EXCERPTS from the new Universal Catechism have been published and for a few days the whole world studied our Church under the microscopic lense with which secular curiosity always approaches spiritual matters.
For Catholics everywhere the new Catechism the terms of reference the Church drafts as instruction to our bishops, priests and teachers gave ringing proof of the courage our Church is capable of: undergoing self-analysis can often lead to painful admissions and selfdoubts as well as to understanding. To stick within the confines of familiar boundaries is simple, to venture into unchartered territory is a complex and often awesome undertaking. Every Catholic knows by heart his penny catechism, or his Commandments, and undertakes his journey of faith with these as guides to that which Aquinas wrote is everyone's goal the good.
But our Church, aware of the peril of ossification and the danger of being lulled into an inactivity which quickly becomes anachronistic (and ultimately sterile) is not content with adhering to the landmarks of the past. The world has changed, and the Church, mirror-like, reflects its new frontiers of good and evil by addressing the new challenges that modern life, like a polluted sea, has thrown up: drug peddling, drunken-driving, environmental damage the Church, in testament to its truly organic nature, is ready to face and overcome these challenges.
The essential dangers, of course, still gape wide-jawed before us on our journey of faith: murder, adultery, abortion. But, too, we must recognise new and equally perilous currents which could surface to obstruct our odyssey back to the haven we seek: hence the warnings in the new catechism against the exploitation of nature and of our fellow men (speculation and conscious political subterfuge). The modern Catholic needs a guiding light to find his or her way past these dangers the new catechism provides one.
But the publication of the excerpts from the new Universal Catechism served not only to shed light on modern moral pitfalls; they illustrated the continuing ignorancewhich the secular world, particularly in this country, brings towards the Catholic Church. Once again the Church was mis-represented as Rome-centred, autocratic, detail-obsessed.
But the genesis of the new Catechism points to a very different truth: the document was issued in response to a petition by bishops from around the world to the Holy See; it is the product of subsequent drafts drawn up by an international group of bishops (including Bishop David Konstant of Leeds) and approved by a number of cardinals from all over the world. The Catechism, then, is a representative document of how to approach the Faith, Thethattering media also failed to note theimportant departurepromoted in the new Catechisma causal approach is now being urged in the treatment of sinners, one which recognises the socio-economic, physiological and psychological roots fromwhich sin can grow. This probing approach engineers, moreover, dialogue between priests and sinner something necessary in this new era of lay empowerment.
Finally, the new Catechism is not so much an inclusion of modem sins such as horoscope-reading or gambling, as an inclusion of the hitherto-marginalised in our society. The new Catechism calls for an understanding of, and a tolerant sympathy towards, homosexuals, those who commit suicide, those for whom prostitution is the only way out of despair. The community that emerges from these pages is not afraid of change, or of self-analysis. It is a community that can encompass a multiplicity of sins and sinners in a forgiving embrace.