Bishop Wuerl on New Catechetical Tools (Part 1)

Pittsburgh Prelate Discusses the Compendium

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PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania, NOV. 22, 2005 ( In an effort to make Church teachings more accessible to modern Catholics, the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is being released in English in early 2006.

Bishop Donald Wuerl — chairman of the American bishops’ editorial oversight board for the U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults and a member of the bishops’ Committee on Catechesis — is heralding the Compendium as a concise yet complete presentation of the faith.

The bishop of Pittsburgh, 65, shared with ZENIT the inspiration behind the Compendium and how lay Catholics can use it well.

Part 2 of this interview will appear Wednesday.

Q: The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church was the fruit of requests made by the world’s bishops to Pope John Paul II. What is the pastoral reasoning behind the compendium?

Bishop Wuerl: In his apostolic constitution «Fidei Depositum» on the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Pope John Paul II noted that in the spirit of the continuing implementation of the Second Vatican Council he convoked in 1985 a special Synod of Bishops for the 20th anniversary of the close of the Council. It was at that synod when the request was made for a universal catechism.

In «Fidei Depositum» the Pope also pointed out that this Catechism «is meant to encourage and assist in the writing of new local catechisms, which take into account various situations and cultures, while carefully preserving the unity of faith and fidelity to Catholic doctrine.»

Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was meant to be the source book for a number of catechetical tools that would implement the Catechism and bring its encyclopedic content into more user-friendly formats.

Later, in the context of the international catechetical congress held in Rome with representatives of episcopal conferences from around the world, the discussion arose around how to make the Catechism of the Catholic Church more accessible to readers today.

Thus was born the idea of a compendium, a shortened and more concise version of the Catechism. It would serve those who might find the Catechism in its entirety a bit daunting, but still wish to know more about their faith.

The compendium offers a concise yet complete presentation of the faith. It presents an overview of the whole Catechism without going into all of the details that enrich the Catechism. Its primary focus is to provide ready access in a concise manner to the content of the faith.

This is not the only work inspired by the Catechism of the Catholic Church. A number of efforts have been made, some of them personal and some of them institutional, to provide an adaptation or application of the teaching of the Catechism to local situations.

Our United States Conference of Catholic Bishops [USCCB] has provided a text for a Catholic catechism for adults, which is awaiting final approval in Rome.

It is intended to apply the teaching of the Catechism in a way that invites people who may have drifted away from the faith, or have been under catechized, to look again at what the Church offers. It does this in a readable and engaging manner.

Shortly after the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church I did a catechism for adults entitled «The Catholic Way: Faith for Living Today» [published by Doubleday]. My book is in an attempt to present the essential teaching of the Catechism in a more colloquial style that, I hope, is both readable and engaging.

Q: The 1992 Catechism was meant for bishops. Did anyone at the time see an immediate need for an easier-to-read compendium?

Bishop Wuerl: While a compendium may not have been at the forefront of discussion when the Catechism of the Catholic Church was first published, this possibility is certainly a part of the vision of Pope John Paul II seen in his apostolic constitution promulgating the Catechism.

I believe, however, that when the Catechism was first published, the full focus and effort was on presenting it and helping introduce it to those who collaborate with the bishops in the passing on of the faith.

Thus it became the norm for publications of catechetical texts throughout the United States. It was the subject of workshops for clergy, catechetical administrators, catechists, teachers of the faith and all those involved in passing on the faith.

In a sense the compendium is a logical development of the first stages that saw publication of the Catechism and its introduction into the world of catechesis.

Q: Some are concerned that the Compendium will leave out too much. Are their fears warranted?

Bishop Wuerl: The compendium is a marvelous chapter-by-chapter, section-by-section summary of the content of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It leaves out nothing of the essential teaching and it continually invites the reader, once he or she is initiated into the text, to refer to the Catechism for a deeper reflection.

The Catechism is encyclopedic in the breadth and depth of its content. It has become the essential reference work for the teaching of the faith. But it is helped now by the Compendium, which acts as an introduction to the Catechism for those who study the faith.

Q: Is there any advice for someone who wants to work his way up from the Compendium to the Catechism? Should he go to other sources?

Bishop Wuerl: The Catechism of the Catholic Church remains the sourcebook for the Catholic faith in our day. However, its very size makes it a difficult task for some, especially those who know little about their faith or who are under-catechized. Thus, there are a variety of tools available to help introduce people to the faith.

We must remember that many of the people we are trying to reach today were under-catechized or poorly catechized during the 1970s and 1980s. There is the need to engage them in taking a second look at the faith.

While the Catechism can do this, other tools such as the Compendium, the Catechism for Adults prepared by the Conference of Catholic Bishops and other texts prepared by individuals — such as the fifth edition of «The Teaching of Christ: A Catholic Catechism for Adults» [published by Our Sunday Visitor] — can serve to invite people back into an examination of the faith.

Q: Is the Compendium suitable for catechesis for, say, confirmation classes?

Bishop Wuerl: Given the range of ages associated with the administration of the sacrament of confirmation, the Compendium can be more or less effective.

Nonetheless it remains a concise and readable summary of the Catholic faith. It should be a welcome and usable guide for those preparing young people to receive the sacrament of confirmation.

Where the recipients of the sacrament are older, the Compendium could be a very helpful tool for them to use when addressing the content of the faith.

[Wednesday: A Catechism for Young Adults]

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