Mr Gerard M. Gaskin Director of Religious Education, Diocese of Wagga Wagga, Australia
(Mr Gaskin participated in the 1990 world-wide consultations on the draft of the Catechism for the Universal Church by assisting in his diocese's evaluation of the document.)
Catechism for the Universal Church comes from the expressed wish of the Bishops attending the Extraordinary Synod, held in Rome in 1985.
The Great Council of Trent, held in the sixteenth century, produced its catechism which remains, even today, a comprehensive statement of authentic Catholic belief. Some people might ask why there is any need to produce a new one.
The Council of Trent was called in response to the Protestant Reformation which was sweeping through Europe and Great Britain with considerable power. Princes and kings, nations and cities which had previously been Catholic were declaring themselves as Protestant and the Catholic Faith was under serious attack. The Mass was under assault because it was a sacrifice, and the reformers wanted it to be merely a memorial of the Last Supper. The power of the priesthood was being questioned because many had challenged the doctrine of Transubstantiation (that at the Consecration of the Mass the bread and wine become, in substance, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ). The reformers following Martin Luther were calling for a theology based solely on Scripture, which thus ignored the authority, given to the Church by Christ, to teach in His name (Sacred Tradition).
Many of the central truths of the Catholic Religion were being opposed or ignored. It was clear that the faith of the ordinary Catholic was being eroded and destroyed by this revolutionary and rapid change.
This is not to say that there was not a need for reform. Most Catholic historians and theologians acknowledge that some aspects of Catholic life were in need of reform. There was little proper seminary training for priests and the sacraments and sacramentals were being abused by Churchmen. Some princes and kings were given too much power in the Church and many clergy were meddling in affairs of State. While all of this is true, we must remember that this poor state of affairs in the Church did not affect all areas of the Faith.
Even despite all their corruption and human weakness, the bad Popes and unscrupulous clerics did not change the centuries-old body of Catholic teaching. They did not re-write Catholic doctrine nor try to change the traditional beliefs about the Mass and the Sacraments.
It was the protestant reformers who wanted these changes to Catholic doctrine and practice. Many of these reformers complained about the obvious corruption which did exist in the Church, but they also wanted to change basic belief.
It is not surprising that the Catholic Church had to respond to this challenge by calling the Council of Trent. The catechism which came from the Council could then be used by priests to proclaim authentic Catholic teaching from the pulpit at Mass and could use it in the instruction of the young and converts.
Unlike so many of the Councils that had gone before it, the Second Vatican Council was not called in reaction to a great heresy or schism. This made the Council quite an unusual event in Church history. In many ways the teachings of the Church have been built upon the great Councils which were called to resolve certain conflicts and to combat particular heresies. Some of these Councils and the reasons for their convocation were:
Nicea I (325) To condemn Arianism which denied the divinity of Christ; to formulate the Nicene Creed.
Constantinople I (381) To condemn the Macedonians who denied the divinity of the Holy spirit.
Chalcedon (451) To define that Christ has two natures; true God and true man.
Lateran I-IV (1123-1215) Against the antipope, the Waldenses and the Albigensians. Officially defined the doctrine of Transubstantiation.
Florence (1438-45) Taught the primacy of the Pope.
Trent (1545-63) Called to meet the crisis of the Protestant Reformation; proclaimed the Bible and Tradition as the rule of faith; defined the doctrine on the Mass, the sacraments, purgatory, indulgences.
Vatican I (1869-70) Defined the natures of Revelation and Faith, proclaimed papal infallibility.
The Second Vatican Council was not called to stem a heresy or defend a doctrine which was under attack. Pope John XXIII explained in his opening address that it was convoked "... mainly to more effectively preserve and present the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine."
A number of historians claim that a crisis in doctrine and practice had been actually simmering below the surface long before Pope John XXIII convened the Council. They claim that Modernist errors were already surfacing and that some "periti" (theologians and advisors to the Vatican II Bishops) had the clear intention to influence the decrees of the Council.
Whatever the facts which history will prove or disprove, there is hardly a Catholic today who is unaffected by the changes which have occurred since the Council. I do not mean the authentic changes which the Council made to the liturgy or to religious life, I mean the changes which have been brought about by people who have contradicted virtually every teaching and practice of the Catholic religion, and who have justified their position by saying that it is in "the spirit of Vatican II".
Most Catholics have heard it said from pulpits or at seminars or adult education sessions at one time or another such things as these: "the Church doesn't believe in Indulgences any more"; "Purgatory is no longer true"; "it's impossible for anyone to commit a mortal sin"; "the Church says you can make up your own mind about contraception"; "the Church no longer teaches that the Mass is a sacrifice - it's now a community meal"; "the Church no longer obliges us to go to Mass on Sundays" and many more such statements.
This is but a small sample of the teachings which good Catholics have been led to believe are now the teachings of the Catholic Church. I have certainly heard all of these things proclaimed by certain priests and religious as though they were defined Catholic teaching.
The fact is they are totally wrong.
In each case, the opinions presented above are the direct reverse of current, defined Catholic teaching.
In a sense, Catholics who hear these things are being presented with a double lie.
Not only did the Vatican Council not proclaim any of these so-called "new teachings", but each one of the traditional teachings has been re- taught by Popes and the Church since Vatican II, as can be seen from the following:-
* The traditional teaching about Indulgences was again proclaimed by Pope Paul VI in 1967. (Indulgentiarum Doctrina)
* Purgatory, Heaven and Hell were re-taught in their traditional forms as: purification before reaching Heaven - purgatory; eternal punishment deprived of the sight of God - Hell; and happiness of the just who will be with Christ - Heaven; by Pope John Paul II in 1979. (letter to Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, May 17)
* Pope John Paul II reasserted the classical teaching about the three conditions of mortal sin in 1985.
He taught clearly that "... mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent". (N.17) (Reconciliatio et Paenitentia)
* Pope Paul VI explicitly condemned all use of artificial contraception "... to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth" in 1968. (Humanae Vitae)
* The General Catechetical Directory, 1971, taught that the Mass is a sacrifice and that the priest "... perpetuates the sacrifice of the cross in an unbloody manner". (n.58)
* The revised Code of Canon Law, 1985, directs, "On Sundays and other holydays of obligation the faithful are obliged to assist at Mass. They are also to abstain from such work or business that would inhibit the worship to be given to God." (Canon 1247)
In each of these cases we can see that traditional Catholic teaching has not changed at all since the Vatican Council.
Yet, many Catholics have been led into confusion on these issues which are vital to the core of the Catholic religion.
It is therefore no wonder that the fathers of the 1985 Synod could describe these problems as, "... errors, confusions and defects which, because of sin and human weakness, have been the occasion of suffering among the people of God."
The Catechism for the Universal Church is a clear and decisive enterprise on the part of the Church, aimed at resolving these conflicts and confusions once and for all.
Its consultation draft clearly and emphatically restated all of the above teachings of the Catholic Faith.
It also set out to demonstrate the origins of these beliefs, drawing from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
It is a very comprehensive compendium of the whole of Catholic belief.
Even in the early draft, the reader could see how the teachings of the Catholic Faith form a harmonious whole into which each particular doctrine fits like the stitches in a garment: each plays its unique part in holding together and strengthening the totality.
Unfortunately, there are those in the Church who refuse to accept that Christ speaks through His Church and that His teachings demonstrate the beauty and logic of the Divine mind who revealed them to us.
Sadly, some people appear unable to accept that in order to preserve the integrity and magnificence of these teachings, Christ entrusted the power of teaching and interpreting them to the Magisterium of the Church and not to individual theologians.
I always wonder how a theologian can justify himself in disagreeing with defined Catholic teaching by arguing that his interpretation of Scripture, or some early teaching of the Fathers is the correct one, and that the Church's two thousand years of Divine wisdom are wrong.
Isn't he claiming personal infallibility?
Unfortunately, a group of theologians in the United States saw fit to launch a vicious attack on the Catechism for the Universal Church, even while it remained under secrecy, and for the attention of Bishops and their advisors only.
The Woodstock Theological Centre, Georgetown University, produced a book called the Universal Catechism Reader under the editorship of Father Thomas J. Reese, S.J.
In that book, various theologians, some well known for their criticisms of authentic Catholic teachings, roundly denounced many of the central teachings of the proposed catechism.
In some ways their book, the Universal Catechism Reader is a catechism of dissent. Virtually every item of the core of Catholic belief was attacked.
The authors claimed that it was a "partial and distorted view" to teach that Jesus Christ was truly God as well as being truly man.
Such is their ridicule of this basic Catholic belief that they accuse the catechism of teaching that, "... His humanity is a puppet whose strings are pulled by the Divine."
They go on to challenge the defined Catholic teaching that Jesus knew from His first moment that He is Divine. They call it a "disputed doctrine".
The problem here is that such theologians feel free to dispute what is essential Catholic belief. What is worse, so many Catholics have been made to doubt the Divinity of Christ and other basic doctrines because of such experts.
One theologian asked, "Did some Roman Rip Van Winkle write the moral section of the proposed Catechism for the Universal Church?"
It was easy to see why he was so scathing in his criticism of the catechism when he called for a "fundamental rethinking of the possibility of mortal sin."
He went on to say that no teaching of the Magisterium of the Church was certain because it was "historically conditioned." In saying this, the theologian was throwing out all the moral teachings of the Popes and Councils of the Church.
Individual Catholics are always free to dispute Catholic teachings at their own risk. However, a teaching theologian has no right to bluntly contradict the Catholic Faith.
Should such a theologian feel this way he / she should resign any teaching post in the Church rather than try to teach against Divine Revelation.
Another theologian said of the Catechism, "this draft uses and misuses the Scriptures."
Such a comment as this is the same as accusing the Catholic Church of deceiving its people. We know, nevertheless, that the Catholic Church is the sole guardian, under God, of the authenticity of Scripture.
How could a catechism written by the sole guardians of Scripture possibly misuse Scripture?
What this theologian is really saying is "I don't accept the Church's right to interpret Scripture. My interpretation is the correct one."
It is great scandal that Catholic people are at the mercy of such experts who give their own personal opinions more value than the Divine Revelation handed down by Christ to His Church.
Another aspect of the dissenting theologians' criticism of the Catechism for the Universal Church is that they constantly seek to caste it into the role of villain while presenting Vatican II as the hero.
They are effectively trying to pit the catechism against Vatican II.
The irony of this is that the catechism derives much of its teachings from the Second Vatican Council. It quotes copiously from the documents of the Council and certainly remains faithful to its teaching.
All of this dissent does serve a purpose, one which was probably never intended, and that is to show graphically why the Catechism for the Universal Church was needed.
The catechism will offer doctrinal certainty to the world's 850 million Catholics in one book. Even if self-opinionated theologians choose to dissent from its teachings, anyone who reads the Catechism for the Universal Church can still be certain of the Church's exact teachings.
Despite this dissent, if anyone wants to know what the Catholic Church teaches about any aspect of belief, the Catechism for the Universal Church will provide clear and certain answers.
These answers are backed by the promise of Jesus Christ that He will be always with His Church. Some Catholics may use their God-given freedom to dissent against these teachings.
That is a matter for their individual consciences.
Nevertheless, any theologian, priest or teacher who attempts to teach against the Catechism for the Universal Church, needs to be reminded that he / she risks leading faithful Catholics away from Jesus Christ.
I, for one, certainly wouldn't ever want that on my conscience.
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