Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Still Dialoguing with the Archbishop: The Catechism?

By Paula Ruddy

At CCCR’s meeting with Archbishop John C. Nienstedt on January 20, the Archbishop mentioned that one of the valuable results of Vatican II was the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He didn’t elaborate.

At the word “catechism” a dark cloud enveloped my liberal soul. In a good faith effort to be open-minded here, I have to ask why I have that reaction.

I remember loving the Baltimore Catechism as a child in the 1940’s. It was a little blue book with questions and answers. The second question and answer I still love: “ Where is God? God is everywhere.” We memorized the questions and answers for catechism class at All Saints Parish in Lakeville, and we were called on, in fear and trembling, to answer questions at Confirmation. My mother and father could still spout the answers from their childhoods at St. Luke’s and St. Michael’s in St. Paul. There was open discussion on any and all questions, as I recall. In the hurly-burly of everyday life, the catechism questions and answers were tucked away on the hard drive of our minds for the most part, forming us somehow. They were articulated there if we needed them.

So why is an “adult” catechism such a problem to me now? I have a copy on my bookshelf. Can it be a comprehensive set of statements, most of which I value highly, without actually reducing Catholicism to a set of statements?

Is there a way to use the catechism to turn toward the world with the Gospel vision of the reign of God here and now, all of us evolving toward full union with God through conflict, suffering and joy, as in Jesus’ own life? Can the catechism support and enrich the Christian vision and help in the daily discernment of faithful living?

Help me out here. Am I the only one with a “catechism” attitude problem? What would the grown-up attitude be? If you use the catechism as a meditative reading, please tell us about it. Thanks.


  1. I share your hesitation about the catechism. Somehow it seems to be appeasing to those who long for a more fundamentalist approach to Catholicism. Perhaps, I too, have a bias. How did the catechism (as in the most recent one) result from Second Vatican Council? I thought it came out of JPII's Extraordinary Synod of the Bishops in 1985.

    1. Hi, Anonymous. I do not know the history. I'll have to read up. Do you agree that it is valuable to have a written explanatory document for reference purposes? I don't think we are talking about its being infallible, just a rundown of the current teaching

  2. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is not an infallible document, never has been.

  3. King Louie and Antoinette lost their heads to the guillotine
    when the French monarchy fell.
    The Roman Church
    which had been hand in glove with the King since the 1400's
    was also tossed out;
    a citizens religion replaced monarchical Rome
    and the people wrote a people's catechism.
    Imperial Rome responded,
    refuting the religiously human concepts of the revolutionaries.

    This Roman Catechism was to be read by ordained priests only,
    the beginning of a human tragedy.

    Time passed and American Bishop, John Carroll,
    who hoped to create a religious atmosphere
    in tune with the new American way of life,
    commissioned his secretary-priest to write
    an American Catechism.

    (The Dutch wrote their own catechism shortly after Vatican Two
    which JPII and the Curia threw out.)

    The American Catechism
    was to be ready by the opening of the Catholic Council of Baltimore in 1852.
    Carroll enjoyed a healthy relationship to the American founding Fathers,
    having gone with Ben Franklin
    in the failed effort to encourage Canadians to join
    the new revolutionary American Cause.

    Carroll wanted Rome
    to allow American Catholics to choose their own bishops
    so as to avoid monarchial appointments.
    The Vatican did not take Bishop Carroll's request
    and the American Catechism
    so that Carroll was offered an English translation
    of Rome's anti-revolutionist catechism.

    Rome’s, anti-revolutionist catechism,
    intended for ordained priests only,
    as a counter to the People’s Catechism of the French Revolution,
    would become standard fair in America,
    mis-educating millions upon millions of Catholic school kids,
    its contents "missing the mark"
    (sinful, as in the original meaning of the medieval archer's term
    to miss the target).

    In this Baltimore Catechism,
    Jesus is missing,
    His way nowhere to be found.

    The teaching position of Rome had begun to decline in 1852.
    The fracture burst
    in the publication of Pope Paul's birth control fiasco, Humanae Vitae in 1968;
    the floodgates of healthy education were open.

    The American bishops fled the First Vatican Council
    witnessing the confusion and rejection of the dogma of infallibility
    by the world outside of Rome.

    The Vatican I setting was a medieval Roman Church that was falling apart
    and a pope under siege who was loosing his kingdom,
    the Papal States.

    Pius the Ninth sent out feelers
    for safe refuge in various countries, even the U.S.A..
    Pius needed to shore up his world reputation.
    He convinced Catholics
    that he was head of a universal nation-church
    of which he was the corporate head,
    thus having the right to assemble the Catholic bishops in 1864.

    The First Vatican Council got underway in 1868
    in the midst of total European confusion and political chaos.
    Garibaldi is at the gates of Rome
    and the Papal States will soon become what we call today Italy.

    Pius threatened excommunication of any bishop
    who will not sign on to the Dogma of Infallibility.
    Pius needed universal agreement to ratify a church promulgation.

    In the meantime seven or more of the American bishops,
    avoiding the vote high tailed it out of Genoa
    on a steamship bound for the U.S.

    Such would make a great escape movie
    as the Curia tracked down all but one,
    obtaining their consent "a longe"
    (at the end of a rope.)
    They never found the Midwest bishop; was he from Iowa?

    Technically, Pius the Ninth's attempt to create a super human brain
    dropped into the chaotic abyss, "close but no cigar".

    Yet Rome continued to promote infallibility
    as if it was sacred doctrine.

    Pius the 12th would use it once with the Assumption of Mary in 1950.

    In the times of John Paul II and Benedict XVI
    feeble attempts were made to pull the wool over the public eye
    by saying pronouncements on women's ordination and clerical celibacy
    were infallible.
    The world was not fooled.

    When John the 23rd was reminded by a Vatican official
    that he was infallible
    John replied simply
    "so they say".

    1. Hi, John. Kind of bitter? I take it you have no time for the Adult Catechism of the Catholic Church. I didn't mean to raise the question of infallibility. Maybe someone else does find it valuable for some purposes.