Saturday, 26 February 2011

Competing Catholic Catechisms

There have been several official Roman Catholic Catechisms since the Council of Trent. It will surprise some readers that these have not always agreed on every aspect of Catholic belief or faith –perhaps none more so as it affects the question of homosexuality.

A New Catechism – Catholic Faith for Adults', The Seabury Press, New York, NY., (1973) ISBN 0-8164-1070-4 Nihil Obstat: Leo J. Steady, Censor Librorum. Imprimatur +Robert F. Joyce, Bishop of Burlington, September 1969. In the years following its issue, this Catechism was the only comprehensive book of its kind within the Church.

A New Catechism better known as the ‘Dutch Catechism’ was the first post-Vatican II Catholic catechism. It was commissioned and authorized by the Catholic hierarchy of the Netherlands and went through various publishers after reaching the North American market.

The above publication was the popular Catechism for Roman Catholics during the sixties and seventies. My wife and I originally received our (1967) copy from the Church upon completion of Interfaith classes in Toronto. Today Catholics are perhaps more familiar with the 1983 version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church from the CCCB.

The 1973 edition in comparison to the current Catechism is more user friendly; completely devoid of the 'top down' legalistic format and archaic language associated with the current 1983 edition from Rome.

The 1973 edition is still valid and legitimate for many practicing Catholics and available along with the Baltimore Catechism. In fact, the current 1983 edition reads: “This catechism is not intended to replace the local catechisms, duly approved by the ecclesiastical authorities, the diocesan Bishops and the Episcopal Conferences, especially if they have been approved by the Apostolic See.”


Catechism of the Catholic Church (1983) There are several inherent problems with the 1983 issue

The popular Catholic understanding that “Scripture presents homosexual acts as sinful . . . . contradicts the 1973 edition which holds:"It is not the fault of the individual if he or she is not attracted to the other sex. The causes of homosexuality are unknown . . . .The very sharp strictures of Scripture on homosexual practices (Gen. 1; Rom. 1) must be read in their context.”

Actually the Bible has no adequate treatment on homosexuality. There is no evidence to suggest that any biblical author had even a vague notion that homosexuality could be a lifelong disposition.

Official Catholic statements frequently used to support the unchanging traditions of the Church are usually preceded with the statement “tradition has always declared . . .’ clearly contradict the views held about homosexuality in these contradicting catechisms.

Additionally, it is well known that perhaps as many as one-third of Catholic priest are homosexual. It is most likely that many of them are sexually active.

The 1983 Catechism declares “homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity” and as intrinsically disordered”. These highly volatile statements are frequently used by some people to condemn homosexuals in general. Such language can be found among fundamentalist to promote an atmosphere of physical and emotional hatred even death. Its victims are denigrated as less, unwanted or  evil – resulting in much emotional suffering and sometimes lead to suicide. Efforts to compromise these damaging statements by announcing that Catholics must “love the person and hate the sin” appear meaningless and devoid of a Christ-like attitude of compassion.

Most practicing Catholics do not possess a copy of a Catholic Catechism. Exposure to current teachings on homosexuality is extremely limited due to the controversial nature as well of lack of understanding by members of the clergy on the subject.

Neither The Catechism of The Council of Trent (1566) nor the Baltimore Catechism (the de facto standard Catholic school text in the North America from 1885 to the late 1960s) include any specific reference to homosexuality.

On Natural Law

Arguments that homosexuality contravenes ‘Natural Law’ must be tempered by the primacy of ‘Freedom of Conscience'. According to the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, we discover the natural law in the depths of our conscience. The natural law is written in the human heart by God. “To obey it is the very dignity of the human person; according to it the human person will be judged” (n. 16; see also the Declaration on Religious Freedom, nn. 2, 3, 14).

These comparisons reveal the depths and gulf that currently exists between some Roman Catholic teachings since Vatican II. Many priests are emotionally and physically exhausted by these contentious issues. Vatican II, like it or not – either it happened or none of the previous twenty-one councils did not take place either.

To suppress sexuality, regardless of gender preferences, inevitably results in different forms of abuse. We need to address the issue of homosexuality and human sexuality (chastity) in an honest and Christ like manner – not in the vindictive and often confusing language emanating from Rome.

Many people may not approve of blatant outward expressions of homosexuality, parades, etc.  after years of persecution perhaps we would do the same thing.

Marriage, Homosexuality, Contraception

We need to dispel the Catholic understanding that the act of Homosexuality is a sin because it goes against the totality that the marital act requires.

The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World no longer insisted that the primary purpose of the marital act was about begetting children. The central focus of this document is now on the love between the two spouses, through their life in Jesus Christ. Church teaching on the marital state requires spousal acceptance of each other's failures and faults and the recognition that the "call to holiness in marriage" is one that requires a process of spiritual growth and conversion that can last throughout life.
The Catholic Church has reached a stage of intense crisis as far as authority in matters of human sexuality. Its credibility is weak. The official statements of the Church still hand down the black-and-white prescriptions of the past with hardly any reference to advances in the human sciences or even to the latest findings in scriptural, dogmatic and moral theology.

Finally, to quote Fr. Thomas Bokenkotter, author of Dynamic Cathlicism, “Homosexuals who seek to fulfill their sexual needs in the context of a stable, loving relationship are not acting immorally. Their decision of conscience should be respected by the Church and they should be welcomed to the Eucharistic table.”

On Contraception

Pope Paul's message was that it is immoral for a married couple to have sex merely to express mutual love, that they must also preserve the possibility of procreation. His logical mistake was to claim that the hapless rhythm method of birth control (periodic abstinence) could be approved because it retained an intrinsic link to procreation -- when, in fact, both partners were seeking to avoid procreation.

A few theologians pointed out Paul's errors publicly and incurred the wrath of the church. Charles Curran, for example, who led a group of protesting theologians, was forbidden to continue teaching moral theology at Catholic University.

For those who sensed the specter of 'Catholic Conservatism' or those  opposed to the work of Vatican II;  the following article from Time Magazine, December 1, 1967 might be of interest.

"Catechism in Dutch

Some Roman Catholic prelates have done all they could to discourage U.S. circulation of the Dutch catechism (TIME, Aug. 18, 1967), a lively, undogmatic compendium of doctrine that reflects the most recent radical insights of theologians and scripture scholars. First the Roman Curia ordered a thorough study of the Dutch original to make sure that it contained no errors. Then Bishop Robert F. Joyce of Burlington, Vt., withdrew his imprimatur (permission to publish) from the American edition, and Holland's Bernard Jan Cardinal Alfrink complained that the book was going to press with an unauthorized use of his original imprimatur. Finally, Los Angeles' crusty James Francis Cardinal Mclntyre banned it from the church-run bookstore in his archdiocese. The stores operated by Boston's Daughters of St. Paul also refused to display it.

Nonetheless, the Dutch catechism has become one of the year's religious bestsellers. Herder & Herder, publisher of the American edition, reports that its first printing of 75,000 copies was sold out in three weeks. Although the National Conference of Catholic Bishops this month decided that the catechism should not be used in parochial schools, some Catholic colleges have ordered it for their religion courses. What was written for the Dutch is apparently destined to instruct the world. In The Netherlands, where the catechism has sold more than 400,000 copies so far, its publishers report that ten new translations will go to press in 1968".

Note:  I have been unable to discover the precise reason why the Vatican prelates tried unsuccessfully to ban the publication of the New Catholic Catechism.  If anyone knows I would appreciate  the exact reasoning behind it. It may not have had anything to do with the question of homosexuality. 

1 comment:

Robert said...

I used the Catechism shown in this post when joining the Church as an adult. When comparing it with the new edition, one finds a very different Eucharistic theology. The emphasis on sacrifice in the current Catechism
has the priest performing ritual sacrifice, which was done away with by Jesus. It also states that the Holy sacrifice of the Mass appeases God, something, again, only Jesus can do. This usurpation of authority by the clergy is the reason for the condemnation of the New Catechism. (The Dutch Catechism.) I still think it is so much better than a legalistic, intimidating travesty.
Until the Church does what Jesus did at the Last Supper (as stated in the Dutch Catechism) she will be unfaithful to her mission, to her Lord and to the Gospel.