Reflecting on Ten Years of Conformity Reviews

Article excerpt

The chairman of the USCCB Ad Hoc Committee to Ovesee the Use of the Catechism reflects on the processes and the successes of the reviews

The summer of 2006 (marked 10 years since the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism undertook the first conformity review of catechetical materials. Such a milestone offers an appropriate moment for reflection on the process and its results. Those who have participated in this effort over the 10 years know the achievements that the bishops and publishers have accomplished together. A constructive partnership has developed. Both bishops and publishers have learned a great deal and together have made a significant impact on catechetical efforts in the United States.

When the process initially was suggested and then undertaken, it is probable that many thought of it as a temporary measure to accomplish two things. One was to help the bishops assess how closely extant catechetical materials were in doctrinal conformity to the teaching of the church as found in the "Catechism of the Catholic Church." Second, the expectation was that the process also would help publishers appreciate how to use the catechism as an authoritative resource in developing catechetical materials.

As the years have progressed, however, bishops and publishers alike have come to recognize that a great value of the process is the bishops' direct involvement in the preparation of catechetical materials. Rather than a temporary measure, this engagement needs to be ongoing. The number of reviews taking place shows a sense of commitment to the process. During the early years, there was an average of eight to 10 reviews each year. Now, the committee is averaging 30 reviews annually. There is no reason to think that this volume will change any time soon.

Identifying Recurring Deficiencies

After completion of the first year of conducting conformity reviews, the Catechism Committee determined that it would be helpful to identify recurring major deficiencies found in the materials reviewed. As those familiar with the history of this process know, these deficiencies included inadequate treatment of the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus Christ and his central role in salvation history, the church and her teaching responsibility, Christian anthropology and God's saving initiative, the role and effects of grace, the sacraments, original sin and sin in general, Catholic moral teaching and eschatology.

Naming these deficiencies proved to be a deciding moment for catechesis in this country. The recognition of specific problems in catechetical materials signaled the importance of the conformity review effort and offered guidance in the development of new catechetical materials.

The doctrinal content of catechetical materials cannot and should not be minimized. The development and use of texts and materials that communicate the doctrine of the church in a complete and authentic-that is, correct-fashion provides the best foundation for successful catechetical efforts. For this reason, from the onset of the conformity review process, the committee made a decision to accept for review only those materials in which the doctrinal content appeared in the student portion of the text, series or program.

Within three or four years of conducting conformity reviews, the committee recognized that there had been significant progress in strengthening the doctrinal content of catechetical materials, particularly with elementary materials. In June 2001, the Catechism Committee reported to the body of bishops that working with publishers of catechetical materials for elementary age students had proved so effective that the Catechism Committee saw no need for the bishops to consider developing their own catechetical series. In that same report, however, the committee reserved judgment on the question of the bishops' developing their own high-school age materials. …