VATICAN CITY — As a step toward releasing an official synthesis of Catholic social teaching, the Vatican was expected to publish a collection of papal writings on social doctrine before the end of April, a top official said.

The collection draws on papal teachings from Popes Leo XIII through John Paul II, said Archbishop Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Work was also progressing on the official synthesis of the Church's social teaching, informally known as the “catechism” of Catholic social doctrine, but it was still too early to say whether the document would be ready for release by the end of the year, he said April 18.

Pope John Paul II, in his 1999 document on the Synod for America, endorsed the idea of a “compendium or approved synthesis of Catholic social doctrine, including a `catechism.”’ He entrusted the document's preparation to the Vatican's justice and peace council.

Archbishop Van Thuan said the document would probably not be officially titled a “catechism.” A more appropriate name, he said, “may be a `compendium,’ because we would like to reserve the name of catechism to the `Catechism of the Catholic Church.”’

Asked whether a “compendium” carries less teaching authority than a “catechism,” he said, “Not exactly. [The choice of a different name] would be so there is no confusion between the documents.”

The compendium is intended “to orient” Catholics, in particular lay people, as they encounter a host of new social challenges at the beginning of the third millennium, he said.

“It is necessary because the Church … embraces the whole man and woman, the whole purpose of the human being.”

After a treatment of the dignity of the human person, the compendium will address specific topics including life and labor issues, war and peace, finance and economy, and international debt.

Another section, he said, will examine the roles and responsibilities of Catholics in specific professional fields, urging “formation for engagement of social problems.”

The archbishop said the social compendium will insist on “how the human person is ennobled and fulfilled when he collaborates to improve the created, since in this way he assumes a central and just condition in the vertical relation with God.”

Despite the document's vast scope, the Vietnamese archbishop said he expected the compendium to be roughly 200 pages long.

Archbishop Van Thuan declined to estimate when the document would be completed. He said his office, under a heavy Jubilee workload, would try to finish the document by the end of the year, but there were no guarantees.

(From combined wire services)