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Catechism sales plan called antitrust violation.

Washington - The U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division has been notified by a retired judge that the publishing and marketing strategy for the soon-to-be-published English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church violates U.S. antitrust laws.

Michael A. Kirk-Duggan of Durham, N.C., a former U.S. administrative law judge and retired law school professor, charged, in a letter to Assistant Attorney General Anne Bingaman of the Antitrust Division, that plans for selling and marketing the "official" catechism violate two sections of the Sherman Antitrust Act for price-fixing and restraint of trade.

The U.S. Catholic Conference and 15 publishers who have mutually agreed on $29.95 for the hardback catechism and $19.95 for the paperback, and agreed on uniform discounts and special purchasers are "in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act," Kirk-Duggan wrote.

By excluding "other competitors, both religious and nonreligious, from participating in the venture," the agreement violates Section 2 of the Sherman Act "involving monopolization, attempted monopolization and a conspiracy to monopolize," he said.

Further, said Kirk-Duggan, who worked in the Antitrust Division from 1961 to 1967, an agreement between the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the U.S. publishers that "neither will fill orders from the other country for the English edition" violates both Sherman Act sections. The background to the "new catechism" publishing venture in the United States is that the Vatican Polyglot Press, which claims copyright, has granted the USCC all U.S. publication rights. The USCC, in turn, has given publication rights to 15 U.S. publishers.

Kirk-Duggan has advised the Antitrust Division that the "official" version of the catechism "will possess monopoly characteristics since it alone will receive imprimatur." The initial press run of 400,000 copies by the USCC and the 15 selected publishers represents a retail value of between $8 million and $12 million, wrote Kirk-Duggan, a press run that represents a "significant windfall for the chosen 15."

Meanwhile, the Canadian conference has scheduled a press run of 50,000 paper-back copies at a cost in Canadian dollars of $19.95, or approximately U.S. $14.50.

The net effect of these agreements and pricings, contended Kirk-Duggan, is that even if the Antitrust Division did not pursue the violations, the USCC and the 15 publishers are open to two types of class-action suits.

The publishing agreement, he told NCR, is "open to a civil suit, a class action by anybody who pays $19.95. That person could sue for the $5 difference between the $14.50 free market (Canadian) price and and the $19.95 fixed price. Further, he said, there is also recourse to a civil antitrust suit. Anybody - including publishers not participating in the arrangement - could bring that as a class action, Kirk-Duggan said.

A successful civil antitrust class-action suit, he continued, would mean "treble damages plus attorneys' fees, so there's a lot of financial liability here."

Kirk-Duggan has also recommended to the Antitrust Department that "the agreement between the Vatican Polyglot Press and the USCC, which granted the USCC all publication rights in the United States, be examined to ascertain if it contains price or geographical restrictions. If present, these restrictions would violate Section 1 of the Sherman Act."

USCC General Counsel Mark Chopko said he had seen no papers concerning the Kirk-Duggan letter and could not respond. The Department of Justice Antitrust Division did not reply to NCR calls requesting information on possible disposition of the March 30 letter.

Apparently, on receipt of an antitrust complaint, the Antitrust Division's usual procedure is to initially assign such letters to an in-house attorney for study and recommendations.

Kirk-Duggan, a Catholic whose wife, the Rev. Dr. Cheryl Kirk-Duggan, is an ordained Christian Methodist Episcopal minister, is professor emeritus of the business law faculty, University of Texas, Austin, and a former member of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
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Title Annotation:new 'Catechism of the Catholic Church'
Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Apr 22, 1994
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