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Vatican group to aid search for translation head


An archbishop has said that members of a new Vatican body have been encouraged to help find a new executive secretary for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy, the embattled translation agency accused of taking too many liberties in rendering Latin texts into English.

“We were asked to look for people to step in at ICEL,” said Archbishop Peter Kwasi Sarpong of Ghana, a member of the new Vox Clara Commission, in a June 26 interview with NCR in Rome.

Sources told NCR that while there is no formal role for the commission in the ICEL search, members were encouraged to participate individually within their bishops’ conferences.

The request to members of Vox Clara, created by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to provide advice on translation issues, is the latest sign the congregation is serious about getting ICEL to better reflect its May 2001 document Liturgiam Authenticam.

That document criticized ICEL’s tendency to give translators a free hand in order to make ideas accessible in English. The congregation believes the resulting texts often cloud key points of doctrine.

The ICEL board, composed of delegates from its 11 member English-speaking bishops’ conferences, will meet in late July to choose a successor to Executive Secretary John Page, who has led its staff since 1980. Page, who announced his resignation Feb. 22, has defended the “dynamic equivalence” philosophy. The choice of his successor will be watched as a signal of where ICEL is heading.

Vox Clara, composed of 12 senior English-speaking prelates and chaired by Archbishop George Pell of Sydney, Australia, met for the first time in Rome April 22-24. Two news releases did not mention any discussion of the ICEL succession.

Vox Clara’s bishop members include four Americans: Cardinal Francis George of Chicago; Archbishop Justin Rigali of St. Louis; Archbishop Oscar Lipscomb of Mobile; and Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans.

Several of the bishops have long harbored reservations about some aspects of ICEL’s work, including Pell, George and Rigali. The same holds true for the body’s advisers, who include Fr. James Moroney, chief of staff for the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Liturgy; Dennis McManus, Moroney’s deputy; Benedictine Fr. Cuthbert Johnson, a former official of the congregation; and Benedictine Fr. Jeremy Driscoll.

Sarpong said that at the April meeting, concern about ICEL came largely from American and European members. He said that prior to his nomination, he had not been aware of the controversy.

Sarpong said “it was obvious” Vox Clara members are not interested in an African to head ICEL. Some would, however, prefer a non-American, given the perception that translation has long been “dominated” by Americans.

Sarpong also fleshed out the press releases on another point.

Whereas the April 24 release said Vox Clara “has begun … to prepare a draft ratio translationis,” or a set of principles for translation, Sarpong said a text had already been written prior to the meeting and was presented to members. Sarpong’s impression was that staff or advisers for the congregation had done the work.

Sources told NCR, however, that no document yet exists. What was presented at the meeting, according to the sources, was only a set of ideas in their initial stages.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Vatican correspondent. His e-mail address is jallen@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, July 5, 2002