Andy Pollak, religious affairs correspondent of the Irish Times, explains the latest delays to the English language version of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church
R THE FIRST time since the Council of Trent 430 years ago, the world's Catholics have a new Catechism: the world, that is, minus nearly 100 million English-speaking Catholics.
The Catechism, first proposed by Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston in 1985, was approved by the Pope in June 1992 and first published in French the following November. Since then, versions have appeared
in Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and five other languages.
But not in English.
The English-language version, translated from French by a US priest, Fr Douglas Clark, overseen by high-powered editorial committees in the US and Britain, was completed in the middle of last year.
But the Vatican and specifically Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Pope's chief theologian, who heads the commission in charge of preparing the Catechism has objected in particular to its US-style non-sexist language.
Dr Donal Murray, the amriliary. Bishop of Durham who chairs the Irish hierarchy's Commission on Cate
chetics, said that he has not seen any recent version of the catechism. He understood, however, that the problems were not just about "inclusive" non-sexist language, but also about which biblical translations should be used. There were also tensions between those who wanted the translation to be strictly accurate and those who stressed the need for it to be in good English.
The Vatican's first response on receiving Fr Clark's draft English Catechism last year was to attempt to put together its own replacement translation. However, when this was circulated to bishops for comment, a number objected because its language was "objectionably sexist", according to one authoritative source.
The result is that the final version will be a modified version of Fr Clark's text, but no one and that includes the Irish hierarchy knows when it will be available or what it will finally look like.
"Rome does not mind at all when it is a question of non-sexist language being used in the sections on historical and social issues. But when it comes to theological issues, it gets very nervous," says Fr Dermot Lane) one of Ireland's leading theologians and one of those consulted during the new catechism's preparation.
Examples of what the Vat/7 can is objecting to appeared in a leaked draft of the Catechism revealed recently by the Times. This substituted words like "human", "humanity" and "the human person" for the French "l'homme" or "les hommes".
Thus, according to the Times, in the section on the Ten Commandments, the Vatican is refusing to accept the phrase: "The Commandments... teach us our true humanity", insisting that this should read "man's true humanity".
Much more fundamentally, it is thought there may be a conflict between the Vatican and the US translators over whether the catechism should refer to Christ becoming incarnate as a "man" or as a "human". There is concern in Rome that the refusal to describe Christ as a man risks undermining statements of belief used for centuries. In an article last summer, Fr Clark explained his difficulties with the English translation. "I have attempted to state the truths expressed by the French draft in good, idiomatic English and not in some sort of transliterated 'Franglais' or in an archaic. Latinate and `churchy' language as some might have desired." The language of his translation would be "common" English.
He said concern about
non-sexist, inclusive language was "almost overwhelming" in the US and present to some degree in other English-speaking countries. Those responsible for the English translation "recognised that ignoring this concern could effectively discredit the catechism should it be considered exclusive of women (`sexist') in its 'horizontal' references (i.e to human beings)."
Equally they recognised that they could not address this concern when it came to language about God, "which must remain traditional, as the theological implications are potentially great".
However, given such concern, Fr Clark said he had been directed to observe as far as possible the criteria recommended by the US bishops' conference to avoid confusion between the term "man", meaning people of the male gender, and "man", referring to the human race or human beings.
He said the richness of the English language had helped him to find plenty of translations for "l'homme" or "les honunes" in the latter sense: words like humanity, human beings, people, the human
race, the human family, men
and women, the world and the human person.
Elsewhere, the new Catechism warns Catholics against astrology, witchcraft and satanism. It calls on the civil authorities to stop the production and distribution of pornography, and lists "new" sins such as social injustice, drug-trafficking
Another controversial phrase also appears to give qualified approval to the death penalty. "The conunon good requires the protection of society frum unjust aggressors. The Church's tradition acknowledges as well-founded the right and duty of holders of public office to deal severely with such people by means of commensurate penalties, not excluding the death penalty in cases of extreme gravity," it says.
The leak to the Times appears to have resulted from frustration on the part of the Catechism's British publisher, Geoffrey Chapman, at the continuing delays in allowing its publication. Chapman has commissioned a book of commentaries on it by 25 leading Englishspeaking Catholic theologians.
This has been ready since last summer, the original target date for the English version's publication. Neither catechism nor accompanying commentaries are now expected to appear before Easter.