Institute aims to overcome modern challenges to effective catechesis

By Jodi Marlin 

Catholic News Service

Accompaniment is the key to addressing modern catechetical challenges, a method that's at the center of a new entity being created under the direction of Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Subcommittee on the Catechism.

A proposal to create an Institute for the Catechism was presented at the bishops' spring meeting in June, which took place virtually. Rather than a physical structure, the institute will be a new process by which publishers of catechetical materials and the developers of catechetical content will work with the subcommittee to address modern challenges to catechesis.

The second main component of the institute will be a yearly, in-person training conference and retreat for diocesan catechetical leaders, with a separate track for publishers.

Current challenges to effective catechesis are many, Bishop Caggiano said, including the fact that parish resources often don't allow for extensive formation of catechists and that catechetical resources in Spanish lack crucial cultural considerations.

The influence of the secular world, the strain families are under, and the fact that many parents, teachers and catechists were part of a generation that was not well catechized, he said, also are significant barriers to catechists' ability to lead others to a genuine encounter with Christ through catechesis.

"They need some support," said Bishop Caggiano.

Although he presented the idea of launching the institute on the last day of the bishops' June 16-18 virtual spring assembly, it has been in discussion since 2017. Publication of the new Directory for Catechesis in 2020 added to the certainty of those involved that the time to launch the institute was in 2021.

Through the Institute for the Catechism, the process for evaluating new catechetical materials as to their conformity with the Catechism of the Catholic Church will change. Instead of evaluating a finished print curriculum and recommending changes, theological consultants will be involved earlier in the process, weighing in on the scope and sequence, glossary and the writing stage of production, for example, and reviewing digital products as well.

The publishers of catechetical materials used by parishes have always been conscientious about ensuring their products are theologically sound, Bishop Caggiano noted. Since the mid-1990s, annual meetings have taken place between publishers and the subcommittee, and a review process to ensure that printed catechetical materials are theologically sound has been in place.

"The relationship has been good and collaborative. Publishers want to do what's right, what's in conformity with the church. "This is the next evolutionary stage," Bishop Caggiano said.