e-mail us
George tells ICEL Rome wants changes

NCR Staff

Chicago Cardinal Francis George met a cool reception from the governing board of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy when he told the group Rome wants dramatic changes in the way ICEL does its work, and that there is “significant opposition” within the American bishops to ICEL.

In his first meeting as the official representative of the U.S. bishops conference to ICEL, George’s criticism at the June 4 and 5 gathering brought a swift rebuke from the other eight bishops in attendance, according to sources inside the meeting.

The Washington meeting of 11 bishop representatives from conferences in which English is the principal language, as well as their advisers and the ICEL staff, was closed to the press, but sources told NCR that George said that, based on conversations with Archbishop Jorge Medina Estévez, he knew that Rome is unhappy with ICEL. Medina is prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

“He said that the policies from Rome with respect to liturgical translation have changed, that Rome now wants a much more mechanical, word-for-word approach,” one participant in the meeting told NCR.

“He also said that on behalf of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, he was here to say that there is great opposition within the American bishops to the work of ICEL.”

ICEL’s staff declined to comment for this report.

According to participants, the other eight bishops (two of the 11 bishops were absent) took exception to George’s remarks, suggesting that he may be too new to ICEL to fully understand how it works. Sources said that after the first day of the meeting, Archbishop Denis Hurley of Durban, South Africa, wrote a statement recounting ICEL’s history and defending its methods.

Hurley’s text also reportedly called for a collegial approach to resolving disputes between ICEL, its member bishops conferences and the Holy See.

“The other bishops spoke in various ways, but all basically agreed with Hurley,” a source told NCR. “No one took up George’s position.”

Among other things, one source told NCR, the bishops pointed out that the bulk of ICEL’s translations since the Second Vatican Council have been approved by the member conferences -- including the U.S. conference -- usually by overwhelming majorities.

In some cases, a participant said, those translations had been approved by the very bishops in the room with George or their direct predecessors.

George also informed the group that a new document being prepared in Rome, probably to be issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship, will affirm the Vatican’s insistence on a formal, as opposed to dynamic, approach to translation.

ICEL has long practiced the “dynamic equivalency” approach to translation, taking some liberties with the original Latin to produce a more fluid, accessible English version. That approach has come under increasing attack from Rome, primarily for resulting in what curial officials see as “doctrinal irregularities.”

Though the Congregation for Divine Worship under Archbishop Medina is the usual conduit for reaction to liturgical translations, a source at the June 4 and 5 meeting said it is clear that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, has also played an important role in pushing for a more literal approach.

A September 1997 letter from Medina to Archbishop Anthony Pilla, president of the U.S. bishops conference, likewise alludes to a “negative judgment” the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had formed of another ICEL translation.

No formal decisions were made at the ICEL board meeting as to how to respond to Rome’s most recent actions, though sources said the bishops hoped for a dialogue with Rome -- a dialogue that would observe ICEL’s established processes, rather than Rome issuing mandates.

“If the Holy See has problems with ICEL, bring them up,” one source said. “But follow the process. George seemed to be saying that whatever comes from Rome is just the law.”

National Catholic Reporter, June 19, 1998