Merton: Persona Non Grata?

Brace yourselves, young-adult Catholics (are you out there?): the U.S. bishops have written and approved a new catechism aimed squarely at you. The idea of composing a catechism specifically tailored for the United States had been percolating for several years before bishops started working on the first draft four years ago. Pittsburgh’s Bishop Donald Wuerl, chairman of the catechism’s editorial oversight board, explained the purpose of the book in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (“Catholic Bishops Approve National Adult Catechism,” November 19, 2004): “We are trying to reach so many of those young people, young adults, who have drifted away from the practice of the faith, and to invite these seekers...back to an understanding and practice of faith.” A laudable goal. It’s the execution that’s worrying.

Each of the catechism’s chapters begins with a brief biographical profile of an exemplary Catholic. These stories are meant to provide context and inspiration to the young. Of course, deciding whom to include wasn’t easy. Some conservative Catholics opposed using profiles of labor organizer César Chávez and the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, yet both remain in the final draft. One Catholic who appeared in early drafts but didn’t make the final cut sent to Rome for approval was Thomas Merton, whose brief life story initially appeared in the catechism’s first chapter. Why the last-minute removal? “The...

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