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A Theological Establishment

Response to the Catechism


If the catechetical establishment in the United States does not much like the Catechism of the Catholic Church and has been expending considerable energies preparing commentaries and training materials evidently aimed at neutralizing if not replacing it, what does today's theological establishment think of the new Catechism? It is a fairly well-known fact that the modern catechetical movement has regularly looked to prominent theologians and scholars, not only for much of its inspiration, but even for some of its approaches, methods, and techniques.

Reliance on the work of theologians began for the modern catechetical movement as far back as the 1930s, when Fr. Josef Jungmann, S.J., was calling for a more "kerygmatic" approach to teaching the faith based on a more Scripture-based "proclamation" (Greek kerygma) of it, together with greater attention to actual life situations. Fr. Jungmann's kerygmatic method seemed—and seems—to be quite a good approach to teaching the faith. Unfortunately, the method could not survive the increasing skepticism of some later Scripture scholars, who have progressively undermined 204 in the minds of many new catechists the affirmation that what the Scriptures say is true. It would be rather difficult in the best of circumstances, after all, to be "proclaiming" as salvific what had come to be understood as mere ancient Near Eastern "myths".

One of the more prominent theorists of the new catechesis, Fr. Berard L. Marthaler, O.F.M. Conv., has expressly underlined the close relationship between today's catechetical and theological establishments. "The catechetical movement over the past fifty years or so", Fr. Marthaler wrote in his introduction to the Sourcebook for Modern Catechetics, has had a symbiotic relationship with biblical scholarship, the liturgical movement, and the "new theology." It has been able to assimilate and use the practical insights of learning theory based on experience and the findings of developmental psychology. Borrowing from anthropology, sociology, and psychology, it has come to have a better understanding of how individuals and groups appropriate symbols to establish a sense of identity and a world of meaning and value."1

If the new catechesis had managed to prove itself, perhaps such a close, indeed "symbiotic", relationship with the new theology and the new exegesis could have been said to be a good thing. Since the new catechesis has manifestly not been able to prove itself, however—judged by the standard of how well its recipients know and practice a Catholic faith that is authentic—then its close relationship with the new theology and exegesis becomes a considerably more questionable proposition. 205

Conversely, it may not even be going too far to assert that the value and validity of the new theology and the new exegesis can themselves be called into question on the basis of how poorly they have played themselves out in the very practical, down-to-earth world of the teaching of the faith. Perhaps its heavy reliance on contemporary theology —not to speak of its reliance on anthropology, sociology, and psychology—was a mistake from the beginning for the new catechesis.

It did not have to be so. The Catholic Church in all ages has amply demonstrated both her ability and her willingness to take what is good from external sources, be they secular or pagan, and then to "baptize" them. The "baptizing" of Greek philosophy and Roman law are only among the more outstanding examples of this in history. The Church has similarly been open to the adoption and use of modern knowledge and techniques compatible with her faith. Many valuable acquisitions have been—and can still be—adopted from other disciplines by a faith otherwise bound, of course, to maintain its own truth and authenticity.

But what about taking things from these external sources and then failing to "baptize" them—failing to realize, perhaps, that some things need to be "baptized"? What about adopting key concepts and findings from modern disciplines in a way that could allow or cause a watering down, or even a denial, of the faith? What about adopting things that are simply incompatible with the faith, meanwhile imagining that this is somehow required by "science" or "scholarship"? This is preeminently the case with some of the modern acquisitions that have been attempted in the postconciliar era.

Of course the deleterious effects of adopting things that are alien to or incompatible with the faith remain the same, even if these incompatible features came into catechesis indirectly 206 via the new theology or the new exegesis. This would simply mean that the alien things in question had earlier been wrongly adopted by the new theology or the new biblical scholarship, that these disciplines themselves had become tainted with ideas and methods taken from modern secular culture and science incompatible with the faith and then had in turn passed these tainted goods on to the new catechesis.

It is no secret that some of today's new theologians and exegetes have taken positions at variance with the Church's declared faith, as now set forth authoritatively in the new Catechism. It is similarly no secret that some of these same dissenting scholars have nevertheless sometimes remained pillars of today's theological establishment in the United States and elsewhere. Some of them are frank and open dissenters, declaring that what the theologians decide is the new norm for the Church. Others blur the issue and may even perhaps condescendingly refer to the Church's authentic faith (again, as it is now contained in the Catechism) as being merely the "official theology" among other "theologies", or as the "Roman theology" as opposed to other theologies considered more modern and creative.

There seems to be general agreement in the current theological establishment, though, that it is the theologians themselves, and not the Magisterium, who are to be the final judges in all that pertains to the Catholic faith, including, naturally, the Catechism.

As one instance of how a typical member of the current theological establishment views the Catechism, we may take the views of Fr. Francis Buckley, S.J., a professor of systematic and pastoral theology at the University of San Francisco. Fr. Buckley was one of the Woodstock group of scholars who attacked the draft catechism in the book entitied 207 The Universal Catechism Reader, which, as we noted in Chapter Three, found the draft "fatally flawed".2 His negative view of the completed Catechism proved to be equally pronounced. In an article entitled "What to Do with the New Catechism", Fr. Buckley declares that "it would be a mistake to hand the text of the new Catechism to everyone. It does not distinguish between matters of faith and theological opinion." He probably means the Catechism teaches as part of the doctrine of the faith things the new theologians consider "opinion" and hence subject to change by them.

"Catholics without professional theological training could be confused," Fr. Buckley complains, "thinking that all doctrines mentioned in the Catechism are matters of faith." Again, "professional theological training" proves to be the key for him even to having access to what the faith is. "The Catechism could have been written before the Second Vatican Council", he goes on to state. "Its doctrinal treatment of angels, human nature, and sin (to mention only a few areas) is seriously flawed by a failure to apply contemporary biblical criticism when appealing to biblical texts." Only the Catechism's part four on Prayer, apparently, meets his exacting standards and makes it possible to use the volume as something besides "a doorstop", in his own colorful characterization. In the end he sees the Catechism as usable only "if supplemented by strong commentaries on Scripture and the documents of Vatican II".3

Thus, a typical member of the theological establishment sees the Catechism in the same way the catechetical establishment 208 tends to see it: it simply cannot be used as is; it must be adapted, brought under control, "domesticated", as it were. Perhaps the worst thing that could happen would be for the faithful to receive the Catechism as it comes to them from the hands of the Church. What is needed are "strong commentaries" on it—the same thing Professors Brennan Hill and William Madges decided the catechetical establishment needed to have, as we saw in the last chapter.

Is there also a commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church in which prominent representatives of the current theological establishment give their views on it? As it happens, there is. It also happens to be one that is international in both its authorship and its publisher(s), and hence its range extends considerably beyond that of the theological establishment in the United States alone. But there is no doubt that the most visible members of the theological establishment, whether here or abroad, know exactly what they think about the Catechism. And that, as it turns out, is not terribly different from what the catechetical establishment thinks about it.4


Even before the Catechism itself became available in an official English text, both the Liturgical Press in the United States and Geoffrey Chapman in Britain announced the publication of a formidable volume entitled Commentary on 209 the Catechism of the Catholic Church .5 This Commentary appeared to be a very ambitious international undertaking. Although a nucleus of its contributors, including the volume's editor, Michael J. Walsh, are or have been connected with Heythrop College, University of London, the twenty-five contributors are, variously, American, Belgian, British, Canadian, Dutch, French, German, and Irish. Most of them are theologians, some of them prominent theologians, and all of them occupy, or have occupied, positions on recognized Catholic faculties, presumably in good standing with the Church, including even the faculties of Roman ecclesiastical universities.

Although making no claim to be "official", this Commentary can scarcely avoid appearing to be something very like that, and not just because of its title. Both the British and the American publishers of it number among the official publishers of the Catechism of the Catholic Church itself, for example. To all appearances, the contributors are recognized —in some cases, eminent—Catholic authorities on the subjects they treat. A trusting and unsuspecting reader would have to be pardoned for accepting this Commentary at face value and taking it to be, if not an official, at least a reliable guide to the Catechism.

Such a trusting and unsuspecting reader would be mistaken. Although three or four of the twenty-five contributions in this Commentary are not bad, or are at least innocuous, most of them are serious and determined efforts to call into question and undermine the authority and credibility both of the Catechism itself and of the Magisterium of the Church that issued it. 210

The publishers' announcement advertising the Commentary asks: "How well does [the Catechism] represent the faith which it is meant to encapsulate?" But are authors and publishers now to be the judges of this? The Pope declares it to be "a statement of the Church's faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, the Apostolic Traditions, and the Church's Magisterium".6 But the publishers boast instead that they have assembled "a team of distinguished Catholics drawn from theological faculties . . . around the world . . . [to] enter into critical dialogue with the text and relate its strengths and weaknesses".

"Critical dialogue." The pattern has become only too familiar in the postconciliar era in the Church: the Magisterium issues a statement or ruling, and immediately some Catholic theologians rush to enter into "critical dialogue" with it. Christ called "blessed" those "who hear the word of God and keep it!" (Lk 11:28). Today we are into "relating its strengths and weaknesses".

Judging by the Commentary they have produced, we can only conclude that these theologians have a generally low opinion of the Catechism. One of them, Fr. Dermot A. Lane, of the Archdiocese of Dublin, where he has been associated with the Mater Dei Institute of Education, writes that "the treatment of faith, like the rest of the Catechism, is highly condensed and as such calls out for commentary and clarification. The language is very traditional and will therefore be taxing to contemporary readers," he claims, "with very few concessions made to style or imagination." 211

"Readers should prepare themselves for something of a cultural shock as they are conveyed abruptly back to the thirteenth century", writes Fr. Gabriel Daly, O.S.A., a lecturer in systematic and historical theology at Trinity College in Dublin.

One of the Heythrop College theologians, Fr. John McDade, S.J., believes that "in the composition of the Catechism, the best theological resources of the Church have not been utilized." Dr. Monika K. Hellwig, of the theology department at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., finds that the Catechism's treatment of the sacrament of Penance is "clearly not a text to be used directly in the preparation of children . . . [and it is] quite confusing if followed too closely in an adult initiation program", thus eliminating, it would seem, the Catechism's usefulness here for both children and adults. Dr. Hellwig believes the whole thing "leaves a great deal that must be supplied from elsewhere."

Another American, Fr. James L. Empereur, S.J., for many years a professor at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California, finds the text on the sacrament of Anointing "too general to be a source of theological reflection .. . [and] too minimal to be of any pastoral assistance", thus again eliminating both the theological and pastoral value of this particular text.

Solution? Fr. Empereur declares that he himself "will fill out the text to enhance it", that is, he will write what the authors of the original text should have written if only they had possessed his particular insight. With this attitude, it is hardly a surprise that Fr. Empereur concludes in the end that "the real catechism of the Roman Catholic Church is still to be done."

Yet another contributor and Heythrop College Jesuit, 212 Fr. Philip Endean, S.J., similarly decides to provide his own "alternative account of the relationship between prayer and theology" in order to remedy the Catechism's perceived deficiencies on this topic. Dr. Joseph A. Selling, chairman of the Department of Theology at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, confirms the judgment of most of his colleagues when he writes concerning the Catechism's treatment of morality that "even the most 'traditionalist' (moral handbook) theologian will have to be disappointed by the lack of nuance exhibited by this text." He adds: "One does not teach by uttering clichés, perpetuating slovenly language, and succumbing to popular misunderstanding."

It quickly becomes evident that these writers believe the Catechism would have been better off if it had never been written. The next best thing that suggests itself to them is that correctives be provided for it. "Local catechisms will have to compensate for the shortcomings of this Catechism", concludes Catherine Mowry LaCugna of Notre Dame University in South Bend, Indiana.

Can this be true? That distinguished Catholic theologians belonging to recognized Catholic faculties and being published by firms that publish the Catechism itself—and which here are similarly claiming to be publishing some­thing "Catholic"—have instead produced a volume openly attempting to discredit and subvert the Catechism, in the guise of providing a "commentary" on it?

Yes: this is exactly what we have in this Commentary. This can be surprising only to those who have not read Pope John Paul II's recent encyclical Veritatis Splendor, in which the Pontiff points out what most serious observers of the postconciliar Catholic scene have long known, namely, that today Catholic doctrine risks "being distorted or denied within the Christian community itself . . . It is no longer a 213 matter of limited and occasional dissent," John Paul II says, "but of an overall and systematic calling into question of traditional . . . doctrine" (emphasis in the original). 7

Although the Pope was talking about moral teaching in his encyclical, his characterization applies to this Commentary's treatment of the Catholic doctrine generally to be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In vain, apparently, did the Pope declare that the work contains "what the Church believes", for we have here some twenty-odd Catholic theologians from around the world, most of whom would not too politely beg to differ with him. They reserve the right to decide for themselves "what the Church believes"; and therefore also to decide what kind of "reception" should be accorded to this Catechism as well.

Unfortunately, in the circumstances of today, a commentary such as this probably represents an all-too-typical example of the reception the Catechism is likely to receive in more than a few areas in the Church in the English-speaking world. It could even come to be considered something of a standard commentary in spite of its manifold defects.

Advocates of the new theology are only too likely to lock in on this Commentary like a guided missile on its target, using it henceforth as an authority on how the Catechism is to be received and then, in effect, promptly set aside.


From what standpoint does a group of academic theologians, even if described in the publishers' blurb as "distinguished" 215, presume to judge and find so drastically wanting a Catechism of the Catholic Church issued by the supreme authority in the Church? How do they manage or contrive to be taken seriously? How do they manage to get published by seemingly mainstream Catholic publishers?

We need to bear in mind what we covered in the first two chapters.

—The Catechism of the Catholic Church was requested by the 1985 World Synod of Bishops.

—It was commissioned by the Supreme Pontiff.

It was overseen at every stage by a special commission of twelve cardinals and bishops headed by the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

It was carried through ten separate drafts by an editorial committee composed primarily of seven diocesan bishops and one priest who enjoyed expert theological ad­vice and assistance at every stage.

—It was edited carefully at every stage by another
bishop who is also a distinguished Dominican theologian.

—The Catechism was submitted for review to all the Catholic bishops of the world, to all the bishops' conferences, and to major Catholic universities, with the result that nearly twenty-five thousand separate proposed amendments (modi) were sent back and carefully considered (and many times incorporated) by the editorial committee; this was the first time in the history of the Catholic Church that a major teaching document such as this was ever subjected to such a massive, worldwide consultation process.

—The final draft was then personally reviewed by the Holy Father, who called for certain modifications (he later commented that he had corrected the drafts himself!).8 215

—Finally, the completed Catechism was promulgated and given to the world with the full authority of the Church behind it.

This is impressive; the document resulting from this process would be entitled to respect by any standards. Anyone who believes in the divine mission and commission of the Catholic Church, and in the promises given to her by Jesus Christ, however, would repose even greater confidence in any result stemming from a process including all the above steps. Conversely, those who rush to judge the Catechism only to find it so drastically wanting would appear not to believe very strongly in the divine mission and commission of the Catholic Church or in the promises given to her by Jesus Christ.

In fact, many of those who do not like the Catechism do not seem to like the Catholic Church herself very much, either. This can be quickly verified by looking at most of the contributors to this Commentary. No matter that virtually all of them hold full-time positions in Catholic institutions: they still do not like the Catholic Church.

And it almost goes without saying that most of the contributors consider theological dissent from the teachings of the Church's Magisterium to be, not merely permitted, but both legitimate and necessary. They do not so much assert such a right to dissent as they simply exercise it and take it for granted, although one of the contributors from Heythrop College, University of London, Fr. Gerald J. Hughes, SJ., does sharply contest the Catechism's teaching that "rejection of the Church's authority and teaching" would constitute an instance of "erroneous judgment" (CCC 1792). How dare 216 the Catechism itself attempt to do what these theologians presume to do on every page of their Commentary, namely, issue adverse judgments? Fr. Hughes calls this teaching of the Catechism "scandalous" (at the very time when, it had come to seem, the very concept of "scandal"—at least theological scandal—had disappeared from Catholic discourse forever). The same author criticizes the Catechism for using in its paragraph 2270 a citation from Jeremiah 1:5— "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you"—as one of the reasons for opposing abortion on moral grounds.

Another contributor, Fr. Gerald O'Hanlon, S.J., from Dublin's Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy, actually complains about what he alleges is a contemporary "lack of tolerance for theological discussion and dissent". "The Church can become oppressive in a way that needs challenging", Fr. O'Hanlon asserts. Actually, the publication of this Commentary is itself proof of the contrary: Is there anything that cannot be published today under "Catholic" auspices, with little or no fear of any ecclesiastical or hierarchical challenge?

The typical attitude toward ecclesiastical authority of most of the contributors to this Commentary can perhaps best be seen in the tranquil way in which they regularly proceed to correct the Catechism wherever they believe it needs correcting. Thus, Dr. Lisa Sowle Cahill, professor of theology at Boston College, in Massachusetts, and past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, judges that "the Catechism's insistence that the teaching on the sacramentality of all marriages between baptized persons has been a part of Christian belief from the New Testament onward, and that even creation as presented in Genesis clearly requires monogamy and indissolubility, is fallacious" (emphasis added). Ipsa dixit. 217

Professor Sowle herself holds that indissolubility of marriage is "impossible" as well as "inequitable". Again, talk about dogmatic statements handed down from on high! The plain words of Christ to the contrary, so many times confirmed both by the Church's Magisterium and her pastoral practice, she believes, as do so many non-Catholic Christian communions, to be merely "ideals", like the counsels offered in the Sermon on the Mount.

This is a view readily echoed by Fr. Gerald J. Hughes, SJ., already quoted above, who declares that "as is not uncommon with Vatican documents, the [Catechism's] article on conscience sometimes states as facts what are, alas, no more than ideals."

A further example of the way in which these commentators simply proceed to "correct" the Catechism at will is the statement of the Belgian theologian Fr. Jacques Dupuis, who is on the faculty of Rome's Gregorian University. Fr. Dupuis holds that the Catechism's teaching (CCC 609) that the cry of Jesus on the Cross was made "in our name" is "both unfortunate and far-fetched".

This same Roman university professor finds the teaching of the Catechism in paragraph 474 to the effect that "the human knowledge of Jesus enjoyed in all its fullness the knowledge of the eternal design he had come to reveal" to be "unwarranted by the evidence which is cited". The "evidence cited" in this particular case happens to be two scriptural passages. But what is singular about the opinion of Fr. Dupuis here is his apparent assumption that the Church's Magisterium can only make statements for which it proposes evidence that is satisfactory to him.

However that may be, Fr. Dupuis fails to abide by the same standard he demands of the Catechism. He asserts, without evidence, that the statement of Jesus in Mark 13:32 218 —that "of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father"—is an example of "true, not feigned ignorance". The Catechism, however, cites Acts 1:7—"It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority"— as its authority for declaring that when it is said that Jesus did not "know" something, it means he did not have the mission to reveal it.

Admittedly, the question of the knowledge of Jesus, who was true God and true man, is a very difficult one to understand and explain. One of the striking things about this example from the Commentary, however, is how quickly certain scholars today are apparently prepared to make their own flat, dogmatic-sounding statements on the basis of modern study of an issue, while denying to the Magisterium of the Church the right to make any such statements "without evidence", even when the Magisterium is merely transmitting a long-held traditional belief of the Church.

The Magisterium—Catholics believe and the Catechism reiterates—enjoys the special assistance of the Holy Spirit. However, this does not appear to impress these commentators. They do not grant to the teaching Church what they claim in practice for themselves.

Meanwhile, their skepticism with regard to the Magisterium at least raises the question of the solidity of their own Catholic commitment, that is, of any real belief in the Church as what Vatican II's Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis Humane (no. 14) called "the teacher of truth".

Many other instances of the same phenomenon of demanding "evidence" for magisterial statements could be cited. Fr. Dermot A. Lane, for example, reproaches the Catechism for including in its paragraph 149 what he styles "the 219 historically unverifiable statement that Mary's faith never wavered and never doubted"—as if this kind of statement of the Church's immemorial tradition now has to be "historically verified". A very different criterion from the Church's ancient standard of adhering undeviatingly to the testimony handed down is quite patently being assumed and applied by these commentators. It is a standard that, if consistently and rigorously applied, could leave us very little firmly "verified" knowledge of any kind coming down from antiquity.

Yet the contributors to the Commentary do not hesitate to question even solemnly defined teachings of the Church in this way. Georgetown University's Dr. Monika Hellwig, for example, believes that it is "unfortunate that the text .. . still uses the expression 'Christ instituted the Sacrament of Penance'", because, according to her, "diligent Scripture study cannot find in the New Testament" any evidence for this. The fact that the seventh session of the Council of Trent solemnly defined, in a canon with anathema attached, that Christ instituted all seven of the sacraments 9 and the further fact that no scholar has, or could possibly have, any "evidence" that Christ did not do this—all this availeth naught in the present-day climate where "diligent Scripture study" now takes precedence over irreformable conciliar decisions of the Church's solemn extraordinary Magisterium.

Similarly, Fr. J. M. Tillard, O.P., of the Dominican Faculty of Theology in Ottawa, Ontario, thinks the Catechism "fails to give sufficient weight to historical evidence" when it quotes in its paragraph 834 the seventh-century Greek 220 theologian St. Maximus the Confessor, who applied to "the great Church" of Rome Christ's promise to Peter that the gates of hell would not prevail. Fr. Tillard finds the inclusion of this quotation from St. Maximus the Confessor "inexcusable", and asserts that "most scholarly exegetes refuse to interpret the passage in which Matthew alludes to the gates of hell (Mt 16:18) as containing a reference to the Church of Rome."

For a Catholic theologian, however, this question cannot be limited to what "most scholarly exegetes" think, since the First Vatican Council, in its dogmatic constitution Pastor Æternus (no. 1), teaches that Christ's promise to Peter "has always been understood by the Catholic Church" to apply to the Church of Rome.10 But apparently a conciliar teaching such as this does not impress modern Catholic theologians enthralled by modern scriptural exegesis. Far from being a source of almost any kind of exact knowledge, biblical scholarship actually constitutes one of the most speculative fields it is possible to imagine. This is not to say that the results of modern biblical scholarship are without value; but it is to say that they do not—and cannot—constitute the basis for anybody's faith.

A similar skeptical attitude toward historical magisterial decisions is exhibited by the Irish Augustinian Fr. Gabriel Daly, already quoted above as warning the reader of the Catechism to be prepared to be transported back to the thirteenth century. One of the things he was referring to was the profession of faith issued by the Fourth Lateran Council 221 in the year 1215 and confirmed by Pope Innocent III. 11 This was, and remains, one of the Church's solemn professions of faith (creeds). Among other things, it specifies that God created both spiritual and corporeal beings. Paragraphs 327-28 of the Catechism cite the authority of this Lateran IV profession of faith in declaring the existence of angels to be "a truth of the faith".

The Catechism then goes on, in its paragraph 336, to quote St. Basil the Great in support of the Church's belief in guardian angels. These affirmations are unlikely to shock many Catholics, who are usually very aware that the Church has always believed in angels and still does. The only ones likely to be shocked by this are those who have apparently come to believe, for whatever reason, that the Church does not really mean what she says.

On this whole subject, however, Fr. Daly delivers himself of a number of comments and observations that need to be quoted in extenso:

What are late twentieth-century people to make of all this in a Catechism which has so little to say about the relationship between faith and science, ecology and other matters which many will think more pressing? Those who are used to symbolic thinking and to the interpretation of myth will have few problems with biblical references to angels as messengers of God. What is a problem, however, is the removal of mythological language from its natural literary context and its subsequent reduction to literalized dogmatic statement. Images which properly belong to poetic narrative cannot simply be reduced to prosaic, allegedly factual descriptions, which then become dogmatic statements. The authors of the Catechism show no sign of 222 recognizing that there are serious hermeneutical problems involved in dogmatizing figurative (and especially apocalyptic) language and that the revelatory intent of such passages has to be discerned within the poetic language before being reduced to flat dogmatic pronouncements.

This all sounds very scholarly and moderate and, at first glance, may appear to be a "valid" modern way of understanding ancient faith affirmations, such as the belief in an­gels, which the modern world sometimes finds so hard to swallow. Certainly some of the points made here do apply to some or even much of biblical language that is "poetical" or "mythical." However, it would appear that Fr. Daly has lost sight of at least one important fact: the fact that we are not talking here just about "biblical references to angels as messengers of God".

We are talking here about the solemn decision of the extraordinary Magisterium of the Catholic Church speaking with the assistance of the Holy Spirit in the year 1215 of our era. The problem is not merely whether or not "images which properly belong to poetic narrative [can] .. . be reduced to . . . dogmatic statements." The fact of the matter, in this case, is that the Fourth Lateran Council did it: it defined the existence of angels as a truth of the faith, as the Catechism properly records. And the pope of the day promptly confirmed the conciliar text in question. Anyone who grants that the Catholic Church has a Magisterium has to accept that this was a solemn act of that Magisterium. To deny the existence of the superior spiritual beings traditionally referred to as "angels" is really to deny the Catholic system, since the Church's Magisterium has once and for all affirmed the existence of these beings in her most solemn possible way.

Moreover, a pope of our day has confirmed the same conciliar 223 teaching from Lateran IV. In his contemporary profession of faith known as the Credo of the People of God, solemnly pronounced on June 30, 1968,12 Pope Paul VI cited the earlier profession of faith from 1215 as the authority for his explicit—modern—teaching that God created "pure spirits which are called angels". The Catechism of the Catholic Church simply confirms the tradition on this point.

It is no doubt true enough that Pope Paul VI's Credo of the People of God is scarcely today's most popular magisterial source in the eyes of theologians who like to consider themselves up-to-date; it almost never appears on the typical radar screen of today's theological discourse. However some theologians may protest, though, it surely forms an integral part of the Church's Magisterium. The Catechism of the Catholic Church cites this modern Credo of Pope Paul VI as an authority no fewer than fourteen times. Paragraph 192 lists both Paul VI's Credo of the People of God, and Lateran IV's profession of faith, as among the Church's authentic creeds.

Fr. Daly's reservations about the Catechism'sand the Church's—affirmations concerning the existence of angels ("prosaic, allegedly factual descriptions"), then, if consistently applied in the way he evidently means to apply them here, would dissolve numerous elements of the Church's faith and creeds. This seems to be exactly the conclusion many of the theologian-contributors to this Commentary have reached. Fr. Daly himself, in a second contribution to this volume, appears to deny outright the defined Church doctrine of Original Sin. He avers that this doctrine "in its 224 traditional formulation invites disbelief" (in the same way, no doubt, that the declaration of Jesus in John 6 that he himself was the bread of life "invited disbelief").

Remarkably, most of the writers of this Commentary, even though they refuse to be held to any standard of belief in the Church's teaching themselves, nevertheless appear to believe themselves to be the final arbiters both of what the faith is and of how it is to be expressed. In other words— for this is what the whole thing really amounts to—they appear to believe that they, not the pope and the bishops, really do constitute the Church's Magisterium.


On what basis do the theologian-writers of the Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church presume to criticize so radically, and proceed on their own to correct, a foundational teaching document issued by the supreme authority of the Church? Apparently on the basis of their own academic study of the faith—that is, on their learning, scholarship, science—or on their citation of what other scholars or specialists have allegedly established.

We live in the age of the expert. In every field of human science or endeavor, the authority of the expert is sought in order to supply whatever answers are thought to be required. It is thus easy to adopt the position, sometimes without even realizing it, that in matters of faith, too, we must now look to the experts, to the theologians, to supply the answers to all questions that arise. Even the traditional authority of the hierarchy of the Church is now seen as having to yield without question to the more modern and "scientific" authority of the specialist. 225 People today often lose sight of the fact that Jesus rather pointedly did not select any of the trained people in the establishments of his own day to preserve and perpetuate the faith he revealed to us while he was among us. Acquired expertise, however dazzling it might appear to the uncritical eye, is not—and cannot be—the standard by which the Catholic Church lives.

Yet another one of the contributors to this volume, Fr. Brian E. Daley, S.J., of the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, remarks that the Catechism's view of the human body and soul rests on a theory that "many modern scientific and philosophical theories would not accept". In an era of more robust faith and strong Catholic identity, a believing Catholic would have been apt to reply to such a statement by saying "so much the worse for all those modern scientific and philosophical theories then!" Today, however, the prestige of science is such that even many believers are uncomfortable with anything that appears to go against current scientific fashions, even if the latter are shown to be highly questionable if not actually untenable themselves.

It is in any case widely believed, although usually only in a vague, general way without much precise, concrete data, that modern science and scholarship have "proved" that many "traditional" positions of the Church are now "outmoded" or "untenable". Science and scholarship have "proved" no such thing, of course, but the attitude that it is the Church that must always "change" persists anyway. When the Church, for her own reasons, inaugurates her own era of aggiornamento, of updating, mandating many official changes, as happened with Vatican II, the idea that everything is henceforth changeable unfortunately becomes almost irresistible for some. Certainly this mania for change 226 has immeasurably affected the discipline of Catholic theology. When, in such a climate, the idea takes hold that henceforth faith questions, too, are to be decided by specialists on the basis of the discoveries, real or supposed, of science and scholarship, we arrive at something very like what is so regularly reflected in the pages of this revisionist Commentary.

The assumption that, as masters of the new science, theologians are now to be the arbiters of the faith—to constitute what may be called a "theological magisterium"—is an assumption that appears to be shared, at least in some degree, by most of the contributors to this Commentary. Some of them merely assume the position and act in accordance with it. Others expressly articulate it, even in the face of Vatican II's clear teaching that the Magisterium resides in the hierarchy of the pope and the bishops (see, inter alia, Lumen Gentium no. 25 and Dei Verbum no. 10).

Another one of the Heythrop College theologians, for example, Fr. Robert Murray, S.J., although he says he accepts the fact that "the Catholic bishops in communion with the pope have inherited apostolic authority and exercise this in teaching and interpretation", still believes this teaching authority is necessarily a "shared ministry". There is no warrant for this in official Church teaching; nevertheless he asserts that it is shared. And it is shared, he believes, with the theologians. Vatican II's teaching that the authentic interpretation of revelation has been entrusted to the Magisterium alone he finds "hard to verify from history"—but to require it to be verified from "history" is, precisely, to assert the priority of the claim of the specialist, in this case the historian, who supposedly verifies it from the study of history.

Fr. Murray is actually one of the "moderates" in this 227 volume, by the way, and he delivers himself of one of its more memorable lines when, in effect, he confirms Pope John Paul II's observation that Catholic doctrine is being distorted and denied within the Church today. Fr. Murray says: "It is true that some exegetes have come into tension, in some cases unresolvable, with orthodoxy." This is as close to a little honest "peer review", by the way, that any of the theologian-contributors to this volume ever really comes.

Another contributor, Fr. Philip J. Rosato, SJ., an American who is currently on the faculty of Rome's Gregorian University, commenting on the Catechism's treatment of the sacrament of Orders—a treatment he judges "conceptually inadequate and spiritually uninspiring"—writes that "most members of the theological magisterium would not consider . . . female ordination and priestly celibacy . . . dogmatic issues but canonical ones open to further revision as social conditions and pastoral needs change. Yet the editors"— he means the bishop-authors of the Catechism—"following the official magisterium, do not make such a clear distinction between matters of faith and matters of law, with the result that the question of female ordination seems linked inextricably to Christology and that of priestly celibacy to eschatology" (emphasis added).

There is not in the Church, of course, any such thing as a "theological magisterium" parallel with the "official magisterium". There is only a "Magisterium" tout courtwhat Fr. Rosato calls here the "official magisterium". Moreover, whether they are matters of faith or matters of law, female ordination is excluded and priestly celibacy enjoined by one and the same Church authority, called "Magisterium" in its teaching aspect. (Yes: doctrines do "develop" and practices may be "changed", but both these developments and these changes must be approved by the legitimate authority 228 of the Church; they are not just decided upon by free­wheeling theologians.)

The Catechism traces both the selection of men alone for sacred ordination and the discipline of celibacy, which has always pertained to this particular sacrament, back to the choice and preference of the Lord himself. Paragraph 1577 says that the Church "recognizes that she is bound by the choice of the Lord [that] the ordination of women is not possible." This, by the way, is clearly a doctrinal and not merely a canonical declaration. It is understandable that theologians and others who have come to think the ordination of women inevitable should recoil in shock at such an unequivocal statement to the contrary by the teaching Church.

The Catechism's paragraph 1579 goes on to say that priests are "chosen from among believing men who are celibate and intend to remain celibate 'for the sake of the kingdom of heaven' (Mt 19:12)". The book thus correctly portrays the Church doing here what she has always done: practicing and handing on intact what she has received.

This has been a characteristic of the Church from the beginning: "For I delivered to you . . . what I also received", St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:3. The Church invariably does the same; the Catechism proves this again in our own day. In the present case, the Church has always selected only men for ordination and has insisted that they agree to follow the manner of life of the virginal and celibate Jesus, in whose place they will stand. This does not mean, again, that the Church never changes; it means that what changes are made have to be decided upon by proper Church authority. But Fr. Rosato judges this to be a grave deficiency. He complains that "the editors . . . were con­strained to limit themselves to the pronouncements of the official magisterium" and were not "permitted to engage in 229 theological reflection". But this is to misunderstand entirely the nature of what a Catechism is.

"A catechism", according, once again, to Pope John Paul II's apostolic constitution Fidei Depositum, which promulgated this Catechism, "must present faithfully and organically the teaching of sacred Scripture, the living Tradition in the Church, and of the authentic magisterium, as well as the spiritual heritage of the Fathers and saints of the Church, in order to allow the Christian mystery to be better known and to revive the faith of God's people."13

Nothing about any "theological magisterium" here; nothing about any requirement for the Catechism's authors to "engage in theological reflection". There is not even any mention of theology or theologians, as a matter of fact. Rather, what is mentioned is: "sacred Scripture", "living Tradition", "authentic magisterium", "the Fathers", "the saints": these are the sources through which the Church affirms and confirms the faith she has preserved and handed down from the time of Jesus. These are the things on which the Catechism of the Catholic Church necessarily concentrates and from which it draws the content of its teaching.

One of the Commentary authors complains about the Catechism's "excessive preoccupation with the content of the faith", but, again, that is what a catechism is: a compendium of doctrine. And neither the doctrine of the faith itself nor any catechism that reflects and expounds it for the benefit of the faithful is based, or could be based, either on the discoveries of science or scholarship or on the reflections or speculations of theologians.

Most of the theologian-contributors to this Commentary have quite patently lost sight of what a catechism is. 230 Fr. Dermot A. Lane faults the document for lacking modern "conceptualities such as the turn to the subject and historical consciousness, the framework of modernity, process thought, and the emerging reconstructed postmodern ecological frameworks". The same author is also to be found writing another sentence calling for new "languages of faith such as the existential, the experiential, the anthropological, shared praxis, narrative and story variety".

Fr. Gabriel Daly, O.S.A., similarly regrets that the modern "turn to the subject"—this is currently a fashionable jargon-phrase, both in modern theology and in modern catechetics—is not reflected in the Catechism. He doubts the document's usefulness for what he calls "an honest, critically aware faith". "Neither process thought nor feminist critique has had the slightest moderating influence . . . on the Catechism." As far as Fr. Daly is concerned, "the greater part could have been written hundreds of years ago." Fr. John McDade, S. J., similarly remarks: "The exposition it offers could have been compiled at any stage of Christian history."

Precisely. The Catechism of the Catholic Church aims to hand down, and does hand down, nothing else but "the Catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles". It does so—as we have just quoted John Paul II as saying in Fidei Depositumin order "to allow the Christian mystery to be better known and to revive the faith of God's people". This does not mean that it is not also entirely up-to-date in the things it is supposed to be up-to-date on, namely, how the traditional faith that has been handed down from the time of the apostles has also been developed and interpreted under the guidance of the Magisterium with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. As a matter of fact, the Catechism is outstanding in this particular regard: including and explaining modern developments. 231

Nevertheless, the Catechism is still what it is: a statement of the Church's faith. Is it possible to imagine anyone's faith being "revived" by, say, "process thought" or "the turn to the subject"? Or anyone being converted to Christ by "the existential" or "the experiential"? Where in the Gospels did Jesus ask for "critically aware" faith? How can the "feminist critique" be incorporated into Church teaching when the feminist critique essentially rejects Church teaching?

The poverty of imagination evidenced by these scholars and the severe limitations of their vision render them quite unfit to pass judgment on the masterful presentation of the living Catholic tradition of faith set forth in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The entire original conception of the Commentary is deficient because it is based on a fundamentally deficient conception of the faith. The editor of the volume, Michael J. Walsh, a former member of the Society of Jesus and now librarian at Heythrop College, University of London, began with the assumption, as he rather ingenuously relates, that the text of the Catechism places "far too much emphasis on the authority of the magisterium . . . and far too little on the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church". That is, on what he calls "the role of the Holy Spirit": invoking the Spirit in this way has become one of the standard excuses of those determined to rebel against the legitimate authority of the Church; it is encountered more than once in the contributions to this Commentary.

Walsh goes on to specify that the assigned task of each of the various authors of the Commentary was to enter "into critical dialogue with the text upon which they were com­menting"—the same phrase used by the publishers in their announcements of the Commentary. "Critical dialogue", it would seem, is practically synonymous with "faith" in the minds of the writers of this Commentary. 232

What are Walsh's qualifications as editor of a volume whose principal aim, evidently, is to judge the qualifications of the Church and her Magisterium to produce a catechism? His qualifications, as it happens, may perhaps be gauged by a
definition" of the Church's Magisterium that that he himself offered in his book entitled Opus Dei: An Investigation into the Secret Society Struggling for Power within the Roman Catholic Church. In it, the author succeeds in demonstrating neither that Opus Dei is a "secret society", nor that it is "struggling for power" within the Church. What he does succeed in doing is betraying his own inability to believe that anyone today might possibly take seriously the traditional tenets of the Catholic faith or be willing to subject themselves to serious spiritual direction. The things in his heaven and earth, it seems, are mostly those dreamt of in modern liberal ideology. Anyway, this is how he explained "the Magisterium" in his book:

"Magisterium," simply translated, means "teaching," but its overtones are rather less neutral than that. . . In this, usage, it means the teaching, not of the Church at large but of the bishops, and, more particularly, of the Pope and his Curia in Rome: what is known to theologians as "the ordinary magisterium." No one suggests that such teaching is, in the full share of the word, "infallible," but many Catholics regard it as authoritative, even though, used in this way, it is untraditional, a creation of nineteenth-century ultra-papal sentiment."14

Mr. Walsh correctly though simplistically does get it right that "the pope" and "the bishops" are the Magisterium. Beyond 233 that affirmation, and the affirmation that "many Catholics" regard the Magisterium as "authoritative", he gets virtually everything else wrong.

The whole thing is so garbled that it is difficult to know where to begin to correct it. "Magisterium" does not mean "teaching" but "teaching authority"; there is no separate, distinct teaching of "the Church at large", separate from that of "the bishops" and of "the Pope and his Curia", because they teach for the whole Church, and there is no Church "teaching" at all apart from what they teach. Nor is the pope's "Curia" separate from him in its teaching function; Vatican II made it clear that the Curia legitimately speaks and acts for the pope when directed by him.15

Again, the teaching of the Magisterium is "authoritative", but not just because "many Catholics regard it as authoritative"; it enjoys special assistance from the Holy Spirit in ways the Church has carefully spelled out. Under certain specified conditions, it is even "infallible". Finally, the Magisterium is in no way an "untraditional creation" of the nineteenth century, although the word "magisterium" came into prominent use from approximately that time on. The teaching authority of the Church, which the word "magisterium" signifies, has been around at least since the time of the Council of Jerusalem described in Acts 15. The acts of the great Church councils of the first four or five centuries eminently illustrate the existence of such a definite Church Magisterium, or specific teaching office; so do the great interventions of the popes, such as the famous Tome of Pope St. Leo the Great acclaimed at the Council of Chalcedon in 450. So the "Magisterium" has been around all along; 234 even so, the word did not come into use as a result of what is miscalled here by Walsh "ultra-papal sentiment".

And so on. Does this inaccurate, misleading paragraph indicate any level whatsoever of theological competence on which a Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church could properly be planned and executed?

Readers who would like to know what the Magisterium of the Church really is are urged to peruse for themselves chapter three (nos. 18-29) of Vatican Council II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, and/or 871­96 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.


Heythrop College Librarian Michael Walsh proudly describes this Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, of which he is the editor, as "an up-to-date survey of the expert teaching of theologians on those topics in Catholic theology which are touched upon, often all too inadequately, by the Catechism." This statement, by itself, would seem to constitute a claim that there exists a "theo­logical magisterium" corrective of the Church's actual Magisterium.

On the evidence, however, many of the contributors to this volume have not turned in a very plausible theological performance, as can be readily gathered from some of the quotations already included up to this point. We could quote many more. If these are the kind of people Catholics have to depend upon in order to get the faith right, we are in trouble.

Ironically, not a little of the scholarship in this book—in which the believing Catholic is now apparently supposed to 235 repose a kind of confidence that is to be denied to the pronouncements of the Church's Magisterium—is really quite mediocre, as we have already seen. The Gregorian University's Fr. Philip J. Rosato, S.J., to give another example, cites a single reference from Pope St. Leo the Great referring to the election of presbyters as proof of what he describes as "an anthropological principle underlying the concept of ministry in the first millennium", namely, that priests were the delegates of the faithful (presumably in the "democratic" sense).

The same author regrets that "deaconesses are not mentioned at all in the Catechism although they constituted an order throughout the first millennium." This latter statement is not only false but bespeaks an ignorance of the whole subject of deaconesses. One of the two present writers was the translator into English of the best authoritative modern work on this subject, Aimé-Georges Martimort's Deaconesses.16 This book establishes that deaconesses have never constituted an "order" in the history of the Church. The very word "deaconess", which is simply derived from the Greek word for "service", has actually been used to describe very different types of "service" to the Church performed by women at different periods in the Church's history.

Other examples of similar questionable scholarship from this Commentary could be cited if space allowed. Enough has surely been said already, however, to render highly doubtful one of the key assumptions behind this whole volume, namely, that Catholics should transfer the allegiance they have traditionally accorded to the Magisterium of the Church over to the findings of selected modern scholars 236
and exegetes. This would be to sell their birthright for a real mess of pottage.


The authors of the Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church continually make reference to what Fr. Dermot A. Lane calls the "challenges of communicating truth to the modern world". The main challenge, as Fr. Gabriel Daly expresses it, is how to appeal "to the average modern believer of good will and critical intelligence". He wants to avoid having what he calls "unnecessary dogmatic obstacles placed in the path of thoughtful believers or wouldbe bebelievers". This immediately raises the matter of deciding which of the Church's dogmas are "unnecessary" and have to go by the board. And this, of course, would appear to be precisely the task that the authors of this Commentary have arrogated to themselves. They will decide which Church doctrines must now be downgraded or thrown out. This appears to be one of the important ways the so-called "theological magisterium" of the Church, which they fancy they represent, should function.

It is almost superfluous at this point to remark that most of these commentators do not believe that the Catechism of the Catholic Church has succeeded very well in meeting the challenges the Church faces in trying to make her ancient faith credible to the modern world. Dr. Monika Hellwig finds that its treatment of Penance, for example, "does not support a catechism arousing vision, enthusiasm, and cornmitment"which she believes we need if we ever hope to maintain "a faithful community".

Fr. Gerald O'Hanlon, for his part, thinks " 'churchy' language 237 such as 'redemption,' 'atones' (CCC 517) and 'recapitulation' (CCC 518) . . . require . . . breaking down into a more contemporary idiom by the theologically informed catechist if they are to be fruitful mediations of the faith."

There are frequent similar statements scattered through the texts of the various authors, all quite critical of how the Catechism presents the faith to the modern world. At the same time, it is strongly implied that these authors do know how to present the faith properly and effectively to modern, late-twentieth-century hearers.

What is the truth of the matter? What is the record of such academics in evangelizing, catechizing, and otherwise spreading the faith? What is the general state of the faith in the present era in which they occupy such prominent positions on Catholic theology faculties? The sad fact is that the knowledge and practice of the Catholic faith have fallen off more catastrophically during these very years than during any comparable period in the Church's history. The tragic fact is that the formal teaching of the Catholic faith in Catholic schools and religious education classes has hardly ever been less effective than in the very years that the training of catechists and religion teachers has been so largely in the hands of people such as these.

No doubt the root causes of the crisis of faith in our day are extremely complex and varied and cannot be ascribed to any single cause, let alone laid at the door of any particular group of people in the Church, even the "new theologians". Nevertheless the fact is plain and indisputable that they have been a significant contributing factor. At bottom, these experts are peddling their own ideas, not the Church's faith. They see themselves as modern, up-to-date, and relevant, while they see the Church as ignorant, backward, myopic, and outside the mainstream as well as behind the times. 238

The issuance of the Catechism of the Catholic Church by the Church's highest authority obviously marks a discouraging and very serious setback for the kind of revisionist theology that experts such as these had long since hoped and expected to see the Church adopt. Their disappointment is patent throughout this whole book. As the authors relentlessly point out in the pages of this Commentary, the Church has not adopted any Neomodernist positions. Indeed, the Church has quite conspicuously not adopted any of the typical revisions and modifications in the faith that these theological dissenters have been so tirelessly promoting over the past quarter century.

With this particular Catechism, the Church has instead restated and reiterated her authentic ancient faith, even while thoroughly and marvelously updating it in the authentic sense of that word. The revisionists claim that it slights Vatican Council II, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church cites the Council as its authority no fewer than 767 times, far more than any other source except the holy Scriptures themselves. This book thus represents one of the richest, most varied, and most nuanced statements of the Church's faith ever produced; but it remains a statement of her faith.

Although it is hardly their intention, the authors of the Commentary themselves provide some of the best hard evidence for the Catechism's authenticity. Most of the comments, complaints, and criticisms the authors make indicate precisely this: the Catechism is not what they wanted. They are dismayed, in fact, for it reinstates, sometimes on a stronger basis than ever, doctrines that these people believe should have been dropped long ago.

On the subject of feminism, for example, a significant number of the contributors make reference to such things as the "difficulty many experience in addressing God as Father" 239 (O'Hanlon) or to what is styled the actual "oppressiveness of the use of Father" (Mowry LaCugna)—as if the Church, in response to the demands of a radical modern ideology, could ever give up one of the fundamental features of God's own revelation of himself, namely, that he is a Father, whom Jesus himself taught us to address as "Our Father". We saw in the last chapter how this scriptural image of "Father" so fittingly expresses the transcendence of God the Creator. We cannot change the traditional images and expressions of the faith in accord with the demands of modern ideologies without serious repercussions for the faith itself.

Similarly, a surprising number of contributors also invoke the concept of "the hierarchy of truths" as an excuse for downgrading the importance of some of the doctrines included in the Catechism. This, as the reader will remember, had also been the subject of much discussion in the earlier attack on the draft Catechism launched by the Universal Catechism Reader, which was written by theologians of much the same persuasion and even some of the very same authors we find here.17

As a result of the steady complaints of all these theologians, even the Holy See and the editorial committee of the Catechism felt obliged to make far too much of this concept of the hierarchy of truths than was ever necessary. In Chapter Three, we have already taken note of the lucid explanation of the concept made by Archbishop Christoph Schönborn. 18

Properly understood, of course, the idea of a hierarchy of truths is a legitimate concept. Vatican II, in Unitatis Redintegratio, taught that "in Catholic doctrine there exists an order or 'hierarchy' of truths since they vary in relation to the foundation of the Christian faith."19

Thus, a number of the contributors here, too, do not fail to seize upon the concept. In their minds, the phrase evidently means that some truths are "less true", or, at any rate, "less important", than others. Interpreted in this way, the idea is used as a means of setting aside—so that one can simply forget about—those traditional Catholic beliefs that today are thought to be inconvenient or even embarrassing. For if these doctrines can be considered "lower down" in the hierarchy of truths, then they need no longer be emphasized, and perhaps some of them are even entirely dispensable—so runs the revisionist line.

What the expression "hierarchy of truths" really means in authentic Church teaching, however, is that some truths are derived from other truths (or, as Archbishop Christoph Schönborn put it, some truths are central, others grouped around them). Unitatis Redintegratio (no. 11) itself specified that truths "vary in their relation to the foundation of Christian faith". But this does not mean that some truths are less true or less important than others.20

The impression is inescapable that the contributors to this Commentary expected and wanted certain Catholic doctrines to be downgraded or eliminated in the Catechism. When this did not occur, they necessarily found themselves constrained 241 to try to shape the future of Church teaching in other ways. One of these ways was to invoke such subterfuges as the hierarchy of truths as justification for selecting which doctrines should be retained and which downgraded or eliminated.

Another and much more significant way to try to shape the future of the Church was to establish themselves as the "official"—or at least the most prestigious—interpreters of the Catechism itself. This appears to be the principal aim of the preparation of this Commentary. If the Catechism is as deficient as they say it is, then obviously their intervention is going to be required in order to set things right; they can decide which of the doctrines it contains are to be emphasized in academic theology and, particularly, in the training of catechists and religion teachers.

Or—even better from their point of view—they can decide and persuade others to believe that the Catechism itself does not even have to be used much, if at all, in spite of all the trouble the Church has gone to in order to produce it. All this can be managed and arranged, if theologians of this stripe continue to be tolerated in their various university' faculties—and if a volume such as this Commentary is allowed to be presented to the unsuspecting Catholic faithful as a legitimate commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

There may have been a time when dissident and revisionist authors and theologians such as these could continue to maintain at least the appearance of remaining Catholic, even while consistently undermining or even contradicting known teachings of the Magisterium. There may have been a time when they could continue to maintain the appearance of being Catholic, in other words, even while coming "into tension", in the colorful phrase of Fr. Robert Murray, "in 243 some cases unresolvable, with orthodoxy". In fact, they were often able to do this simply by putting forward their dissident or revisionist positions as interpretations, say, of Vatican II. Everyone knows that Vatican II meant "change", after all, and so everyone's own favorite "change", even in doctrine, could always be put forward under that label. Since all these same dissidents and revisionists tended to remain in place, moreover, whether on university faculties or in institutes or on the editorial staffs of theological journals, without ever being challenged, rebuked, silenced, or removed by ecclesiastical authority—itself neutralized, as often as not, merely by being accused of being oppressive— the reigning appearance could only be that their peculiar "interpretations" of Catholic doctrine indeed somehow remained within permissible bounds for Catholic theologians.

No longer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has now come out, reiterating the Church's ancient faith and, for the most part, simply passing over in silence most of the dissident and revisionist positions of the past generation, which were supposed to have been so far on the way to official adoption in the brave new Church of the future. In many other cases, the Catechism specifically rejects favored modern notions. Virtually nothing of what the revisionists wanted happened.

Nevertheless, the advocates of all these same erroneous positions have not yet given up, even though they stand exposed and condemned by the words of the Catechism itself, which steadily reaffirms what they have so long openly tried to modify or drop. They do not intend to go quietly, however. This Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church is only the latest of their efforts to steer the Church down the same wrong road they have been trying to get her to travel virtually since the end of the Second Vatican Council. 243

They failed in a number of rather strenuous previous efforts to prevent this Catechism from being written or published; they failed in similar attempts to water down its text.

Now they have tried to discredit the Catechism by coming out with a Commentary that criticizes it so severely that it will be neutralized—at least in the minds of some. The hope is, apparently, that it will be seen as unusable and then will just have to be put on a shelf somewhere and forgotten. And to the extent that these same people continue to teach religious educators, they can sometimes, unhappily, insure this outcome.

The odds in the long term, however, are that they will fail in their enterprise, for the simple reason that Christ's promise to the Church still obtains, as, indeed, the production and promulgation of this Catechism at this time under these circumstances almost miraculously confirms. How could the Church have produced such a splendid, entirely orthodox statement of her faith when a majority of her theologians, judging by the predominant tendencies of the contributors to this volume, were evidently urging her to travel in a wholly different direction?

In the short term, though, the odds are that many will unfortunately be deceived by this very defective Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It seems fine, and it has been written by such "distinguished" theologians; and it has been brought out under such respectable "mainstream" auspices by publishers such as Geoffrey Chapman and the Liturgical Press. Nevertheless it is a very far cry from being the reception of this Catechism that the Catholic faithful both require and deserve.

And what is even more astonishing about it than the volume itself, perhaps, is the fact that this Commentary was very favorably reviewed in The Living Light, the official publication 244 on religious education and pastoral ministry of the Department of Education of the U.S. Catholic Conference; it was favorably reviewed as if it were now established Church policy and practice in the United States to accept open denigration of the teachings of the Church as just one more expression of legitimate "theological opinion".

"The essays as a whole are constructive, thorough, and fair", the reviewer in The Living Light opined, and added: ". . the authors successfully offer readers thorough examination of the Catechism's strengths and weaknesses"— apparently taking it wholly for granted that the task of theology is to criticize and "correct" the magisterium. This particular reviewer was able to reach these particular favorable conclusions about this Commentary even as he quoted comments on the Catechism from it as bad or worse than some of those we have quoted above (for example, Fr. Gabriel Daly found in the section on creation and original sin "a near total disregard for the difficulties and doubts which beset" modern man; and Monika Hellwig found that the section on Penance "achieves a burdensome and depressing effect which cannot be helpful to catechesis").21

Unfortunately, this complacent acceptance of dissent and dissenters in the Church as natural and normal and legitimate by this reviewer is hardly unique to this issue of The Living Light; it seems to be standard fare in this "official" catechetical journal. The executive editor of the publication, Fr. Berard L. Marthaler, was one of the original twenty dissenting "subject professors" at the Catholic University of America during the controversy over the papal encyclical 245 Humanise Vitae back in 1968.22 But this fact never seems to have prevented him from being one of the leaders most in view of the modern catechetical movement in the United States; nor has it, apparently, ever raised any serious questions anywhere about his suitability to be the editor of the USCC's official journal on catechesis and pastoral ministry; evidently one does not have to accept the faith oneself in order to be considered an expert in the teaching of it.

The anonymous author of the book DOA, on the initial reception of the Catechism, recommended that publication of The Living Light under official Church auspices should simply be terminated.23 That might be a good beginning.

Meanwhile, when we see what the theological establishment is like today, we begin to understand more clearly some of the things that are wrong with the catechetical establishment. If the new catechists have so often shown themselves to be reluctant apostles, there is serious question whether some of these theologians, as evidenced by this Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, can be considered apostles in any sense at all: evidently many of them no longer even accept that they are "sent out" by the Church in any important way; it is all just a matter of one's "discipline".


1. Berard L. Marthaler, introduction, Sourcebook for Modern Catechetics, ed. Michael Warren (Winona, Minn.: Saint Mary's Press, Christian Brothers Publications, 1983), 19.

2. See n. 3 to Chapter Three supra.

3. Rev. Francis J. Buckley, SJ., "What to Do with the New Catechism", Church, summer 1993.

4. The remainder of this chapter appeared in slightly modified form in an article in the The Catholic World Report, April 1994.

5. Michael J. Walsh, ed., Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1994).

6. Pope John Paul II, apostolic constitution Fidei Depositum, on the Publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, October 11, 1992, no. 3. This apostolic constitution is printed in the front of all of the editions of the Catechism available in the United States.

7. Pope John Paul II, encyclical letter on the Splendor of Truth, Veritatis Splendor, August 6, 1993, no. 4.

8. Pope John Paul II, "Address on the Occasion of Approving the Final Version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church", L'Osservatore Romano, July 1, 1992.

9. The General Council of Trent, seventh session, Decree on the Sacraments, canon 1, in J. Neuner and J. Dupuis, The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, rev. ed., (Westminster, Md.: Christian Classics, 1975) 352.

10. Vatican Council I, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, Pastor. Æternus, chap. 1, in Documents of Vatican Council I, sel. and trans. John F. Broderick, S.J. (Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1971), 54-55.

11. The Fourth Lateran General Council, Symbol of Lateran (1215), in Neuner and Dupuis, Christian Faith, 14-17.

12. The text of Pope Paul VI's Credo of the People of God can be found, among many other places, in Austin Flannery, O.P., ed., Vatican Council II: More Postconciliar Documents, (Northport, N.Y.: Costello Publishing Company, 2982), 387-96.

13. Fidei Depositum, no. 2.

14. Michael Walsh, Opus Dei: An Investigation into the Secret Society Struggling for Power within the Roman Catholic Church (San Francisco: Harper, 1989), 89.

15. See Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church, Christus Dominus, no. 9.

16. Aime-Georges Martimort, Deaconesses: An Historical Study, trans. K. D. Whitehead (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986).

17. See n. 3 to Chapter Three supra.

18. See n. 2 to Chapter Three supra.

19. Vatican Council II, Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio, no. II

20. For a further discussion of how "the hierarchy of truths" has been used in the controversies surrounding the Catechism, see Msgr. Michael J. Wrenn, Catechisms and Controversies: Religious Education in the Post- conciliar Years (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), esp. 59-64.

21. Review of Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church by Morris Pelzel, Saint Meinrad School of Theology, Saint Meinrad, Indiana, in The Living Light, fall 1995.

22. See Charles E. Curran, Robert E. Hunt, and the "Subject Professors", with John F. Hunt and Terrence R. Connelly, Dissent in and for the Church: Theologians and Humance Vitae (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1969).

23. See DOA: The Ambush of the Universal Catechism (by "Catholicus") (Notre Dame, Ind.: Crisis Books, 1993), 267-68.

Chapter 7

This above book has been discontinued by Ignatius Press and is being reproduced with the permission of Ignatius Press and the copyright holders. It is hoped to remove typos in the coming months.

Copyright ©; Kenneth D. Whitehead and the family of the late Msgr. Michael J. Wrenn. 1996 & 2008.

Version: 10th May 2009

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