If one understands the encounter with Christ, the conversion experience, as a cornerstone, then one can rightly describe catechesis is a foundation:
64. In discharging in different ways the initiatory function of the ministry of the word, catechesis lays the foundation for the building of the faith. (St Cyril of Jerusalem, Catecheses illuminandorum, I, 11; Patrologiae Cursus completus, Series Graeca 33, 351-352) Other functions of the same ministry will continue to build, at different levels, on that foundation.
Initiatory catechesis is thus the necessary link between missionary activity which calls to faith and pastoral activity which continually nourishes the Christian community. This is not, therefore, an optional activity, but basic and fundamental for building up the personality of the individual disciple, as it is for the whole Christian community. Without it, missionary activity lacks continuity and is sterile, while pastoral activity lacks roots and becomes superficial and confused: any misfortune could cause the collapse of the entire building. (Cf. Mt 7:24-27)
In truth, “the inner growth [of the Church] and her correspondence with God’s plan depend essentially on catechesis”. (Catechesi Tradendae 13; cf. Catechesi Tradendae 15) In this sense catechesis must always be considered a priority in evangelization.
I don’t think that initiatory catechesis is considered optional by most pastoral ministers and catechists. There is certainly an awareness of its importance. What I think might be weaker in most American faith communities is that “pastoral activity,” the ongoing nourishment of the Christian life.
One distinction I think that is important is to disentangle imparting information from authentic catechesis. Sometimes clergy and catechists can get too focused on theology as “interesting information.” Authentic catechesis must have a grounding in the missionary or evangelical acitivity of the local community. And it must point to the need for sustaining a vibrant and evangelical lifestyle in believers. Or rather disciples.
In order to form such disciples, I would think that a background in the spiritual life and in morality and ethics would be essential. Apologetics that roots itself in making distinctions doesn’t seem to fit the bill here. If and when there are distinctive Catholic practices/knowledge/culture, it should be presented as ideally-evangelical, rather than not-Protestant. In other words, it must be mission-directed, and not self-actualizing.