Feb 15, 2002

Letter from Bishop Cullinane and Adoremus response

Online Edition – Vol. VII, No. 10: February 2002

Letter from Bishop Cullinane and Adoremus response

Letter to Adoremus from Bishop P. J. Cullinane, New Zealand
Representative to the ICEL Episcopal Board
24 December 2001

The Editor
Adoremus Bulletin
PO Box 3286
St. Louis, MO 63130

Letter for Publication

Dear Ms. Hitchcock,

I invite you to look again at how your bulletin reports on liturgical matters, including your reporting of meetings of the US Bishops’ Conference. Other Bishops’ Conferences have been blamed for what is happening with ICEL. Now, according to your December-January issue, one Archbishop opines that the Bishops’ representatives of other nations will not tell ICEL how to do its work.

It doesn’t help to think of ICEL as something other than the bishops appointed by the member conferences. They are chosen to represent their respective conferences. Together they decide (in ongoing dialogue with their own conferences) what is to be done. They also happen to be conscientious and dedicated bishops, just as concerned for faithful translations as the bishops of your conference.

Contrary to what you surmise about our unwillingness to reform ICEL, we have recently taken several key steps to ensure the greater involvement of the bishops’ conferences themselves in the processes and stages of translation. The only demands of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments that were not accepted by the Episcopal Board and by the Presidents of conferences were those that would further remove the work of translation from the Episcopal Conferences. Attempts by the CDWDS to control an agency that has been established by the conferences, and to set up committees that could effectively sideline the Conferences in the work of preparing translations, seriously conflict with Church law, and the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam does not change that law.

Your "reporting" is particularly harsh on the priests and lay persons who assist the bishops in the drafting of translations and texts. Those of us who have seen at close quarters their faith, loyalty and scholarship will find your unsubstantiated and generalised comments objectionable.

But the villains are about to be routed because according to your story, Cardinal George has been a strong voice for a thorough-going reform of this "Mixed Commission", which had emerged over the years as a self-perpetuating and substantially ungovernable group of liturgists, theologians and translators, with a distinct agenda incompatible in important ways with authentic liturgical reform.

This description of ICEL is the opposite of comments by Archbishop A. Agnelo, Secretary of the CDWDS that ICEL has supported and continues to support the Episcopal Conferences of the English-speaking countries in the direction desired by liturgical reform and his assurance that the Holy Father had wanted to increase their involvement and their (the Episcopal Conferences’) influence in something that is their right and duty (Origins, 1 August 1996).

Moreover, Cardinal George was on the committee that recently re-drafted ICEL’s constitution, and has declared himself in agreement with it.

When a Bishops’ Conference sends a translation back for comment or improvement, it is acting according to the normal ICEL process. That is how Bishops’ Conferences are supposed to be involved. But you want to regard this sending-back as some kind of repudiation of ICEL. You can’t have it both ways.

Translations that have been sent back by Rome have normally been approved by the individual Bishops’ Conferences that have sent them in. And translations that Rome itself has endorsed can also need improvement which is why we have spent 18 years preparing a translation intended to replace the 1971 translation.

What it pleases you to call "a dead letter" is a graceful, reverent and faithful translation of the Roman Missal (with some additional texts prepared in accordance with Church law).

Your own Bishops’ Conference, and the other Bishops’ Conferences of ICEL, have been waiting for three years to receive either the Holy See’s endorsement or evidence of defects that the Holy See has not yet named.

You might even find that your fears have been substantially unfounded.

P. J. Cullinane

New Zealand Representative, ICEL Episcopal Board

Diocese of Palmerston North

Adoremus Responds:

1. We believe you misunderstood Archbishop Lipscomb. He did not say that the other bishop members of ICEL "will not tell ICEL how to do its work"; but rather (responding to Bishop Cupich’s suggestion that the details of the BCL’s work on the remanded translation be communicated to ICEL) that the "full body [of US bishops] will not tell ICEL how to do its work".

2. ICEL is "something other than the bishops appointed by the member conferences". The work of translation is not done by these bishops, but by a panel of translators, liturgists and other "experts" chosen by ICEL staff. This has always been the system. Presumably the new ICEL statutes will give the bishop’s conferences and bishop-members of ICEL a more significant role in selecting staff and in producing the translations than they have had in the past.

3. No one has questioned the "conscientiousness" or "dedication" of the bishop-representatives from any conference.

4. We have not suggested that bishop-representatives are unwilling to reform ICEL. We have said (and the Holy See, also, apparently) that in principle a "mixed commission" to produce common translations for a language, such as English, that is used in many countries, "makes eminent practical sense" (AB Dec. 2001/Jan. 2002, p 3). But the extent to which the bishop-representatives have actually exercised appropriate control over ICEL’s procedures and product is the salient question here.

5. You say that the CDWDS efforts to "control an agency that has been established by the conferences … seriously conflict[s] with Church law" that is unchanged by Liturgiam authenticam. How has the Congregation transgressed any Church law? It is, ultimately, responsible for governing the authentic celebration of the Liturgy in the Universal Church.

6. You call our reporting "harsh", and say that we have made "unsubstantiated and generalized" comments about ICEL members who prepare translations and original texts. In fact, we have repeatedly documented the positions several of these individuals, quoting directly from their own published works and their comments that have appeared in print. Among many others, "New Zealand Ex-Priest Translates Mass for ICEL", AB Vol. II, No. 9, February 1997, p. 1, quoting Dr. Ken Larsen; or "The ICEL Man Cometh", AB Vol. VII, No. 5, July-August 2001, p. 11, quoting Father John Fitzsimmons. (A search of Adoremus’s web site will reveal more.) The quality of their "faith, loyalty and scholarship" is revealed most accurately by what they say themselves.

7. Archbishop Agnelo, in the same 1996 address to the ICEL Episcopal Board you cite, implied criticism of ICEL’s methods when he called for a new set of translation principles to replace Comme le prévoit, which he called "dated". He also pointed out that the new Code of Canon Law "implies a whole juridical procedure for the approval of the liturgical books, which at the time of [Comme le prévoit] had not yet been perfected."

Further, he said, "It is perhaps along these lines that some further explanation [from ICEL] to the episcopal conferences might be necessary in order to obtain greater involvement from them and a greater emphasis on their right and their duty to translate liturgical books and texts".

Citing Vicesimus Quintus Annos, the archbishop said, "It would be difficult to avoid also applying such affirmations to the structure, the method of work and all the initiatives taken by ICEL", and he related the need for review specifically to the Holy Father’s express call for re-examination of "all the work carried out by the commissions."

8. Indeed, remanding an entire text is the "normal ICEL process" if the bishops of any member-conference have serious objections to ICEL’s work. In fact, it is the only available alternative. As Archbishop Lipscomb pointed out (quoted in Adoremus Bulletin), "Lacking the authority to correct the translation of ICEL, we request that it be remanded for correction according to Liturgiam authenticam".

When a conference’s objections to a translation of so key a document as the IGMR are so serious that the bishops vote overwhelmingly to remand the entire document for a thoroughgoing revision according to an entirely different set of principles of translation from those that were employed by ICEL, it is not unwarranted to infer that such a remand amounts to a repudiation of ICEL’s work.

9. It does not "please us" to call the revised version of the Roman Missal ("Sacramentary") a "dead letter". It is a statement of fact. In light of both the appearance of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal and of Liturgiam authenticam, the ICEL revision of the second typical edition is simply moot. (Our assessment was substantiated, shortly after we went to press, by Father James Moroney, executive director of the BCL, reported by Catholic News Service.)

It is surely worth noting, in this context, that many English-speaking bishops objected to many of the proposed texts, including both the translations and the "original texts" created by ICEL’s staff of experts. As we indicated, it was precisely this lengthy process of examining ICEL’s effort that led to the bishops’ increased awareness of the doctrinal and theological implications of liturgical translation and revision and of their primary responsibility for assuring authenticity.

10. Evidence of the Holy See’s view of the defects of the proposed revision of the Roman Missal is revealed most clearly in the issuance of Liturgiam authenticam.

11. It is not clear which "fears" of ours you think may be unfounded. We are not aware of having expressed any.

Helen Hull Hitchcock, Editor – Adoremus Bulletin

[See related article "New Zealand Bishops Issue "gender inclusive" Statement", from May 1997, Vol. III, No. 3]

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The Editors