At the Council of Trent, held in northern Italy from 1545 to 1563, leaders of the Roman Catholic Church confronted the rising forces of Protestantism by reforming and clarifying church doctrines. Then, in 1566, the church produced a major document known as a catechism, based on the council's decisions, which since then has served as a guide for bishops and religious teachers. Last week, bishops unveiled a new Roman Catholic catechism made up of 2,865 articles, formulated by a board of theologians and bishops that worked under the leadership of the ultra-conservative Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who heads the Vatican’s office on faith and morals.
While addressing modem issues, the new catechism upholds the church’s traditional views on most issues. Birth control, mas-
turbation, euthanasia, divorce, sex outside of marriage and abortion remain on a list of banned activities. The church reaffirmed its long-standing rule that only baptized men may be ordained, declaring that Jesus chose only men to be his apostles. The catechism also clarified the church’s position on a key issue by stating that most of the blame for the death of Jesus should be placed on Christians, “a responsibility they have too often attributed to the Jews.”
As well, the updated catechism contains new entries dealing with contemporary problems such as drunk driving and drug abuse, both of which the church considers to be moral and legal responsibilities. In addition, while the catechism urges homosexuals to be chaste, it encourages compassion for them.
Some critics of the new catechism charged that the church overlooked several important modem-day issues, including the fact that the use of condoms during sexual intercourse reduces the risk of contracting the AIDS vims. “It’s holding the traditional Catholic line on
sexual matters,” said Robert Bâter, a professor of New Testament and religious studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. But other commentators, including John Meagher, a professor of theology at St. Michael’s College in Toronto, maintain that certain issues may be implicitly dealt with in the catechism. Said Meagher: “The people responsible for the formation of the catechism would say, ‘Yeah, there’s a problem with poverty and overpopulation, but abortion isn’t the way to deal with it.' ” The new, 676-page catechism will be translated from its original French into six languages by next spring and will be sold in bookstores. Some observers, including Bater, said that the updated catechism may encourage people who are already conscientious about their faith to take a new look at where the church stands in the 20th century—and to look at their own actions in a new light.
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