By Dr. Robert Sungenis
Are you sitting down? I suggest you do so because you’re in for a real shocker. A youth catechism, known popularly as “YouCat,” which is claimed to be modeled from the official 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church, contains dubious, suggestive and sometimes scandalous teachings on issues such as homosexuality, contraception, euthanasia, evolution, philosophy, and last but not least, biblical inerrancy.1
YouCat was released by the Vatican on April 4, 2011 and was translated in more than a dozen languages. Under direction from Pope Benedict, YouCat will make its big splash on World Youth Day in Madrid on August 16-21, 2011.
YouCat contains a preface by Pope Benedict XVI, but its editor-in-chief is Christoph Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna, who once served as the secretary of the editorial team that compiled the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church. In reference to YouCat, Schönborn stated: “The Pope was interested in the project from the beginning. It was his own initiative to honor us with a Preface that he himself wrote….I am always amazed by the high level of the Pope’s understanding of the new generations’ way of thinking and by his capacity to discuss in depth and to lead young people to a deeper sense of the faith and of friendship with Jesus.”
YouCat was originally the brainchild of the Austrian Bishop’s Conference. With its German and Swiss counterparts, YouCat received Vatican approval for the original German edition from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, headed by William Cardinal Levada.
YouCat had problems right from the starting gate. In an article by Hilary White on April 13, 2011, the Vatican admitted the original YouCat had several errors concerning faith and morals.2 For example, question 420 in the Italian language edition stated:
“Q. Puo una coppia christiana fare ricorso ai metodi anticoncezionali?”
(Translation: “Can a Christian couple have recourse to contraceptive methods?”)
“A. Si, una coppia cristiana puo e deve essere responsabile nella sua facolta di poter donare la vita.”
(Translation: “Yes, a Christian couple can and should be responsible in its faculty of being able to give life”).
Because this particular translation suggests that a Catholic can use artificial methods of contraception, the Italian publisher, Nuova Citta, announced it would be recalling the book and correcting it. Prior to that, copies of the book handed out at the April press conference had the section on contraception blocked out, and included an insert saying that the Catholic Church promotes Natural Family Planning (NFP). The English language version states that Catholic couples are entitled to plan the size of their families by “regulating conception” and that to do so the Church “recommends” Natural Family Planning.
Although promoting artificial contraception is certainly heretical, the correction of the Italian publisher and the wording of the English version leave YouCat with a gaping hole in its teaching, since it now appears as if the Church promotes NFP simply because it is an acceptable means of birth control. In other words, it breeds the same contraceptive mentality the world cherishes but chooses a Church-sanctioned method to do so. Such a mentality was not the intent of Pope Paul VI in Humane Vitae, which, although it stipulated that married couples can space births by refraining from relations during fertile periods, they can do so only on two conditions: (a) if one of the spouses has a “physical or psychological condition” or (b) there are “external circumstances” that prohibit bearing a child.3 Too often today Catholic couples interpret Humane Vitae as a permission to practice birth control, albeit naturally, whenever they desire, without having any specific reason to do so other than their own preference not to have child. Humane Vitae does not teach that Catholic couples can “plan out the size of their family.” It teaches that Catholic spouses are to be always open to producing children, unless there is a clear and present danger in doing so.4 Consequently, it appears YouCat is teaching a whole generation of Catholics that NFP is the “Catholic way” of practicing birth control much as it has taught them that an annulment is the “Catholic way” of allowing remarriage after divorce.
As for the issue of Euthanasia, Hilary White writes:
At a Vatican press conference today [April 13, 2011], officials admitted that a book intended to teach young people the details of the Catholic faith, which will be handed out at upcoming World Youth Day in Spain, contains several errors, with particularly egregious mistakes on life and family issues.
Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, president of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference and a director of the project, told assembled journalists that the Italian edition of the book, “YouCat,” contains errors on the Church’s teachings on euthanasia, as well as contraception.
In answer to question 382, the Italian book says, “In so-called passive euthanasia someone helps another person in the dying process and thereby obeys the commandment ‘Love your neighbor.’”
Cardinal Schönborn also said that the French edition contains errors about Catholic teaching on the “value” of other religions according to the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
But instead of having the YouCat recalled and quarantined, White reports that Schönborn said that “the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will create a pool of theological experts to examine the text and will publish all the errors in a pamphlet that will contain corrections.”
The most egregious parts of YouCat are those which address the issues of sexuality, specifically homosexuality. The bottom line is, YouCat does not treat homosexuality as even a serious condition, much less a sinful state of existence. But YouCat’s teaching is subtle. Note these words in Paragraph 65:
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. Nevertheless, God often leads souls to himself along unusual paths: A lack, a loss, or a wound—if accepted and affirmed—can become a springboard for throwing oneself into the arms of God.
Implied in the words “homosexually oriented” is the idea that homosexuality is a congenital condition, not a learned behavior or a perverse life-style one decides to enter. By implying that homosexuality is “a lack, a loss or a wound” and not a decision by a mature adult to transgress God’s laws (as Scripture and Tradition say it is), YouCat seeks to elicit pity for homosexuals due to the fact that they are simply “born that way,” as it were, and thus denied the opportunity of sexual “union” that other people possess. YouCat further implies that if the homosexually oriented person “accepts and affirms” this congenital condition, he can do so knowing that God can make good of it because He “lead souls to himself along unusual paths.” Instead of telling the homosexual that his sexual tendencies are an outgrowth of his uncontrolled concupiscence and that he should pray to God to have the power to eradicate this state of mind, he is told, more or less, to accept his condition and hold God to blame for making him homosexually oriented. His only consolation is that God will make up for it by using the condition to lead him back to God. In effect, homosexuality is treated no different than if YouCat were talking about a mongoloid baby, since, similar to YouCat’s understanding of the homosexual, the deformed child can also use his condition as a “springboard for throwing one into the arms of God.” In the end, YouCat neither calls homosexuality a sin, nor does it say that homosexual inclinations are perverse and need to be remedied.
This distorted view of homosexuality begs the question as to how such a weak treatment of such a historically perverse sin could appear in a Catholic catechism. As noted above, YouCat was overseen by Cardinal Schӧnborn, who was also the editor of the 1992 universal Catechism of the Catholic Church. It may be no coincidence that before the Catechism was published, it is rumored that Cardinal Ratzinger was forced to make various changes to the Catechism’s teaching on homosexuality, since the original draft made it appear that homosexuality was inborn and unchangeable. That Cardinal Ratzinger was compelled to edit Cardinal Schönborn’s understanding of homosexuality is suggested by the fact that Schönborn has gone on record stating one of the most perverse understandings of homosexual partnerships to come out of the mouth of a Catholic. In May 2010, The Tablet interviewed Schönborn in which he stated the following:
“We should give more consideration to the quality of homosexual relationships” and “A stable relationship is certainly better than if someone chooses to be promiscuous.”5
Besides the blatant endorsement of homosexuality as something other than a sin, Schönborn seems to be advocating the position that a “quality” relationship is one in which two men commit to having sexual relations with each other as opposed to tramping themselves around in the homosexual market and sleeping with numerous men. The former Schönborn deems as “stable” and therefore worthy of being accepted by the Church, while the latter is “unstable” and unacceptable. All one can do is shake his head in disbelief that a cardinal of the Catholic Church would come to this point in his view of humanity. This is the very person who was editor-in-chief of YouCat, and perhaps now we can understand why it has such a kid-glove treatment of homosexuality.
What young man hasn’t struggled with the temptation of masturbation? Unfortunately, he is going to struggle even more if he uses YouCat to be his guide. In paragraph 409 it states: “The Church does not demonize masturbation, but she warns against trivializing it.” One can surmise that this language was chosen so as to cut a middle road, neither condemning nor condoning masturbation. The teenager who reads this equivocal pabulum is not going to know whether he is permitted to masturbate or not. Or, some clever teenager will convince himself that he can masturbate because it’s wrong to “demonize” masturbation, but he won’t masturbate too much because that would be “trivializing” it. Moreover, if there is a connection to YouCat’s weak teaching on masturbation with its weak teaching on homosexuality, perhaps the reason is that masturbation is a favorite practice of homosexuals.
The truth is, masturbation, as the Church has always taught, is wrong.6 On a subject of this nature, a Catholic catechism needs to be clear and decisive – masturbation is wrong and young men should not be engaging in it, at all. If they do, it is a sin (barring some mitigating factor of maturity of conscience); and if he continues to masturbate it will not only harm him spiritually but also psychologically.
As dubious as YouCat’s teaching is in certain places, it makes Scripture’s teaching in certain places even more dubious. For example, Question 15 states: “How can Sacred Scripture be ‘truth’ if not everything in it is right?” Directly against the numerous official and infallible Catholic teachings on the total inerrancy of Scripture, YouCat implies that Scripture simply cannot be trusted. A whole generation of young people will now view the Bible as an assortment of historical mistakes and ignorant concepts, despite the fact that the Holy Spirit was supposed to have inspired it all.
Even the qualification YouCat gives doesn’t help much:
The Bible is not meant to convey precise historical information or scientific findings to us. Moreover the authors were children of their time. They shared the cultural ideas of the world around them and often were also dominated by its errors. Nevertheless, everything that man must know about God and the way of his salvation is found with infallible certainty in Sacred Scripture.
Here YouCat appeals to the old canard: “The Bible is not a science textbook.” I’m glad the Bible isn’t a science textbook. If it was anything like today’s science books, it would be changing its contents every ten years.
Yes, the Bible is not a science book, but when it touches upon science the Bible is just as accurate as it is on matters of salvation, and the Church has never said otherwise (at least in its official and binding statements on the issue as opposed to the many and varied opinions that are proffered today by some high-ranking clerics).
It is particularly egregious for YouCat to say that the biblical authors were “dominated by the errors” of the culture around them. If that were the case, why weren’t they dominated by the same “errors of the culture” when they were writing about the “way of salvation”? For example, maybe Jesus didn’t actually rise from the dead. Maybe it was just the “error of the culture” to believe that he did. Maybe Jesus really wasn’t God. It was just the “error of the culture” which was steeped in wishing for a divine Messiah that made the people think that way. If the biblical writers can make errors in science and history why can’t they make errors in salvation? Where does the Bible or the Church say that the biblical writers are only protected from error when they speak about salvation? For that matter, where does either the Bible or the Church say that only certain parts of the Bible are for the purpose of salvation? The answer to both questions is: nowhere. It has all been made up out of thin air by modern biblical scholarship which is bent on promoting its unproven scientific theories as fact.
In paragraph 42 YouCat asks: “Can someone accept the theory of evolution and still believe in the Creator?” YouCat answers:
Yes. Although it is a different kind of knowledge, faith is open to the findings and hypotheses of the sciences. 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.
It is good that YouCat says a Christian should be “open to the findings and hypothesis of the sciences.” True science and true theology will never conflict. But the problem is this: the domain of science YouCat doesn’t lead the Christian to examine consists of convincing evidence that evolution has very little, if any, scientific support. For the last 50 years Christian scientists have given the world a viable and convincing scientific alternative to evolutionary science, but YouCat, as well as the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church (both with Cardinal Schӧnborn leading the way) fail to even mention these scientific advances. Would a typical YouCat youth know of any of these alternatives? Probably not, since he has been taught since childhood that: (a) the only science available is that which supports evolution, and (b) there is no science that shows evolution to be a dubious hypothesis.
In fact, YouCat goes out of its way to ridicule alternative answers to evolution, as, for example, when it says that creationists “naively take biblical data literally (for example, to calculate the earth’s age, they cite the six days of work in Genesis 1).” Perhaps Cardinal Schӧnborn forgot what the Pontifical Biblical Commission said in 1909 under Pope St. Pius X when the question of how to interpret the “days” of Genesis was posed:
Question VIII: Whether in that designation and distinction of six days, with which the account of the first chapter of Genesis deals, the word (“days”) can be assumed either in its proper sense as a natural day, or in the improper sense of a certain space of time; and whether with regard to such a question there can be free disagreement among exegetes?
Reply: In the affirmative.
So there we have it. The 1909 PBC does not say that it is “naïve to take biblical data literally” in regards to the six days of Genesis. It says that one can interpret it as a literal six day period or a period of a certain space of time. Cardinal Schӧnborn once again finds himself at great odds with Catholic tradition. In the end, all the talk about “not taking the bible literally” is a smoke screen for those who, like Cardinal Schӧnborn, have already accepted evolution as the correct scientific position and who wish to indoctrinate today’s youth to the same. Of the two views of the “days” of Genesis permitted by the PBC, our tradition has stated that we should opt for the literal unless science can “prove” that the literal is impossible.7 Moreover, our Catholic tradition has had no problem interpreting the Bible literally. The Church proved this early on when it interpreted the words “This is my body” to be the real body and blood of Christ when the rest of the world was trying to make it a figure of speech.
Hand in hand with YouCat’s push for evolution is the idea that because God brought the world into existence by evolution, all that we see today, including all the bad things, are also the result of evolution. This is strongly implied in YouCat’s paragraph 51:
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 evilsin contrast come about through the misuse of freedom in the world.
The ghost of Teilhard de Chardin is alive and well in YouCat. Notice the absence of Original Sin as the cause for why “birth defects” entered the world. YouCat doesn’t teach the traditional Catholic doctrine that God created the world good such that it had no imperfections before Adam and Eve sinned. Rather, it uses the infinitive (“to be good”) to suggest that God merely intends to make the world good and will do so through a long process of evolution; and it is obviously not good now because evolution “is not yet complete.” YouCat also ignores traditional doctrine by teaching that “physical evil” is the result of God deciding not to create the world completely good. It ignores the fact that evil is the direct result of man’s decision to go against the laws of God, after which God was required by justice to administer punishment (e.g., birth defects and natural catastrophes).
There are many other problems in YouCat, but the above are some of the more egregious errors and departures from traditional Catholic doctrine. Overall, YouCat is one of the most farcical efforts at catechesis of youth that the Catholic Church has ever produced. Perhaps the problems in YouCat originated when, as Hilary White reports, it “was written by a committee of 50 unnamed ‘young people’ and theologians,” of whom, to this very day, few know who they are.
1 We are indebted to the recent paper circulated by Maximos and Anastasios which alerted us to these issues in YouCat. Our paper raises additional concerns against the material in YouCat as well as important facts behind the scenes.
3 “If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained.” (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_25071968_humanae-vitae_en.html)
4 Humane Vitae further states: “From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out….The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life….Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will….Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means….Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.”
5 The Tablet, May 8, 2010.
6 “Both the Magisterium of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action” (CCC, para. 2352).
7 “But if they are able to establish their doctrine with proofs that cannot be denied, we must show that this statement of Scripture…is not opposed to the truth of their conclusions” (St. Augustine, The Literal Interpretation of Genesis, Book 2, Ch. 9, para 21); “The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: ‘All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994, para. 116).
Robert A. Sungenis, Ph.D., is the founder and president of Catholic Apologetics International Publishing, a non-profit corporation. He holds advanced degrees in Theology and Religious Studies from George Washington University, Westminster Theological Seminary, and Calamus International University. Robert is presently seeking a second doctorate in religious studies at Maryvale Institute/Liverpool Hope University.
He is the author of many books and articles on religion, politics, science and culture, including: “The Catholic Apologetics Study Bible, Vol. 5, The First Epistle to the Corinthians”; “The Catholic Apologetics Study Bible, Vol. 4, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-11″; “The Catholic Apologetics Study Bible, Vol. 3, The Epistles of Romans and James”; “The Catholic Apologetics Study Bible, Vol. 2, The Apocalypse of St. John”; “The Catholic Apologetics Study Bible, Vol. 1, The Gospel According to St. Matthew”; “Not By Bread Alone: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for the Eucharistic Sacrifice”; “How Can I Get to Heaven: The Bible’s Teaching on Salvation Made Easy to Understand”; “Not By Faith Alone: The Biblical Evidence for the Catholic Doctrine of Justification”; “Not By Scripture Alone: A Catholic Critique of the Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scriptura”. He has appeared on radio and television, including programs on CNN, the BBC and EWTN. He has authored all the chapters and appendices for Galileo Was Wrong: The Church Was Right, except for Chapter 10.