The first official statement of Catholic teachings to be issued since 1566 is apparently meeting a felt need for church guidance on everything from donated sperm to communism.

The 800-page "Catechism of the Catholic Church" has been on the top of Publisher's Weekly's best-selling religion paperbacks. The book also has been in the top ten for general paperback sales.

There are more than 1.5 million copies in print, and a fourth printing will start later this month. Sixteen publishers, in the largest joint publishing agreement in U.S. history, simultaneously released the book on June 22.

The paperback edition sells for $19.95, the hardback for $29.95. The book has a plain cover and only four illustrations inside. Liguori Publications, near Saint Louis, owns 47 percent of the total stock. In addition to conducting an aggressive telemarketing and direct-mail campaign, Liguori is releasing an electronic version over the Internet. The book took seven years of research and had nine redrafts. Feminists have been among its staunchest critics because the text does not use gender-inclusive language for human beings.

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