Dec 15, 2002

Cardinal Critiques ICEL Statues

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

Cardinal Critiques ICEL Statues – Letter to member conferences cites problems with proposed revision

The latest draft of proposed new Statutes for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) is still deficient. The "mixed commission" that provides English-language translations of liturgical texts was required by the Holy See three years ago to "re-structure". Meetings of the board of bishops from the eleven countries that are members of ICEL resulted in the latest attempt to devise acceptable Statutes to govern the body.

The new draft Statutes were sent to the member Conferences, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, for their review this fall.

In a letter to the presidents of the episcopal conferences that are members of ICEL, Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, outlined some of the draft’s deficiencies.

The cardinal’s letter, dated October 23, 2002, says that the most recent proposal "does not yet address sufficiently the requirements of the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam", the Vatican’s fifth post-conciliar Instruction, issued in 2001. The cardinal registered disappointment that the translation instruction was not mentioned in the proposed ICEL Statutes. The Statutes failed to respond adequately to the Congregation’s requirement for nihil obstat (review and approval) of ICEL’s staff and translators.

Cardinal Arinze’s letter noted the "disproportionate" representation among countries participating in ICEL. "This is a complex issue", he wrote, "but one that needs sooner or later to be addressed". (He did not mention that his native Nigeria, with several million English-speaking Catholics, has no voting representative on the ICEL board.)

The cardinal observed that had the ICEL officials consulted with the Congregation in drafting the new Statutes, as requested by Cardinal Medina Estévez in 1999, "the present situation might have been avoided".

This past year, ICEL has replaced two of its most influential officers, board president and executive secretary. Cardinal Arinze’s letter indicates that the "restructure" also involves the responsibilities of these officers.

Earlier, disagreements between the Holy See and the translation commission were evidenced in exchanges of letters between ICEL board president, Bishop Maurice Taylor, of Galloway, Scotland, and the prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Jorge A. Medina Estévez, both of whom retired within the past few months.

The text of Cardinal Arinze’s letter appears below. (Click here for related correspondence of Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, ICEL board member from South Africa, and Adoremus.)



Rome, October 23, 2002

His Excellency,
The Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory
President of the Conference of Bishops of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Your Excellency,

This Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has received a draft of Statutes for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy which is said to be currently under consideration by the various Conferences of Bishops participating in the Commission.

Although the timetable is somewhat tight, the Congregation has been able to complete an initial study of the draft text received. In order to facilitate the discussion and to avoid misunderstandings later on, this Dicastery wishes to communicate to the Bishops its impressions to date.

While the present draft represents significant progress in several aspects, it has a number of weak points, and there are parts where it does not yet address sufficiently the requirements of the Instruction Liturgiam authenticam. The text would therefore need significant re-working. In its letter of 26 October 1999 to His Excellency, Bishop Maurice Taylor, the Congregation asked that new Statutes be drafted in consultation with this Dicastery. Had this been the case, the present situation might have been avoided.

Indeed, while presented as if prepared in accordance with Liturgiam authenticam it is disappointing to note that the present draft makes no mention of the Instruction and fails to conform to a good many of the Instruction’s requirements concerning Mixed Commissions. In addition, the draft seems definitely to limit full participation in the Commission to those Conferences who have enjoyed such participation to date, with no provision for possible admission of other Conferences where English is used in the Liturgy.

In this respect the point has been made on various occasions to the Congregation that even among participating Conferences, representation remains considerably disproportionate to the number of Catholics worshipping in English; Pakistan, for instance, which seems to have about 30,000 Catholics whose participation in the Mass would be in the English language, is represented equally with the United States of America, where the number would be well over two thousand times as many. This is a complex issue but one that needs sooner or later to be addressed.

As regards the parts of the instruction Liturgiam authenticam that appear to require further modification or development in the draft of the Statutes:

  • N. 93 cites the role of the Congregation for the Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in establishing a Mixed Commission and approving its Statutes, specifically providing for such approval in the case of previously existing Commissions. The draft makes no mention and no provision for such a role on the part of the Dicastery.

  • N. 95 cites a preference for Membership on the Commission on the part of those Bishops entrusted with principal responsibility for liturgical matters within their respective Conferences.

  • Nn. 96-97 suggest the use of the Conferences’ own resources, for which the Commission would exercise a co-ordinating role, rather than the establishment of a standing body such as the "Consultants’ Committee" envisioned by the draft. It is difficult to imagine how such a standing Committee would be as experienced within the territories of the various Conferences. The provision of a "Consultants’ Committee" poses the additional difficulty of a non-episcopal body effectively exercising deliberative power regarding the texts without itself being subject to any Conference of Bishops. Such an arrangement seems to have been at the root of certain difficulties experienced in the past.

  • N. 98 prescribes and limits the task to be entrusted to a Mixed Commission. The present draft does not thus circumscribe the mandate of the Commission.

  • N. 100 sets forth the requirements of the nihil obstat of the Congregation for the principal collaborators of the Commission, and states that the criteria and procedures for requesting such a document are to be specified in the Statutes. It is truly disappointing that the present document continues to omit this requirement which has been requested repeatedly by the Congregation for three years and is clearly set forth in the Instruction published in the meantime. Among the points to be addressed is the question – for which of the collaborators of the Commission is the nihil obstat required?

  • N. 102 calls for a limitation of the terms of service for the Commission’s staff recalling that the Congregation retains in any case the faculty to derogate from the Statutes in the event that it might become necessary to extend an individual’s service beyond a specified term. While specifying terms of service, the draft makes them renewable indefinitely, and therefore essentially unlimited.

The Congregation appreciates the fact that the term "Statutes", rather than "Constitution", is now employed, as consistent with the usage of canon law. Nevertheless, there remain certain elements of terminology, the implications of which serve to obscure the essential nature of the Mixed Commission. For example, the renewed emphasis on the nature of the Commission as an episcopal body renders redundant the use of the term "Episcopal Board". The body so designated in the draft is, in fact, the Commission as such. Other, non-episcopal structures such as "Secretariat" are auxiliary and subordinate to it. The figure designated "Executive Secretary" cannot, in fact, be so termed in relation to the Commission which has a Bishop Secretary, and would be otherwise designated, perhaps by the title "Executive Director of the Secretariat", or some similar name.

Finally, any civil incorporation of the Commission should be constructed in a manner that is wholly subservient to the Commission’s ends as established by the Statutes and recognized under canon law. For this reason, it would seem that a minimum of specificity is warranted in the Statutes regarding any details of such incorporation. At the same time, it would seem best that the two documents remain distinct and not intermixed. It is certainly necessary to avoid any implication that the present Statutes must conform to the definition and specified functions of a previously existing civil corporation. If necessary, the articles of civil incorporation would need to be able to be amended or even re-drafted in order to accord with the manner in which the Commission is envisioned under the new Statutes and under any subsequent amendments that might be made to them freely in the manner specified within the Statutes.

On the basis of the considerable work that has already been done on the draft, the Congregation has begun to formulate elements of text in view of an acceptable document. This Dicastery thus remains disposed to assist, by means of formal or informal contacts, in the drafting of the necessary emendations to the text, and to ensure in any event that a definitive set of Statutes will be in force as of the date specified in Liturgiam authenticam, n. 103, namely 28 March 2003.

The Congregation’s position on the need for the Mixed Commission to offer very solid guarantees to the Bishops, priests, and faithful of the English-speaking world remains unchanged. It is incumbent upon the Commission to produce texts of guaranteed doctrinal, pastoral and literary quality. This is all the more so since it has a virtual monopoly of resources in its field and since the texts that it produces are imposed de facto on Catholics of the whole English-speaking world.

The Congregation is deeply grateful to all who have put energy and personal commitment into improving the situation of the mixed Commission and counts on the goodwill and active cooperation of all the Bishops in carrying the undertaking to a successful conclusion. It is appropriate in this connection to recall the message of the Holy Father in the April 2002 meeting of the Vox Clara Committee, where he expressed the hope that vernacular translations would be accurately revised "in accordance with the norms of the instruction Liturgiam authenticam and, in particular, that reliable translations of the newly released editio typica tertia of the Missale Romanum be made available to the faithful as quickly as possible".

With every good wish, I am

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Francis Card. Arinze Prefect

Francisco Pio Tamburino, Secretary



The Editors