate "delegators" in this fashion, as they tend also to be belligerent defenders of "their people".
If we take only these three common contemporary cultural factors—the reluctance to be judgmental, the reliance on experts in the field, and our typical contemporary practice of delegating and automatically backing those to whom responsibility is delegated—we will come very close to explaining the difficulties we currently face with regard to the proper implementation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the United States.
At many levels in the Church's religious-education structure, bishops, pastors, school principals, and DREs at both the diocesan and parish levels have generally been content to appoint people with the proper degrees or training to the varied tasks involved in teaching the faith. Then they have simply left them to carry out those tasks as they saw fit. More, they have generally reacted almost reflexively to any criticism of anything amiss in religious education by vigorously defending those who are now their "own people", and hence they have been quick to dismiss the Critics as 344 troublemakers and especially as "uncharitable" ("troublers of Israel"). To give credence to such critics would automatically call into question their own selection and delegation procedures.
We surmise that it is probably a rare bishop or pastor who has ever responded to criticisms of what was going on in religious education by, for example, actually sitting down and reading through—forming his own personal judgment about—many of our contemporary religion texts (or sex-education texts!).
We also surmise that it has probably been equally rare for a bishop or pastor really to listen to what many of the critics have been trying to say about these contemporary religion texts. By and large critics have been effectively dismissed simply by accepting the contention of the new catechists that any possible critics would necessarily have to be people not wanting to implement Vatican II or, most likely, people "hung up" on the old Baltimore Catechism methods by which they once learned the faith—people who are, in short, "extremists" by definition in the contemporary understanding of things.
Thus, in this kind of climate, any religion books complained about have simply been passed back for evaluation to the same people trained by the same current catechetical establishment that was responsible for these defective books in the first place.
Yet nearly everyone is prepared to agree in general that religious education in the postconciliar era has not been particularly successful. It is only when someone attempts to get to the specifics of why it has not been successful that the system suddenly seems to break down and end in inaction, suspicions, and recriminations. Yet it would seem to be a transparently simple idea to take some of the products of 345 the current catechetical establishment and determine, first, if these products adequately contain and convey the faith and, if not, why they do not.
Pursuing this very elementary idea, the present authors, in order to write this book, simply sat down and went through a few of the books recently published in English supposedly commenting on or implementing the Catechism of the Catholic Church. What we discovered, of course, was a persistent pattern of not very carefully concealed dissent from Church teachings and defiance of Church authority on the part of many in the same professional Church circles that should be most directly involved in implementing the Catechism. Indeed, a veritable culture of dissent and of doing one's own thing appears to exist in the Church's current theological and catechetical establishments where the Catechism is concerned.
Nor is this the first time in history that a specialized class or elite, or bureaucracy has broken loose from the authority structure over it and tried to go it alone, charting its own distinctive path. It is a consistent feature of modern revolutions from 1789 on, as a matter of fact, that a segment of the elite or knowledge class revolts against, declares its independence from, and tries to usurp the functions of those in authority. The well-known expression trahison des clercs, which we have employed, vividly describes the recurring reality of what happens in this kind of revolutionary situation.
Moreover, this same sort of thing has occurred before in ecclesiastical settings. Dramatic examples of it can precisely be seen in the evolution of some modern mainline Protestant churches from orthodoxy to Modernism in recent times. Lacking an episcopacy or papacy, the leadership of some of these churches has sometimes been unable to resist the influence of liberalizing and modernizing elements. 346
A common feature in such Modernist revolutions (or takeovers) has been launching a crusade against perceived "fundamentalists" in the name of the latest scholarship. These "fundamentalists", meanwhile, have usually included anybody continuing to hold to the communion's orthodox rule of faith. Nor have the "moderates" in these controversies ever proved very helpful by going around counseling moderation and even appeasement lest irreconcilable positions permanently damage the communion; such moderate positions have usually just facilitated the liberal takeover.16
The typical result of victories by the Modernists and the liberalizers in such contests has generally been the evacuation of any real meaning and truth from the basic Christian revelation preserved in sacred Scripture. "Liberal theology can really have no meaning," writes one Calvinist author, "since every liberal theologian speaks only for himself." In one such case, some New England Congregational churches, which had abandoned orthodoxy, asked for a statement of the things they now believed and even threatened to depose a minister for believing something else besides what they had been contending for. They were loftily rebuked for this by William Ellery Channing ("the first American humanist"), who logically pointed out that "liberality and tolerance was [sic] now their creed. Progress was to be the life and end of [their] movement."
Channing objected to any creed, as still found in the evangelical churches, because, he wrote:
Dr. Channing was correct about the next to the last part: "The very idea of a creed involves the idea of Church authority." This is a truth that some of our Neomodernist new theologians and new catechists seem to understand instinctively—and hence they immediately enter the lists to combat it. This paragraph by Dr. Channing could Surely have been composed, for example, by any one of a number of the commentators on the Catechism whose work we have considered in previous chapters; we have quoted some comparable sentences and paragraphs that some of them did write, as a matter of fact.
Theologians or religious educators who have evidently come to disbelieve in the Church's teachings as set forth, for example, in the Church's creeds and now, in considerable detail, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, might in one sense normally be expected to want to leave the Catholic Church. The Church, after all, no longer represents or accepts what they do now appear to believe. We have now reviewed the work of a number of theologians and religious educators professedly engaged in explaining or implementing 348 the Church's new authoritative Catechism. On the evidence of their own statements, some of these people frankly appear to disbelieve some, or much, of what the Catechism nevertheless declares to be true and to be the normative belief of the Church, incumbent upon all those who profess the Creed, if they are really going to remain Catholics in the full sense.
Why do people who have reached this point in their faith life stay in the Catholic Church? The Church has now, in the Catechism, definitively come out with a version of the faith they evidently do not accept, again on the evidence of their own words in their commentaries on the Catechism. At the same time, the Church has rejected, at least by implication, the versions of the faith many of them think should be the wave of the future in the brave new Church they envisage. In this situation, must it not finally be considered rather futile if not actually dishonest for them to continue going through the motions of professing or propounding a faith they do not, in fact, believe in or accept?
It would seem so. Nevertheless, the fact that theology or religious education may still be their profession, or, indeed, their life, does not make it easy for them to move on. Anyway, many voices among their professional colleagues still continue to repeat, against the evidence, that it is the Church that is going to be transformed by the new theology and the new catechesis. For such people it is thought to be just a matter of waiting.
"We are everywhere", repeat the voices of the revisionist faith (which, however, did not get written into the new Catechism!): "We still control the theological faculties and edit the theological journals. We make the decisions about academic appointments and tenure; we write the textbooks; we train the teachers; we tell the bishops and pastors how 349 things are supposed to be done in religious education today", these same voices go on. "We are also the ones who keep any critics, preconciliar in their outlook, at arm's length. We continue, in short, to run religious education today."
"All that has to happen", these same voices keep telling each other, "is one single puff of white smoke. One of ours will eventually be elected pope; he will take the name of John XXIV; and he will then proceed to ratify, finally, all that we have been doing and saying over the past thirty years. At that point nobody will have to worry any longer about aging Italian popes with hang-ups from the past—or about 'conservative' popes from Poland who simply do not 'get it' about how the brave new Church needs to accommodate itself to the modern world. At that point, too, nobody will ever have to take the Catechism of the Catholic Church off the shelf again—off that shelf where we have meanwhile made sure it is placed."
It is an interesting scenario. Pope St. Pius X already understood why the original Modernists wanted to stay in the Church in his day, in spite of the fact that the Church certainly did not seem to be moving very fast toward adopting any of their new beliefs or agendas, anymore than the Church is moving in that direction today. The saintly Pope, implacable foe of the Modernists, wrote: "It is necessary for them to remain within the ranks of the Church in order that they may gradually transform the collective conscience."18
Thus, some who may have come to disbelieve in the Church, as she continues to declare herself in the Catechism to be, do not leave the Church because it is evidently their intention to stay and try to transform her from within. 350
The Church cannot be transformed from within, they reason, unless they remain within her. In some ways, this idea of remaining within the Church in order to transform her from within can even take on a certain plausibility. A recent fund-raising letter from a group of progressive Catholic activists, for example, assures potential contributors that:
But this is not going to happen. The fact that the Catechism of the Catholic Church has now been written and issued constitutes perhaps the largest single contemporary proof that Christ's promise to the Church has not failed and will not fail. For over thirty years, a significant portion of the Church's intellectual class has been pressing very hard to get modified or dropped certain Catholic doctrines held to be incompatible with a Neomodernism itself believed to be the wave of the future for a Christianity "reunited" on the basis of a lowest common denominator of "faith", and also reconciled in other important ways to the typical imperatives of the modern world. Indeed, some of the members of this revisionist intellectual class in the Church have sometimes talked and acted as if this desired "transformation" of the Church had already taken place.
Instead, the Church has come out with a Catechism expressly reaffirming every single Catholic doctrine that the new theologians wanted and expected to be changed. Typical 351 "expectations" in their camp have turned out to be "flawed" —just as the Church's expectations that her theologians would stand behind the new Catechism as a matter of course have proved to be flawed. It turns out that the Pope and the bishops themselves are the "fundamentalists" whom the progressives and revisionists are obliged to combat.
But they cannot win. The real battle for the Church's faith, in fact, is already over and won: the Catechism has been issued in its present form containing an authentic statement of the faith in its fullness. Henceforth this will be the undeniable standard by which questions of the faith will have to be judged. As the years go by, the Catechism will be used and accepted even more widely than it is already, and simply because it is there. Meanwhile, it is safe to predict, the kinds of commentaries and parodies of the Catechism we have been looking at in this book will surely soon be forgotten.
Those who reject the Catechism are the ones who stand self-condemned. They, along with the audiences and adherents they so often manage to find only because of the positions they unfortunately happen to occupy within the Church's educational structure, will become increasingly irrelevant in a Church that, meanwhile, will be moving forward on the right path in very great part on the basis of the new impetus provided by the Catechism.
It is not that these people have not done, and will not continue to do, damage. They have done a lot of damage, as we have unhappily had to document in these pages. Many of them still continue to occupy positions where they can go on inflicting damage. But let us say it very plainly: They have no hope whatsoever of ever transforming the Church.
They have no hope of transforming the Church because the Pope and the bishops remain firmly in charge of the Church and continue to enjoy the help of the Holy Spirit 352 in the promulgation of the true faith, in spite of all the considerable efforts that have been made to undermine and supplant their authority. This, indeed, is where the Catholic Church differs from those Protestant churches that were successfully subverted and transformed by Modernists and liberals working within them. But this is never going to happen to the Catholic Church. The issuance of the Catechism itself is one of the principal contemporary proofs of it: against all the odds, the Church has instead once again reaffirmed her authentic faith.
Therefore, it is the continuing effort to secure the proper reception and implementation of the Catechism that has to go on; it has to go on in the face of whatever current obstacles and difficulties may exist. Now that we have what Pope John Paul II has so insistently called the great "gift" that the Catechism represents, why should we not try to make use of it for all it is worth?
Copyright ©; Kenneth D. Whitehead and the family of the late Msgr. Michael J. Wrenn. 1996 & 2009.
Version: 10th May 2009