Is the New Catechism Catholic?

We present in 4 parts a commentary by Fr. Michel Simoulin, first published in the March 1994 issue of The Angelus.

Part 1


After the renewal of the liturgy and the new codification of the Canon Law ...this Catechism will bring a very important contribution to the work of the revival of all ecclesial life, willed and put into application by the Second Vatican Council." (Pope John Paul II on page 1 of the New Catechism.)

The reading and study of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church are baffling for a classic or Thomistic spirit. One rarely finds here simple definitions and clear distinctions. This Catechism resembles a mystical poem, a symphony where all is harmonized, the classic and the modern, elements of the old Catechism and the teachings of the Conciliar Church, in order to chant with enthusiasm the splendor of God and of man.

Among the happy reminders, one can note: the fact of creation, the existence of the Angels, the reality of Adam and Eve, original sin as well as personal sin, Hell and Purgatory, the ten commandments, the impossibility of women’s ordinations and the marriage of divorcees, the criminal character of abortion and of euthanasia, the possibility of the death penalty, etc.

But along side of that, one finds silences, things forgotten, contradictions and a certain number of "recurring themes" foreign to the Catholic Church, and which we are going to analyze here. From this mixture results an impression of confusion which steers the spirit off course. In brief, a reading capable of "seducing even the elect themselves."[1] However, before giving ourselves over to the analysis of certain themes of this symphony, we begin by giving certain authentic interpretations of the Catechism.

The "authentic interpretations" declared by Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II ordered the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church by means of the apostolic constitution, Fidei Depositum,[2] of October 11, 1992. One reads there the following:

After the renewal of the liturgy and the new codification of the Canon Law of the Latin Church and the canons of the oriental Catholics, this Catechism will bring a very important contribution to the work of the revival of all ecclesial life, willed and put into application by the Second Vatican Council. (p.1) For myself, who had the grace of participating there and of actively collaborating in its unfolding, Vatican II has always been, and particularly so during these years of my pontificate, the constant point of reference of all my pastoral action, in a conscious effort of translating its directives by a concrete and faithful application, to the level of each Church and of all the Church. One must without ceasing return to this source." (p.1)

We are then advised that this Catechism is a putting into application of Vatican II.

One must take count of the explanations of doctrine that the Holy Spirit has suggested to the Church in the course of the centuries. (p.2) It will include then things new and old." (Ibid)

What is old is above all, "The traditional order already followed by the Catechism of St. Pius V," (Ibid) whereas "the content is often expressed in a new fashion." (Ibid) In other words, "a new wine in old wineskins," contrary to the counsel of Our Lord (Mt.9:17). The ecumenical aim of the Catechism is also clearly explained by the pope: "It wishes to provide a support to ecumenical efforts animated by the holy desire for the unity of all Christians" (p.3).

The pope declares also that this Catechism is the fruit of a broad collaboration and "reflects thus the collegial nature of the episcopate." Finally, as for its doctrinal value, the pope presents it as "an authorized and worthwhile instrument in the service of ecclesial communion and as a sure norm for the teaching of the Faith." (p.2) But it "is not destined to replace the local Catechisms composed by the ecclesiastical authorities, the diocesan bishops and the episcopal conference, above all when they have received the approbation of the Apostolic See." (p.3) One cannot use it then to demand the suppression of bad catechisms, even if they have not received the approbation of Rome.

The pope presented the Catechism on the morning of December 7, 1992. On this occasion, he insisted on the value and the significance of the Catechism. It is, he says, "an event of great richness and of an incomparable importance."[3] "The publication of the text should be placed, without any doubt, among the major events in the recent history of the Church."

The pope confirms that this Catechism wishes to conform itself "to the teachings of Vatican Council II."

In this authorized text, the Church presents to her children, with a renewed self-awareness thanks to the light of the Spirit, the mystery of Christ where the splendor of the Father is reflected.

This Catechism constitutes above all a 'veracious' gift, to know a gift which presents the Truth revealed by God in Christ and which He confided to His Church. The Catechism expresses this truth in the light of the Second Vatican Council, such as it is believed,[4] celebrated, lived, and prayed by the Church."

Before, we were asked to accept the council in the light of Tradition. Today, the method is reversed. One finds the same expression again in the Catechism at paragraph 11. We point out also at this occasion that for the pope, the truth is first of all believed and lived before being expressed. This is a typically modernist method, since modernism thinks that the Faith comes from the subconscious and from the interior experience of each person. But that is contrary to the thought of St. Paul, for whom the Faith is ex auditu (Rom.10:17), that is to say, from preaching. The pope also confirms the ecumenical intent of the Catechism:

In defining the lines of Catholic doctrinal identity, the Catechism can constitute an affectionate call for all those who not equally form part of the Catholic community. May they understand that this instrument does not reduce, but broadens the scope of a multiform unity, in offering a new impulse on the path towards this fullness of communion which reflects and in a certain manner anticipates the total unity of the heavenly city, 'where truth reigns, where charity is the law, and where the extension is eternity ' (St. Augustine, Epistle 138, 3). Men, both today and always, need Christ. Through many, and sometimes incomprehensible paths, they seek him with insistence, invoke him constantly and desire him ardently."

We find in this last phrase an analogy with the new theology of Karl Rahner, for whom every man is an anonymous Christian.[5] The next day, December 8, 1992, the pope "presided at the Holy Mass in the basilica of St. Mary Major."[6]

In the course of the homily, he returned to the question of the Catechism. He insisted anew on the bond between the Catechism and the council:

With the Mother of God, we give thanks today for the gift of the council...[7] The community of believers gives thanks today for the post-conciliar Catechism... It constitutes the ripest and the most complete fruit of the conciliar teaching, which is presented in the rich framework of all the ecclesial Tradition. The ripest fruit of the conciliar teaching."

This expression renders the thought of the pope so well that L’Osservatore Romano did not hesitate to make of it the title of this sermon.

O Mary... thou who wast present on the day of Pentecost as Mother of the Church, welcome this fruit which is the labor of the entire Church. All together we place the New Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is at the same time the gift of the Word revealed to humanity and the fruit of the labor of bishops and theologians—between the hands of she who..."

The pope himself uses the expression of the "new" Catechism. Let us point out in the passage this expression, "the fruit of labor," which reminds us of the new Offertory, and also the allusion to Pentecost. We continue to live, since the Council, a new revelation which the bishops and the theologians must express for the service of the ecclesial community.

Cardinal Ratzinger

He was the president of the commission and of the committee of redaction during six months in order to develop this Catechism. He is then well placed to speak to us of it. He made a presentation concerning it in the press room which was published in L’Osservatore Romano (French language edition) of December 15, 1992, on page 6. Let us briefly analyze this text. First of all, he teaches us that the French edition was presented first on November 16 in Paris. Then, between this date and December 7, the Italian and Spanish versions were published.

The official text in Latin will be published later; it will be able to take into account what the experience of the translations[8] has made to appear or what it can still suggest."

It seems that the Roman Church, or at least its "governing board" is not very sure of its faith; it has need of a "trial run." What is the fundamental question treated by the Catechism?

After the fall of the ideologies, the problem of man, the moral problem, poses itself today in a totally new fashion to the order of the day."

As an accessory, they will speak also of God. The Catechism speaks of the human being, but with the conviction that the question concerning man cannot be separated from the question concerning God. One does not speak correctly of man if one doesn’t speak also of God.

Whence will come the response to this problem concerning man and "also" concerning God?

The Catechism formulates the response which comes from the great communitarian experience of the Church throughout the centuries."

It’s always the same modernist tactic: the profession of the Faith is the expression of the interior experience of believers. And what will be the response to this question?

The fundamental knowledge concerning man in the Catechism is thus formulated:[9] man is created in the image and likeness of God. Everything that is said on the just conduct of man is founded upon this central perspective."

It is here that, according to us, resides the fundamental ambiguity of the Catechism. Indeed, this passage from Genesis can receive two different meanings. A classic interpretation is to interpret "image" as the intellectual nature of man, and "likeness" as sanctifying grace. Thus understood, this phrase is only applicable to Adam. Indeed, all men after him will be created in the image of God, but without the likeness to God. They must await baptism in order to recover this resemblance. Still, one can be more precise and say that the image is deformed by the aftermath of original sin. One can also interpret the words "image" and "likeness" as two synonyms. In this case, one can apply this phrase of Genesis to every man to signify that every man receives from God a spiritual soul. But then one abstracts from sanctifying grace.

We will not be able to deduce then the true dignity of man since this consists in participating in the Divine Nature. Man does not truly possess dignity because he is a man (sinner), but because he has become a son of God by grace. As Archbishop Lefebvre used to say, there is not a dignity of man; there is only the dignity of the Christian. And this Christian will possess all the more dignity the more he is a friend of God. Our Lord does not have the same dignity as any other man, and the Most Holy Virgin shall have a super eminent dignity, etc. In not making these elementary distinctions between nature and grace, the cardinal, and the Catechism in its turn, are going to draw from this phrase from Genesis many errors. Now the cardinal takes care to warn us himself:

Everything which is said concerning the just conduct of man is founded upon this central perspective (namely, man is created in the image and likeness of God). Upon this are founded human rights... Upon the likeness of God is founded also human dignity, which remains intangible in each man precisely because he is a man."

Let us cite some examples given by the cardinal himself: "Every human being has an equal dignity." This is false. One who is baptized does not have the same dignity as someone who isn’t baptized; neither does a sinner have the same dignity as a saint.

The requirement of happiness constitutes part of our nature. The moral of the Catechism has as its starting point what the Creator has placed in the heart of each man—the necessity of happiness and of love. Here it becomes visible what exactly 'likeness' to God signifies: the human being is like unto God from the fact that he can love and because he is capable of truth. This is why moral behavior is, in the profoundest sense of the word, a behavior measured by creation.

All this is false and follows from this grave confusion between nature and grace. Indeed, our true happiness is only found in the supernatural love of God. The human being can only love God (as he should) by charity, and he is only capable of (complete) truth by Faith. But all this does not constitute "part of our nature." God has not "placed [it] in the heart of each man." Our nature without grace is incapable of desiring efficaciously true happiness. It cannot know to "require it." If it would require it, this happiness would no longer be gratuitous.

The cardinal specifies that the behavior according to nature of which the Catechism speaks, is a:

behavior beginning with what has been placed in our being by the Creator. Consequently, the heart of every moral [act] is love and, in following always this indication, one inevitably encounters Christ, the love of God made man."

This is perhaps poetic, but it is also always false. Love, such as our nature is capable of without grace, "beginning with what has been placed in our being by the Creator," is incapable of making us encounter Christ. It is at most a disposition; in order to encounter Christ, one needs above all else the help of grace in order to produce in us the act of Faith. This silence concerning grace, which equivocates here even to a negation, is obviously very grave.

First Conclusion

Before even studying the Catechism we can draw several teachings from this examination of these "authentic interpretations." First of all, the importance of the New Catechism. The pope himself insists upon the importance and the authority of this Catechism. This importance is confirmed by the success of the publisher. Certainly there was a vast publicity which no other catechism had ever known. But this doesn’t suffice, without doubt, to explain the sale of more than 500,000 copies in several weeks. One must also take into account that the faithful have been deprived of doctrinal teaching for the last thirty years. There was the council; but despite its desire of being a pastoral council, Vatican II is not in the reach of every Catholic, and the majority are not taken up in the study of these numerous texts.

As far as the catechisms and other Living Stones [a modernist catechism in France], the least that one can say concerning them is that their doctrinal content is weak, if not inconsistent. The faithful have had to live according to the practices imposed upon them in the name of obedience. Now the possibility has finally been given to them to know the principles which have guided these reforms. One can understand their desire to learn, for it is satisfying to a person to know why he acts.

Unfortunately the New Catechism will not cause the tenets of the Faith, which they were living badly or with difficulty, to penetrate their souls: Rather, it is to be feared that they will only adhere more completely to the "new truths" which they have been in the habit of living for the past 30 years. Moreover, as we have noticed, the pope insists also on the fact that this Catechism is the logical consequence of the council, "the ripest and most complete fruit of the conciliar teaching." This Catechism is very important because it is going to permit the new conciliar and post-conciliar ideas to be better diffused, notably in the matter of ecumenism. The pope insists above all upon the authority of the Catechism and its importance in applying Vatican Council II. Cardinal Ratzinger puts the accent more on its content and indicates to us its fundamental error which is at the root of the errors of ecumenism and religious liberty: a pseudo-supernatural naturalism. Human nature is not only capable of grace, but it requires it for the happiness of man; the redemption is universal; the world is full of grace.

But let us not look at the content in greater detail. We will distinguish four principal themes in the Catechism:

  1. the dignity of man,
  2. his character of friend and Son of God,
  3. the nature of the Church,
  4. and the principles of morality.

For each of these, we shall cite the Catechism, to clearly show the readers that it is not we who are attributing to it our thoughts. However, we shall not cite everything, not wanting to tax the patience of the readers nor risking that we be condemned for having recopied integrally a catechism protected by copyright(!).

I.  The dignity of man

There are forty references to the word "dignity" in the index, of which several indicate a fairly long passage. Let us cite first what Cardinal Ratzinger quoted above as:

the fundamental knowledge concerning man: To know the unity and the true dignity of all men: all are made in the image and likeness of God."[10] (§225)*

*This and all following references to the New Catechism are indicated by the symbol § (meaning paragraph) and the paragraph number.

We have already explained the error of this new theory. Man, marked by original sin, is born without the grace of God. Therefore, he does not have his true dignity, that of being a son of God. This he receives at baptism. This fundamental error concerning the dignity of man brings along with it others, for example, saying that the dignity of man cannot be lost. A criminal does not lose his dignity, since this consists in having a spiritual soul; taking this to its limit, the damned in hell (if there are any) will still have their dignity.

Man and woman have a dignity which cannot be lost, which comes to them immediately from God their Creator.[11] Man and woman are, with the same dignity, in the image of God. In their 'being man' and 'being woman' they reflect the wisdom and the goodness of the Creator." (§369)

Another false consequence: all men have the same dignity. A saint will not be any more worthy than a sinner; the Blessed Virgin will not be more worthy than any other woman.

Amongst all the faithful of Christ, by the fact of their regeneration in Christ, there exists, insofar as dignity and activity, a true equality, in virtue of which all co-operate in the building up of the Body of Christ, each according to his condition and proper function."[12] (§872)

Although this paragraph founds the dignity of the Christian upon its true foundation, "the regeneration in Christ," it is just the same erroneous since it draws from this a false conclusion, which is that all Christians are equal. This is contrary to the Scriptures, which warns us that there are all sorts of gifts of grace and that the members of the Church are complementary, but unequal (the foot is not the eye, says St. Paul).

Man and woman are created, that is to say, they are willed by God, in a perfect equality in as much as they are human persons on one hand, and on the other hand, in their respective being of man and woman. 'Being man' and 'being woman' is a reality both good and willed by God." (§369)

As to this equality between man and woman, it exists in the order of grace (in Christ there is neither male or female, St. Paul tells us), but not in the order of nature where there is a natural hierarchy between man and woman. Another erroneous consequence: all men will have an equal dignity, and all discrimination will be unjust.

Equality between men lies essentially with their personal dignity and the rights which flow from it:

every form of discrimination touching the fundamental rights of the person, whether it be founded on sex, race, color of skin, social condition, language, or religion, must be gotten beyond, as contrary to the design of God[13] (§1935).

There also exists wicked inequalities which strike millions of men and women. These are in open contradiction with the Gospel:

The equal dignity of persons requires that one reaches conditions of life more just and more human. The economic and excessive social inequalities between the members or peoples of the one human family create a scandal. They place an obstacle to social justice, to equity, to the dignity of the human person, as well as social and international peace."[14] (§1938)

Dignity is liberty. We have seen that the Catechism makes the dignity of man consist in the fact of having been made in the image and likeness of God. For St. Augustine, St. Thomas, and all of Tradition, man is in the image of God because his soul is a spiritual substance endowed with intelligence and will, and thus he resembles the Holy Trinity. But for the New Catechism, that which characterizes the image of God before all else is liberty:

In virtue of his soul and his spiritual powers of intelligence and will, man is endowed with liberty, 'the privileged sign of the Divine image.'[15] Are we convinced that 'we know not what to ask so as to pray as we ought? '[16] Let us ask God for 'suitable goods.' Our Father knows well what we need before we ask Him,[17] but He awaits our prayer because the dignity of His children is in their liberty. Now one must pray with one’s spirit of liberty in order to be able to know in truth his desire.[18] (§2736) God has created man as reasonable in conferring upon him the dignity of a person endowed with the initiative and the mastery of his acts. 'God has left man to his own counsel ' (Sirach 15:14) so that he can seek by himself his Creator, and in adhering freely to him, reach full and blessed perfection[19]: 'Man is reasonable, and by that very fact, like unto God; he was created free, to be master of his acts'."[20](§1730).

We remark in passing that the citation from St. Irenaeus expresses rather that the resemblance of man with God consists in his reason, liberty being only a consequence. This doesn’t keep the authors of the Catechism from choosing this citation in order to affirm that the dignity of man consists in his liberty.

Since the dignity of man consists in his liberty, man will evidently have an inalienable right to liberty:

Liberty is exercised in the relationships between human beings. Each human person, created in the image of God has the natural right to be recognized as a free and responsible person. All owe to each person this duty of respect. The right to exercise one’s liberty is an inseparable exigency from the dignity of the human person, notably in moral and religious matters.[21] This right must be recognized by civil law and protected within the limits of the common good and public order."[22] (§1782)

Thus, liberty must be favored under all its forms and every inequality or constraint is an offense against the dignity of man:

Man has the right to act according to his conscience and freely in order to take personal responsibility for his moral decisions. 'Man must not be constrained to act against his conscience. What’s more, he must not be impeded from acting according to his conscience, above all in religious matters'." [23] (§1782).

Charity always goes through respect for one’s neighbor and his conscience:

In speaking against the brethren or in wounding their conscience... it is against Christ that you sin.[24] That which is good is to abstain... from all that makes thy brother to stumble or to fall or to weaken."[25] (§1789)

If one looks at the citations of St. Paul in their context, one sees that he tries to avoid acts which are indifferent in themselves so as not to scandalize someone who might misinterpret them and make of them an occasion of sin. It is not a question of respecting his conscience in the modern sense employed by the Catechism, that is to say, not impeding his sinning. This solicitation of a scriptural text is quite characteristic and proves that the modern theory of the liberty of conscience has no foundation in revelation.

Thus, the role of the Church in the political realm, which hitherto consisted in making it respect the law of God and recalling to the heads of state their duty to help in the salvation of souls, now consists only in recalling this doctrine of the rights of man founded upon the dignity/liberty of the human person:

Social justice can only be obtained by respecting the transcendent dignity of man. The person represents the ultimate end of society, which is ordered to him: 'The defense and promotion of human dignity has been confided to us by the Creator. In all the circumstances of history, men and women are rigorously responsible and debtors to it.'[26] (§1929). Respect for human dignity implies those rights which flow from his dignity as creature. These rights are anterior to society and impose themselves on it. They constitute the moral legitimacy of all authority. By heckling them or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy.[27] Without such a respect, an authority can only support itself by force in order to obtain the obedience of its subjects. It comes back to the Church to recall these rights to the memory of men of good will, and to distinguish them from abusive or false claims (§2246).

It appertains to the mission of the Church to 'bring a moral judgement, even in those matters which touch the political domain, when the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls requires it, in using all the means, and those only, which are conformed to the Gospel and are in harmony with the good of all, according to the diversity of times and of situations'."[28] (§2246)

Let us note that in this last paragraph, the defense of the rights of man comes before preoccupation for the salvation of souls. Another way to say the same thing: the Church is charged to defend the transcendence of the human person, this transcendence consisting precisely in its dignity/liberty:

The Church, because of its mission and its competence, is not confused in any manner with the political community, and is at the same time the sign and the safeguard of the transcendent character of the human person. "The Church respects and promotes political liberty and the responsibility of the citizens'."[29] (§2245).

Among the rights of man that the Church must defend, there is evidently the right to religious liberty, founded as the others upon the dignity/liberty of man.

'In religious matters, let none be forced to act against his conscience, nor to be hindered from so acting, within just limits, following his conscience in private as in public, alone or associated with others.'[30] This right is founded upon the nature itself of the human person of which its dignity makes it to adhere freely to divine truth which transcends the temporal order. This is why it 'persists even in those who do not satisfy their obligation to search for the truth and to adhere to it '[31] If, because of the particular circumstances in which peoples find themselves, a special civil recognition is accorded in the juridical order of the city to a given religious society, it is necessary that at the same time, for all the citizens and all the religious communities, the right to liberty in religious matters be recognized and respected[32] (§1930). The right to religious liberty is neither the moral permission to adhere to error,[33] nor a supposed right to error,[34] but a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, that is to say, to immunity from exterior constraint, within just limits, in religious matters on the part of the political power. This natural right must be recognized in the juridical order of society in such a manner that it constitutes a civil right."[35] (§2108).

Behold the citation of Pius XII which the note makes mention of:

That which does not correspond to the truth or the moral law has not any right, objectively, to existence, nor to propagation, nor to action."

Pius XII does not condemn only "a supposed right to error," as the Catechism says, but also a right to propagate it and the action of error and of evil. Now to recognize a "natural right to immunity from constraint" for a false religion, isn’t this precisely to recognize for them a right of action and of propagation?

The right to religious liberty cannot be of itself either unlimited,[36] or limited only by a 'public order' conceived in a positivist or naturalist manner.[37] The 'just limits' which are inherent must be determined for each social situation by political prudence, according to the exigencies of the common good, and ratified by the civil authority according to 'juridical rules conformed to the objective moral order'."[38] (§2109)

One senses in this last paragraph and in the references to Pius VI and Pius IX an attempt to justify the conciliar doctrine on religious liberty in the face of the accusations of traditionalists. To make this new doctrine in conformity with the traditional doctrine, the "just limits" would have to be respect for the moral law in a pagan country and respect for the Christian law in a Christian country. But this is contrary to the conciliar teaching such as it is interpreted by Rome itself.[39]

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1. In fact, certain defenders of Tradition believed it necessary to praise the New Catechism, or at least criticize those who criticize it.

2. Documentation Catholique, no. 2063 of Jan. 3, 1993, pp.1-3.

3. This citation and the following are taken from L’Osservatore Romano, (French language edition) of Dec. 1992, p.5.

4. This word and the following are italicized in the text.

5. Concerning this question, see the review of Fr. Johannes Dormann’s book, Pope John Paul II’s Theological Journey to the Prayer Meeting of Religions in Assisi [Vol. 1 | Vol. 2 | Vol. 3] in La Sel de la terre, no. 5.

6. This citation and the following are taken from L’Osservatore Romano (French language edition), of Dec. 15, 1992, p. 4.

7. This expression and the two following are italicized in the text.

8. Translations of what? The official text in Latin is not yet published, but it is already translated; this puzzles one. Notice also this appeal to "experience" to elaborate the norm of the Faith.

9. L’Osservatore Romano puts a semi-colon here. We suppose a colon is meant.

10. Gen. 1:26.

11. Cf. Gen. 2:7-22.

12. 1983 Code of Canon Law, can. 208; cf. Lumen Gentium 32-4. AA, 2.

13. Gaudium et spes [GS ad infra] 29, § 2.

14. ibid, par 3.

15. ibid 17.

16. Rom. 8:26.

17. Cf. Matt. 6:8.

18. Cf. Rom. 8:27.

19. GS, 17.

20. St. Irenaeus, Haer. 4, 4, 3.

21. Cf. Dignitatis humanae [DH ad infra], 2.

22. ibid 7.

23. ibid 3.

24. I Cor. 8:12.

25. Rom. 14:21.

26. SRS, 47.

27. Cf. PT, 65.

28. GS, 76, par 5.

29. ibid 76, par 3

30. DH, 2.

31. ibid.

32. ibid 6.

33. Cf. Leo XIII, Libertas.

34. Cf. Pius XII, discourse of Dec. 6, 1953.

35. Cf. DH, 2.

36. Cf. Pius VI, Quod aliquantum.

37. Cf. Pius IX, Quanta cura.

38. DH, 7.

39. On this question see the article "The declaration on Religious Liberty of Vatican II; is it compatible with Tradition?" in La Sel de la terre, no.2.