Concerns Over Pope’s Decree on Liturgical Translations

by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  September 11, 2017   

Liberals embrace shift away from Rome to local bishops' conferences

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ROME ( - While the Pope's decree on liturgical translations is causing concern amongst faithful Catholics, liberals are embracing the continued decentralization of Rome's authority by Pope Francis.

The Holy See released the papal motu proprio titled Magnum Principium on Saturday in which Pope Francis changed the Catholic Code of Canon Law to grant local bishops more responsibility in the process of developing their own liturgical translations and making "adaptations." America's liberal archbishop of Chicago, Cdl. Blase Cupich, immediately praised the document. "This is a very welcome and much-needed action by the Holy Father," said Cupich.

The document signed by Pope Francis on September 3 specifically changes paragraph two and three of Canon 838 to downplay Rome's role in the active process of formulating the translations. Words such as "after prior review of the Holy See" were removed. Rome still has final veto power, however, over such local "adaptations" should she desire to use it.

In his document, the Holy Father claims Vatican II called for a wider use of the "vernacular language." When it came to rendering suitable translations, however, he clarified "difficulties have arisen between the Episcopal Conferences and the Apostolic See." He said the object of his motu proprio was to foster between Rome and episcopal conferences a "spirit of dialogue regarding the translation of the typical Latin books, as well as for any eventual adaptations that could touch on rites and texts." He related that he acted after consultation with the "Commission of Bishops and Experts" that he established.

One of the members of the Council of Cardinal Advisors or C-9, as it's called, is Cdl. Reinhard Marx from Germany. It's been noted that German bishops have had particular "difficulties" working with Rome in order to get their own liturgical translations approved. The German Episcopal Conference actually refused to work with a Vatican commission established under then Pope Benedict XVI. They produced a liturgical translation that was recently rejected by the Congregation for Divine Worship. It's heavily speculated that the Pope's motu proprio is partially owing to complaints about the process by German bishops.

Cardinal Cupich, who's lauding the shift in authority from Rome to local bishops in developing liturgical translations, has himself advocated for admitting divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to Holy Communion and for extending the sacraments to active homosexual Catholics. On Saturday, the cardinal said the pope's shift of authority was in keeping with the sentiments of Vatican II because it increased "the responsibilities of bishops for the liturgical life of the church." He added, "But, even more significantly, I believe this development is in keeping with the program of Pope Francis, which Cdl. Wuerl once described as reconnecting the Church with the Second Vatican Council."

The cardinal's happy with the pope for increasing the authority of what's called "synodal churches," meaning episcopal conferences. Emphasizing this point, Cdl. Cupich stated, "It sends a signal regarding the methodology that will be used in bringing about other reforms that are being considered by the Council of Cardinals."

It sends a signal regarding the methodology that will be used in bringing about other reforms.

During the 2015 Synod of Bishops, Pope Francis promised to promote what he called a "health decentralization" of the universal Church's power in favor of empowering particular churches throughout the world. At that time Pope Francis explained:

As I have asserted, in a synodal Church 'it is not opportune that the Pope replace the local episcopates in the discernment of all the problems that present themselves in their territories.' In this sense, I feel the necessity to proceed in a healthy 'decentralization.'

This intention to decentralize Rome's authority was already anticipated one month prior to the 2015 synod when the Holy Father reformed the Church's annulment tribunals. In so doing, Pope Francis said, "Indeed, for this, I wanted that in this process the judge would be composed of the bishop, that in the strength of his pastoral office is, with Peter, the best guarantee of Catholic unity in the Faith and discipline." Another sign of this shift to decentralize was seen in 2016 with the issuing of Amoris Laetitia, which has allowed local episcopal conferences to craft guidelines on marriage and the sacraments that openly contradict Church teaching.

Editors of the liberal, Jesuit-reviewed America Magazine lauded the pope's document on forming liturgical translations, saying it rebalanced "the relationship between the Vatican and local bishops' conferences in favor of greater local control." The New York Times called the shift in power from Rome to local bishops "hugely important," citing Rita Ferrone, a so-called liturgical specialist from the liberal Catholic magazine, Commonweal. Ferrone credited the move by Pope Francis with erasing "some of the rollbacks of his predecessor, Benedict XVI."

The liberal National Catholic Reporter heralded the shift as "good news" for the Church. In another article, which also praised the motu proprio, they applauded specifically the transition of power as it decentralizes Rome's authority. They agree with Pope Francis that the back and forth process in forging liturgical translations has been difficult. "The process of crafting translations of Latin texts into local languages has been one of the most controversial and acrimonious in the Catholic Church since the end of the Council," they wrote. They welcome the continued movement towards decentralization of all decision making that's now favoring local authority.


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