Catholics in row over catechism

First Edition

DISTINGUISHED British Roman Catholic theologians have been denounced as 'heretical . . . blackguards' by an American priest in a bitter dispute over feminist language in the Catholic Church's new catechism.

The publication of the catechism in English has been delayed for more than a year after anti-feminist American Catholics complained about its use of 'inclusive'language - including female pronouns to describe mankind.

The 700-page original, the first catechism for the Roman Catholic church in 400 years, has been available in French for nearly 18 months.

An English version which had been approved by the bishops of both England and the United States was ready for the printers last February. But it was stopped by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican office which used to be known as the Inquisition.

The text was then sent to Hobart in Tasmania, where Archbishop Eric D'Arcy has been purging it of 'feminist'language.

Now a British commentary on the catechism has been vehemently denounced by the right-wing group which forced the rewriting of the original document.

Mgr Michael Wrenn, one of the leaders of the campaign against inclusive language, told the right-wing Catholic news magazine Catholic World Report that A Commentary on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is edited by Michael Walsh, the librarian of Heythrop College, London, was 'on crucial points, nothing short of heretical'.

'There are a few decent essays . . . but one's overwhelming reaction is to ask how those few sensible people with the remainder of the blackguards involved,' Mgr Wrenn said. 'The commentary is an attempt by theological dissenters to undermine the teachings of the Catholic church. If it reaches a wide public audience . . . that will be both a tragedy and a scandal.'

The commentary has not been published yet, though it will be published in this country by Geoffrey Chapman, which publishes religious and theological literature and which is also publishing the catechism.

All but one of its 24 contributors are professors at Catholic universities. The editor, Michael Walsh, said yesterday that one essay might have to be rewritten if the catechism had been purged of inclusive language. But he described the attacks on the book as 'completely absurd'.

The catechism was originally published in French, which ises "l'homme" for "man" "mankind" and so on. The campaigners have insisting that no other terms such as "the human race" or "us" should be used in the translation.