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The English-language version of the Catechism is 30 years old this month

For those of us who grew up in the wake of the Second Vatican Council—the era of felt banners and guitar Masses—the confusion over what the Catholic Church taught was real.

The catechesis of the 1970s became a cautionary tale, a model for what not to do when passing on the faith.

Our well-meaning teachers told us that “all you need is love,” echoing the Fab Four instead of reaching for the Baltimore Catechism. In 1978, they joked that after Pope John Paul I, we might just get Pope George Ringo.

Instead, we got John Paul II.

One of the Polish pontiff’s seminal accomplishments was to give us the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The English-language version dropped 30 years ago this week.

The Catechism was an instant international best-seller that became a reality only with the intervention of an American businessman. More on that in a moment.

John Paul II inherited the arduous task of unpacking Vatican II, arguably the most important religious event of the 20th century. The Council met in four sessions between 1962 and 1965. Pope St. John XXIII, who opened the Church’s 21st ecumenical council, asked bishops to examine how the Church could best proclaim the Gospel in the modern era.

Twenty years later, in 1985, John Paul convoked a meeting of bishops to examine how well the Church had implemented the Council. The synod returned with several recommendations, including the suggestion that the Church produce a new, comprehensive universal catechism.

Critics harped that the Church didn’t need a new Catechism. Papal biographer George Weigel has noted that opponents of the proposal said that Catholics were no longer interested in “conceptual” approaches to religious education.

John Paul II persevered.

On May 27, 1994, the pope received the first English-language version of the Catechism. Even though nearly 700,000 copies of that version were on shelves by the end of June, the pope had no idea that he had an international bestseller on his hands.

Since its 1992 publication in French, the Catechism has sold about 20 million copies in at least 44 languages. It is the first comprehensive document to explain Catholic faith and morals in more than 400 years.

Following the Council of Trent (1545–1563), called in response to the Protestant Reformation, the Vatican published the Roman Catechism in 1566; council fathers found it necessary because both priests and the lay faithful at the time were poorly catechized.

John Paul II saw a parallel after the Second Vatican Council.

Decades of poor catechesis and the disastrous “Spirit of Vatican II” had the Catholic Church in turmoil. In developing a new universal catechism, John Paul II didn’t primarily intend to squash dissent. Instead, he wanted to put forth a modern, comprehensive, and authoritative teaching document containing all the tenets of the Catholic faith contained in Scripture and Tradition.

He tasked a group of 12 bishops with creating the new catechism. They were led by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger—the future Pope Benedict XVI, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—and Fr. Christoph Schönborn, later archbishop of Vienna.

Like all major undertakings, there were hiccups.

One significant obstacle was funding. Tight budgets had virtually brought the Vatican’s ambitious project to a grinding halt. The project apparently found an unlikely savior in American pizza tycoon Tom Monaghan.

Read more at Catholic World Report 

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