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Cardinal Law asks universal catechism

By James L. Franklin, Globe Staff, 11/27/1985

ardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston last night proposed to a special synod that a committee of cardinals draft a universal catechism, or doctrinal handbook, with which to confront the problem of dissenting Roman Catholics.

In a speech delivered in Latin, Cardinal Law seemed to put himself on the side of an influential group of church leaders who think the Catholic Church needs to tighten discipline after 20 years of change. "Very often there is open dissent . . . even in theological faculties at Catholic universities," said the Boston archbishop before the synod of more than 160 bishops from around the world.

"I understand the difficulties of linking the theologians and magisterium" -- the pope and bishops -- he said.

"But the difficulty cannot justify open dissent," declared Cardinal Law. "We are teachers and masters of faith and must appear such."

The Boston archbishop's complaints about dissent followed a speech by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who heads the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and has been one of the most persistent recent critics of developments since the Vatican Council.

"Today people are looking outside the church because the church has lost some of the dimension of the sacred," said Cardinal Ratzinger, also speaking in Latin.

While he agreed that current problems of dissent and lack of religious observance "are not due to the Vatican Council," the German cardinal added that "we must seek the causes and remedy them."

In an apparent slap at critics of the Vatican, he quoted Augustine of Hippo, a fifth century bishop and one of the major early theologians of the church, to the effect that "a person possesses the Holy Spirit to the extent that he loves the church."

The two prelates' decisions to speak in Latin contrasted with most other English-speaking bishops who have spoken in the synod's discussion of Catholic life since the Second Vatican Council.

Until the evening session yesterday, a majority of the speeches had been in the five modern working languages of the synod. Modern languages have been used increasingly in synods, beginning about the middle 1970's, because many cardinals are not fluent in Latin.

There was no English text of Cardinal Law's address available last night except for a summary made by the English-language press officer for the synod, Rev. Diarmuid Martin, an Irish priest on the staff of the Vatican Council for the Family.

Father Martin said it was synod policy not to release a full text of speeches unless the individual bishop chooses to do so.

"The point of the rule is to permit an absolute freedom of expression in a brotherly gathering," he said, so that no bishop would feel pressured "to publish what in some cases would create difficulties for himself upon return to his country."

Cardinal Law's proposal for a universal catechism was the synod's second call for some sort of a doctrinal handbook. Monday evening, in the synod's first session of open discussion, Cardinal Hyacinthe Thiandoum of Dakar, Senegal, urged that the Vatican Curia prepare such a document for the rest of the church.

There is currently no such catechism. Groups of bishops have prepared such summaries of Catholic beliefs aimed at their local situations.

For example, the American bishops spent several years in the early 1970s in consulting parish clergy, lay people and religious educators before writing a "catechetical directory" as guidelines for religious education in the United States.

"Some of the national catechisms are of great value," said Cardinal Law, "but of their own, they are insufficient." He said that after the document is drafted by cardinals, it should then be distributed for comment by other bishops before being issued in final form by the pope.

In urging a universal catechism, Cardinal Law cited a "unity among young people today."

"Young people in Boston and Leningrad wear the same blue jeans; they sing and dance to the same music," he said. "There is a need for a single form of catechesis" or religious training.

Cardinal Law said the Second Vatican Council was "a major advance" for himself personally and for "the church as a community of faith."

"The problems that have arisen are problems of a long process of secularization," he observed, citing "a lack of perseverance" among priests and members of religious orders and a decline in family life, Mass attendance and use of the sacrament of penance, or confession.

Father Martin said the fact that the speeches by Cardinals Ratzinger and Law followed each other was coincidental.

"You cannot read any organized plan into it," he said in response to reporters' questioning.

Despite the tougher line apparent in a number of speeches yesterday, there could be a reversal in the next session, Father Martin said. "We may have complete euphoric optimism tomorrow."

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 11/27/1985.
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