What's the deal with Pope Francis' new catechism on social justice for young people?

Joseph D. Fessio, S.J., is the founder and editor of Ignatius Press in San Francisco. A graduate of Bellarmine Prep in San Jose, he studied civil engineering at Santa Clara University for three years before entering the Society of Jesus in 1961. He holds a Th.D. in theology from the University of Regensburg, where then-Father Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) directed his thesis on the ecclesiology of Hans Urs von Balthasar.

Father Fessio taught philosophy at Santa Clara University from 1967 to 1969. From 1974 to 1998, he taught systematic and spiritual theology at the University of San Francisco before serving in a variety of administrative capacities at Ave Maria University from 2002 to 2009. He founded the Saint Ignatius Institute at U.S.F. in 1976 and Ignatius Press in 1978. Both before and after Pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005, Ignatius Press has been the primary English-language publisher of his pre-papal writings.

On July 26 at World Youth Day 2016 in Krakow, Pope Francis officially released the Docat, a youth catechism on Catholic social teaching collecting various magisterial and papal documents. Following up on the Youcat released by Pope Benedict XVI at World Youth Day in 2012, Ignatius Press was once again selected as one of several international publishers for the Docat, and Father Fessio served as an editor on the English-language edition. On Aug. 18, I interviewed him by email about this book.

 

What inspired Pope Francis to publish a youth catechism on Catholic social teaching and how did you get involved?

Actually, if Pope Francis was inspired, it was post factum. Docat had already been planned, and the writing had begun, before his election to the papacy. However, it is certainly a happy providence that the Docat aligned so well with his interests and priorities.

My involvement in the Youcat and now the Docat has an odd pre-history. Cardinal Christoph Schönborn and I have been friends since we lived together in the Schottenkolleg (at the time the diocesan seminary) in Regensburg in 1973-74 as students of then-Professor Ratzinger. In the 1990s he asked for my help in the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. After the publication of the Catechism he was making a presentation in his Archdiocese of Vienna and during the Q&A period a woman stood up and said, in so many words, “This is wonderful. But it’s for adults. What about the children? They need a catechism too.”

Cardinal Schönborn responded by agreeing with her, but saying it needed to be a catechism not only for but also with the participation of young people. The woman organized two summer youth programs to work on adapting the Catechism for young people. She was joined by Bernhard Meuser, a German editor and youth catechist. From this the Youcat was born.

How did Ignatius Press become English-language publisher of the Youcat and now the Docat?

When Bernhard contacted me to see if Ignatius Press would be interested in being the publisher of the worldwide English edition, I assumed it was because of Cardinal Schönborn. That was not the case.

I had been invited to give a talk in Torun, Poland, and while I was there I was interviewed by a journalist working for a German Catholic magazine called Vatikan. He asked me about the origins of Ignatius Press. I explained that during my theology studies in Europe I had not only made the acquaintance of theologians like de Lubac, von Balthasar, Bouyer and Ratzinger but also for the first time had begun drinking wine (in France) and beer (in Bavaria).

Upon my return to the United States, I had my first taste of American beer. I spat it out and said, “If this is going to be called beer, I need another name for what I drank in Bavaria.” (This was in the days before the microbrewery revolution.) Later, as I was giving a retreat and quoting de Lubac, Balthasar, et al., a sister asked me if there were any great American theologians. I told her the beer story and said that while there were some very good theologians in the United States (I mentioned Avery Dulles, of course), still, if we were going to call them theologians, we needed another name for the giants I had studied in Europe.

I concluded the interview by saying that Ignatius Press was founded in 1979 so that the writings of these theologians could be accessible to an English-speaking readership.

Bernhard Meuser told me later that when he read that article and the reference to Bavarian beer, he decided he wanted Ignatius Press to be the English publisher of the Youcat. In vino veritas, sed in cervisia opportunitas!

What was your impression of Pope Francis’ attitude toward this project and how did your personal collaboration on it unfold?

Pope Francis, of course, has a great appreciation and respect for Cardinal Schönborn who had explained the project to him. The pope was not only supportive but enthusiastic and readily agreed to write the introduction to Docat just as Pope Benedict had done for Youcat.

As for my collaboration, well, my German was never that good and has not gotten any better. But it was sufficient for me to review the English translation, compare it with the German original where necessary, and even catch a few ambiguous statements in the original that needed to be and were corrected.

Ignatius Press published the English version of the Youcat in 2012 and I have to say my freshmen theology students liked it quite a bit when we used it at Jesuit High School in Tampa. From your perspective as English-language publisher, how has the Youcat been received in the United States and elsewhere so far?

Well, from my perspective as a priest and educator, I am delighted that it has helped so many young people, their parents and catechists. As a publisher, I’m quite content—we’ve sold 800,000 copies!

You’ve also published companion books and other materials for the Youcat. What is it about the style of these new youth catechisms that makes them so appealing to teachers and students?

To me the most important and effective factor in developing the Youcat was the direct and energetic participation of so many young people. They not only contributed photographs they had taken and quotations from favorite authors and celebrities—this became part of the sidebars and illustrations—but they worked with parents and catechists, asking the questions they wanted answers to, carefully reading the whole Catechism to look for answers, and then helping to express the answers in language meaningful to their peers.

How is the Docat a successor to the Youcat in spirit and content?

The spirit, the collaboration of young people, and the appealing language and graphics are just like the Youcat. But the Docat focuses on the church’s social teaching and expands the Youcat’s treatment of it.

Where did you get the acronym “Docat” and what does it stand for?

It’s from the Germans, whose popular culture includes a lot of borrowings from the United States. Youcat was a contraction for “Youth Catechism.” (Sounds much more appealing to young Germans—and everyone else—than Jugendkatechismus.) Docat is a back formation from Youcat: “Do” (as in moral and social obligations) and “Catechism.”

What does Catholic social teaching mean to you and why should young people care about it?

“Catholic” means not only “universal” but, even more fundamentally, and etymologically, “according to the whole” or “organic and integrated.” The Torah came on two tablets: three commandments related to God; seven related to neighbor. And Jesus responded to the question about the “greatest commandment in the Law” with a twofold answer: Love of God with one’s whole heart and love of neighbor as oneself.

Catholic social teaching is an integral part of total Catholic teaching and if Jesus is to be trusted, no one who ignores it is going to enter the Kingdom. So we have to strive to live it ourselves and communicate it to the next generation.

What is the message of this catechism?

Do good and avoid evil. With a little more detail and practical help, of course.

How do you foresee the Docat becoming a social justice resource for U.S. Catholics?

There has been a renaissance in catechesis in the last couple of decades. The laity especially have contributed increasingly to what was in former times mainly the province of sisters and priests. The bishops have taken their responsibility very seriously and the approval process for catechetical materials has been expanded and refined. As a result there are many more solid resources available for catechists than was the case in the immediate post-conciliar years.

I don’t think the Docat can or should replace what is already out there. But it can be a very useful complementary resource. I would liken its value to that of the Catechism for adults. (And, by the way, we’ve found that a lot of adults who find the Catechism pretty heavy going have very much appreciated the Youcat.) It’s a resource that every young person should have, one to which parents, teachers and catechists can refer in their teaching.

What is distinctive about this catechism that sets it apart from other catechisms for young people?

The Holy Father has given it his personal and enthusiastic recommendation. As he says in his Introduction: “I wish I had a million young Christians or, even better, a whole generation who are for their contemporaries ‘walking, talking social doctrine.’” The Docat is part of a worldwide movement of young people continuing the spirit of the World Youth Days in an ongoing way, preparing themselves and being evangelists to their peers.

Sean Salai, S.J., is a contributing writer at America.

L J
6 months 3 weeks ago
I worked along the side of Fr John Hardon SJ in Florida in the 1990s and Fessio participated in many of the lay Catholic apologetics forums therein: Orlando, Tampa and elsewhere. Fr Hardon was a Jesuit's Jesuit: never an unkind word to say about anyone, his presence directed you to Jesus Christ, always self-effacing and deferential, a thorough and strict Confessor and steadfast in his support of Vatican II particularly lay evangelization. Fr Hardon offered a lay catechist program to arm lay Catholics and it was very solid, accepted as bona fide credentials to work as a DRE in many USA Dioceses. Fessio notes that when he tasted American beer he spat it out. Fitting he should use that analogy given I felt likewise when I witnessed Fessio in public forums where we shared the microphone. His public witness was a missed opportunity to spread the Light of Christ, so as to teach others about inner radical spiritual transformation ala Ignacio de Loyola. When one thinks, unlike Fessio, about great American Jesuits like John La Farge (who wrote an encyclical for Pope Pius XI on racism per papal request), John Courtney Murray (who was invited to participate in Vatican II), Avery Dulles (whom I met at met at Spring Hill College when he visited during my studies in Theology) and Canadian born Bernard Lonergan who taught at Boston College, Harvard, and was considered a modern Thomistic philosopher and scholar, it is instructive that Fessio can not think of one worthy American Jesuit Theologian. This from a man who has as his sole signature pedigree that of having been a student of Josef Ratzinger. Fidel Castro was schooled by the same Cuban Jesuits who taught me as a child, and yet no one thinks Castro wears a halo because of the teachers he once had. Fessio would do well to follow the example of his mentor Ratzinger, show humility (c.f. Pride), retire to a convent or abbey and reflect on the damage he has inflicted with his long history polemics and hubris. Jorge Bergoglio tried it and there in that crucible, God prepared him for leading the Church. This is all assuming Fessio belongs to the same Church Ratzinger serves under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and a Pope he truly admires: Pope Francis the Jesuit. AMDG
Vince Killoran
6 months 3 weeks ago
Guillermo Reyes' many comments on IAT on John Hardon, S.J. must not go unchallenged. Documents uncovered in a SF Weekly article in 2012 revealed that, although he knew of a fellow cleric's history of sexual abuse behavior, Fr. Hardon encouraged his religious superiors to allow the priest to continue in active ministry. This particular priest went on to abuse more children after Hardon's advice was heeded.
L J
6 months 3 weeks ago
It would have been helpful had you provided the link to the article you cited. You make a claim against Fr Hardon that he encouraged a criminal, who preyed on children sexually, to continue his ministry and priestly career without intervention. You will have to back that up with credible sources, of which SF Weekly may or may not be one of them. Fr Hardon was in the fields encouraging lay Catholics to evangelize, he provided a vehicle to have them certified as catechists where many dioceses would accept those credentials. Thus it wasnt enough in those days to be part of the Patrick Madrid-Scott Hahn-Mitch Pacwa clan as I had been. He put into action a mechanism to make arm chair theologians true, certified catechists and not just internet warriors. Given that we are speaking of the 1990s and St Pope John Paul II's medical decline, Fr Hardon stepped up and led. He put into practice Vatican II. He taught but created an avenue to create palpable lay leaders in professional circles. Mother Angelica, whom I knew from my Catholic lay work in Alabama in the 1980s, was wonderful in bringing Catholic nourishment via cable and satellite. However, not even she provided a mechanism so that laity could present credentials for hire. Again, that Hardon did this is impressive. Cheers
Vince Killoran
6 months 3 weeks ago
Here's the link: http://archives.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/tainted-saint-mother-teresa-defended-pedophile-priest/Content?oid=2183718
William Rydberg
6 months 2 weeks ago
Must not go unchallenged is an unfortunate choice of words, as this has come up in these pages before...IMHO Lets pray that the American Jesuits investigate in earnestt hes likely the one subject thatWillyReyes and I share agreement on of course on other than the same first name different languages of course ;) in Christ
Vince Killoran
6 months 2 weeks ago
And, yet, the adoration of Fr. Hardon continues with no consideration of this horrible fact.
William Rydberg
6 months 2 weeks ago
In my opinion your comment is both offensive and misleading esp for a Church person...
Vince Killoran
6 months 2 weeks ago
I am interested in your response to the well-sourced article not your outrage that someone has brought it to IAT readers' attention.
William Rydberg
6 months 2 weeks ago
People like you who read one article then make a condemnatory, downright scandalous practice of shooting down people remind me of the sad American history of Lynching. You would do well to read your President's words about extra judicial actions. Sadly I imagine that you are just the type of person to shout "child abuse" in a crowded room. Positively shameful. And on top of all that you have th temerity to describe your find as "well sourced"... I find your comments both sad and disgusting at the same time. They certainly are not Christian. So sad in my opinion... Wait until the American Jesuits join in to the Late Fr John A. Hardon SJ formal Cause. You will we awed by the heights of sanctity of the holy man. Like Fr John, you are in my prayers...
L J
6 months 2 weeks ago
The link that you provided attacks Saint Teresa of Calcutta by invoking Christopher Hitchens. That is a non-reliable source so your claim is unsubstantiated against Fr Hardon. Given your reasoning no doubt you condemn any good Hillary Clinton, Sen Barbara Boxer and Sen Diane Feinstein, et al may or may not have done due to their well documented facilitation of abortion. Thus we bring this discussion to its predictable arrival: Reductio ad absurdum
Pat Carmack
6 months 3 weeks ago
Perhaps Guillermo could learn something - it would seem rather a lot - from Fr. Hardon's "never an unkind word to say about anyone" character he professes he so admires. That aside, Fr. Fessio has a long and admirable history of noteworthy accomplishments in Catholic education, quite apart from the single one isolated in the unfortunate comment above, including: founder of the St. Ignatius Institute (1976); Founder and Editor of Ignatius Press (1978);Co-founder of the Adoremus Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy (1995); Founding Chancellor of Ave Maria University ((2002). He taught numerous, grateful students for many years at Gonzaga University, the University of Santa Clara, the University of San Francisco, Ave Maria University, and continues to do so via the Ignatius-Angelicum Liberal Studies Program; was Editor of 30 Days in the Church and in the World, publishes the Catholic World Report, Catholic Dossier and Homiletic & Pastoral Review and continues to reach Catholic youth - hundreds of thousands in fact - with Ignatius Press books such as those detailed in this article, endorsed by Pope Francis and before him by Pope Benedict XVI, inter alia. All of these apostolic activities have rightly earned him a huge and grateful following of readers, students and friends, not only in the US but worldwide. We hope he continues his life-long work for Jesus Christ and His Church for many more years to come. Well done, Fr. Fessio.
L J
6 months 1 week ago
Pat is President of Ignatius-Angelicum Liberal Studies Program where Fessio serves as Chancellor. http://www.ignatius.com/promotions/liberal-studies-program/ http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Blog/3311/the_present_future_and_quality_of_catholic_online_education.aspx
William Rydberg
6 months 2 weeks ago
Willy, You are in my opinion an argument for discernment. How do you expect to win souls for Christ behaving as you do, for Fr Fessio sj is a exemplary Catholic. I especially dont like how you make Pats comment out to be tawdry when it is so clearly heart felt. Ihate saying this, but sometimes I feel soiled reading your uncultured periodic tantrums. Fortunately the worst of them are now seem to be being removed at times You are in my prayers~however I did like the cmment on Fr John A Hardon sj, Just my opinion... in Christ
Chris Colon
6 months 2 weeks ago
William you have been called out by Catholic priests, Jesuits, columnists, readers and other commenters on this website more than anyone else. You always end your comments with "Just my opinion" and "In Christ" and yet, you truly take much joy in causing trouble. Pity the editors of this website don't remove distasteful comments because if they did, we wouldn't have to suffer your sadistic rants.
William Rydberg
6 months 2 weeks ago
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
Sandi Sinor
6 months 2 weeks ago
Willy: Another typical attempt to evade - will you ever take responsibility for your mostly highly negative, very often unkind, very often untrue, comments here?. Is this your attempt to make your comments seem somehow justified? Holy? Infallible? A more clever in your mind response than "Claque"? You seem to be deliberately disrespecting Mr. Reyes with your use of "Willy" instead of Mr. Reyes or Guillermo. Just my opinion. In Christ Sandi
Pat Carmack
6 months 1 week ago
Once again Guillermo has his "facts" wrong. I am not now and have never been an employee of Fr. Fessio, in any capacity. I have known him many years, and have worked with him on a number of projects, as I do now, hence my knowledge of his many accomplishments and service to the Church. If Guillermo actually read the websites he cites or my bio on them he might know that. I am President of the Angelicum Academy and of the Great Books Academy, inter alia. One may wonder at the effort to discredit my compliments of Fr. Fessio and his many accomplishments with misinformation.
Pat Carmack
6 months 1 week ago
What the reader will have missed in reading Guillermo's twice revised/edited post above is that he first stated I was an empolyee of Fr. Fessio (evidently in an effort to discredit my compliments of Fr. Fessio's work), next, in another revision, that I am Fr. Fessio's "representative" - both of which statements are flatly untrue, as I replied in part below. Guillermo failed to note his errors or to apologize for his prior misstatements. I am President of the Ignatius-Angelicum Liberal Studies Program where Fr. Fessio is Chancellor. So what? We are both in volunteer positions in that non-profit educational project. Yet another instance of Fr. Fessio's many accomplishment's in education, which Guillermo seems to find it hard to admit for some odd reason, preferring to attempt to attack the messenger presenting the straightforward facts concerning some of Fr. Fessio's many admirable educational activities. Give it a rest Guillermo.
Sean Salai, S.J.
6 months 3 weeks ago

Thank you all for reading. Let's pray for the success of the new social justice youth catechism -- the Docat -- that Pope Francis has promulgated and that Ignatius Press is now publishing in the U.S. And let's pray for the healing of broken relationships in our world.

L J
6 months 2 weeks ago
Our Rector at the local Cathedral this Sunday gave the best homily he has ever delivered. We told him as such after Mass. He said he had "had it" with groups dismissing other groups, when Jesus Christ welcomed all groups. Though he did not mention Hillary Clinton's "deplorable" comment when she derided millions of Americans last week, his sermon brought to mind her denigrating those Americans who, for whatever reason, support Trump. We are not Trump nor Hillary supporters. There are so many groups on the Left and the Right thundering about how they have the truth and how they are doing what they do to save "lost souls", "fight for us", clear up any "confusion", "make America great again". Hillary/Trump attack each for blood sport. Some Catholic leaders do likewise. Catholic World Report / Crisis Magazine / National Catholic Register et al are no different than Commonweal / National Catholic Reporter / US Catholic in their eviscerating select groups. Thankfully America Magazine is different. Our Rector shared in his sermon that Jesus Christ rejected no group. He said Christ accepted Jews, Gentiles, women, men, the sick, the sinner, the outcasts, the tax collectors, and various other "rejects". He used the Parable of the Prodigal Son, today's Gospel reading, to launch his sermon. It is unfortunate that Fesso, Chaput, Raymond Burke et al have poisoned Americans with their vilifying of select people of God, much as Thomas Fessio, Richard Rohr and deceased Richard McBrien have done. Regardless of their pedigrees, their "ministry" speaks volumes of how they reflect the Pharisees. Spirited disagreements aren't Spirit-filled when they denigrate groups as being deplorables. Hopefully the new Docat published by Ignatius Press will do some good regardless if it came to be under Pope Francis's inspiration, post-factum, ex-ante, a priori, a posteriori or great tasting beer Ormus
William Rydberg
6 months 2 weeks ago
Willy, clearly I never agree with your sometimes scurrilous generalizations about great Catholic Leaders. Many of the names of churchmen that you list remain very high in the esteem of many solid Catholic commentators that many informed Catholic's follow including USCCB. And they in my opinion are the real "wealth" of the American Catholic Church in our Era. With that said, concerning objective judgement of actions all references to hellfire are sourced from Jesus directly. Close reading of same (4 Gospels) reveal manifest Judgement. Your comment seems to suggest that the Catholic Magisterium has no right to Shepherd in Jesus Name. That is not Catholic teaching... Additionally, judging by some of your comments, I suspect that you are unawares that in Catholic Theology there are Two Judgements for all, one is the particular judgement and the other, final judgement. I know that this might seem complicated to you, a meat and potatoes layman experienced in working as a volunteer at different Catholic organizations over your long life, but reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church Index of same will help to clarify. For one gathers that you based upon periodic commentaries are not a sophisticated man, but one respects your effort to contribute. For I believe that all people as a general principle ought to be respected. For I too am not a formally educated man...though autodidact. Finally, I also find MrsSecretary Clinton's words about a large number of American Citizens unfortunate... Pray for all concerned... in Christ,
Roger Chaves
6 months 2 weeks ago

"The devil has two weapons: the main one is division, the other is money" (Pope Francis to new bishops 09/09/2016 The Pope's App)

Father Fessio's analogy is unfortunate and sad. Give him a chance to explain himself.

L J
6 months 2 weeks ago
We read the Pope's comment on Vatican Radio before Mass. Thanks for the reminder. Good stuff! http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2016/09/09/pope_to_bishops_gossip_and_wealth_destroy_the_church_/1257030 (Vatican Radio) Pope Francis on Friday told bishops that division, gossip and money are weapons in the hands of the devil.

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