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 The Word From Rome

February 13, 2004
Vol. 3, No. 25

global perspective


"Every word and concept presented in an original text must be fully accounted for within a translation, even when the language into which the text is being translated must be pushed beyond its normal limits of expression to do so."

from a draft ratio translationis for the new English translation of the Order of the Mass

Debating natural law; Pope meets Iranian foreign minister; Law sightings; More on Mass translations; Human trafficking, modern slavery; Curial appointments


It’s not always clear to people that, formally speaking, a Vatican congregation or council is composed not of its staff but of its members, in most cases a set of 20-30 cardinals appointed by the pope who function like a Board of Directors. At least in theory, all the important policy decisions are taken by this group, which usually meets once a year in a gathering called a “plenary assembly.” Staff, consultors and other guests can also take part in the meetings, but it’s the cardinals (and in some cases bishops) who vote.

It’s customary for the pope to receive the participants in the plenary assembly at the end of their deliberations. His remarks are generally a result of a back-and-forth with the congregation, reflecting a mix of their priorities and his. The text is usually a good hint, therefore, of what’s on the radar screen of that office.

On Feb. 6, John Paul received the plenary assembly of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the powerful doctrinal watchdog agency. His talk is therefore especially interesting for its insight into what the CDF is working on these days.

 The pope laid out five themes: mission and evangelization, the reception of doctrinal documents from church authorities, the revival of the natural law tradition, handling of sex abuse cases, and the need for priestly formation especially on celibacy.

Of the five, sources told NCR Feb. 10 the one that generated the most discussion inside the plenary assembly was the question of natural law.

“The natural law, in itself is accessible to every rational creature, indicates the prime and essential norms that regulate the moral life,” the pope said. “On the basis of this law a platform of shared values can be constructed, around which a constructive dialogue with all people of good will, and more generally, with secular society, can be developed.”

John Paul warned that the idea of natural law is imperiled.

“Today, in consequence of the crisis of metaphysics, a truth written in the heart of every human being is no longer recognized in many sectors of opinion,” the pope said. “This results, on the one hand, in the diffusion among believers of a morality with a fideistic character, and on the other, legislation comes to lack an objective reference, so that it’s based solely on social consensus, making it more difficult to reach a common ethical foundation for all humanity.”

In warning against “fideism,” the pope hit on a subject that recently has been of mounting concern for the doctrinal congregation. Their worry is that a growing number of Catholics believe the church’s moral rules, especially on questions of sexuality, are rooted in positive law rather than universal truths about human nature. If the natural law basis for the teaching is lost, the CDF fears, then the ban on birth control, or abortion, or cloning can appear as simply “Catholic” rules that could be changed, as opposed to moral truths upon which all people of good will can agree.

This subject of natural law was “hugely important” in the assembly, a source said.

“The eclipse of natural law in some Catholic moral thinking was a constant theme brought up by the bishops,” the source said. “It erodes the basis for conversation among people who do not share the faith.”

The CDF is not planning a document on this subject, sources told NCR, but instead hopes to encourage a “serious dialogue between philosophers and theologians” in Catholic universities and other venues.

* * *

Thursday, Feb. 12, was one of those days that illustrates how intense the Vatican’s diplomatic role can be. In the same morning, John Paul II received the President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe Vélez; the Prime Minister of Palestine, Ahmad Qurei; and the Foreign Minister of Iran, Kamal Kharrazi. Each VIP went on for a meeting with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Secretary of State, and his aides, for a review of the international situation.

In his meeting with Uribe, locked in a long-running struggle against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the pope called on Colombians to seek “authentic social peace … along the sure and firm path of justice, promoting from all corners of the nation unity, brotherhood and respect of each person.”

With Qurei, the pope reiterated his opposition to the Israeli-imposed security fence.

“It is reconciliation that the Holy Land needs: forgiveness not revenge, bridges not walls,” the pope said. He called on all leaders in the region to follow the path of dialogue and negotiation.

Kharrazi met with the pope and Sodano, then went to the Gregorian University in the afternoon for a conference marking the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Iran and the Holy See. He and Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, the Vatican’s foreign minister, exchanged speeches.

In response to reporters’ questions prior to the session, Kharrazi denied U.S. accusations that his country is developing a nuclear weapons program, insisting that Iran seeks nuclear technology only for peaceful purposes. He said that questions raised by U.N. inspectors, who claim to have found “undeclared centrifugal designs” similar to technology used in Libya’s nuclear weapons program, “will be verified.”

In his prepared remarks, Kharrazi emphasized shared values between Iran and the Holy See, especially on the defense of the family, moral values, and environmental protection. He said the two share a common struggle against atheism and materialism. Kharrazi asserted that Iranian Christians “have always been respected by Muslims and the followers of other religions. They have always enjoyed equal treatment as Iranian citizens.”

Lajolo expressed warm thanks to Kharrazi, but at the same time, it was clear that he wanted to press him on core concerns.

First, he stressed the importance of disarmament, making specific reference to the Holy See’s endorsement of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. “The Holy See welcomes the further cooperation in the name of peace that Iran offers to the United Nations and its agencies,” Lajolo said, a gentle way of saying that those questions from the U.N. inspectors need answers.

Second, Lajolo praised Kharrazi’s reassurances on religious freedom, but at the same time he wasn’t willing to let him off the hook on the situation facing Iranian Christians. He listed four problematic areas:

• The legal status of the Christian community
• Visas for clergy
• Organization of pastoral work
• Educational structures

“I hope that our dialogue will soon bring about the desired-for results,” Lajolo said.

* * *

Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston, has been spending a fair bit of time in Rome. I last saw him at the Centre Pro Unione, where he quietly slipped in as a member of the audience for a lecture and liturgy to mark the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in late January. I suspect that Rome is in some ways a more comfortable environment for Law than the States; he is not stalked by TV cameras here, and, rightly or wrongly, many Roman observers regard him with sympathy, believing Law was unfairly made the scapegoat of the American sex abuse crisis.

Because he’s been spotted so often around town, rumors have circulated that Law is on the brink of being named to some major Vatican post. I spoke with a senior Vatican official on Feb. 12, however, who said that Law will not be named to run an office of the Roman Curia. In part, the senior official said, this is a reflection of the controversy surrounding the cardinal, but it also reflects the fact that Law is already 72, and hence couldn’t put in a normal five-year term before he would have to submit his resignation at 75.

This senior official did not rule out that Law might receive some other position with a lower profile, such as arch-priest of one of the major patriarchal basilicas in Rome. Even in that case, however, the senior official said that no such move is imminent.

* * *

Two developments illustrate the breakneck speed, at least in ecclesiastical terms, at which progress towards a new English translation of the Mass is proceeding.

First, the draft English translation of the Ordo Missae, or the Order of the Mass, will be mailed to all American bishops at the end of next week. The draft has been approved by the bishops who govern the International Commission on English in the Liturgy. Based on comments from English-speaking bishops, including the Americans, the hope is to put the text in final form during the ICEL meeting in July. Individual conferences will have to approve the text and petition Rome for permission to put it into use.

The U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy will discuss the translation at its March meeting, and all comments are due back to ICEL by May 15.

Second, comments from the American bishops on a draft ratio translationis, or set of principles for new English translations, were due back to the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy Feb. 10. Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. conference, mailed the draft to the American bishops with a cover letter Jan. 12, explaining that Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, had asked for comments from English-speaking bishops by March 1.

The document runs 69 pages of single-spaced type and contains:

• Part One: Presuppositions for the Authentic Translation of Liturgical Texts in the Roman Rite
• Part Two: Principles of Translation for the Liturgy of the Roman Rite
• Part Three: A Grammar of Application for the English Language
• Appendix A: Specific Application to the English Language of the Norms of Liturgiam Authenticam Regarding Biblical Language

Marked “to be added later” are two additional appendices:

• Appendix B: Vocabulary and Latin-English Word List of Key Terms in the Missale Romanum
• Appendix C: Particular Difficulties of Translation from Latin into English

The purpose of the ratio translationis, put together under the guidance of the Vox Clara commission, is to spell out the implications of the May 2001 document Liturgiam Authenticam for English translations.

Some may find it curious that the bishops are only now being asked for their opinion on the ratio translationis, when the main translation it was intended to shape, the Order of the Mass, is to some extent already a fait accompli.  I asked Msgr. James P. Moroney, executive director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for the Liturgy, how to explain what may seem a cart-before-the-horse approach.

“The Holy See and the ICEL bishops are trying to respond to the Holy Father’s call for an expeditious completion of a vernacular edition of the missal,” Moroney said. “This means that sequences and processes will be somewhat different than in the best of all possible worlds. ICEL has been seeking to follow the principles of Liturgiam Authenticam from the beginning of its work on the Third Typical Edition.  The ratio translationis is simply an explicit application of those principles to the English language.”

Moroney responded by e-mail from a meeting in Vallidalid, Spain, of English-language national liturgy secretaries.

* * *

Since the ratio translationis is intended to spell out the implications of Liturgiam Authenticam, it insists upon fidelity to the Latin text. On page 22, for example, it says:

“Every word and concept presented in an original text must be fully accounted for within a translation, even when the language into which the text is being translated must be pushed beyond its normal limits of expression to do so.”

Specifically, the ratio translationis discourages “inclusive language” to avoid gender-specific terms as well as language considered less offensive to groups such as Jews, where such measures depart from the literal meaning of the text.

It says:

It is unnecessary and inappropriate to alter biblical or liturgical texts simply because some might take offense at their wording, as for example in some biblical passages that have sometimes incorrectly been criticized as depicting the Jewish people in an unfavorable light. Such misunderstandings are rightly dispelled by proper catechesis rather than by unwarranted interventions upon the text itself. If a given liturgical text is seen to require change in order to avoid misunderstandings of this nature, such a change lies within the competence of the supreme authority of the church and not of the translator.” (p. 60)

The ratio translationis also discourages language that comes from Protestants or other non-Catholic groups:

“Given the long history of the Roman Rite which developed in part around certain divisions in the practice of the faith, seen most acutely in liturgical and credal language, translators must show great care in expressing the mysteries of the faith as understood in the Catholic tradition. As a result, traditional Catholic expression is not ordinarily rendered through language which belongs to other faith communities.” (p. 46)

* * *

NCR has obtained a copy of the draft translation of the Order of Mass that is now awaiting comments from English-speaking bishops.

I already noted one important point two weeks ago, which is that in the words spoken by the priest over the chalice, the Latin phrase pro multis is rendered “for all” rather than “for many,” as some traditionalists have long insisted. An earlier draft of the ICEL translation, also obtained by NCR, had adopted the formula “for the many,” but the bishops opted to return to “for all” in their mid-January meeting.

Footnote 14 in the current draft comments on this choice:

“The translation of pro multis as ‘for all’ has been retained in the proposed text as a rendering of the original biblical text, even though it does not appear to be a literal translation. An equivalent translation of pro multis is offered in the Eucharistic words of institution in Spanish (por todos los hombres), Italian (per tutti), German (für Alle), and Portuguese (por todos homens). A rationale for this translation is given in Notitiae, Volume VI (1970), pp. 39-40, 138-40, which states: ‘…secundum exegetas verbum aramaicum, quod lingua latina versum est <pro multis>, significationem habet <pro omnibus>: multitudo pro qua Christus mortuus est, sine ulla limitatione est, quod idem valet ac dicere: Christus pro omnibus mortuus est …’ And: ‘… in adprobatione data huic vernaculari variationi in textu liturgico nihil minus rectum irrepsit, quod correctionem seu emendationem expostulet.

(The Latin translates as: “According to Aramaic scholars, the word which has been translated into Latin as pro multis has the meaning pro omnibus: the complex of peoples for whom Christ died is without any limitation, which is the same as saying: ‘Christ died for all.’ In the approval given to this vernacular variation in the liturgical text, nothing has come out which would demand a correction or a change.”)

There are scores of other changes from the initial draft obtained by NCR to the one now awaiting comment from the bishops. Among the more substantive points:

• In the prayer for the bishops in the First Eucharistic Prayer, also known as the Roman Canon, a new phrase appears: “holding to the truth.” A liturgical expert told NCR this is an attempt to render the Latin word orthodoxis without using the English cognate “orthodox,” which can be confused with the Eastern churches, and which also functions as a political buzzword these days in church debates.

• In the list of saints in the Roman Canon, the wording had originally been Mary and “also” Joseph and the other saints. Now it is Mary, “then” Joseph and the rest. This, according to experts, is an attempt to reflect the Latin, which refers to Mary in primis, “in the first place,” distinguishing her from the other saints.

• In the words of institution, instead of saying Christ’s body will be “handed over,” the priest says it will be “given up.” Also, “testament” becomes “covenant.” In both cases, the bishops appear to have opted to use vocabulary already in use, on the principles of minimizing change where possible.

• In the Second Eucharistic Prayer, the phrase “loosen the bonds of death” has become “break the bonds of death.” One source told NCR that this is a good example of how a literal translation can actually distort the meaning of a text, since the Latin term here is solveret, whose root is literally, “to loose.” Yet in English to say that something has been “loosened” usually means that it’s still in place, only less tightly so, hence to say that Christ “loosened” the bonds of death could suggest that the redemption was somehow incomplete.

• In the same prayer, the phrase “to minister in your presence” has become “to give you worship,” perhaps reflecting concern over potential confusion about whether the priest or the whole congregation is actually the minister. It’s another case in which the bishops opted to move slightly away from a literal translation, since the Latin word is ministrare.

• In the same prayer, “receive a share in eternal life” has become “worthy

to be companions” in eternal life. This reflects a long scholarly debate over the proper translation of the Latin word mereamur, which has the sense of merit. It was left out of earlier translations, in part over fears that it could suggest a kind of Pelagian idea that the human being somehow “earns” salvation. 

• The same prayer reads, “by whose sacrificial death you have chosen to be appeased.” Several liturgists have objected to the word “appeased” to translate the Latin placari, in part because it suggests a wrathful God demanding satisfaction, in part because the term has a 20th century history associated with Neville Chamberlain and the Munich accords. The ICEL bishops, however, chose to leave it in.

All comments from English-speaking bishops are due to ICEL by May 15.

* * *

Many activists believe that human trafficking is the most pernicious human rights scourge of the 21st century. In 1997, U.S. authorities estimated that 700,000 to 2 million women and children were being trafficked for various motives – manual labor, forced prostitution, the drugs trade – each year, although some observers regard that number as conservative.

In Rome, the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See has taken a lead role in raising awareness on trafficking, hosting a high-profile conference on the topic in May 2002 attended by 400 people from 35 countries. More recently, the embassy, along with the International Organization for Migration and the Union of Major Superiors of Italy (USMI, the umbrella group for women religious in Italy) organized a pilot training program on human trafficking Jan. 26-Feb. 6.

Twenty-seven religious women attended the two-week training, designed to equip them both to be advocates in the public arena and to intervene directly on behalf of women and children who are victims. The idea is that they can train others to do the same.

Ambassador James Nicholson told NCR Feb. 9 that the U.S. State Department put up $60,000 to develop the curriculum for the training session, which is soon to be replicated in Romania, Nigeria, and Albania.

Consolata Sr. Eugenia Bonetti, an Italian missionary who spent 24 years in Kenya, is among the animators of the anti-trafficking effort. She told NCR Feb. 10 that her involvement was born of personal experience after her return to Italy, at a drop-in center in Turin.

“After many years of ministering to women on the streets we no longer call them ‘prostitutes’ because at least 90 percent have been forced into prostitution against their will,” Bonetti said. “We consider them victims of a modern slavery, much worse than the slavery of the past, because forced prostitution empties a human being of her inner self and inner life as a woman.”

Bonetti said that women caught up in trafficking are often traumatized by fear:

• Fear of going to prison because they lack legal status;
• Fear for their health and life;
• Fear to ask for help because of the ‘voodoo’ rituals many Africans undergo before coming to Europe;
• Fear that their family will be shamed because they are “prostitutes”;
• Fear that they will be sent home empty-handed;
• Fear of being rejected by society, family and God.

Bonetti said that as a member of a religious community she feels a special call to this work.

“For years, our religious communities have become the ‘inn’ where various Good Samaritans, committed on the ground, brought these people to be cared for and to recover their lives,” she said. “This is to be faithful to the charism of our religious congregations, started by men and women with great vision to respond to the demand of the Gospel and to the needs of the time.”

Nicholson said he was unaware of the dimensions of the trafficking problem when he became ambassador, and feels a special passion for the issue.

“A woman at our conference talked about witnessing an auction of women who were stripped naked, so that handlers could view them on elevated platform and walk around and bid on them,” Nicholson said. “This was not in the 18th century, but 21st century Eastern Europe.”

“I keep thinking that the world was once beset by slavery and it was ended. Now we have to end it once again.”

* * *

John Paul II has famously called upon Christianity to “breathe with both lungs,” meaning to draw equally upon both its Eastern and Western heritage, in an image the pope borrowed from Russian poet Vyacheslav Ivanov (who was received into the Catholic Church in 1926 in Rome).

Until this week, however, one could argue that John Paul wasn’t taking his own advice in terms of senior Vatican management, since there were only two Eastern Europeans running dicasteries, and both were Poles. (They are Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski in the Congregation for Catholic Education, and Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko in the Council for the Laity).

On Wednesday, Feb. 11, however, the Vatican announced two new appointments. Archbishop Franc Rodè, a Slovenian, succeeds Spanish Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo as prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, and Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, a Croat, takes over from Belgian Cardinal Jan Schotte at the Synod of Bishops.

Both Eterovic and Rodè are in line to become cardinals in the next consistory.

Eterovic, 53, is a Vatican diplomat who has served as the papal ambassador to Ukraine since 1999. Prior to that assignment, he had served in Ivory Coast, Spain, Nicaragua, and in the second section of the Secretariat of State. I spoke to a Ukrainian Greek Catholic bishop who told me that Eterovic made a good impression, in part because he learned to speak Ukrainian and hence could communicate with both the bishops and the ordinary people. He helped organize the papal visit to Ukraine in 2001, which by most accounts was a success. He also gets high marks for the always delicate relationship with the Orthodox; he always notified them, for example, when a new Catholic bishop was named. The bishop described Eterovic as “an able diplomat,” and a “good hearted person.”

Eterovic’s main initial task will be to prepare for the next Synod of Bishops, to be held Oct. 2-29, 2005, on the topic of “The Eucharist, Source and Summit of the Life and the Mission of the Church.”

Rodè, 69, was born in Ljubljana, Slovenia . In 1945 he fled with his family from to Austria and emigrated later to Argentina. He was ordained for the Vincentians in 1960, and holds a doctorate in theology from the Catholic Institute of Paris.

He returned to Slovenia in 1965, where he was director of the Vincentian scholasticate and provincial visitor. At the same time he taught fundamental theology and missiology at the Theological Faculty of Ljubljana. He arrived at the Vatican as an official of the Secretariat for Non-Believers in 1981, and undersecretary the following year. In 1993 he became Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

In 1999, Rodè spoke at the European Synod.

“‘To live for God or to live for death’, said the French poet Pierre Emmanuel,” Rodè  said. “This is the dilemma. We can hope that European man will choose God, and with him, life rather than death.”

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is

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