Silent apostasy

Silent apostasy

Fr. G.H. Duggan SM

The decline in religious life, on which Sister Mary Augustine commented in her article in the February AD2000, is not an isolated phenomenon. It is only one aspect of what the late Pope, speaking of Europe, called "a silent apostasy".

Other aspects of the phenomenon are the decline in attendance at Sunday Mass and the breakdown in morals, with Catholics in developed countries using contraceptives and divorcing at the same rate as non-Catholics.

There can be little doubt that a major cause of this mass apostasy has been the catechetical revolution set in motion by Fr Joseph Jungmann SJ, Professor of Homiletics and Catechetics at the University of Innsbruck. He condemned the doctrinal catechesis which had been in use from earliest times as sterile, and wanted it replaced by what he called "kerygmatic" catechesis.

His views were accepted by the major catechetical institutes such as Lumen Vitae in Brussels and the East Asia Pastoral Institute in Manila.

The results were disappointing and in 1985 the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in Rome, by an almost unanimous vote, asked for the Holy See to produce an authoritative catechism, using the traditional threefold structure.

A few years later, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was published in several languages. But it is a big volume and suitable only as a work of reference.

Martin Luther was shrewder. In 1529 he produced a small catechism to be used in teaching children and in 1530 a large catechism, to be used by adults. The former was still in use in Lutheran countries as late as the 1850s.

In the 1960s, at the behest of the catechetical experts, the Baltimore Catechism was discarded in the United States and the Penny Catechism in British Commonwealth countries. No texts were prescribed to fill the gap.

One may therefore be inclined to wonder whether the enthusiasm manifested by those who participate in World Youth Days springs from an informed faith or largely from sentimental religiosity. Such a question may be inspired by cynicism; but it may also owe something to realism as well.

Silverstream, New Zealand

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