Cardinal Ratzinger on the Abridged Version of Catechism

Compendium Expected Out in 2 Years

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ROME, MAY 2, 2003 (ZENIT.org-Avvenire).- The compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, due out within two years, might rearticulate questions such as capital punishment and the just war, says Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.



On March 7, the Vatican press office published a letter of John Paul II in which he requested the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to head a special commission to prepare an abridged version of the Catechism.

To date, some 8 million copies of the Catechism have been disseminated.

Q: Eminence, why is a compendium of the Catechism necessary? Is the text published in 1992 too difficult?

Cardinal Ratzinger: The desire for an abridged Catechism arose immediately after the publication of the long version. The 1992 edition is an important point of reference to know what the Church teaches and, because of this, it is also useful for non-Catholics.

However, it is too voluminous especially for simple catechetical use. Hence the need for a synthesis -- in a brief, simple and clear form -- of what is essential and fundamental in Catholic faith and morals.

Although different attempts have been made in this regard, I would say that none has achieved this. Lastly, during the international congress held in the Vatican last October -- on the occasion of the Catechism's 10th anniversary -- this desire of the Holy Father was expressed. And the Pope gave his consent.

Q: However, as the archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said, the very idea of a catechism is often rejected "at least in the German-speaking countries, especially in the official realm of catechesis."

Cardinal Ratzinger: It's true. In the name of flexibility, there is a certain aversion to any attempt to "crystallize" a doctrine in words, and there is a certain anti-dogmatism that is alive in many hearts.

The post-conciliar catechetical movement especially accentuated the anthropological aspect of the question and believed that a catechism, being too doctrinal, would be an impediment to the dialogue necessary with the man of today.

We are convinced of the contrary. In order to dialogue properly, it is necessary to know what we have to talk about. It is necessary to know the substance of our faith. Hence, at present, a catechism is more necessary than ever.

Q: Also in light of the "catastrophic result of modern catechesis" which you pointed out a few years ago?

Cardinal Ratzinger: It is a fact. Without wishing to condemn anyone, it is evident that today religious ignorance is enormous; suffice it to speak with the new generations. Evidently, in the post-conciliar period the concrete transmission of the contents of the Christian faith was not achieved.

Q: What are the general criteria that will be followed in writing the compendium? Will the format be questions and answers?

Cardinal Ratzinger: We are still thinking about it. It looks like its heading toward the system of questions and answers, which is also used outside the Catholic Church, but I do not wish to prophesy, because the plan will be sent to all the cardinals and presidents of the episcopal conferences, and we also depended a lot on their reactions.

The compendium will not be a compendium of the Catholic faith, but a compendium of the 1992 Catechism, to which it must be faithful. At the same time, the compendium must be characterized by legibility, which will make it accessible to many.

Q: If there is a return to the question-answer formula, it would be a recovery of the methodology of St. Pius X's catechism.

Cardinal Ratzinger: To tell the truth, also to the catechism of the Reformation period; both the Catholic catechism, as well as those of Martin Luther, used this method. Indeed, man has questions, and faith presents itself as the answer to these questions.

Therefore, precisely at a time like the present, in which dialogue is justly regarded as essential to education in the faith and in the relation between different human groups, it seems natural to me that the question-answer dialogical method be applied in a book such as the compendium.

Q: Speaking of St. Pius X's catechism, which continues to have sympathizers, will the publication of the compendium mean that it is definitively exceeded?

Cardinal Ratzinger: The faith, as such, is always the same. Therefore, St. Pius X's catechism always retains its value. However, the way of transmitting the contents of the faith can change.

Consequently, one can ask if St. Pius X's catechism can in this respect be regarded as still valid today. I think that the compendium we are preparing can respond better to today's needs. But this does not exclude the fact that there can be persons or groups that feel more comfortable with St. Pius X's catechism.

It should not be forgotten that that Catechism stemmed from a text that was prepared by the Pope himself [Pius X] when he was bishop of Mantua. The text was the fruit of the personal catechetical experience of Giuseppe Sarto, whose characteristics were simplicity of exposition and depth of content. Also because of this, St. Pius X's catechism might have friends in the future. But this does not make our work superfluous.

Q: Going back to the compendium, when will it be ready?

Cardinal Ratzinger: It is difficult to foresee. We must prepare a text which must then be submitted for evaluation by all the cardinals of the Sacred College and all the presidents of the episcopal conferences. In any case, if all goes well, the compendium should be ready in two years.

Q: Once it is published, will it be normative for all catechisms of the episcopal conferences?

Cardinal Ratzinger: The text will be normative in regard to doctrinal contents, which are those of the 1992 Catechism, while it will offer suggestions in regard to the method, given that in this area much freedom must be allowed because the social and cultural contexts in the Catholic realm are very different from one another.

A certain methodological flexibility is always necessary in catechesis so long as the essential contents of the faith is respected.

Q: In regard to two topics -- the death penalty and the just war -- is it possible that there will be a certain evolution in their treatment as compared to 1992?

Cardinal Ratzinger: In fact, on the question of the death penalty, there was a notable evolution between the first edition of the 1992 Catechism and its typical edition in Latin, published in 1997.

The substance remained identical, but the structure of the arguments was developed in a restrictive sense. I do not exclude the fact that on these topics there might be variations in the type of argumentations and in the proportions of the different aspects of the problems. I would exclude radical changes, however.

Q: Eminence, a topical question that in a certain sense is inherent to the Catechism: Does the Anglo-American war against Iraq fit the canons of a "just war"?

Cardinal Ratzinger: The Pope expressed his thought with great clarity, not only as his individual thought but as the thought of a man who is knowledgeable in the highest functions of the Catholic Church. Of course, he did not impose this position as doctrine of the Church but as the appeal of a conscience enlightened by faith.

The Holy Father's judgment is also convincing from the rational point of view: There were not sufficient reasons to unleash a war against Iraq. To say nothing of the fact that, given the new weapons that make possible destructions that go beyond the combatant groups, today we should be asking ourselves if it is still licit to admit the very existence of a "just war."