Important study: “On Doctrinal and Moral Disorders Abiding in the Church” — Fr. John Hardon’s 1990 critique of the “revised draft” of the Catechism (Part 1)

Rorate has received from Drs. Maike and Robert Hickson the following important study, which introduces and then provides the critique written by Fr. John Hardon, S.J. (1914–2000) in 1990 when he was given the opportunity to review a “revised draft” of what would become the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The text offered here, in two parts, was first published in Christian Orderin 2016and is now being made available on the internet for the benefit of a wider readership. Ever since Pope Francis decided to use the Catechism as a Trojan Horse for his erroneous position on the death penalty, we have become aware once more of the possibility of “weaponized catechisms,” and so, Fr. Hardon’s study acquires new relevance. It should be noted that many of his just criticisms seem to have made no difference in the framing of the final text.—PAK

Father John A. Hardon’s 1990 Commentaries on the “Revised Draft” of the Catholic Catechism

(Part I)


June 21, 1990

       Dear Bob,

      Enclosed is a copy of my report on the “Proposed Draft” for the Universal Catechism. It is not to be duplicated or distributed. We can discuss it further on my 3-day stay in Front Royal.

       In Our Lord,

       John A. Hardon, S.J.

(A handwritten 1990 note that introduced the Sealed Package sent from Father John A. Hardon, S.J. to Dr. Robert Hickson in Front Royal, Virginia. This personal introductory note was written in ink on the official stationery of the “Jesuit Community at the University of Detroit” and it was dated 21 June 1990. The typed Report itself was entitled “Basic Reservations on the Revised Draft of the Catechism For the Universal Church”; and this 77-page Report was a copy of the one “personally submitted to Archbishop Jan Schotte, Secretary of the Synod of the Bishops, and also discussed with Rev. Christoph von Schonborn [sic], editor of the Catechism for the Universal Church.”)

Robert, We are witnessing a massive effort to re-make our historic Faith.” (These are Father John Hardon’s own unforgettable words to me, first uttered in mid-1990: words that he later again at least three times solemnly, slowly and gravely expressed to me, his assistant, in person, during our collaboration on the proposed drafts of the New Catechism of the Catholic Church—starting in 1990 and lasting through 1995 mostly, then again intermittently until the official Latin Text of the New Catechism was finally promulgated on 15 August 1997.)

Almost a decade after first meeting Father John A. Hardon, S.J. in 1980 at Christendom College, I had the fruitful occasion of introducing him to then-Archbishop Jan Schotte, C.I.C.M.—the Secretary of the Synod of Bishops—and to Father Christoph von Schönborn, O.P., the latter being the Executive Secretary and Editor of the still-then-developing new Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). Both of them—one a Belgian and the other an Austrian—had belatedly invited Father Hardon to participate in a meeting about the New Catechism, and thus to fly at once to Washington D.C. from Detroit where he was then living in the Jesuit Community at the University of Detroit.

Although he was himself a Dogmatic Theologian and a major Catechist in the English-speaking world, Father Hardon had not been originally invited to this preparatory meeting in the United States. Father thus told me that he would not dare to be present at that meeting unless he were explicitly invited, which he was.

After collecting Father Hardon from the airport and taking him to the small conference, I first took him to meet the gracious Belgian Archbishop from the Roman Curia. Never shall I forget watching these two men together in their intimate and extended conversation—their gestures, the look in their eyes, their warm smiles, and the mutual reverence and gratitude. After Father Hardon had knelt down to receive the archbishop’s final blessing, Archbishop Schotte himself then at once knelt down to receive Father Hardon’s blessing. After Father Hardon showed his embarrassment at this spontaneous gesture, Archbishop Schotte quietly and humbly said: “Please, I ask for your priestly blessing. For, like you, I am also a priest.” Those words and that act touched Father Hardon very deeply. (In addition to its being obvious to me as a nearby observer, Father Hardon later gratefully and humbly told me so himself. I still remember the warm look on his face as he did so.)

At that time (in June of 1990), Christoph von Schönborn was still a Dominican priest teaching at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, but soon (in 1991) he was to be made an auxiliary bishop in Vienna, Austria.[i] Back in 1987, he had been designated to be the editorial executive secretary of what would become the new Catechism of the Catholic Church. In our first conversation, just the two of us, he surprised me by saying that the working drafts of the new Catechism were in French. When I asked him why they were not in Latin, he modestly smiled and then hesitantly said: “Not enough of the Bishops know Latin. Although I would not want to make this fact public—nor announce it even here at our gathering— not enough of the Bishops sufficiently know Latin.” (I later told this reported fact to Father Hardon and he was likewise stunned.)

Furthermore, after Father Hardon had himself first read the working draft of the Catechism in its entirety, he told me that his faith was “deeply shaken.” And he reported to me that sad psychological fact in a slow and solemn tone, a tone well known to those who knew Father Hardon well. I still vividly remember some of the representative reasons he gave as to why he had been so unexpectedly, and so deeply, shaken, although—for reasons of prudence—he said he did not intend to include most of these perceptions and sobering insights in his later written and confidential commentaries which (at their own earnest invitation) he privately sent on to Archbishop Schotte and to Father von Schönborn themselves. That is to say, those same private commentaries which Father Hardon also later gave to me, although he told me gravely that I was never to copy them or otherwise to reveal them to anyone else while he was still alive.

Although Father Hardon died almost fifteen years ago [today, almost twenty-two years ago]—on 30 December 2000—it is only now my active intention finally to present and briefly to discuss these same written and confidential observations. Those who are very close to me have also especially encouraged me to do this now. For, in light of the recent [2015] Synod in Rome on the Family and Marriage, I believe that Father Hardon’s farsighted written commentaries and explicit as well as implicit doctrinal warnings will be even more understandable now. Moreover, as Father Hardon often said to me: “Contrast clarifies the mind.”

Archbp. Schotte and Card. Schönborn

But, first, it will be fitting and constitute my own attempt at a fuller integrity to convey what Father Hardon initially said to me orally, after I had asked him what it was cumulatively that had so shaken him. He said that the Draft Catechism left one with the impression that Jesus Christ had really added nothing essential in the New Testament that was not already there in the Old Testament, at least implicitlyFor example, the eight Beatitudes—which indispensably and unmistakably require the supernatural grace of Christ just to be lived out at all, much less truly fulfilled—were presented in the Draft Catechism as already essentially contained in the Old Testament itself, and, after all, not uniquely added by Christ Himself as part of the new order of Grace. There was thus the implication, Father Hardon said, that these demanding and self-sacrificial Beatitudes—“The Commandments of the New Testament”—could somehow be lived out “naturally,” and even “virtuously,” without the need for grace.

Moreover, these seemingly ingratiating “ecumenical” tendencies to a sort of Judaizing, as it were, were further complemented in the “Revised Draft” by certain unnecessary and ambiguous concessions made to post-Vatican II ecumenism with Protestantism, and thus to what Father Hardon often called “Old Testament Christianity.” For example, the traditional Catholic Pater Noster now had a different ending—as presented in the Draft—and it now unaccountably included the Protestants’ own doxological-liturgical conclusion to the prayer, “For Thine is the Kingdom and the Power, and the Glory, Now and Forever. Amen.”

Father Hardon also had grave reservations about some of the Moral Portions of the Draft Catechism, especially the inordinately subjective understanding of an erroneous or largely unformed (even if sincere) conscience; to include the tendencies to consequentialism, to more subtle forms of subjectivism—even moral relativism as in “Situation Ethics” and thus, especially, the so-called “Fundamental Option Theory.” However, I do not now sufficiently recall Father Hardon’s own specific words to me here, much less his finely differentiated and erudite objections—although some of them will come out more clearly in his written commentaries, which we shall soon consider.

However, the most trenchant comment Father Hardon made to me—and the most enduring one he has left in my warmly receptive and attentive memory—was that the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and His generous revelation and the importance of His Church and the restored economy and sacramental order of grace were unfaithfully dimmed down and attenuated, as if the unique revelation of Christ were but one part of the larger array of comparative religions, especially those with some of their roots in historic Judaism.

He also noted the unaccountably attenuated treatment of the Mother of God—as also apparently happened, for the sake of ecumenism, at the Second Vatican Council, where some of the sincerely heart-pierced attendants (such as the French Peritus, Abbé Victor-Alain Berto, 1900-1968) even said and later wrote that “the Blessed Mother has been asked to leave the Marriage Feast of Cana.” (He said those words with a pierced heart soon after the special preparatory Schema on Our Lady had been discarded in 1962-1963.)

In any case, Father John Hardon himself was later to be similarly shaken in his Faith. More than once, as already mentioned, he gravely said to me: “Robert, we are witnessing a massive effort to re-make our historic Faith. Did you hear me?!” (I would take a solemn oath as to the veracity of these words—and also about the words he used later when he heard of Walter Kasper’s invited commentaries and proposed amendments—“Modi”—on the Revised Final Draft of the New Catechism. For, Father Hardon sincerely thought Kasper to be “shaky” even about the Incarnation!)

Father Hardon was himself a Dogmatic Theologian and he was thus very attentive to the concept and reality of “irreformable doctrine.” He more than once said to me down the years (1980-2000) that “The Faith is more than the authoritatively defined dogmas, but not less.” And he often spoke of how, since 1957, he had increasingly been disallowed to teach Dogma and Dogmatic Theology to his fellow Jesuits and their seminarian students after a revolution in the Jesuits in the United States—which began for Father Hardon, very personally, in the year 1957,especially as a result of the new leadership that had just been elected and was then returning from the General Congregation in Rome with new ideas. He more than once mentioned to me and others that “I have been living for many years amidst the revolution in the Jesuit Order. The revolution in the Jesuit Order in the United States began for me in 1957.”[ii] For example, it was then, still five years before the opening of Vaticanum II, that the Jesuit theologates in America were already, and quite ecumenically, to begin to be jointly certified by Protestant theologians—that is, with the engaged co-operation and concurrent approval of certain Protestant seminaries.

He therefore often mentioned the importance of that revolutionary year of 1957 for his own Jesuit life, although he had taken an additionally binding private personal vow that he would always live, where possible, in the Jesuit Community, and not outside. That sacrificially lived, common dwelling with his fellow Jesuits was, for sure, often to be a humiliation for him. He even frequently quoted the words of Saint John Berchmans, S.J., which the young saint expressed on his death bed after he was asked by his fellow Jesuit brothers “What has been your greatest penance and mortification during your life here?” Saint John’s explicit answer, in Father Hardon’s own repeated Latin words, was: “Vita Communis mea maxima poenitentia!” (“Common life with my fellow Jesuits has been my greatest mortification!”) Moreover, Saint John Berchmans was only twenty-two years of age in 1621 when he died and it was to be rather soon after he had made that surprising and candid response to a question! Furthermore, when he died, he was not yet an ordained Jesuit priest but still only a Jesuit scholastic, and thus young John Berchmans was fittingly to become the Patron Saint of Altar Servers, as well.

As to the larger, often liberal Catholic or modernist Catholic groups of Jesuits in 1990 America, I remember one incident that occurred to provoke Father Hardon very soon after he had first read and was shaken by the revised final draft of the new Catechism. He was surprised by what first appeared to be another condign critique of the Draft Catechism such as his own, though from an unlikely source. For, a large collection of liberal Jesuits had taken out a full-page Advertisement in the New York Times Newspaper and had thoroughly denounced the Final Draft, a leaked copy of which they had claimed to have read, sub secreto. But, these criticisms essentially conveyed the message that the Draft Catechism was an unmistakably reactionary document and even an atavistic and incorrigible text which must therefore be rejected and not at all supported.

Soon after this Advertisement was made public, The Wanderer Newspaper—a well-respected, long-standing, conservative enterprise—had its own ardent reaction. That conservative newspaper effectively said: “If these progressive, modernist Jesuits are so against this Draft Catechism, we must now support it entirely, promptly, and wholeheartedly!” Thus, they fell into a sort of trap, and, had they been more vigilant, they might well have seen at once that they were being subtly allured and led into a false dialectic. Father Hardon himself saw this at once—and was indeed provoked by the sly deception practiced by those Jesuits. (I recall Father Hardon’s calling the Editors of The Wanderer then, but I do not know to whom he spoke, nor what he said, nor how the editors responded—or whether the editors eventually thus made their own “change of policy” and vigilant and cautious “course correction.”)

Over all the years I knew Father Hardon, I often was his altar server in his private Masses—usually just the two of us, but sometimes there were four or five people altogether. Never once, however, did he offer in my presence the Sacrifice of the Mass in the Traditional Latin Gregorian- Tridentine Rite, although he sometimes offered the Novus Ordo Rite in Latin, and, in any case, he always used the Roman Canon. Nevertheless, he often emphatically said that his “greatest intellectual mortification was not to be able to teach Catholic Theology in Latin!” For, as he sometimes illustratively added, he usually had to teach Catholic Theology in one of the more secularized and connotatively awkward vernaculars, such as English—where one, for example, wincingly was obliged even to present grace, in part, as a “supernatural accident”! (But, he thought the Spanish vernacular much more Catholic.)

Moreover, in 1992, when the first official text of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church was to come out, it was NOT to be promulgated in Latin after all, but, rather, in a concurrent or sequential assortment of vernaculars, such as the French text first, which was often enough at odds with—and even incommensurate with—the more jumbled vernacular English Version. Such an operation was hardly a sign of pastoral wisdom on the part of the Church. Do we agree?

According to what Father Hardon had told me in late 1990-1991, two things had been promised to him: (1) Father von Schönborn, O.P. had assured him that Hardon (with Hickson) would be personally involved in the final, authoritatively official, Latin Text of the new Catechism; and (2) Pope John Paul II had personally told Father Hardon during his later visit in Rome that the official Latin version of the new universal Catechism would be promulgated FIRST in Latin, and only then would the various vernacular translations be reliably derived from that authoritative Latin text and then more widely and reliably promulgated. However, neither of these things ever came to pass.

Now we shall turn to Father Hardon’s own English-language commentary, which he gave me permission to make public after his death. (Father Hardon died on 30 December 2000, and both Cardinal Schotte and Pope John Paul II were to die some four years later, in early 2005, on 10 January and on 2 April 2005, respectively.)

The first category of Father Hardon’s Commentary is his reply to a series of acute questions put forthrightly to him, and thus also requesting his own sincere and candid replies. We shall present the essence of these replies first, and then select and report some of his deeper and more detailed comments. If, afterwards, there still be sufficient interest in Father’s own criteria and standards of judgment in 1990 —in defense of the Catholic Faith whole and entire—we shall somehow find a way to present in Part II some more of his insights and interwoven rationales—perhaps also then be able to publish Father Hardon’s entire Dossier. For, it is a treasure, and should be part of our Catholic heritage.

The Set of Questions Given to Father Hardon for His Response

Question 1: What is your over-all impression of the “Revised Draft”? Does it seem in your judgement to respond to the desire expressed at the time of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985?

Question 2: In your judgement, does the “Revised Draft” as a whole represent an organic and synthetic presentation of the essentials of Catholic Doctrine which is concise and complete? Please indicate any important deficiencies which you may notice.

Question 3: Do you have any suggestions for improving the presentation and style (e.g., as regards the “In Brief”, the references, the readability and clarity, etc.)?

Question 4a: How do you evaluate the Introduction (“I believe”)? Is it doctrinally accurate and complete? Is its presentation organic and synthetic?

Question 4b: In your judgement, does the First Part (Credo) represent an organic, synthetic, precise, and complete presentation of all the articles of the faith?

Question 4c: Is the presentation of the Second Part, in your opinion, sufficiently precise, complete, synthetic and organic in its treatment of the Catholic teaching on the liturgy and the sacraments?

Question 4d: Does the Third Part, in your judgement, present the whole of Christian moral teaching in a synthetic, organic, concise and complete way?

Question 4e: Do you think that the Epilogue presents Christian prayer in an organic and complete fashion?

Father Hardon’s Ten Basic Reservations on the Revised Draft of the Catechism for the Universal Church:

1. The “Revised Draft” is not a summary of Catholic doctrine, but a compendium of Catholicism, Protestantism, and theological speculation.

2. The “Revised Draft” is ambiguous throughout on the meaning of faith. It is not committed to the Catholic Church’s definition of divine faith as the assent of the intellect to what God has revealed.

3. The “Revised Draft” does not teach what is clearly stated in Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council that the ordinary universal magisterium of the Church is infallible.

4. The “Revised Draft” does not clearly teach that there are two sources of divine revelation, namely, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, where Sacred Tradition (like Sacred Scripture) was completed by the end of the apostolic age.

5. The “Revised Draft” is ambiguous on the causality of the seven sacraments instituted by Christ. It does not clearly teach what the Council of Trent defined, that the sacraments confer grace “ex opere operato.”

6. The “Revised Draft” in effect accepts the erroneous theory of the Fundamental Option. Only persons who have made the fundamental option to reject God are said to be liable to eternal punishment. Thus the meaning of mortal sin is not that of the Church’s universal ordinary magisterium.

7. The “Revised Draft” does not use the Vulgate text of the Bible. This is contrary to the Church’s magisterial history over the centuries.

8. The “Revised Draft” does not teach, or explain, the whole matter of development of doctrine, which is carefully and precisely taught by the Second Vatican Council.

9. The “Revised Draft” leaves open for speculation most of the Church’s irreversible teaching on morality.

10. The “Revised Draft” does not do justice to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. This failure is shown especially in the selective use of the conciliar texts.

Immediately after listing these ten major Reservations, Father Hardon then adds: “In the following pages [pp. 4-68], each of these ten reservations is further explained and recommended revisions are made.” (There are certain other matters of moment that Father Hardon also had grave reservations about—such as the insufficiently presented full Catholic Doctrine on divine grace and its salvific indispensability (hence sanctifying grace)—but which he chose not to put in writing in his Commentary for Archbishop Jan Schotte then; although Father Hardon and I later discussed this omitted matter of moment at considerable length in person and in our preparations for (and in his own conduct of) the graduate-level catechetical class he recurrently taught on divine grace in Arlington, Virginia. He also often had to explain to the students why Our Incarnate Lord only had ONE of the three infused theological virtues.)

In what now follows, I shall try to convey—in his own words—what Father Hardon’s earnest reservations were in 1990, and why so. For, it was then only some two years before the new Universal Catechism was first to be introduced and officially promulgated by Pope John Paul II himself on 11 October 1992, i.e., intentionally proclaimed on the thirtieth anniversary of the opening of Vatican II. We may thereby better come to realize what is, arguably, still seemingly attenuated or entirely omitted in the contemporary Magisterium, and even more so in an ambiguously devious Para-Magisterium.

That is to say, it will alert our vigilance to the practical cautionary principle “Suppressio verisuggestio falsi”—as Jesuit Father Hardon himself also used to say about the spreading phenomenon of sophistical deception and how it better succeeds in virtue of our own willing self-deception. In other words, when we are inclined to deceive ourselves (cf. “vulgus vult decipi”), deceivers thus profile us, and a manipulator can then work much more effectively. For, when you knowingly and tendentiously omit something that is true, you often enough also suggest something that is false. And you may also thereby more easily then manipulate and mislead someone else’s own objective self-deception.

Nor is the cardinal virtue of prudence the same as what earlier popes, such as Saint Gregory the Great himself, called “prudentia carnalis” or “prudentia carnis” (in his Moralia in Job, his own profound Moral and Doctrinal Commentary).

Let us begin with Father Hardon’s Reply to Question 1:

I do not believe that the “Revised Draft” fully responds to the desire expressed at the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985 [twenty years after the conclusion of Vatican II]. The fundamental reason is that this “Revised Draft” does not fully represent a “compendium of the whole of Catholic doctrine (compendium totius doctrinae catholicae).”

As will be expressed in greater detail in the answer to subsequent questions, the “Revised Draft” does not adequately fulfill certain essential elements desired by the bishops, namely totality, doctrine, and Catholicity.

Totality—Some important elements of the Catholic Faith are presented either ambiguously or too cursorily. Thus it may be said that the fullness of the Catholic Church’s teaching is not expressed in the present draft of the proposed Universal Catechism

Doctrine—The “Revised Draft” contains not a few theological opinions on important issues of the faith. Doctrine means what the Church’s Magisterium teaches for acceptance by all the faithful. On these terms, a sizable element of the proposed catechism is not doctrinal.

Catholicity—The request of the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops was for a compendium of Catholic teaching, in the primary sense of being directed to professed members of the Roman Catholic Church. The proposed “Revised Draft” can be called “Catholic” (with a small “c”) in the sense that it is addressed to all persons who are even nominally Christian. The opening plan is for a Catechism “…based on the great tradition of the catechisms both of the Protestant Reformation (Martin Luther, John Calvin), and of the Catholic Reformation of the sixteenth century. (Par. 0011)” This plan is substantiated throughout the entire “Revised Draft.” It closes with a commentary of the Protestant formula of the Lord’s Prayer.

Thus, Father Hardon’s complete and candid response to Question 1 will already give us, a good glimpse of his own overall and underlying views, and his well-pondered rationale. Father Hardon’s next response now to Question 2:

In my judgment the “Revised Draft” does not adequately represent “an organic and synthetic presentation of Catholic doctrine which is concise and complete.”…The “Revised Draft” is rather a compendium of Catholic doctrine Protestant beliefs, and theological speculation. The following are the principal areas of deficiency:


(Faith, as an assent of the intellect to the revealed Word of God.)

As defined by the First Vatican Council, to believe means to accept the truths which God has revealed on the authority of God who can neither deceive or be deceived. Conversely, it is axiomatic in Protestantism that faith is not the assent of the intellect. It is rather, as variously expressed by different denominations, a trustful confidence of the will in God’s loving mercy. This is bedrock Protestantism. It also explains what Protestant churches have made trust in God’s mercy through Jesus Christ primary, and the acceptance of the mind of revealed truths secondary for being a Christian. In fact, this option on matters of doctrinal truth is the main reason for the variety of Protestant denominations.

A reader of the “Revised Draft” will be confused, to say the least, about the real meaning of faith and the primacy of submitting the intellect to the infinite Mind of God. The ecumenical intent of the “Revised Draft” is praiseworthy. But sound ecumenism does not compromise on the essentials of revelation, here on the meaning of divine faith, as defined by the Roman Catholic Church.

The Infallibility of the Ordinary Universal Magisterium of the Catholic Church

It is not co-incidental that the “Revised Draft” selectively quotes from the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium). In Lumen Gentium, it is clear that the teaching of the ordinary universal magisterium is infallible. Yet, the “Revised Draft” nowhere clearly expresses this. The consequences of this omission would be devastating. Since most of the Church’s basic teaching on morality has been through the ordinary universal magisterium, all the major dissenters from this teaching will be supported by the proposed Universal Catechism.

The Sources of Divine Revelation

There are two grave defects in the way the “Revised Draft” treats the sources of Divine Revelation. The first and most fundamental defect is the practical exclusion of Sacred Tradition as a co-equal source with Sacred Scripture of God’s public revelation to the human race. Where Dei Verbum is used by the author(s) of the “Revised Draft” in their treatment of revelation, they express themselves in such a way that Sacred Tradition becomes an explanation of Sacred Scripture or equated with the Church’s magisterial teaching after the close of the Apostolic Age. Nowhere in the “Revised Draft” is it clear that Divine Revelation has been communicated to mankind from two distinct sources, the Bible and the oral tradition inspired by the Holy Spirit, where both the Bible and inspired oral tradition were completed, and in that sense closed, by the end of the Apostolic Age.

The second defect is the treatment of the relationship between the Old and New Testament. The impression is left that somehow the Old Testament closed the Divine Law as binding upon the human race. As a consequence, Christ is made to appear as indeed the Savior of Mankind in whom we believe (trust) but not as its universal Lawgiver. It was precisely this erroneous estimate of Christ that was condemned by the Council of Trent. The Universal Catechism must make it clear that Christ who is Incarnate God, revealed the divine imperative will as it had never been manifested to the human race before.

Causality of the Sacraments

The proposed draft does not make clear what is absolutely fundamental to the Catholic understanding of the sacraments, that they produce grace ex opere operato.

It is essential that the Universal Catechism state clearly and unequivocally that the sacraments produce grace in those rightly disposed in virtue of the rite performed and do not depend for their intrinsic efficacy on the subjective disposition of those who convey or receive them.

The Basis for Eternal Damnation

The “Revised Draft” recognizes that some persons may be condemned to eternal punishment, but only those who have died totally unrepentant and their wills completely rejecting God. On these terms only persons who had made a “fundamental option” against God risk the eternal punishment of hell. But individual mortal sin would not be eternally punishable.

Father Hardon’s response to Question 3:

I have some major editorial problems with the “Revised Draft.”

1.The Vulgate text of the Bible is not used. This is contrary to the Church’s practice for centuries. In fact, the Second Vatican Council uses the Vulgate. Replacing the Vulgate with the present English translation of the Bible does more than deprive the Universal Catechism of biblical continuity. It introduces a version of the Bible which is often more of a paraphrase of the original Greek than a faithful translation.

2.Translations of Vatican II and Denzinger are not consistent; sometimes ideological, and even misleading.

3.The text of the “Revised Draft” is poorly written; it is not a thing of beauty. It is poorly edited with not a few mistakes in the draft. The citations have not been checked as is evident from the mistakes in references cited.

4.The “Revised Draft” is too long. It is “wordy” and should be re-edited.

5.The “Revised Draft” uses terms which have different connotations in English, like the word “cult.”

6. Absent in the “Revised Draft” is a conscious awareness of a crucial distinction between “continuous” and “discontinuous” development of doctrine. The faithful should be made aware of two things: that there has been remarkable development of doctrine in the past century, and certainly since the Council of Trent; [and] that this development has been “continuous.” In other words, the development has been consistent with the Church’s magisterial teaching since the time of Christ.

Father Hardon’s responses to Questions 4a-4e:

(4a.) The introduction (“I believe”) is doctrinally inadequate. The grounds for this judgement are expressed in the answer to question two (especially 2 and 3). What seems to me to be an underlying premise of the “Revised Draft” is to make the proposed Catechism “universal” in a different sense than that understood by the Catechisms of the Roman Catholic Church’s History. All the Catechisms from earliest Patristic times to St. Pius X have been expressions of the faith professed by believing Roman Catholics.

The “Revised Draft” appears to understand the word “universal” differently. The whole section on “I believe” leaves the impression that “universal” includes not only the faith of believing Catholics, but the faith of all believers. The problem is that non-Catholic Christians and non-Christians not only lack the fullness of God’s revealed truth. Their religions contain positive error….

(4b.) As explained above (in the answer to question two), once you obscure the essence of faith as the assent of the intellect to God’s revealed truth, this weakens the very meaning of the Creed. The Creed has always been understood by the Catholic Church as a summary of truths which the believing mind is to accept on God’s authority. Once you alter this meaning of faith, as the “Revised Draft” appears to have done, we cannot say that the presentation of the articles of the Apostles Creed is fully authentic. It is one thing to offer “an organic, synthetic, concise, and complete presentation.” It is something else to ensure that this presentation is authentically Catholic.

Moreover, once you obscure the fact that the sources of Divine Revelation are both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Apostolic Tradition, the very meaning of the Apostles Creed is affected. What the Apostles Creed contains is not only what God has revealed in Sacred Scripture but also what He has revealed in the oral tradition which was completed with the death of the last Apostle.

On the premises of the “Revised Draft” the whole content of the Apostles Creed would be found in Sacred Scripture….

(4c.) In my judgment, the Second Part is defective in its treatment of the Catholic understanding of Liturgy and the Sacraments. The worst defect is the ambiguity about the Sacraments as divinely instituted causes of grace (as explained above in the answer to question two). Consistent with this basic defect is the use of the word “sacrament” in so many senses that the fundamental meaning of the seven sacraments is gravely compromised.

(4d.) In my judgement, the presentation of Christian Moral Teaching [the Third Part of the Catechism] is gravely defective. As explained above, the most fundamental defect is the implication that Christ is indeed our Savior in whom we must believe (trust) but He is not also, and with emphasis, our Divine Lawgiver and Judge. Moreover, the extensive treatment given to the Natural Law only confirms the foregoing implication. It is as though the only real moral imperatives are those derived from the Natural Law. On these terms, Christian Morality would do no more than clarify and provide higher motives for keeping the Natural Law. This would exclude Christ’s moral teaching as Divinely revealed imperatives that are substantially supernatural.

(4e.) Epilogue—I do not think that the Epilogue correctly presents Christian prayer. Several features of this presentation are defective:

(1) The Protestant version of the Lord’s Prayer is given and in the process weakens the revealed character of the Pater Nostr [sic]. It is a matter of history that the Protestant ending of the Lord’s Prayer is not part of the Gospel text but a liturgical addition which Protestant biblical scholars themselves admit is not part of the New Testament.

(2) The Epilogue on the Lord’s Prayer fails to clearly distinguish between Christ’s prayer to His Heavenly Father and our praying to the Holy Trinity, (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

(3) In explaining the invocation “Our Father who art in Heaven,” the “Revised Draft” obscures the revealed truth that heaven is primarily the place and state where the angels and saints enjoy the Beatific Vision of the Holy Trinity.

(4) A basic meaning of “thy kingdom come” is to understand the kingdom as the Church. Of course the kingdom of heaven is the Church Triumphant. But we may not minimize the fact that the kingdom in the Lord’s Prayer is the Catholic Church for whose extension, salvation, and sanctification we are praying when we say “thy kingdom come.”

After answering these eight questions submitted to him, Father Hardon went on to submit ten specific Reservations about the “Revised Draft,” giving now his deeper reasoning for his convictions.

These ten reservations may be recapitulated, as follows, in Father’s own words:

(1 and 2) The “Revised Draft” is not a summary of Catholic Doctrine, but a compendium [“an ecumenical compendium,” p. 4] of Catholicism, Protestantism, and Theological speculation; [it] is ambiguous throughout on the meaning of faith and it is not committed to the Catholic Church’s definition of divine faith as the assent of the intellect to what God has revealed.

(3) [It] does not teach what is clearly stated in Lumen Gentium of the Sacred Vatican Council that the Ordinary Universal Magisterium of the Church is infallible.

(4) [It] does not clearly teach that there are two sources of divine revelation, namely Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, where Sacred Tradition (like Sacred Scripture) was completed by the end of the Apostolic Age.

(5) [It] is ambiguous on the causality of the seven sacraments instituted by Christ. It does not clearly teach what the Council of Trent defined, that the seven sacraments confer grace “ex opere operato.”

(6) [It] in effect, accepts the erroneous theory of the Fundamental Option. Only persons who have made the fundamental option to reject God are said to be liable to eternal punishment. Thus the meaning of mortal sin is not that of the Church’s universal ordinary magisterium.

(7) [It] does not use the Vulgate text of the Bible. This is contrary to the Church’s magisterial history over the centuries.

(8) [It] does not teach, or explain, the whole matter of development of doctrine, which is carefully and precisely [sic] by the Second Vatican Council.

(9) [It] leaves open for speculation most of the Church’s irreversible teaching on morality.

(10) The “Revised Draft” does not do justice to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council. This failure is shown especially in the selective use of the Conciliar texts.

After listing these ten major reservations, Father Hardon says: “In the following pages [pp.4-68], each of these ten reservations is further explained and recommended revisions are made.”

It is thus our proposal to present and examine these deeper considerations and proposed emendations in our Part II. But, it is now fitting to offer some Interim Conclusions which will also touch upon the later developments of the new Catechism in Rome, after June of 1990. I shall likewise thereby try to make my own limited and incomplete knowledge more explicit, and Father Hardon’s too.


Whether or not, after all his dedicated (though admittedly somewhat demoralizing) commentaries on the “Revised Draft” of the Catholic Catechism, Father Hardon ever received any reply from Archbishop Schotte or from Father von Schönborn I do not know. Father Hardon never told me if he did. Nor did anybody else. Nor did I ever see or correspond with Archbishop Schotte again, not even after he was made a Cardinal in 1994, while the Second (vernacular) Edition of the Catechism was being assiduously corrected and prepared and then promulgated. Nor did I have any further contact with Father von Schönborn, who himself soon became a bishop and archbishop of Vienna in 1991 and 1995, respectively, and was made a Cardinal in early 1998, some six months after the official Latin Editio Typica of the new Catechism was finally promulgated by Pope John Paul II (on 15 August 1997).

But Father Hardon did tell me that he had sent some of his commentaries to Bishop John Myers in Peoria, Illinois after being invited to do so, and they were well received. As far as I know, Bishop Myers was the only American bishop to ask for Father Hardon’s evaluation of the proposed new Catechism. Through some of Bishop Myer’s own assistants, Father Hardon also had some exchanges—especially about the moral sections of the Draft Catechism—with Professor Germain Grisez, a lay moral philosopher and moral theologian then at Mount Saint Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Maryland. However, I do not know the specific nature or duration of Father Hardon’s fuller deliberations with that learned Professor of Christian Ethics, except for what he told me of some their conversations about the issue and implications and consequences of Pope Paul VI’s earlier 1968 Encyclical, Humanae Vitae.

Much more importantly, however, because of a reliable and candid personal contact Father Hardon and I had in Rome, we learned also in a timely way some very important things about Cardinal Ratzinger’s own detailed personal management of the needed revisions of the proposed Catechism. For it was in 1985 that he had first become the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and then additionally, in 1987, the Pope put him in overall charge of the proposed new Catechism.

After the various “Modi”—proposed revisions and emendations—flowed in from around the world in 1990-1991, some persons—including our personal contact—were also shaken to the depths in their own Faith (by their own admission) by what they saw and read. For, the “Modi” themselves were often revolutionary and nominalistic, and even subversively claiming that there should not be—and indeed could not be—a “Roman Catechism,” as such, because everything was culturally and historically dependent and thus restrictively determined. Perhaps Cardinal Ratzinger then even formulated his later-expressed insight about “the dictatorship of relativism.”

Cardinal Ratzinger, we were promptly told, knew and said that he had to enter into this matter more deeply and personally now himself, lest a veritable catastrophe come to pass. And he did.

However, we still heard of some oddities. For example, we learned that the somewhat aggressive Jewish organization B’nai B’rith submitted its own commentary on the proposed Catholic Catechism—and they were, sub secreto, apparently invited to do so. Another aspect of Ecumenism?

Former Father Walter Kasper might have encouraged this submission by B’nai B’rith, given his special interests in non-Christian religions, especially his mercy for the Jews. In any case, we were told that the long-awaited “Modi” from Walter Kasper had finally arrived, one of the last sets to arrive, and all the persons seated with and near Cardinal Ratzinger were “as excited as school girls,” as we were told by phone from Rome. (Father Kasper had become a new Bishop—with the approval of John Paul II—only a year before, on 17 June 1989.) When Father Hardon heard of this welcoming expectancy and of the nature of Kasper’s own Commentary (“Modi”), he had some very strong words about Kasper himself and about Kasper’s own personal doctrine “as to the Incarnation.” (However, Kasper was later made a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II, on 21 February 2001.) How are we to understand such things? To include Kasper’s further influential promotions and prestigious positions held under Pope Benedict XVI, as well as his more understandable support and endorsement by the current Pontiff, Francis.

The publication history of the new Catechism also makes us wonder further about the meaning of “pastoral.” On 11 October 1992—the 30th anniversary of Vatican II—Pope John Paul II promulgated his Apostolic Constitution, Fidei Depositum, along with the first vernacular version of the Catechism, but it was only in French. The official Latin version was not yet written, and would not be promulgated until five year later, on 15 August 1997, thereby causing even more confusions—and the need for more re-writings of the older (to be newly corrected) vernacular versions (such as the already at least twice-re-written English versions). One may also read Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter, Laetamur Magnopere, of 15 August 1997, which introduces the official Latin Catechism, in order to see how the Pope still justifies this pastoral process, although he arguably omits or elides over many other issues of moment concerning the doctrine and softer language of the lengthy new Catechism.

On 28 June 2005, almost three months after the death of John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI himself promulgated the much-shortened (200-page) Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. That Compendium, for some unexplained reason, deleted some of the more controversial ambiguous passages of the longer English CCC, or, in Latin, the Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae, such as: “quia Foedus Vetus nunquam est retractatum” (“because the Old Covenant has never been withdrawn”). (See the CCC or the CCE, paragraph 121—Vetus Testamentum.)

To be continued.


[i] In 1995, Christoph von Schönborn was to be made the Archbishop of Vienna, Austria; and then, in 1998, he was made a Cardinal. Archbishop Schotte, who died in January of 2005, had been the Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops in Rome for almost twenty years, from 1985-2004. He was first made an Archbishop in 1985 and then a Cardinal in November of 1994. In 1990, for a second time, Archbishop Schotte was also to be visiting his beloved Belgian teacher, himself a very holy priest, Father Maurice du Castillon, C.I.C.M., who was then living in Virginia, after he had earlier been a Missionary Priest in China for many years and had also later taught Archbishop Schotte himself Chinese at the Seminary in Belgium. This beloved priest and deeply cherished Confessor—Father du Castillon—was to die shortly thereafter, on 15 November 1990; and he is now buried in Virginia beside his Belgian boyhood friend and fellow Chinese Missionary, Father Raymond de Jaegher, S.J. (who had died of cancer some ten years earlier, on 6 February 1980, after also being in Vietnam between 1954-1964 as a special adviser and priestly confessor to President Ngo Dinh Diem, who was treacherously assassinated in Saigon on 2 November 1963, All Souls’ Day).

[ii] Two or three times, I had asked Father Hardon about the earlier signs of revolution within the Jesuits, especially on the east coast up in Massachusetts, even in the 1940s and early 1950s—especially in the case of Father Leonard Feeney, S.J. and with the challenging presence of the Saint Benedict Center. For, this case seemed to be not only a struggle about discipline and obedience, but also, and especially, about doctrine, and “irreformable doctrine,” namely about Dogma. Father Hardon surprisingly told me, however, that he did not know much about that case or its larger implications, because he was from the Mid-West Jesuit Province (Cleveland and Detroit and the like). I did not press him on this matter, though I knew well that his close friend, the learned Father William Most, then also living in Virginia, had very strong views about Father Feeney himself and about what seemed to be (for the ardent Father Most) Father Feeney’s own objectively erroneous orientation in doctrine, not just in Jesuit obedience.

Labels: catechesisHardonJesuitsThe Schönborn Catechism

By Peter Kwasniewski at 4/11/2022 12:00:00 PM 

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.