Dec 15, 2002

Adoremus shows anti-ICEL Bias, African Cardinal Says

Online Edition – Vol. VIII, No. 9: December 2002 – January 2003

Adoremus shows anti-ICEL Bias, African Cardinal Says

The letter-writer, Wilfrid Cardinal Napier, is president of the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and member of the Board of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL). The cardinal’s letter and our response appear below as written.

– Editor

12 November 2002

The Editor
Adoremus Bulletin
Post Office Box 3286
St. Louis MO 63130
United States of America


Re: Anti-ICEL Bias.

It is a real shame that you allow anti-ICEL bias to intrude at the expense of the truth. In matters liturgical the truth ought to be the be-all and end-all. For in the liturgy we celebrate the Truth.

The latest manifestation of bias is contained in your front page leader on Cardinal Francis Arinze’s appointment as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. For some unknown reason you engage in a snide attack on the Southern African Catholic Bishop’s Conference. You infer that our membership of ICEL is not on merit but under false pretences.

The Truth is quite different from the impression you seem to be trying to create.

In October 1963 the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference led by Archbishop Denis Hurley OMI joined with the hierarchies of England and Wales, Scotland, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and Pakistan in setting up ICEL.

The intention was to "achieve an English version of liturgical text acceptable to English speaking countries".

No one was excluded. Indeed in 1967 the Conference of the Philippines was added to the eleven founding Conferences. Later, fifteen Conferences joined in the work of ICEL as Associate Members. These are the Antilles, Bangladesh, CEPAL (the Pacific), Gambia/Liberia/Sierra Leone, Ghana, Kenya, Malaysia/Singapore, Malawi, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

You are mistaken therefore in trying to give the impression that the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference membership is by some act of deception. The plain truth is that it is among the founding members, while Nigeria and other English speaking Conferences chose to be associate members. In other words they are not involved in the actual running of ICEL and its projects.

You are also mistaken in seeking to give the impression that ICEL was dragged, kicking and screaming to undertake a review of itself and restructure itself. The facts are that once it was clear what exactly Cardinal Medina Estévez required, the ICEL Board of Bishops set about revising the Constitution, and to confirm their commitments to the process, the Presidents of the founding Conferences dropped everything in order to meet at short notice on Easter Tuesday 2000.

If relations have turned sour, it was subsequent to that meeting. For some reason the Prefect had difficulty keeping track of the measures taken, so that when some Presidents met with him in October 2001, he seemed not to have been informed of the structural changes that had been made to ICEL and had been sent to the Vatican for his information.

Therefore in the interests of the Truth, I appeal to you not to let any bias against ICEL lead you to besmirch the characters of the outstanding men and women who have made it possible for millions of Catholics to worship with understanding and meaning by having the liturgical texts available to them in English and other vernacular languages that have used the ICEL translations as an aid in producing their own vernacular texts.

Sincerely yours in Christ.
Wilfrid Cardinal Napier OFM
President, Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference


December 2, 2002

His Eminence Wilfrid Cardinal Napier, OFM
President, Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference
Khanya House,
140 Visagie St., – PO Box 941
Pretoria 0001, South Africa

Your Eminence,

We have received your letter about our cover story "Cardinal Arinze to Head CDW" (Adoremus Bulletin, October 2002). Your letter states that "for some unknown reason you engage in a snide attack on the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference. You infer that our membership of ICEL is not on merit but under false pretences".

We are puzzled by your comments. Our story neither stated nor implied any motive at all to South Africa in the composition of ICEL; we merely stated the fact that "South Africa is the only African bishops’ conference that is a member of ICEL, and that country’s three-and-a-half million Catholics probably represents no more than one-tenth of the Catholics in Africa who worship in English".

Your letter does not contradict this fact, though we might have said "the only voting member…", or "the only full member…", for as you point out in your letter, the associate members have no involvement in the actual running of ICEL or its projects – and thus no representation on the Episcopal Board – which is relevant to our point.

We also observed that the active participation of other Anglophone conferences in Africa in the work of ICEL "would help to balance the influence of North American and European experts whose views have dominated ICEL until now".

Our story neither said nor implied that ICEL was "dragged kicking and screaming" to restructure itself (although the statement of Bishop Maurice Taylor, of Galloway, Scotland, immediate past-president of ICEL’s episcopal board, suggests his own dismay with the process. His statement is a matter of public record, published in the Tablet, August 1, 2002.)

You say that we are guilty of "anti-ICEL bias", and that we "besmirch" people’s characters, but you do not give any examples. We are, like you, committed to the truth. We believe we have accurately reported the facts. If you believe what we have reported is incorrect, we invite you to cite examples, which we will attempt to correct.

Respectfully yours in Our Lord,
Helen Hull Hitchcock, Editor



The Editors