When I first read that the U.S. Bishops conference was going to produce an Adult Catechism my first thoughts were rather skeptical of how this document would turn out. To be truthful my second, third, and so on thoughts ran down the same line. I did not think that it would be as bad as the infamous Dutch Catechism that got even worse on the second printing after the Vatican had demanded changes to the first one. I thought though that it would be watered down or at least weak.
It is always nice to find yourself totally wrong in your skepticism. I picked up the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults last month and have been reading a chapter a day as part of my morning prayer ritual. I also must admit that I picked it up with a hope of a good fisk.
I pretty much totally agree with Rich Leonardi’s review of this Catechism. Like the Catechism of the Catholic (CCC) Church the Adult Catechism is divided into four parts as is traditional. The format is that each chapter starts for the most part with an introduction to a saint or somebody else whose story was applicable to the topic of that chapter. They mainly stuck with using Americans as examples which is of course fitting for a local Catechism. Some cases they did use examples of other saints when there was really no applicable American counterpart. I found most of the stories to be used quite fitting and I learned a lot about some American Catholics who I either never heard of or knew little about. A couple of the people used were a little problematic, but I will discuss that later in my review.
The Catechism then delves into the topic at hand with very readable and quite orthodox explanations of the faith.
At no time is the faith watered down, in fact areas of common disagreement among so-called progressive Catholics are presented with a more forthright explanation with trouble taken to address these areas. For example the issue of women’s ordination is brought up and then several paragraphs follow to explain the Church’s teaching. This example was one of the better explanations on the subject that I have read. Common issues of social justice involving topics from abortion to the preferential love for the poor were also well addressed and there is no moral relativism involved in discussing these topics or putting all moral issues on the same plain.
The chapters include frequent references to the CCC and the paragraph they are referencing along with each Chapter containing a section of explicit CCC text for the current topic. There are also of course plenty of references to the Bible and other Church documents. Each Chapter also contains at the end of it Questions for discussion, a list of doctrinal statements, a final meditations on the topic, followed by a prayer. I pretty much liked the format since the CCC section emphasizes what was written and the doctrinal statements reiterate them once again so you have a good tool for remembering the key points.
Once questions though is how the Adult Catechism really fits in and how it will be used. The Adult Catechism extends to close to 700 pages so it is not like it is much smaller than the CCC itself. And as Rich mentions there is also the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church which the Bishop’s conference wants to target for only younger readers. For my part I think there is a place for all three and really that all three should be read. They all have a different format. The Compendium is great for easily finding and understanding Church teaching. The Adult Catechism has a highly readable format that really anchors itself in the context of our highly materialistic American lifestyle and addresses specific concerns in that climate. The CCC itself is really a masterpiece in the explanation of the faith and one that cemented for me the truth of the Church.
Will the Adult Catechism make a major inroad in catechesis in the United States is a question though. The CCC was often disparaged and time and time again many catechists tried to limit who it should be read by. The Adult Catechism is just as Orthodox as the CCC so it is hard for me to imagine that the same groups of people who disliked the CCC are going to embrace it.
Now for the parts of the Adult Catechism I had more problems with. This though is a surprisingly small list. Some of the introductary examples of Americans used are what Rich Leornardi calls polarizing figures. The two and only real examples of this were Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and labor leader Cesar Chavez. The introductions themselves were fine and not really problematic, but surely the Adult Catechism could have found others with less baggage since not every American Saint, Blessed,, or Venerable were used for examples.
The funniest part of the Cesar Chavez introduction was the use of the words Mexican-American Immigrants and Mexican Immigrants. I have never seen this particular politically correct way of referring to legal and illegal Mexican immigrants before. I also found it highly ironic since Cesar Chavez was not in favor of illegal immigration himself.
Another funny part of the Adult Catechism is what must have been a mistaken word that made it in.
As we have mentioned, in New Testament times, the Apostles encountered moral challenges every bit as awesome as ours.
Moral challenges as awesome? Obviously not what the writer meant, but I had a good laugh when I came to it.
The head of the team who wrote the Adult Catechism was Archbishop Wuerl, now Archbishop of Washington D.C. I had read that he is a master catechist and this catechism truly proves it. Despite my very minor criticism I can easily recommend this Adult Catechism very highly and hope that it will be fully used. It’s format might lead to distortion by some catechist, but they also distort the CCC also.