The urgent need for an effective application of the 'Catechism of the Catholic Church' is underlined by the continuing decline in knowledge and practice of the Catholic Faith. The present article examines the challenges which face those seeking to reverse this decline by means of the Catechism. It is an abridgment of a paper which Fr John Walter delivered earlier this year at a Human Life International conference in Brisbane. Fr Walter is the parish priest of Riverwood (Sydney) and editor of 'The Priest', journal of the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is nothing less than the culmination of the stated intention of Pope John XXIII, in his opening address at the Second Vatican Council on 11 October 1962, 30 years to the day before the Catechism's official publication: "The greatest concern of the Second Vatican Council is that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be more effectively guarded and taught."
In this light, the Catechism is the latest and, dare we prophesy, the greatest fruit of the Council. Its arrival could not be more timely.
In Australia some 80% of the baptised Catholic population have abandoned Sunday Mass. At the same time, an ever-increasing percentage of our Catholic youth have dropped out of the practice of their faith by the time they leave high school. Cheerful assurances aside, there is no hard evidence that they are returning later on. It should come as no surprise that the current rate of loss is running well above 90%.
In a penetrating analysis in Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II affirms a deep crisis of faith within society in general and within the Church in particular which stems from confusion about the objective reality of good and evil. Those among the baptised who have forsaken the practice of the faith, no longer believe because, in the main, they are at a loss to know what to believe.
One has only to count the average number of First Communicants each year in a typical parish and then by simple arithmetic extrapolate for the average number of years such children live at their parental home to become aware of just how few of these youngsters show up at Mass any Sunday, let alone every Sunday.
Secondary education brings profound change in their attitudes to and formation in the faith. The nature of the secular ethic, which they either imbibe or are force fed, canonises their right to personal gratification and, conversely, scorns the constraints of duty. As it bites into their souls, they have little access to the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of Penance.
If they attend one of those nominally Catholic colleges, their liturgical experience is typically limited to the annual pop extravaganzas that usher in or close the school year, while what passes for their spiritual formation is characterised by a politically correct diet of trendy environmentalism and radical feminism topped off with dollops of comparative religion with a dose of liberation theology thrown in.
The former difference in practice between those attending Catholic schools and those attending State schools is fast disappearing as more non-practising parents enrol their children in Catholic schools with no sense of a corresponding need to embrace the practice of the faith even at a minimal level of Sunday Mass.
The plain reality is that many of today's parents, in their youth, were given stones in place of bread. The fault must be sheeted home where the fault lies - on all those who have long belittled the Church's authentic teaching; who have withheld the integrity of Gospel truth; who have perverted the call of Christ; who have promoted questionable opinions and turned Christ's call into a soft option.
These are the ones whom Pope John Paul II, on 11 January 1993, speaking to the Dutch bishops on their ad limina visit and referring to the aim of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, unequivocally calls "false prophets": "The publication of the Catechism," he says, "will not fail to reassure and strengthen the faithful who have become disoriented in the theological ferment of recent years, bringing back to the true sources of the faith those who went astray following false prophets."
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an invaluable resource for instruction particularly for those in their secondary years of education and for young adults who are currently such easy pickings for our 'condom culture.' It clearly spells out what is involved in being a practical Catholic, along with its synthesis of revealed truth about us and God.
It is imperative that the Catechism of the Catholic Church be universally acknowledged for what it was intended to be: the official compendium of authentic Catholic teaching and the point of reference against which the authenticity of every other formulation is to be measured.