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Cover story

Trials of publisher who ran afoul of Catechism

Special Projects Writer

The experience of one publisher with the Ad Hoc Committee to Oversee the Use of the Catechism of the Catholic Church may illustrate why many others are determined to avoid reviews of their own material.

Last year Liturgy Training Publications, also called LTP, based in Chicago, submitted to the committee the 64-page booklet We Gather In Christ: Our Identity as Assembly. The text, written by the worship office of the Cincinnati archdiocese, had been widely distributed there and had been reportedly well received in parishes.

It was intended as a practical, easy-to-read tool to help parish leaders develop better understanding and fuller participation among the people in the Sunday liturgy.

The book contained some 900 words from The Catechism of the Catholic Church and as such required copyright approval. Since the book was not presented as a catechetical document, LTP expected the committee to insure only that its content did not contradict teachings of the catechism.

In late January the publisher was informed in a 12-page letter from Fr. Thomas De Vries of the Office for the Catechism that copyright permission had been denied because the committee found We Gather in Christ to be "not consistent with the catechism, more for what is left out than what is stated in the text."

The most significant omission, related De Vries, "is the absence of any indication of the role of the bishop or priest presider within the community in his specific and essentially distinct role as the leader of the worshiping community precisely because of his configuration to Christ as head of his body, the church." Therefore, LTP was informed, it had two choices: revise the text using additional explanatory material from the catechism or delete the quotations it had already included.

The committee objected to a variety of statements in the book, said De Vries. For example, the booklet stated, "The church must be more than a collection of individuals. ... It must be a visibly united, reconciling community." While that statement is "correct," noted De Vries, it "fails to stress where this unity originates and how this unity is to be manifested." De Vries then presented four paragraphs from the catechism describing in detail how Christ, the Holy Spirit and the Trinity are the foundations of the Mystical Body.

Also true but incomplete, said De Vries, is a sentence that states, "The church as the sacrament of Christ is to be a sign and instrument of union with God and one another." Again he quoted four paragraphs from the catechism that alluded to the Paschal mystery, the Trinity and the ancient saying, lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of praying is the law of believing).

In commenting on yet another section of the booklet, De Vries presented some 15 paragraphs from the catechism detailing the "special service" performed by priests and their "unique relationship" to the celebration of the liturgy -- matters, he said, the LTP book did not spell out.

Although the text contained detailed instructions for homilists, the committee ruled that it did not clearly identify the homilist as an ordained deacon, priest or bishop -- a person described by the catechism as "the icon of Christ."

The committee's objections had special impact since LTP, anticipating routine approval for such a book, had printed 10,000 copies. In his response, Gabe Huck, LTP director, argued that the committee's detailed requirements would make the booklet go well beyond the limited intent of the authors and publisher. The criticism, he noted, was not that the book contradicted the catechism in any way, only that it did not include all that could be said about Christ and the ministerial priesthood.

Huck sought a clarification from the Office for the Catechism and was subsequently informed by Fr. John Pollard, the director, that the committee would allow the already printed copies to be distributed only if "the substance of the changes required by the committee" are "clearly set forth in narrative form in the mode of an introduction or preface to the work," if these alterations are then approved by the committee, and if the additional narrative is "physically attached to the work and not merely inserted into it."

Huck, who said LTP has yet to make a decision about the alternatives, objected strenuously to the entire procedure. "I have never before heard of permission to use copyright materials being used in this way," he said. "All publishers are asked for permission to quote their materials in print. All publishers are concerned that such quotes be done with accuracy. But neither I nor other publishers I spoke with had previously encountered efforts to control a whole book by the threat of withholding permission to use some bit of copyright material. I don't think we're letting good common sense operate here.

"We don't have a committee controlling books that quote the Bible, we don't have a committee controlling books that quote from Vatican II. What's going on here?"

National Catholic Reporter, March 21, 1997