Cardinal describes how the Catechism was written and never really accepted in Germany.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, the key figure in the production of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, sees the Catholic book of faith 25 years after its publication as a success project. In the German-speaking world alone, old prejudices continued, and the work has "not yet caught on in depth," the Viennese archbishop said on Tuesday in the interview with the news agency "Kathpress". Recent theological debates, such as the letter "Amoris laetitia", should be looked at in more detail with regard to the Catechism promulgated by Pope John Paul II on 11 October 1992, Schönborn demanded. "Kathpress" brings the full text of the interview:

Kathpress: Cardinal, 25 years ago the Catechism of the Catholic Church was promulgated. You were involved as editor-in-chief from the very beginning. What were the initial considerations?

The starting point was the presuppositions provided by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as President of the Commission, which John Paul II had set up. For a thorough reflection on the questions of catechesis, he chose the classical model of the four pillars of catechesis - the four pillars of the catechumenate, which had been the basis of the catechumenate for baptismal candidates since early Christian times: What do we believe (the Credo), how do we celebrate (Sacraments), how do we live (the Commandments) and how do we pray (the Our Father). The whole building should be built around these four pillars.

The second prerequisite and prescription from the side of the Commission under the leadership of Cardinal Ratzinger was that it should be an organic, synthetic, comprehensive account of Catholic Faith and life, that is, the doctrine of Faith and morals. And it should really be what the Church teaches, not what this or that theologian says, even if they are so famous or so sacred. It should be conceived that the reader, when he takes this book into his hand, can say: Here I learn what the Catholic Church teaches.

Kathpress: How can the Commission's work be specifically conceived? What was your role as editorial secretary?

The work began with seven bishops, who divided the work among themselves, two for each of the parts, the Our Father was only reached then later. This first phase led to a first overall design, which was evaluated in a manageable round of 40 experts in catechesis. Very soon it became clear that it needed an authority that unifies the whole. At the time, Cardinal Ratzinger invited me to become the secretary of this "drafting committee" in 1987 to unify the work, to avoid repetitions, to achieve stylistic unity etc. Thus, I began my work in Autumn 1987 which above all was in the first phase to review, to process and draw conclusions from the 40 experts on the first draft and propose proposals from the Commission.

Bit by bit, it turned out that all previous drafts were really only initial drafts. A whole new editing had to be tackled – throughout on the basis of the first drafts, but in a second attempt. On this second attempt, more theological experts worked. I had the task of co-ordinating this work, also working actively on the editing, and working on it step by step and submitting to the Commission of the Twelve Bishops and Cardinals under the leadership of Cardinal Ratzinger.

And so the second large-scale draft emerged, which was then sent out into a worldwide consultation. With some naivete, on each side of the draft "sub-secreto" was printed. If you send a draft to 3,000 bishops around the world with a request for feedback, it is certain that this will not be kept secret.

Kathpress: What were the biggest obstacles to the "World Catechism Project"?

Of course, there were violent discussions from early on, even before the first sketches existed. The main argument of the opponents of this project was: It is impossible to create a book of Faith for the entire world - a Catechism for the whole world church - today, in the face of the pluralism of cultures, theologies and narratives. This was the most massive counter-argument against the project.
I think Cardinal Ratzinger took this challenge very seriously. It was ultimately a question of a fundamental theological opinion: Can Faith today be formulated as one Faith in a common form? If Paul says, "One Faith, one baptism, one God, one Lord," can this be translated into a common book of Faith in the entire Catholic Church? The Commission set itself this challenge when sending the second draft to all bishops worldwide for consultation. This second consultation resulted in 25,000 requests for change. We then looked at and evaluated all these requests for change in a larger team.

Kathpress: What were the criteria for evaluating input from around the world?
Firstly, does this correspond to the doctrine of the Church, or is it a theological opinion, perhaps also respectable theological doctrine? Here is an example: In the "first draft", the Chapter on "descendit ad inferos" - "descended into Hell" in the interpretation of the Creed - was very much due to Hans Urs von Balthasar. Hans Urs von Balthasar has written a lot about this subject, he was an eminent theologian, a credible witness of Faith, and a master of theology. Yet it had to be said that this is an exciting theological theory, but it is not the formulated teaching of the Church. For this reason, this chapter has been thoroughly revised and oriented on what is available in the formulated teaching of the Church.

So, of course, many changes have been made. Often, these changes were real enrichments, references to missing or better formulations. Sometimes there were also detailed wishes, which are not part of a large but limited book of Faith. This evaluation was carried out by the editorial committee, and the third phase was really a final editorial, in which the entire work was once again given an editing throughout. It was necessary to bring the work stylistically into a unity, to bring it linguistically to a commonality.

Kathpress: The first edition of the Catechism appeared in French. How did that happen?
It very much helped us at that time that all members of the Editorial Committee of the French were powerful. It was then decided that French is the editorial language - for the practical reasons that it was the lingua franca of the editorial committee, even if Americans, English, Italians and Spaniards were represented. We could all agree in French. This, of course, made the work much easier - that it was written in a modern language, a language familiar to the Church. This has been so successful that I have received a high French award - not for myself, but for the editorial committee - because of the high quality of the French language. Jacques Delors said at the time: "If only the Treaty of Maastricht had been written in as good a French as the Catechism of the Catholic Church." - A sentence which naturally pleased us.

This led to the final phase of the editorial. This was in February 1992, as I remember well, on the Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius on 14 February that the definitive project was unanimously endorsed by the Commission and thus handed over to the Pope. He then had the last word, of course, and promulgated the entire text after his examination on 11 October 1992. That is why the 25th anniversary is now.

Kathpress: In view of the fullness of the Christian Faith, the question arises as to what finds entry into a Catechism and what does not. Were there borders and how were decisions taken?
There is, first, a fundamental principle which was very important for the editing, a term that the Second Vatican Council used, that of the "hierarchia veritatum": There are more central and less central themes in the truths of Faith. This does not mean that the less central themes are less valid. But Faith is not a collection of unrelated individual sentences and individual statements, but is a living organic whole. In the hierarchy of the truths which the catechism has taken as the principle of organization, it behaves as with two focal points of the ellipse. There is first the Trinitarian Faith and then the Faith in Christ- around these two focal points, the whole discussion, the presentation of the teaching, actually turns.

There is in the heart the vision of the one, living and triune God. This is best seen in the very first sentence of the Catechism, which certainly anticipates the entire path and the whole content of the Catechism, like a bell ringing: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. " In paragraph one of the Catechism, both focal points of the ellipse are addressed: the theocentric focus on the mystery of God and the focus on man because God has become man. Therefore, the second focus of this ellipse is Jesus Christ. On the mystery of God and on the divine human mystery of Jesus Christ - around this double centre, the entire representation of the doctrine circulates.

There are of course many points, which are less central, but are not simply wrong. For example, the doctrine of angels is certainly not so central, but it belongs to the fullness of the Faith, to the constellation, and to the symphony of Faith. The image of the symphony is often used in the Catechism to say: The truth is symphonic, it is not monotonous or mono-coloured, but lively and multi-dimensional - but it has a clear centre.

Kathpress: Which topics were particularly controversial?

There are, of course, points which are still controversial and from the very first moment of the publication. This is above all the Fifth Commandment - "Thou shalt not kill" - what the Catechism says about the death penalty. Many readers of the Catechism have gained the impression that the Catechism is of the opinion that the traditional doctrine of the Church does not exclude the death penalty, as stated in paragraph 2.267: "The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor. " And then it is quite clear: bloodless means are always preferable to bloody means.

I think this is a point where the question: "What is the traditional church teaching?" is still clearly under discussion. Pope John Paul II wanted - I can really testify - a more rigorous formulation, but then accepted this formulation proposed by the Commission, certainly also from respect for what is called here: "traditional teaching". To be sure, this is one of the cases where, in the consciousness of human beings - even in the consciousness of the faithful - there are clearly stages of development, just as slavery had not been totally excluded for centuries. Similar to torture, which has generally been practiced in the judiciary and until the eighteenth century has not been rejected by the Church with the firmness with which we do today. We can also ask the question of the death penalty: Is not there a development in the teaching handed down? Especially with regard to early Christian doctrine, in which the death penalty was clearly rejected by the Christian side.

This is a question that is under discussion, and I only recall the speeches of Pope Francis on this subject, previously already by Pope Benedict, and before that by Pope John Paul II, which clearly indicated that the death penalty must be banished. I think this is now a very prominent example from the Catechism, where the development of teaching is perhaps still too little talked about. I consider this question to be all the more important because there is a trend in various parts of the world to make more use of the death penalty, as well as to the worrying fact that presumptive terrorists are almost always being shot dead. These are questions from the Fifth Commandment: What is legitimate self-defence and where is a summary justice at work, which does not correspond to what the Fifth Command actually universally commands: "You shall not kill."

Kathpress: Is there an example of the doctrine of which you say: That has not come into the Catechism?

Yes, even if this could be too much for specialists: in the doctrine of the Faith, the great father of the Church, Augustine, has shaped theology for centuries. His approach to the doctrine of the Trinity, the triad of God, marked the whole of the West, but was not accepted into the Catechism, because it never became the explicitly formulated teaching of the Church. It has always remained at the level of a very demanding, very impressive theological theory, which is highly respectable, but does not have the place in a book that has the claim to represent what is actually the formulated teaching of the Church.

Kathpress: The last 25 years have also brought about a further development, for example through the two Family Synods, through "Amoris laetitia" or the re-discovery of the category of the "mercy of God". In what way would this influence the editing of the Catechism today?

It is worth pointing out that the third part of the catechism, which deals with morality, provides exactly the conditions that Pope Francis then makes use of in "Amoris laetitia": he quotes several times the catechism, the moral part of the catechism, where in addition to the clear formulation of the norms, the focus is always on man's path, on the condition of human action, human freedom, human responsibility, the circumstances of life, and the concrete situation in which man's moral action takes place. It has been a great step - I would almost say a breakthrough - that the catechism here focuses more on the concrete subject, that is, on the acting person and not just on the objectivity of norms.

I think the struggle for "Amoris laetitia" would be much more peaceful if the critics of "Amoris laetitia" would study the fundamentals of the catechism, which is entirely oriented to Thomas Aquinas: namely, that all moral action takes place in a narrative, in the history of a concrete human being, with the imprints, possibilities, conditions, circumstances of life, the limitations and chances of one's own freedom. It is, I believe, the important contribution of "Amoris laetitia", which is based entirely on the first section of the third part of the Catechism, which deals with the conditions of human action. I highly recommend reading these sections of the Catechism as an introduction to "Amoris laetitia". You will soon find that Pope Francis is in the line of the Catechism.

Kathpress: What is your assessment after 25 years, especially regarding the reception in German-speaking countries, but also worldwide? Has the project succeeded and the Pope's intention achieved?
It has succeeded. It has happened. Today, the catechism is THE reference work worldwide, for the teaching office of the Church and also for catechesis. To be sure, I must add with a certain sorrow: in the German-speaking world the Catechism has not yet really reached deeply. It has always bothered me, even from my work as an editorial secretary, that in German-speaking theology and catechesis the catechism has often been treated as something handed down from above, thank God not everywhere. With irony and with this old prejudice really of the past: "Catechism is pre-conciliar".

The idea itself of the catechism is by no means a pre-Conciliar idea. We are in Luther's year. Luther's great, breakthrough success was decisively the "Small Catechism" and also the "Great Catechism". This was Luther's ingenious understanding: to summarize the Faith in brief statements, and then to present it in a larger catechism for those who are to convey the Faith in a more elaborate way. Why in the German-speaking world the catechism us no longer received, for me belongs to the "Mysteria" - the secrets which I cannot explain, but which I regret.