Jul 15, 2001


Online Edition – Vol. VII, No. 5: July-August 2001


On June 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

The Bavarian cardinal was ordained in 1951, and began his career as a theology professor a year later, in Freising. He was a peritus (expert) at the Second Vatican Council, and was named archbishop of Munich and Freising by Pope Paul VI on March 24, 1977. He was appointed prefect of the CDF by Pope John Paul II in 1981.

The Holy Father’s letter of congratulations explained that Cardinal Ratzinger’s brilliant theological career and his witness in Munich were the reasons he was chosen for this position of great influence in the Church.

"Since then", wrote the pope, "you have not ceased to dedicate your intellectual and moral energy to promote and safeguard the doctrine of the faith and customs throughout the Catholic world; at the same time fostering studies geared to increasing the intelligence of the faith, and to giving an adequate answer, in the light of the Word of God, to the problems arising from the progress of science and civilization".

Cardinal Ratzinger’s most recent book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, was published in English by Ignatius Press last year.

Sources: Vatican Information Service; Zenit.


Father John Fitzsimmons
was formerly the Rector of the Scottish College in Rome, currently pastor of a parish in Renfrewshire, in Scotland. He gained a certain amount of notoriety last year thanks to an interview published in the Glasgow Herald. Persons unfamiliar with the state of priestly formation were surprised by the content of Father Fitzsimmons’ convictions; those better acquainted with the current reality were hardly surprised by the opinions themselves but, in some cases, dismayed by his candor in expressing them. One can sense the gloating of the journalist in his lead paragraph:

"Tubby, avuncular, clad in Calvin Klein slippers, every word that falls from the 60-year-old priest’s mouth is tantamount to heresy to the ears of men such as Cardinal Thomas Winning, the leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland. The Church is fascist and undemocratic; Pope John Paul II has damaged and harmed Catholicism; Winning is a fool; abortion is acceptable; the Church’s stance on homosexuality is disgusting; contraception should be universally welcomed; priests shouldn’t be celibate; and the concept of the Church should just be torn up and Roman Catholics should start again from scratch."

In short, a man of his time. The protests by conservative Catholics were given brief and patronizing attention and then, as usual, tabled. Father Fitzsimmons has continued to make his views public ("he has become for many Scots the voice of the Catholic Church", according to his interviewer) and most recently has given his judgment concerning the Holy See’s new instruction on translation, Liturgiam authenticam. As Father Fitzsimmons was in every sense an Old Guard "insider", it is instructive to counterpose his criticisms of the recent document with his considered opinions on other Church controversies.

The quotations are taken from his letter to the editor of The Tablet, 26 May 2001 [A], and an article in the Glasgow Sunday Herald by Neil Mackay, 2 April 2000 [B].

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on himself:
"For 15 years I was in the chair of the advisory committee of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), and for 10 of those years was also a consultor to the Congregation for Divine Worship". [A]

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on Liturgiam authenticam:
"This latest Roman document is only the last in a long-line of ill-informed, heavy-handed and negative measures adopted by the Congregation to retain control. It is part of a much wider agenda which seeks to centralise everything in Rome, even things that Rome has proved over the years incompetent to handle such as the English language". [A]

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on the current papacy:
"It is utterly authoritarian under this Pope. He has polarised the Church. Pope John Paul II is tearing the Church apart and making it hard for people like me to remain a part of it. The Church has to get rid of the baggage the Pope has brought. It has failed to live up to my expectations of it". [B]

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on Liturgiam authenticam:
"All anyone has to do is look at the quality of English in the Vatican’s own translations to see that they do not begin to handle the idiom. The words are English (in the main), but what comes out is certainly not; a well-programmed computer could do it better. And these are the people who have the nerve to dictate to the bishops of the English-speaking world". [A]

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on episcopal collegiality:
"The problem with the hierarchy is that they won’t cough, sneeze or [vulgarity] without Rome’s permission". [B]

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on Liturgiam authenticam (with a fine specimen of the mastery of English idiom he scolds the Vatican for lacking):
"From a biblical scholar’s point of view, which is what I am by profession, to be told that all matters of textual doubt must be resolved by reference to the Neo-Vulgate is risible as well as insulting". [A]

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on the pilgrim Church:
"I think the best thing would be for the Church to die and then rise again, like Christ. Its present structure and machinery have to end ". [B]

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on Liturgiam authenticam:
"Many of the texts that people want revised are ecumenical: the Nicene Creed, for example. The other Churches have come a long way with the Catholics, who are now supposed to tell them that `all bets are off’". [A]

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on the pope, again:
"The Church has done nothing but suffer under the present Pope. He has been detrimental to the development of Catholicism. The concept of the Pope being in charge of the entire Church is an absurdity". [B]

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on Liturgiam authenticam:
"The matter of `inclusive language’ is viewed by Rome as the first building block in a case that leads inevitably to the opening of the question of women’s ordination; at least the Romans have got that one right". [A]

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on Section 28 (a Thatcher-era provision of the U.K. Local Government Act forbidding education authorities "to promote homosexuality in school curricula"):
"It is the most malicious piece of legislation ever placed on a statute book in a civilised country". [B]

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on Liturgiam authenticam:
"There will be those who are rejoicing in the publication of Liturgiam authenticam; many will think that the hated 1969 guidelines Comme le prévoit have been abrogated. They should think again: if a 1969 approach to liturgical translation can be dismantled, then so can one constructed in 2001, and (who knows?) maybe even faster". [A]

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on contraception:
"I haven’t heard anyone mention it in confession for more than 20 years. The Vatican is just stupid on this issue. Most Catholics have made up their mind and they don’t see it as a problem. Women have to regulate child-birth. Without it they are doomed to work in the factories, give birth to child after child, and die young and poor". [B]

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on Liturgiam authenticam:
"Meanwhile, there is a wonderful rite of marriage for England and Wales gathering dust in Rome awaiting a recognitio; there is also a wonderful revised sacramentary for the English-speaking world awaiting a similar recognitio. They are infinitely better than anything that Rome has produced". [A]

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on his own intellectual attainments:
"I’m not some heretical priest. I’m just a man who thinks". [B]

The Reverend Fitzsimmons on Liturgiam authenticam:
"One can only assume that this nonsense will be inflicted on us as long as the shepherds of the local Churches put up with it". [A]

Reading between the lines, one senses that Father Fitzsimmons was disappointed by Liturgiam authenticam. For fifteen years he worked with ICEL as chairman of ICEL’s Advisory Committee. It has to be galling to see the Pope’s failure to be swayed by the experts, his colleagues. But the game’s far from over, and reports of reactions to the Instruction indicate that among some members of the ICEL bureaucracy, the thinking is closer to Fitzsimmons’ than to the Pope’s.

Perhaps the last word should be given to the editors of the National Catholic Reporter:

"In the meantime, one ray of hope appears in news that the U.S. bishops hope to make some common-sense adjustments to new Vatican rules on lay ministers of Communion, toning down the clericalism of that document. Maybe bishops in the English-speaking world, working collaboratively, can similarly blunt the worst aspects of the new document on translation."

Well, maybe they can. Father Fitzsimmons, call your office.

[Adoremus staff]


A recent issue of the Italian magazine, 30 Days (30 Giorni nella Chiesa e nel mondo) featured a full page back cover ad for an electronic incenser, along with a picture of the smoking, swinging censer, and these words:

"No more concerns when lighting your incense. Fully respecting the liturgy rituals the incense burns with a simple touch of a switch". Just like your barbecue grill. But is it ecologically correct?

[Reported in catholic eye, monthly newsletter of the National Committee of Catholic Laymen.]



The Editors