Forward to the Past

By Doerr, Edd | The Humanist, November-December 1993 | Go to article overview

Forward to the Past


Doerr, Edd, The Humanist


With Pope John Paul II scheduled to visit Denver in mid-August, it occurred to me (in mid,July) that it might be appropriate to write an article about the new catechism of the Catholic church, formally approved by the pope on October 11, 1992. As the first complete statement of official Catholic church doctrines and teachings since the Reformation, the new catechism should be of interest to many who are concerned about the policies and actions of the leadership of the largest religious body in both the United States and the world. Notice that I refer to the leadership of the Catholic church-the unelected power structure which actually speaks for only a fraction of the people who identify their religious preference as Catholic.

But--mirabile dictu!--when I tried to get a copy of the document, I found that it had not, and still has not, been published in English. The delay is ostensibly due to disagreements over how to deal with gender in the English translation. Maybe, and maybe not. Maybe the delay was or is due to the desire of the "pontiff" (why do the media insist on using that ridiculous term that the popes borrowed from the ancient Roman emperors-pontifex maximus, the "bridge between heaven and earth"?) to avoid controversy or perhaps even embarrassment in a religious body already ridden by controversies over birth control, abortion, divorce, ordination of women, the right of priests to marry, the population problem, church finances, clerical child, abuse cover-ups, and the present pope's hard, driving conservatism.

While English-speaking Catholics and other interested persons were being denied the opportunity to examine the very latest word in papal dogma, I found it rather simple to get my hands on the 702-page Spanish edition, published in Madrid, before the bookstore responded to a Vatican order to recall the book (rather like a defective car).

I wrote a standard,length op,ed piece about the new catechism-a real journalistic scoop-but, to my surprise, not a single newspaper or weekly would touch it.

Here then is the guts of the "scoop" which the other media chose not to use.

There is a great deal in the new catechism with which the vast majority of both Catholics and non-Catholics would agree, especially regarding social-justice issues. But many (perhaps most) Catholics and certainly most non-Catholics would disagree with or be offended by other portions of the document. The following are some of the points of disagreement, particularly as they touch on matters that go beyond personal religious belief. Of course, no short article can adequately deal in,depth with a subject as vast as the summary teachings of the Catholic church. (The numbers after each citation refer to the 2,865 numbered sections in the catechism.)

* "The task of authentically interpreting the word of God, spoken or written, has been given only to the living Magisterium [teaching authority] of the [Catholic] church, which it exercises in the name of Jesus Christ, that is to say, to the bishops in communion with the successors of Peter, the bishop of Rome" (85).

* In an apparent retreat from the spirit of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), the catechism states that "the Roman Pontiff, in effect, has in the Church, by virtue of his functions as Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the whole Church, full, supreme and universal power, which he can exercise with complete liberty" (882). Furthermore, the bishops "have no authority separate from the Roman Pontiff" (893).

* Priests are required to be celibate (915). The document is silent on the ordination of women.

* For the marriage of a Catholic and a non-Catholic to be valid in the eyes of the Catholic church, church permission is required and the Catholic party is required to promise to do all possible to have the children baptized and raised as Catholics (1635). Divorce is not permitted (1644), being considered "a grave offense against the natural law" (2384). …

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