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The Missing Document Of Vatican II

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(Editor’s Note: Fr. Marvin Deutsch, a Maryknoll priest, is a retired missionary who spent many years in Tanzania. In the essay below, he writes about the Vatican II and catechetics. The Wanderer hopes to have contributor Don Fier’s series Learn Your Faith available in book form in the future.)

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Why is it that most Catholics before Vatican II were well educated in the knowledge of the basic teaching of the Catholic Church? The answer is a very simple one. They all studied the same doctrine as contained in the Baltimore Catechism which included, in a rather simple way, questions and answers regarding who God is, the seven sacraments, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments. Every Catholic child studied the same thing, and those taught by the nuns in grade school even memorized the whole catechism.
And so what happened after the Vatican Council when all of a sudden all this teaching suddenly disappeared? The answer to this question which seems to be a mystery to many is what I want to explain here.
There were 16 documents discussed and approved by the over the 2,000 bishops of the Catholic Church who attended the Vatican Council from 1962-1965. Why were there only 16 and not 17, 18, or even more? The answer is not complicated. Before the Vatican Council began, a questionnaire was sent out to all the Catholic bishops of the world asking them what topics they would like included for discussion at the council. Their answers to this questionnaire indicated what the topics should be and it came to 16.
Unfortunately, a topic not proposed was Catholic education. Unbeknownst to the bishops at the time, the result of this lacuna was catastrophic. Most likely they did not consider that there was anything missing in the teaching of the doctrine as it then stood. And so what happened? After the council, the catechism was thrown out and, with its withdrawal, so went out the window the understanding of the basics of the Catholic Church. There was nothing to replace it.
The liberals took over the writing of the new books to be used in grade school, high school, and in CCD classes, etc. The so-called social gospel — do good to, and love everybody and treat every one as an equal (tolerance), took over. Political and social justice became more important than the justification of the individual soul through repentance, faith, forgiveness, and the grace of Jesus Christ leading to salvation.
I think it should be mentioned here that the failure in promoting a document on catechesis was not the fault of Pope Paul VI. On October 28, 1965, shortly before the closing of the council, Paul VI issued the document Gravissimum Educationis, in which he described the great importance of Catholic education. To quote a few sentences about his concern for catechesis:
“In fulfilling its educational role, the Church, eager to employ all suitable aids, is concerned especially about those which are her very own. Foremost among these is catechetical instructions which enlightens and strengthens the faith, nourishes life according to the Spirit of Christ, leads to intelligent and active participation in the liturgical mystery and gives motivation for apostolic activity” (Gravissimum Educationis, n. 4).
This is not the only document that Pope Paul VI wrote that was ignored by most Catholics. In 1968, Humanae Vitae brought about an open rebellion; in 1975, Pope Paul VI wrote Evangelii Nuntiandi (Evangelization in the Modern World), correcting the false emphasis of Liberation Theology which politicized the Gospel. This document was virtually ignored. He also expressed his deep concern in this document (n. 80) that the enthusiasm for evangelizing was waning, evidently caused by a misinterpretation of Vatican II that conversion to Christ and the Church was no longer as important as it once was, since all religions were good and possessed seeds of the Gospel.
As a missionary in Africa at the time, I experienced this attitude firsthand. Many even thought that before preaching the Gospel, Christ is already there and as missionaries, we merely reveal Him.
I believe that Pope Paul VI was a very good Pope. I consider him a martyr to the truth.
mTo return to my original topic — the tragic results of not teaching the basics of the Church’s doctrines, especially to the young. If the Commandments and the sacraments were no longer taught, they must not be very important, and why then should anyone go to Confession on a regular basis, or at all? If the Commandments were not taught, then the problem of sin ceases to exist. And of course, if these things are not important, why is it necessary to go to Mass every Sunday?
And, what then is the difference between being a Catholic or belonging to some other Christian denomination? We are all Christians and pretty much alike, anyways.
During that period following the council, no one seemed to know for sure what the Catholic Church taught. The result was several generations of uneducated Catholics. As stated above, many saw little difference between the Catholic Church and other Christian religions. The number attending weekly Mass plummeted from 80 percent to 25 percent. Catholic parents who sent their children to Catholic schools, thinking they would be taught the basics, were later shocked to find out their children knew very little of what is essential in the Church’s teaching. When their children stopped going to Church, there was much grief, but what to do about it?
I would like to quote from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s book, The Ratzinger Report, written with interviewer Vittorio Messori. It describes how bad things had gotten in the 1970s and 1980s.
“It is incontestable that the last ten years (1975-1985) have been decidedly unfavorable for the Catholic Church….What the Popes and the Council Fathers were expecting was a new Catholic unity, and instead one has encountered a dissension which, to use the words of Paul VI, seems to have passed over from self-criticism to self-destruction….There had been expectations of a step forward, and instead one found oneself facing a progressive process of decadence that to a large measure has been unfolding under the sign of a summons to a presumed ‘spirit of the Council’ and by doing so has actually increasingly discredited it” (pp. 29-30).
It wasn’t until Pope John Paul II sought to remedy the problem that anything meaningful was done. Sometime in the 1980s, John Paul II proposed the writing of a new Catechism of the Catholic Church. Cardinal Ratzinger was put in charge and delegated the task of coordination to the archbishop of Vienna, Christopher Schönborn. Learned theologians from all over the world were asked to write different parts of the new catechism.
The end product took several years. After many amendments it became a very good product and included four main topics typical of what all Catholic catechisms should be: The Creed (The Profession of the Faith); the Ten Commandments (Christian Morality and the Life of Christ); The Sacraments (The Celebration of the Christian Mystery), and Prayer.
It was filled with Scripture quotes and other quotes from not only the Vatican Council, but other councils too, and also quotes from the Fathers of the Church. What was lacking in the Baltimore Catechism, references to Sacred Scripture, was remedied. This was very much needed, for, after all, the word of God is the soul of all our beliefs. The project was finished in 1992 although the English version was only completed some years later.
The difficulty of learning the new catechism is the very length of it. There are courses being taught at Catholic colleges where Catholic studies is the main curriculum. Some of these are available for older people as well. What has been accomplished? Smaller books have been written which include these topics geared for the various levels of education — grade school, high school, college, RCIA courses, etc. Some of these are very good.
It certainly is a vast improvement from those days following the Vatican Council. People can learn, if they want to, although the numbers who are well educated in the teaching of the Church today are still very few. Many Catholics have formed study groups, not only regarding the catechism but Scripture study and prayer groups which have gone a long way toward improving Catholic life for many. Much more needs to be done if once again we will have Catholics who know, love, and follow all that the Catholic Church teaches. This is the unity in the truth that Jesus wants for His Church.
A few years ago, when Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was asked if people of other religions should be given the opportunity to know Christ, he responded: There are those who say that non-Christians should be left in peace out of respect for their own “authentic” beliefs, whatever that may be. But how can this be the case if the true authenticity of every person is found in communion with Christ and not without Him? Isn’t it our duty to offer them this essential reality?
Pope Francis, in his recent exhortation The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium), is calling the Church to obedience to the mandate of Christ, to go and preach the Gospel to every creature everywhere in the world and to do so in a spirit of joy and enthusiasm. The Pope writes:
“Evangelization takes place in obedience to the missionary mandate of Jesus: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).
The present Pope certainly has the right ideas, but there are many problems to overcome. The number of foreign missionaries has drastically decreased. The problem in our schools is made more difficult because many of the Catholic grade and high schools no longer have well-trained orthodox Catholic teachers. There are some exceptions, however. We have a long ways to go. So let us pray that the enthusiasm of Pope Francis may inspire us all to become evangelists in our sphere of life.

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