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Theological problems with the Youcat may force us to discontinue selling it

Youcat

Youcat - Theologically wrong or just really muddy?

We recently received comments about theological problems with the Youcat that we believe are probably serious enough for us to quit carrying the book. I sent the following comments to Ignatius Press and Mark Brumley, the president of Ignatius, was gracious enough to take the time to write an extensive reply. Please read both our comments and his carefully and then let us know what you think at the bottom of this post in our poll and leave comments if the poll doesn’t say enough for you. Also, if you’ve noticed any other problems with the book that relate to the theological content please leave them in the comments. As you read below, keep in mind the level of knowledge of the Faith that the average Catholic teenager has.

Our Comments

The Youcat has been one of our bestselling books of 2011. When it was announced we were excited that an “official” catechism for teens had been written. Because of the glowing endorsement from Pope Benedict XVI and because it was published by Ignatius Press we didn’t look through it as thoroughly as we would have had it come from a different source.

When the initial criticisms were leveled against the Italian edition for its flat out wrong statements on contraception and euthanasia, we went back to the English edition to confirm that we hadn’t missed something. Those problems weren’t in the English edition and Fr. Fessio issued a press release stating that the English edition was free from the errors that caused the Italian edition to be pulled for a rewrite.

We offered the Youcat for review on TiberRiver.com and it received mixed reviews but the criticisms were about style, a couple of pictures and a quote from a notorious non-Catholic philosopher. We discussed this at work and decided that we would continue to carry it because nothing had been pointed out that contradicted the doctrine of the Church. This may sound strange, but we actually have meetings about product content. A similar meeting about the Saint Mary’s Press Catholic Youth Bible led us to add an explanatory note to our description because of a lack of clarity in one of the publisher comments.

Another problem we have had with the Youcat is that it lacks an imprimatur for the English edition. The actual imprimatur reads:

Austrian Bishops’ Conference Imprimatur, Austrian Bishops’ Conference with the approval of the German Bishops’ Conference, November 29,2010; the Swiss Bishops’ Conference, December 6, 2010 with the prior approval of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Congregation for the Clergy, and the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

What I think this convoluted mess means is that an imprimatur was given for the German edition but not for any other language. There is a good explanation of the use of imprimaturs by Catholics United for the Faith but the issue of whether or not distinct translations each need an imprimatur is not addressed. With the debacle of the Italian edition it seems that there should have been a concerted effort by each bishops’ conference to take a close look at their language’s edition to avoid similar embarrassment. It doesn’t appear that this was done. I actually sent a note to Ignatius Press several months ago mentioning my concern about the lack of an imprimatur specifically for the English edition. I was told my concerns would be forwarded.

So now we get to the specific, theological issues with the book. I don’t take any credit for finding these problems but I am not going to link to the source as the original author has wandered off into some questionable theories of his own which in no way lessen the criticism leveled at the Youcat.

Homosexuality

#65 What about people who feel they are homosexual?

The Church believes that, in the order of creation, man and woman are designed to need each other’s complimentary traits and to enter into a mutual relationship so as to give life to children. That is why homosexual practices cannot be approved by the Church…

Nothing is mentioned about homosexual acts being intrinsically sinful but that’s not all:

There is no man on earth who is not descended from a union of a mother and father. Therefore it is a painful experience for many homosexually oriented people that they do not feel erotically attracted to the opposite sex and necessarily miss out on the physical fruitfulness of the union between man and woman according to human nature and the divine order of creation.

Two problems here. The entire issue of test tube babies is ignored to make an emotional play. Second, it is just assumed that homosexuality is a naturally existing condition without any caveat.

#415 What is the Church’s judgement on homosexuality?

…At the same time, the Church declares that all homosexual relations in any form are contrary to the order of creation.

First of all, why are the sections about homosexuality broken up into different parts of the Catechism? The first quotes are from the section about the nature of man. The second is from the section on the sixth commandment. The fact that the Youcat brings up homosexuality in the nature of man and then assumes that people are born that way is a serious problem. In this later section, what average teen is going to make the jump that “contrary to the order of creation” = “mortal sin”? I wouldn’t place bets on it.

Masturbation

#408 Is masturbation an offense against love?

Masturbation is an offense against love, because it makes the excitement of sexual pleasure an end in itself and uncouples it from the holistic unfolding of love between a man and a woman. That is why “sex with yourself” is a contradiction in terms.

The Church does not demonize masturbation, but she warns against trivializing it…

Aren’t you glad that the Church doesn’t demonize mortal sin? Obviously, there can be varying degrees of culpability but the fact that the word sin doesn’t even get mentioned is a grave offense on its own.

Creation

#51 If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, why does he not prevent evil?

“God allows evil only so as to make something better result from it” (St. Thomas Aquinas).

Evil in the world is an obscure and painful mystery. Even the Crucified asked his Father, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mat 27:46). Much about it is incomprehensible. One thing, though, we know for sure: God is 100 percent good. He can never be the originator of something evil. God created the world to be good, but it is not yet complete. In violent upheavals and painful processes it is being shaped and moved towards its final perfection. That may be a better way to classify what the Church calls physical evil, for example, a birth defect, or a natural catastrophe…

Okay, God didn’t create the world “to be good”. He created it good or He lied. This wacky explanation of the state of the world doesn’t even mention original sin but introduces this un-Catholic notion that the world is “evolving” towards perfection. No it isn’t. There isn’t any indication that we are closer to perfection than we were 2000 or 4000 years ago. It is quite probable that when the world ends we will be so far from perfect that the world won’t even be recognizable as God’s creation. Yes, God will perfect the world but it isn’t a perfection of this world, that’s a Jehovah’s Witness belief.

There is also a slam on people (they are “naive”) who take the Bible at face value on the creation of the world taking six days even though the Pontifical Bible Commission has stated that the Church doesn’t take a position on the literal or literary view of the creation story.

Because of these issues we are revoking our Good Faith seal from the Youcat and discontinuing it even though it has been our best selling book this year. I am very concerned that thousands of these doctrinally faulty books are being given out to the youth at World Youth Day endorsed as the official catechism of the event by the Pope. I can only assume that his endorsement was given to the German edition and that he either took someone else’s word on the soundness of the text or that the German text is actually sound.

Mr. Brumley’s Reply

Father Fessio forwarded your message. He may reply to you but he is traveling today, so it may be a while before you hear back. Later today I’ll send some of my thoughts on your criticisms. One thing you should know now, though, is that the English edition of YOUCAT has received the imprimatur from the Archbishop of San Francisco. The next printing of YOUCAT will include it. It’s complicated why the initial printings did not have it. However, the reason has nothing to do with any theological issues with the translation or other aspects of the book’s content.

….

Ok.  I am finally in a position to reply to the rest of your email.  Father Fessio may do so as well, but as I said, he is traveling so it will likely be a while if he does.

 

With respect to your theological criticisms I would make a number of observations.   A general point would be that merely human books aren’t perfect and that statement includes catechisms such as YOUCAT.  As I read YOUCAT, I can find questions and answers I would have phrased differently or points I would have given more emphasis or less emphasis. Maybe it’s overconfidence in my own judgment for me to set set myself up as good critic of catechisms, but whether or not that is so, it remains true that catechisms, notwithstanding the fact that they have ecclesiastical approval, aren’t beyond critique.  The key point in this case, though, seems to be that just because one might, let’s suppose, validly criticize this or that point, doesn’t mean YOUCAT is seriously doctrinally flawed or should not be sold by a conscientious Catholic bookseller.   I don’t think YOUCAT is beyond criticism but I would reject the claim that YOUCAT is gravely flawed or shouldn’t be sold in a Catholic bookstore.

 

Now on to specific criticisms.

 

1.  Homosexuality.  You quote part of the answer from YOUCAT # 65:

#65 What about people who feel they are homosexual?

The Church believes that, in the order of creation, man and woman are designed to need each other’s complimentary traits and to enter into a mutual relationship so as to give life to children. That is why homosexual practices cannot be approved by the Church…

Nothing is mentioned about homosexual acts being intrinsically sinful but that’s not all:

There is no man on earth who is not descended from a union of a mother and father. Therefore it is a painful experience for many homosexually oriented people that they do not feel erotically attracted to the opposite sex and necessarily miss out on the physical fruitfulness of the union between man and woman according to human nature and the divine order of creation.

Two problems here. The entire issue of test tube babies is ignored to make an emotional play. Second, it is just assumed that homosexuality is a naturally existing condition without any caveat.

The issue of test tube babies is not addressed in this specific answer but it is addressed in YOUCAT #423.  I don’t know what to make of your claim that the answer above “make[s] an emotional play”, so I’ll not comment on it.  But the claim that “it is just assumed that homosexuality is a naturally existing condition without any caveat” is just plain false. YOUCAT #65 refers to the complementarity of man and woman as being “in the order of creation”.  It also indicates that this complementarity is “why homosexual practices cannot be approved by the Church”.  Furthermore, as the part of the answer you quote makes clear, same-sex attraction causes homosexual persons “necessarily [to] miss out on the physical fruitfulness of the union between man and woman according to human nature and the divine order of creation”. It is clear that the union of man and woman is “according to human nature and the divine order of creation” and that homosexuality is not.  Thus, it is inaccurate to claim that in YOUCAT “it is just assumed that homosexuality is a naturally existing condition without any caveat.”

Moreover, your criticism doesn’t appear adequately to consider the context of the Q & A #65.  It follows the discussion (Q & A # 64) of God’s creation of man male and female, where YOUCAT states, “God made man in such a way that he is male or female and longs for fulfillment and completion in ane counter with the opposite sex.”  Such a statement might reasonably be expected to lead in our day to the question, “What about people who feel they are homosexual?” That’s why the next Q & A, #65, poses exactly that question.  While the words “intrinsically sinful” don’t appear, the essential point of the concept is there: homosexuality is not part of the “order of creation” and “homosexual practices cannot be approved by the Church”.  I take it that most reasonable readers will understand answers ##64-65 to mean that homosexual practices are “intrinsically sinful”, not that they may or may not be sinful, depending on circumstances; or that it is just a prudential matter of whether the Church allows homosexual acts.

On the subject of homosexuality, I am perplexed by why your comments don’t include Q & A # 415 (crossreferenced in YOUCAT #65):

What is the Church’s judgment on homosexuality?

God created man as male and female and destined them for each other in a bodily way as well. The Church accepts without reservation those who experience homosexual feelings. They (persons who experience homosexual feelings) should not be unjustly discriminated against because of that. At the same time, the Church declares that all homosexual relations in any form are contrary to the order of creation. [2358–2359] 65

It seems to me that YOUCAT is pretty clear when it states that “all homosexual relations in any form are contrary to the order of creation”.  And of course the CCC’s teaching on homosexuality is crossrefenced here [2358-2359]. How, then, can you claim that ” it is just assumed that homosexuality is a naturally existing condition without any caveat”?

2. Masturbation.  You write:

#408 Is masturbation an offense against love?

Masturbation is an offense against love, because it makes the excitement of sexual pleasure an end in itself and uncouples it from the holistic unfolding of love between a man and a woman. That is why “sex with yourself” is a contradiction in terms.

The Church does not demonize masturbation, but she warns against trivializing it…

Aren’t you glad that the Church doesn’t demonize mortal sin? Obviously, there can be varying degrees of culpability but the fact that the word sin doesn’t even get mentioned is a grave offense on its own.

The answer about masturbation is trying to steer a middle course between a view that regards masturbation as the worst evil (that is obviously what is meant by “demonizing”) and one that treats it as a trivial matter.  Perhaps YOUCAT does not do as good a job as it might in underscoring the evil of masturbation. But it is clearly presented as a “grave offense”, even though those particular two words are not used.  The question asks, “Is masturbation an offense against love?” It doesn’t ask whether masturbation is a just bad idea or less than fully loving or possibly a problem.  And the answer to the question is direct and clear: “Masturbation is an offense against love …”.

The full answer is:

Masturbation is an offense against love, because it makes the excitement of sexual pleasure an end in itself and uncouples it from the holistic unfolding of love between a man and a woman. That is why “sex with yourself” is a contradiction in terms. [2352]

The Church does not demonize masturbation, but she warns against trivializing it. In fact many young people and adults are in danger of becoming isolated in their consumption of lewd pictures, films, and Internet services instead of finding love in a personal relationship. Loneliness can lead to a blind alley in which masturbation becomes an addiction. Living by the motto “For sex I do not need anyone; I will have it myself, however and whenever I need it” makes nobody happy.

 

The above answer is given in the context where sexual relations have already been explained as intend between a man and a woman who are married to one another.  You may wish that YOUCAT had used the words “grave offense” or “sin”.  But it does not seem fair or accurate to suggest that the answer YOUCAT gives on this topic is doctrinally faulty, simply because those particular words aren’t used in its answer here.

 

3. Creation.  You write:

Creation

#51 If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, why does he not prevent evil?

“God allows evil only so as to make something better result from it” (St. Thomas Aquinas).

Evil in the world is an obscure and painful mystery. Even the Crucified asked his Father, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mat 27:46). Much about it is incomprehensible. One thing, though, we know for sure: God is 100 percent good. He can never be the originator of something evil. God created the world to be good, but it is not yet complete. In violent upheavals and painful processes it is being shaped and moved towards its final perfection. That may be a better way to classify what the Church calls physical evil, for example, a birth defect, or a natural catastrophe…

Okay, God didn’t create the world “to be good”. He created it good or He lied.

This wacky explanation of the state of the world doesn’t even mention original sin but introduces this un-Catholic notion that the world is “evolving” towards perfection. No it isn’t. There isn’t any indication that we are closer to perfection than we were 2000 or 4000 years ago. It is quite probable that when the world ends we will be so far from perfect that the world won’t even be recognizable as God’s creation. Yes, God will perfect the world but it isn’t a perfection of this world, that’s a Jehovah’s Witness belief.

There is also a slam on people (they are “naive”) who take the Bible at face value on the creation of the world taking six days even though the Pontifical Bible Commission has stated that the Church doesn’t take a position on the literal or literary view of the creation story.

To be very frank, I am not following much of your argument above.

a. To say that God created the world to be good is not to deny he created the world good.  So I don’t understand your objection here.

b. You say, “This wacky explanation of the state of the world doesn’t even mention original sin but introduces this un-Catholic notion that the world is ‘evolving’ towards perfection.”  I’ll set aside your use of the word “wacky”.  Your comments sound as if you understand YOUCAT #51 to be claiming that the world is evolving or improving in every way or moving in most ways toward perfection.  But (1) the Q & A doesn’t use the word “evolving”, contrary to what one might infer from your statement above.  And in fact (2) Q & A #51 isn’t talking about some all-encompassing evolution.  It’s clear from the context that the Q & A addresses the issue of physical evil and moral evil, in their respective roles, and God’s permitting them as part of a process leading the world, as YOUCAT puts it, “towards its final perfection”, a process that involves allowing evil in order to bring about some particular good. Here is the whole thing:

If God is all-knowing and all-powerful,why does he not prevent evil?

“God allows evil only so as to make something better result from it” (St. Thomas Aquinas). [309–314, 324]

Evil in the world is an obscure and painful mystery. Even the Crucified asked his Father, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46). Much about it is incomprehensible. One thing, though, we know for sure: God is 100 percent good. He can never be the originator of something evil. God created the world to be good, but it is not yet complete. In violent upheavals and painful processes it is being shaped and moved toward its final perfection. That may be a better way to classify what the Church calls physical evil, for example, a birth defect, or a natural catastrophe. Moral evils, in contrast, come about through the misuse of freedom in the world. “Hell on earth”—child soldiers, suicide bombings, concentration camps—is usually man-made. The decisive question is therefore not,“How can anyone believe in a good God when there is so much evil?” but rather, “How could a person with a heart and understanding endure life in this world if God did not exist?” Christ’s death and Resurrection show us that evil did not have the first word, nor does it have the last. God made absolute good result from the worst evil. We believe that in the Last Judgment God will put an end to all injustice. In the life of the world to come, evil no longer has any place and suffering ends. 40, 286–287

YOUCAT paraphrases the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) no. 310: “But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better.But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world “in a state of journeying” towards its ultimate perfection. In God’s plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection.”

You criticize YOUCAT #51 for not mentioning original sin.  Of course that particular Q & A’s purpose is not to discuss original sin, which is addressed elsewhere (##68-70).  But notice that neither does the explanation of CCC no. 310, on which #51 draws, refer to original sin.  Does that make the CCC “wacky” or doctrinally faulty?

c.  You go on at some length criticizing the idea that the world in general is getting closer to perfection, but since that is not what YOUCAT is addressing, I don’t have anything to say in response to your comments, except to ask you to go back and re-read the Q & A.  I think you’ll see it’s talking about something else entirely from what you supposed.

d.  You write:

There is also a slam on people (they are “naive”) who take the Bible at face value on the creation of the world taking six days even though the Pontifical Bible Commission has stated that the Church doesn’t take a position on the literal or literary view of the creation story.

Here is what YOUCAT says (#42):

Can someone accept the theory of evolution and still believe in the Creator?

Yes. Although it is a different kind of knowledge, faith is open to the findings and hypotheses of the sciences. [282–289]

Theology has no scientific competence, and natural science has no theological competence. Natural science cannot dogmatically rule out the possibility that there are purposeful processes in creation; conversely, faith cannot define specifically how these processes take place in the course of nature’s development. A Christian can accept the theory of evolution as a helpful explanatory model, provided he does not fall into the heresy of evolutionism, which views man as the random product of biological processes. Evolution presupposes the existence of something that can develop. The theory says nothing about where this “something” came from. Furthermore, questions about the being, essence, dignity, mission, meaning, and wherefore of the world and man cannot be answered in biological terms. Just as “evolutionism” oversteps a boundary on the one side, so does creationism on the other. Creationists naively take biblical data literally (for example, to calculate the earth’s age, they cite the six days of work in Genesis 1).

I’m not sure it amounts to a “slam” of creationists to describe them as YOUCAT does. But in any case it’s not a doctrinally faulty statement to assert that creationists “naively take the biblical data literally (for example, to calculate the earth’s age, they cite the six days of work in Genesis 1)”.  Although the CCC doesn’t describe as “naive” those who hold literalist views of the six days of creation, it does characterize those days as symbolic: “God himself created the visible world in all its richness, diversity, and order.  Scripture presents the work of the Creator symbolically as a succession of six days of divine ‘work’, concluded by the ‘rest’ of the seventh day.”  Clearly, this is how the CCC thinks the creation account of Gen 1 should be read.  Is that doctrinally faulty?

When in his general audience of Jan 29, 1986 Pope John Paul II said of the Genesis account of creation, “Taken as a whole, the image of the world is delineated by the pen of the inspired author with the characteristics of the cosmologies of the time”, was the Pope doctrinally flawed?  The cosmologies of that time were creation myths.  That would seem even more provocative than describing the sis days of creation as “symbolic”.  Nevertheless, I am glad to see that Aquinas and More carried God Father and Creator, the volume of John Paul II’s audiences that contains the aforementioned talk.

When Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger preached the homilies that eventually became the book In the Beginning (an non-Ignatius Press book I am glad Aquinas and More sells), he presented the Gen 1 account of a six-day creation as symbolic. Was he doctrinally flawed for doing so?

In Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn’s Chance or Purpose?, he distinguishes “creationism”, which he associates with biblical fundamentalism, and the doctrine of creation.  Regarding the creationist idea of a young earth, he writes, “It is nonsense to maintain that the world is only six thousand years old” (p. 38) and he accuses of creationism of subjecting the Christian faith to mockery.  Is Cardinal Schoenborn on this matter doctrinally faulty? I am pleased to see that his book is sold by Aquinas and More.

The United States Catholic Catechismfor Adults states, “This debate [over evolution] is often fueled, on the one hand, by ‘creationist’ or fundamentalist biblical opinions that do not take into account the literary forms of the Bible and the primary theological purposes of its teaching, and on the other hand by the use of theories of evolution to support a materialist and anti-religious interpretation of the world and humanity” (p. 61).  That’s similar to what YOUCAT says on the subject of creationism.  What’s more, the same catechism describes the days of creation as symbolic and the sequence of creation in Gen 1 as “poetic and theological”, “not literal or scientific” (p. 55). Aquinas and More also distributes this catechism.

Was Father Stanley Jaki doctrinally flawed when he wrote, “Biblical literalism taken for a source of scientific information is making the rounds even nowadays among creationists who would merit Huxley’s description of biblioaters.  They merely bring discrdit to the Bible as they pile grist upon grist on the mills of latter-day Huxleys, such as Hoyle, Sagan, Gould, and others.  The fallacies of creationism go deeper than fallacious reasonings about scientific data. Where creationism is fundamentally at fault is its resting its case on a theological faultline: the biblicism constructed by the Reformers”?  Was Father Jaki doctrinally faulty when he went on to say, “Biblicalism almost succeeded in bringing irreparable discredit to the Counter-Reformers. This happened as they showed tio much readiness to meet Lutherans and Calvinists on their own chosen ground, that is, biblical literalism”? These quotes are taken from Jaki’s Bible and Science, a book which also strongly criticizes a literalist interpretation of Gen 1′s six days of creation and a book I am happy to see that Aquinas and More sells.

There are other works and authors I could quote, including others from Aquinas and More’s inventory but you get the point. I don’t think that these works and authors are doctrinally flawed because they reject the six-day view of creation or because they imply that those who hold such a view are, at best, incorrectly interpreting the Bible, if not making a mockery of biblical teaching.  Do you?  If so, why do you carry these books?

4. Discontinuation.  You write:

Because of these issues we are revoking our Good Faith seal from the Youcat and discontinuing it even though it has been our bestselling book this year. I am very concerned that thousands of these doctrinally faulty books are being given out to the youth at World Youth Day endorsed as the official catechism of the event by the Pope. I can only assume that his endorsement was given to the German edition and that he either took someone else’s word on the soundness of the text or that the German text is actually sound.

You are, of course, free to carry or not carry YOUCAT.  However, I think you do YOUCAT and your readers a disservice if you characterize YOUCAT as doctrinally faulty.  It is not doctrinally faulty, whatever quibbles one might have about the phrasing of this or that answer.

With respect to the Holy Father, I won’t claim he spent long hours pouring over every jot and tittle of YOUCAT.  However, I think it highly unlikely he simply took someone else’s word regarding the book and proceeded to write the foreword to it, urging young people to read it.  What’s more, do you really think that the German text significantly differs from the English text on the particular points at issue above?  Really?  That Ignatius Press simply mistranslated the text or maliciously set out to undercut an orthodox German original?

Ian, we at Ignatius Press very much appreciate Aquinas and More’s apostolic work and your commitment to authentic Catholicism.  However, I have to say that in this case, I simply don’t understand your reasoning or see validity to your arguments.  I hope you will reconsider the stance you have taken.

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