Storm over the Catechism

A New Catechism: Catholic Faith for Adults

produced by the Higher Catechetical Institute at Nijmegen
Herder & Herder, 528 pp., $6.00

The Age of Reason followed by the Age of Science wrecked the traditional presentation of Christianity. That they failed to wreck historical Roman Catholicism until our own time was largely owing to the authoritarian nature of that Church. From the intellectual point of view, Roman Catholics lived in a game reserve which, as outside pressures mounted, gradually contracted into a zoo. Reluctantly, the Second Vatican Council unloosed the rusty bolts. Most of the animals remained bewildered and shivering behind the bars. A minority dashed out and scattered in all directions.

The first of this group to organize themselves were the Catholics in the Netherlands. For the past five years the faithful have been scandalized, delighted, shocked, stimulated, and outraged by reports of the goings on in Holland. Dutch Catholics, it is said, with the connivance of their Hierarchy, have denied Transubstantiation, defied the Roman Curia, cocked a snook at the Pope, declared contraception a matter for personal choice, homosexuality no longer a mortal sin, intercourse before marriage a good idea, held joint services with Protestants, celebrated something suspiciously like a New Testament agape, announced enforced clerical celibacy to be against the Natural Law, and co-opted Calvinists into their National Council of Bishops. Cardinal Alfrink, the Archbishop of Utrecht, has had to defend his province against a charge of disloyalty, papal encyclicals reproving those pastors suffering from “the virus of rationalism” who are “disturbing the faithful and filling their minds with no little confusion” have been plainly directed to the mouth of the Rhine. The white hope of the Catholic liberals, the Dutch friar Fr. Schille-beeckx, accused of expressing heretical opinions during an international theological conference at Toronto, established his orthodoxy only by producing tape recordings after an uncomfortable lunch at the Hotel Columbus with three Consultors of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.

SOME OF THESE reports are, of course exaggerated and taken out of context. But the anxiety both of the Pope and the Curial party at Rome is evident. So is the fact that the Dutch Church is in a state of ferment and revolt not only against accepted structures, but the traditional formulation of Catholic doctrine. There is fear, in more conservative quarters, that the contagion may spread. In the United States, to some extent, it has already. A popular English Catholic weekly promised a series of articles under some such intriguing title as “What really is happening in Holland?” Those who bought the paper at the church door next Sunday hoping to hear that the Dutch were chopping up their confessional boxes for firewood had a disappointment. The editor, it seemed, had decided after all not to let the faithful know what was going on in another part of the Universal Church.

It is against this background that the farcical row over the publication of A New Catechism must be set. Like all ecclesiastical squabbles its development is complicated, not altogether clear in detail, funny, and sad. Funny, because it is one of life …

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