On October 11, 1992, on the 30th anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, John Paul II signed the Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, with which he presented the new Catechism of the Catholic Church to the clergy and “to all members of the People of God.”
A courageous undertaking
John Paul II had entrusted its preparation in 1986 to a Commission of 12 cardinals and bishops, chaired by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, following the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops of 1985 convoked by the pope for the 20th anniversary of the conclusion of the Council. In the concluding report of the Synod we read: “A great many bishops have expressed the desire that a catechism or compendium of all Catholic doctrine of both faith and morals be compiled, which will be a point of reference for the catechisms or compendia needed in the different regions. It must express sound doctrine for the daily life of Christians today.” The request was endorsed by 146 bishops out of 155 present.
After the Council of Trent the Roman Catechism had gathered together in a broad and organic text a presentation of Catholic doctrine so that, in carrying out the reform of the Church desired by that Council, the pastors had a clear common reference for their teaching. Likewise, after the work of Vatican II, with the publication of its many documents and the lively discussion of their interpretation, there was felt on the part of “a great many bishops” the need for a new comprehensive text for the presentation of the Christian faith, consistent with the Council and attentive to the situation of Christians and the Church in the world today.
This was a very arduous undertaking. There had been no lack of important experiments, such as the famous Dutch Catechism and other catechisms published by various episcopal conferences, but it was observed that they “were concerned above all with examining the anthropological and sociological points of view and the method of transmission, with the result that they ended up almost losing the teachings to be transmitted along the way.” It was therefore necessary to try to draft a text to express “what the faith proposes for our belief” and which would be valid for the whole Church, that is, would express what is common to the faith of Catholics, so as to serve the unity of their universal communion, beyond local differences and particular situations.