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The Translation of

the Catechism


On December io, 1992, Pope John Paul II officially promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the first "universal" Catholic catechism in over four hundred years. Seven years in preparation by a drafting committee composed of bishops from various parts of the world, the new Catechism was presented to the world by the Holy Father in a moving ceremony in Rome in which he called it "a sure and certain standard for the teaching of the faith".

The Catechism had already attracted considerable attention in the course of its preparation. Following its promulgation, it quickly became, in the United States at any rate, one of the most popular of all themes for articles, speeches, conferences, symposia, and the like, and the months following its promulgation saw a steady stream of expositions and 358 explanations and appreciations of the new Catechism. Few ecclesiastical subjects have attracted more attention over the past year or so, as a matter of fact, than this particular document. One anomaly, however, considering all the attention steadily being focused upon it, has been that, as week followed week and month followed month after its promulgation, there hasn't really been any "document".

That's right. The official text of the Catechism has not been available in English. Nor, as of the time of this writing, is it yet known when an English version will be available. All of those who have written or spoken about it have had to work from the French text, which was the official text promulgated by the Holy Father. The document was originally written in French, apparently, because that proved to be the best common medium for the bishops from various countries who were writing it. It was expected that translations into all the major languages would quickly follow the publication of the French text, and this has proved to be the case for such languages as German, Italian, and Spanish. A common English version for the whole English-speaking world was known to be in preparation as well.

By the summer of 1993, however, no English translation had yet made its appearance, prompting the American bishops themselves to urge Rome to approve an English translation expeditiously. But it seemed that Rome was not to be hurried in the matter. Although public indications were sparse, several news stories did appear, confirming rumors that the English translation was being held up—in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, no less.

Considering all the fanfare and ballyhoo which had accompanied the preparation and promulgation of the Catechism worldwide, its continued nonappearance in English could not help creating something of an anticlimax, if not constituting an embarrassment. In some quarters, the continuing delay even gave rise to the expression of various "anti-Roman" sentiments, since the CDF was neither releasing the translation now known to exist, nor was it issuing statements or calling press conferences, American style, to explain what the hold-up was all about. The whole affair could thus be viewed as one more example of Rome adopting the stance of "never apologize, never explain", meanwhile leaving everybody hanging.


The writers of this article have both been professionally engaged, among other pursuits, in translating books on Catholic subjects from French into English. Both of us have also long since had the occasion to go over the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church in French. As a result of our perusal and study of this document, we are entirely in agreement with Pope John Paul II that this new Catechism is "a precious, splendid, profound, and timely gift for all". We yield to none in our eagerness to see this magnificent document made available in English; and, especially, made the new basis of the teaching of religion in Catholic religious instruction at all levels in this country.

However, we have now also been in a position to read and study the translation of the Catechism that was made for English-speaking Catholics—the one still being held up by the CDF in Rome as we write. Regretfully, we have not been reassured by what we have found in this translation.

Speaking primarily as translators—although also as educators, another pursuit in which we have both long been professionally involved—we are obliged to judge this translation 359 to be a very bad one. If this translation had been successfully foisted off on the English-speaking world as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in the form in which we have studied it and in which apparently it went to the CDF for approval, we believe it would actually have brought discredit upon the whole Catechism enterprise, to the detriment of the faith and the Church.

In our opinion, the CDF will be seen to have performed an outstanding service for the Church by insisting upon holding this translation up. The text of it is in very serious need of correction on not a few points, and many not unimportant ones. Whatever the embarrassment flowing from the long delay, the embarrassment of coming out with an English version of the Catechism reflecting so imperfectly the text which the Holy Father actually approved would have been a very much greater embarrassment. The principal aim of the present article is to bring this out.

Without pretending to be able to deal comprehensively with the translation and its defects within the compass of a single article, we believe that the publication of at least some varied and salient examples of just where and how the translation falls short can and will contribute to greater public understanding and acceptance of what has already proved to be a very long delay in bringing out a usable and acceptable English version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church; but it is a delay that will prove to have been justified if the appropriate corrections and revisions are made.

Dozens and even hundreds of other examples of errors in the translation could be cited than the ones we are going to cite in this article. Many of them, individually, no doubt represent small points. Nevertheless some of them do not represent small points; and, cumulatively, they do all add up —dismayingly, in fact. Besides, why not get the thing right? 360 It is not an impossible task; and English-speaking Catholics deserve no less.

In the translation which went to the CDF for approval, then, we have found numerous cases where words and phrases have simply not been translated correctly. There are other cases where the English version is evidently not complete; things that are found in the French are not found in the English. There are other cases where things have been added into the English version, apparently on the translator's sole authority. In yet other cases, these "translation" problems turn out to be no mere translation problems; they possess theological and doctrinal significance as well, sometimes major doctrinal significance.

Finally, there is in this translation what turns out to be the simply enormous problem of the so-called "inclusive language" that was unfortunately used in it. Inclusive language is the contemporary term used to describe the avoidance of using "man" or "men", or "he" or "him", when what is meant is "mankind", "everybody", "people in general", "both men and women", "the human race", and so on. Ideological feminists today claim that women are not "included" if "man" or "he" is used in a generic sense; hence language must now be used which, in their view, does "include" them. No longer can we affirm, for instance, that "all men are brothers"; apparently we now have to say that "all men and women are brothers and sisters"—but then what about children, who are neither men nor women? Are they left out when contemporary "inclusive language" is used?

This contemporary "inclusive language" is believed by some to be necessary today in spite of the fact that the English language and its Anglo-Saxon ancestor have been using "man" and "he" and the like in a generic sense for well over a thousand years; but that, apparently, does not 361 cut any ice, either with today's ideological feminists or with those fellow travelers of theirs who imagine that these feminists somehow "represent" women and constitute the wave of the future, when everybody will presumably always naturally and automatically say "he and she", "him and her", and so on.

The Funk and Wagnalls Standard English Dictionary, published in 1967, defines "man" as: (1) a member of the genus Homo; (2) the human race; (3) anyone, indefinitely; and (4) an adult male, as distinguished from a woman or a boy. Today's radical feminist claim amounts to saying that this last definition of "man", given only in the fourth place in a standard, recent English dictionary, is the only valid definition. As late as 1986, Webster's New World Dictionary was still defining "man" as (1) a human being; (2) the human race; and—in third place this time—(3) an adult male human being. Thus "man", as the English language has always viewed him and still does view him, already includes "woman" when used in specific contexts—and the meanings, according to these contexts, are always perfectly understandable by everybody, by the way.

Unfortunately, however, under modern ideological feminist influence, some dictionaries such as The Random House College Dictionary, published in 1985, have now taken to listing the definition of "man" as "an adult male human being" as the first definition enumerated. But this represents a major, unprecedented novelty. Nor is it necessarily something that is going to last. Moreover, even such dictionaries as the Random House one are nevertheless obliged to list the other definitions of "man" as legitimate too—while the call for "inclusive language" implies, precisely, that these other usages of the word "man" are not legitimate; otherwise why is it necessary to switch? 362

The dictionaries could scarcely omit these other meanings, however, since these other meanings do reflect the way English continues to be used, regardless of the preferences of the ideological feminists—who, defying reality, thus refuse to recognize as legitimate the majority of those uses of the word "man" which every dictionary necessarily does continue to recognize.

Now the problem, for our present purposes, is that French, like English, uses "l'homme", "man", in the same generic way that English does; and the official version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is therefore replete with many hundreds of cases, beginning with the very first numbered paragraph of the document, in which "man" is used precisely in the way that stirs up ideological feminist ire: for the text of this first paragraph of the Catechism declares that "God . . . freely created man" ("l'homme")which the English translation under consideration here renders "God . . . freely created the human race." This same first paragraph goes on to affirm that God is "close to man". The translation gives this as "close to us". The passage goes on to affirm that "He gathers all men" ("tous les hommes")which, as anyone can guess by now, the translation then renders as "God gathers the human race" (note not "He" but "God").

Thus does it appear that the translator, apparently acting in response to the ideological feminist imperative— certainly no principle of translation would ever justify it —has laboriously and relentlessly gone through the entire text of the Catechism of the Catholic Church changing "men" to "people" or "humanity" or something of the sort—and adding "sister" wherever "brother" happens to appear— and even repeating the nouns "God" or "Christ" in order to avoid using "He" or "Him" for them as much as possible 363 —everywhere that such changes are thought to be necessary.

When the Catechism teaches (CCC 402) that "all men are implicated in Adam's sin", this becomes, in this translation, "all humanity is implicated in Adam's sin." Later, in the same paragraph, "all men" becomes "all people". In paragraph 543, exactly the same French expression, tous les hommes, becomes "everyone". And so on.

This kind of alteration aimed at adding "inclusive language" into the text of the Catechism was apparently believed necessary by the translator even in the case of many of the passages quoted from papal and conciliar documents, from the Fathers of the Church, and even from Scripture itself; such a proceeding goes far beyond what could ever be justified as a "translation"; rather, it is an ideological statement.

Nor are the results happy. The text generally ranges from banal through awkward to jarring. Sometimes the results are downright deplorable; other times they are merely absurd. Occasionally the almost maniacal concern which is evident to avoid generic language at all costs can lead to actual distortions and misstatements of Christian revelation and essential Catholic doctrine.

The upshot of all this is that, in the case of this translation, "the Catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles", finds itself joined in a rather crude and uneasy misalliance with a brand of feminist ideology that comes to us from the American sixties. Such an outcome would seem to be a terribly high price to have to pay, apparently in order to attempt to appease a school of contemporary ideological feminist thought, which, for the most part, is bitterly anti-Catholic and hence unappeasable anyway. It is hard to imagine how anyone not blinded by this reigning feminist ideology could 364 ever consider this translation as suitable for the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The CDF should thus clearly not be blamed for holding up this particular translation; the CDF is only doing its plain duty in this instance. Responsibility for the delay belongs rather to those who ever presumed to put forward such a translation as this as anything that could possibly be acceptable for English-speaking Catholics.


There are many words and phrases in the translation which are not correctly translated. "La plus pure" does not mean "supreme" in English, as this text translates it (CCC 64); it means "the purest" or "the most pure". A "differend" in French does not mean "difference" (CCC 247) but a "point of disagreement". Nor does "sollicitude" in French mean "supervision" (CCC 303), but rather the same thing that its cognate means in English. The French verb "se dévoyer" basically means "to go astray"; to translate it (CCC 311) as "to become corrupted" is much too strong for the normal usage of this word. French "services", again meaning roughly the same thing as its cognate word in English, is unaccountably translated "ministries" in paragraph 794, while in paragraph 1509, "ministry" is the English word used to translate the French "charge" (meaning being made responsible for something). "Schismes", which means exactly the same thing in French as it does in English, is blandly translated "divisions" (CCC 1206); "symbole" is wrongly translated as "emblem" instead of "symbol" (CCC 1220). "Opéré" is translated as "achieved" instead of "effected" in paragraph 1221, while "achieved" in paragraph 1275 turns out to stand for yet an 366 other word, "s'accomplit", which, again, is not the proper rendering. "Signifier" does not mean "to express" (CCC 1333) but "to signify".

In paragraph 1532, "passage" to eternal life becomes "passover", which is simply ludicrous in English (although "passing over" would no doubt be acceptable). "Offensé" is translated "attacked" instead of "offended" (CCC 1469). "Clément" becomes "gentle" instead of "merciful" or "clement" (CCC 2086). "Révèle" does not mean "portray" (CCC 2259); it means "reveal". Nor does "promesse" mean "sign" (CCC 2347); it means "promise". In paragraph 1334, "définitif" is translated as "conclusive", while in paragraph 1340, the same word is translated as "ultimate"—when all the while the English cognate "definitive" could and should have been used in both cases. And "biens", "goods", most certainly does not mean the same thing as "blessings" (CCC 2590).

Paragraph 2238  speaks of the Christian's "right and sometimes [his] duty"—as we are translating the French here— "of making a just protest against that which may appear harmful to the dignity of persons and the good of the community"; in the translation before us, however, the French "juste" in this passage is translated "lawful", which could imply that the kind of protests in question would not be legitimate if they were "against the law"—not "lawful", in other words. This kind of translation will not do, in a society where abortion, for example, now is "lawful"—and regular protests against it are both necessary and just. The translation, however, rather strangely seems to favor "lawful" in a number of cases where it does not precisely fit. Paragraph 2278, for example, on the subject of euthanasia, speaks of "les intérêts légitimes", "the legitimate interests", of the patient; and, again, the translation renders this as "lawful interests"—which will presumably then no longer obtain as soon as euthanasia is made "lawful", as it has apparently already partially been made so in the Netherlands. "Legitimate interests" is clearly the proper translation here.

All these are examples of mistranslated words. Many other examples could be cited. Many French expressions are likewise not rendered correctly considering the context in which they appear. For example, "toujours actuelle" does not mean "ever appropriate", as it is translated in paragraph 1351, but rather "current", or "going on now". Similarly, "dès maintenant" does not simply mean "now", as in paragraph 1404, but "from now on" or "henceforth". Nor does "la présentation des oblats" in any way mean "the preparation of the altar", as it is translated in the text (CCC 1350); apparently, in the context, it refers to the bringing up of the gifts. Speaking of the Mass as both a sacrificial memorial and a sacred banquet, paragraph 1382 of the translation merely says "both", leaving out the French "à la fois et inséparablement", "at once and inseparably".

Whole clauses or sentences are also sometimes wrongly or misleadingly translated. In paragraph 197, for example, it is stated that "the whole Church . . . communicates the faith to us as the matrix of our faith." Besides being almost nonsensical (how is it possible to "communicate faith" as the "matrix" of itself?), this reading fails to translate the French properly; the French says "l'Église toute entière .. . nous transmet la foi et au sein de laquelle nous croyons." What this means is: "The whole Church . . . transmits the faith to us, and in her bosom we believe." (It is significant, by the way, that "communicate faith" is preferred to "transmit the faith"; one can communicate whatever one decides upon, whereas one can only transmit what one has received.)

Dealing with a similar subject, paragraph 1253 informs 367 us that "of necessity, the faith of each believer participates in the Church's faith." However, the French here says "ce n'est que dans la foi de l'Église que chacun des fidèles peut croire"; and this means: "It is only in the faith of the Church that each believer can believe."

In paragraph 1350 we read that "in Christ's name the priest will offer . . . the bread and the wine in the eucharistic sacrifice when they have become his body and blood" (emphasis added). This translation implies that the priest will offer the bread and the wine only after they have somehow already become his body and his blood. A more correct translation would be a more literal one: "The bread and the wine .. . will be offered by the priest in the name of Christ in the eucharistic sacrifice where they will become the body and blood [of Christ]" (emphasis added again). The French reads: "Le pain et le yin . . . seront offerts par le prêtre au nom du Christ dans le sacrifice eucharistique où ils deviendront le corps et le sang [du Christ]."

In paragraph 2009, the translation says that "as God's adopted children, justified and given a share in the divine life by God's free gift, we can truly merit." The French for this says something quite different, however: "L'Adoption fihale, en nous rendant participants par grace à la nature divine, peut nous confirer, suivant la justice gratuite de Dieu, un véritable mérite." This sentence would be much better translated by the following: "Filial adoption, by making us participants through grace in the divine nature, can confer on us, following God's justice freely accorded, a true merit." Now it is simply not the same thing to say that we can freely merit, which is what the translation says, instead of saying that God can "confer . . . a true merit" on us by filial adoption, which is what the original French text says.

Or, again, speaking of confirmation, paragraph 1288 369 speaks, rather weakly, of "the fulfillment of Christ's wish", whereas the French text has "pour accomplir la volonté du Christ", which is to say, "to fulfill the will of Christ."

Paragraph 517 tells us that Christ's whole life is a mystery of redemption [including] "in his Resurrection by which he justifies us""dans sa Résurrection par laquelle it nous justifie". The translation of this clause, however, gives "in his Resurrection because he justifies us", which could imply that Christ's Resurrection is a "mystery" only in that he justifies us. Also, for those modern theologians who see the Resurrection not as an actual historical occurrence but rather as some kind of a "faith event", the Resurrection would logically flow from the fact of our justification. But, of course, it is precisely the other way around, as the original French text makes abundantly clear.

We could go on. At length. Not a few of the passages in this English translation are marked by inexactitude and imprecision. Admittedly some of them do involve rather difficult texts which any translator might have difficulty with; and many of them may concern only fine points. Nevertheless the fact remains that there are far too many such mistranslations in this text; on these grounds alone, it must be considered to be wholly inadequately translated.

Moreover, some of the mistranslations can seem to be inexplicable, even frivolous—as if the translator was not paying close attention. For example, in paragraph 1446, there is a quotation from Tertullian speaking about "the second plank [of salvation] after the shipwreck which the loss of grace is""la seconde planche [du salut] après le naufrage qu'est la perte de la grâce". In the translation this passage becomes "as the shipwrecked grasp the support of a plank", without any reference to the subject of grace at all, or apparently any understanding that the word "plank" here really 369 means something like "the second item" relating to salvation.

Or, again, there is Paragraph 2125, quoting Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes (no. 19), which the Flannery translation of the Vatican II documents renders, "Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism"; the French for this is: "Les croyants peuvent avoir une part qui n'est pas mince . . . dans la diffusion de l,athéisme." The text before us, however, translates this same passage as "the rise of atheism is largely attributable to believers" (emphasis added).

Finally, in paragraph 484, the translation renders Luke 1:34, quite arbitrarily, it would seem, as: "How can this be since I am a virgin?" Even though it is presumably not doctrinally wrong to have Mary affirming her own virginity, it is not what the French original says; nor is it what the Gospel of Luke says. They both say: "How can this be since I do not know man?" No translator can legitimately take such liberties with a text, even if what he says happens to be true.


As already noted above, there are many instances in this English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church where things have either been left out or have been added in. In this single article we can supply only a few illustrative examples of these omissions and additions; but there are plenty more where these came from for anyone who wants to take the trouble of comparing the English translation with the original French, as we have done.

Omissions. One fairly regular omission appears to be the dropping, even when quoting Church documents, of words like "sacred" in expressions like "sacred council", or of words like "Holy" and "Mother" from the expression "Holy Mother Church" (CCC 1203, CCC 1667). The translator seems to have an aversion to the idea of the Church as a "woman" or a "mother", in fact; this would seem to be the necessary obverse of the radical feminist demand for so-called "inclusive language". Like the latter, it does not enhance the literary style of the translation, though.

Other omissions include such things as paragraph 425's omission of "d'abord", "first of all", or "primarily", from the sentence declaring that "the transmission of the Christian faith consists in proclaiming Jesus Christ"; for although the transmission of the faith does consist in proclaiming Jesus Christ, it does not consist only in that. Similarly, paragraph 469 in the translation omits "inseparably" from the statement that the Church "confesses that Jesus is both true God and true man".

Paragraph 1205, quoting in part Vatican Council II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (no. 21), states that "the liturgy, above all, that of the sacraments, 'is made up of immutable elements, divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change'"; but the translation omits here an important phrase in the French that "the Church is the guardian of the liturgy." Paragraph 1174, speaking of celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours "in the approved form", also leaves out the intelligence that this approval is something given "by the Church".

Paragraph 1467, discussing the secrecy of the confessional, drops the adjective "absolute". In paragraph 1567, where it is stated that priests owe their bishops "love and obedience", the word "love" is dropped in the translation, and the same sentence in English instead reads "obedience and respect". In paragraph 2039, the translation arbitrarily 371 drops the adjective "fraternal" coming before "service"— probably for reasons that by now we should have no difficulty guessing.

Paragraph 2366, quoting Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanæ Vitæ (no. 12) on the inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of conjugal intercourse leaves out the encyclical's important statement that this teaching has "often been expounded by the Magisterium of the Church". In fact, the translator would seem to have a thing about "the Magisterium". On occasions too numerous to enumerate, the translator regularly uses the phrase "teaching authority" to translate the French "Magistère" (for example, CCC 2036). Why not "Magisterium"? It is true that this word means the "teaching authority" or "teaching office" of the Church—an "authority" and an "office" that have existed in the Church since Christ first pronounced the words contained in Luke 10:16 addressed to his apostles. But the word "Magisterium" has appropriately come into wide use in relatively recent times in order to reenforce the claim that the Church does, precisely, teach truth (cf. Vatican II, Dignitatis Humanæ, no. 14.; Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 16) —as opposed, for example, to those Christian communions who apparently hold that "truth" emerges from the "private judgement" of the believer reflecting on Scripture or whatever; and, especially, in an era and in a culture that strongly tend to deny that truth—what the Church does objectively teach—can even be knowable at all. In any case, the language of the Catechism, in the original, regularly reflects this established and valid modern use of the word "Magisterium". So why not just translate it?

Additions. Paragraph 1313, indicating that the ordinary minister of confirmation is the bishop, goes on to say that the 372 bishop "may, for serious reasons, delegate to the priest the faculty of confirming children baptized in infancy"the italicized phrase, again, has been added into the English without any warrant in the French text to do so. Paragraph 1371, speaking of the faithful departed who have died in Christ, once again adds, without any warrant, that these faithful departed "are therefore assured of their eternal salvation".

In paragraph 1069 concerning the liturgy, the text adds "whole" before "the people of God" and in paragraph 1071 it adds "effective" before "visible sign" for no apparent reason in either case. In paragraph 1210, the word "chrismation" is added as a synonym for "confirmation", although this is surely a word most speakers of English have never even heard; nor is it to be found in a couple of the standard desk dictionaries we consulted at random. The text of paragraph 2263, speaking of "legitimate defense", adds "deliberate" before "murder", although murder is by definition deliberate; and the text of paragraph 2278, speaking of medical procedures, adds "unnecessarily" before "burdensome".

A systematic review of the text of the translation would reveal numerous other additions of this same type. Again, some of them may well involve minor matters. Nevertheless, their occurrence can only serve to undermine confidence in the integrity of the whole translation—both the process and the product.


It should be apparent from a number of the examples already cited that some of the mistranslations, omissions, and additions to be found in the English translation of the Catechism 373 of the Catholic Church are not without doctrinal significance. This is unhappily the case. In too many instances —it should, of course, be "in no instances" where a "catechism" or simple compendium of the faith is concerned— this translation evidences a definite parti pris with regard to some of the theological controversies that have raged in the Church over the past generation. This parti pris can surface even in such seemingly small things as the title "Constitution Hiérarchique" to be found directly above paragraph 874; the translation gives "Hierarchical Structure" for this particular title. But it happens to make a difference whether the Church's sacred hierarchy is part of the Church's organic "constitution", as the latter was originally established by Christ himself, or not; or whether the hierarchy is just another one of those hated Church "structures" which we read about in The National Catholic Reporter and which the editors, writers, and no doubt also the readers of that popular journal appear to imagine could be swept away, perhaps any day now, on some new and progressive wave of modern enlightenment.

Similarly, the language of the translation in such passages as the last two sentences of paragraph 1577, concerning who is able to receive sacred ordination, can be of some doctrinal significance; the translation here reads: "The Church considers itself bound by [the] choice of the Lord. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible." But this translation could imply that, since the whole question is merely something that the Church "considers", then the Church might well sometime equally be brought to "reconsider" the question, especially if feminist pressure in the matter continues to be as effective as it has proved to be in apparently persuading some that the Church needs "inclusive language" in the English version of her universal Catechism. 374

The French in this text says, however, that "l'église se reconnait liée", that is, "the Church recognizes [the reality] that she is bound", and that therefore, the implication of this retranslated text is, no change in the matter is ever going to be possible.

Comparable loose wording is found in the translation of paragraph 2382, where it is stated that "the Lord Jesus insisted upon the original intention of the creator who willed that marriage should be indissoluble" (emphasis added). The question immediately arises: Maybe it should be, all right, but is it? Given one of the very common meanings of the word "should" in English, this translation might well be interpreted by some to mean that what the Creator willed was merely the desirability of a marriage bond that is permanent and unbreakable. However, the French in this sentence is very clear: "Le Seigneur Jésus a insisté sur l'intention originelle du Créateur qui voulait un manage indissoluble"; that is: "The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who willed marriage to be indissoluble" (emphasis added).

The translator also apparently has problems with both the word and the essential theological idea of "the Fall". In paragraph 410, the sentence, "After his fall, man was not abandoned by God" ("Apres sa chute, l'homme n'a pas été abandonné par Dieu"), comes out in the English translation as: "God did not forsake our first parents after their sin" (emphasis added). In the sentence following this one, "lifting [man] up from his fall" ("le relèvement de sa chute"), becomes, again, "removal of their sin", that is, Adam and Eve's sin. Similarly, in paragraph 289, the triad "creation, fall, promise" ("création, chute, promesse") once more becomes "creation, sin, promise" (again emphasis added). In paragraph 385, where the word "fall" is used, it is placed, significantly, 376 within quotation marks (even then, it comes out as the "fall" of "humanity", not of "man"—this for "chute de l'homme" in the French). Why this aversion to the very word "fall"?

Consistently for this translation, the word "hell" is another no-no, as so many fashionably dissenting theologians have been so quick to suggest in recent years. Whereas the French text, speaking of the descent of Christ "aux enfers", that is, "into hell", the translation prefers to speak of Christ descending "to the dead" (for example, CCC 631, CCC 634). In paragraph 633, where the word "hell" is found in the English version, it is placed between quotation marks. In paragraph 634, where the French text actually does use the expression "séjour des morts", "abode of the dead", the translation again gives, invariably, "to the dead". (After awhile, the question inevitably does arise of what kind of games the translator thinks he is playing with these kinds of variations.)

More serious yet is the way the whole notion of sin is treated in this translation. Although the Catechism of the Catholic Church carefully delineates the Church's traditional understanding of mortal and venial sin (CCC 1854-64), the translation nevertheless succeeds in rather thoroughly obfuscating that distinction—just as it thoroughly obfuscates the distinction between "grave" and "light" matter in moral questions. Generally, it tries to avoid using the term "light" entirely, substituting "not grave" for it (for example, CCC 2073). In many other places, "péché grave", "grave sin", is translated instead as "serious sin" (for example, CCC 1385, 1457); "grave sin", in fact, appears to be a distinctly unpopular notion in this translation.

There is method here, though, not just muddle, since "serious sin" is not only the most frequently mentioned type of sin recognized in the translation; it is also, instead 376 of "mortal sin", sometimes explicitly contrasted with "venial sin" (for example, CCC 2480), not only implying thereby— for this is the implication—that venial sin is not all that serious; but also, more importantly, explicitly recognizing the categories of sin postulated by the so-called "fundamental option" theory. This modern moral theory introduces between the traditional categories of venial and mortal sin another category of sin which it styles, precisely, "serious sin". For the fundamental-option people, a sin may be "serious" but not necessarily "mortal"; for them a sin is "mortal" only when the sinner has explicitly decided to reject God in the process of acting against his will.

Now the fundamental-option theory, of course, has been expressly rejected by the Magisterium of the Church (cf. CDF, Personæ Humanæ, no. 10, 1975; John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, nos. 65-67, 1993). Thus it would seem to be a rather singular thing that its characteristic moral terminology should nevertheless suddenly resurface here in this translation of this compendium of authentic Catholic doctrine which the Catechism of the Catholic Church is supposed to be. If not corrected, the kind of language used here to characterize sin could well dispose some of those being catechized from the Catechism in the future to be influenced by the superficially plausible but erroneous fundamental-option theory. This kind of theory is exactly the sort of thing that does appeal to our dominant secular "culture" today (this "culture" is hard enough to fight without having a Catholic catechism come along seeming to lend it further credence!).

We can only wonder whether there is not some desire at work here, conscious or unconscious, to try to accommodate the harsh world in which we are obliged to live today. The same kind of question arises when we see dropped in 377 the translation, as we do see dropped, the word "all" in the Catechism's paragraph concerning "the moral evil of all procured abortion" (CCC 2271). For its part, the particular world we are obliged to live in today finds the Catholic view of morality and sin excessively rigid; and so the temptation perhaps to try to meet the world halfway is always strong; but it is not a temptation to which a catechism aiming to transmit the integral faith of Christ can afford to yield.

Far be it from both of us, however, to insinuate motives other than what the translator was charged to produce. Nevertheless there are certain perceptions which have arisen in the course of our examination and analysis of the translation. We have merely sought to allow our observations to assist tens of thousands of English-speaking Catholics here and abroad in understanding some of the reasons for the protracted delay in the publication in English of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.


In spite of all of the above, the fact remains that the most serious deficiency in this English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church is still its almost all-pervasive use of so-called "inclusive language"—its conscious rejection of what is clearly a fundamental part of the original French text, namely, the use of "man", "men", "he", "his", and "him" used in a generic sense to mean "men and women", "the human race", "everybody", and so on. Nor are the results of the decision to adopt the radical feminist idea of what kind of language is acceptable today happy results for a compendium of Catholic doctrine. These results are so bad, in fact, paragraph after paragraph, page after page, chapter 378 after chapter, that the only conceivable merit of publishing the Catechism in its present form in English would be that it might very quickly convince all but hard-core feminist ideologues that today's attempt to introduce so-called "inclusive language" into Catholic teaching and worship can never end in anything but failure.

One occasionally hears in discussions concerning the fate of this English translation—still being held up in Rome as we write—that it employs "inclusive language" only "horizontally", that is, only when referring to human beings; never "vertically", that is, when referring to God. And what, some ask, is so bad about that?

One of the things that is bad about it is that it is not true. We saw in the very first paragraph of the Catechism how the word "God" had to be unnaturally and awkwardly repeated in order to avoid using the term "He"—even when applied to God! Once the feminist premise about language is accepted, it would seem, the feminist bias steadily resurfaces.

For example, the simple title above paragraph 203, which in French reads "Dieu Révèle Son Nom", becomes in English the much more bland and abstract "The Revelation of God's Name". In the same paragraph, the exposition suddenly shifts from the third person singular to the first person plural—"a name expresses our essence" for "le nom exprime l'essence"—evidently in order to be able to avoid using "his" later on in the passage when referring to the name of God. As we remarked above, this is game-playing; and it is not amusing when what is involved is the truth of God.

In paragraph 212, "hormis Lui" , "besides Him", becomes, gratuitously, "besides YHWH". In paragraph 221, in the sentence, "God is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and has destined us to share in that exchange", 379 the "He" that is included in the French text indicating Who has thus "destined" us is quietly dropped, as is surely the case hundreds of times in the course of the translation. In paragraph 383, the scriptural text of Genesis 1:27 itself is changed in response to the feminist imperative, and "he created them" has to be made to read "God created them." If there is conflict between what Scripture says and what the feminist imperative demands, it would be unwise to bet on the former and against the latter as far as this translation is concerned. In paragraph 442, Galatians 1:15, "He who set me apart", again becomes "God who set me apart". And so on.

These few citations represent only a few examples of how feminist assumptions dictate the translation, not only of "horizontal" language referring to human beings, but also of at least some "vertical" language referring to God and to Christ. It is astonishing, in fact, that anyone should think that these feminist claims and assumptions should be accepted as justification for changing the words of Scripture itself. Who has the right to change Scripture? Anyone?

What these feminist locutions do for normal language most of us have now long since had sufficient experience of, and therefore we do not need to provide extensive examples. What typically happens, though, is that an expression such as "péché des hommes," "sin of men", comes to be [mis]translated as "sinful humanity" (CCC 211). "Les anges et les hommes", "angels and men", become not just "angels and human beings", but, absurdly, "people and angels" as well, all within the confines of the same paragraph (CCC 311). Another passage speaking of "the love that finds in each man a neighbor, a brother"—"la charité qui trouve en chaque homme un prochain, un frère"—gets translated in a way that first substitutes "person" for "man", and then, compulsively, 380 has to add "and sister" after "brother" (CCC 1931). What about "cousin"?

Even those who are perhaps not particularly bothered by how clumsy and even jarring such phrases and locutions can be should nevertheless be able to realize that they are simply not English! A translator is supposed to render as faithfully as possible in his target language what has actually been said in his source language—not deform what his source language says in his translation in response to the dictates of a highly debatable modern ideology.

More than that, however, some of these inept substitutions for natural English actually alter the meaning, sometimes profoundly, of the text. Paragraph 383, for example, alters Scripture (Genesis 1:27) in order to say that "God .. . did not create the human person to be a solitary." "Human person", of course, is substituted here for the word "man" (adam) which is actually found in the Bible. However, the two terms are not equivalents. For example, Jesus Christ was a man—but he was not a "human person".

Again, paragraph 364 asserts in the English version that "humanity . . . [is] a unity of body and soul." But this is not true. "Humanity" has neither body nor soul; humanity is an abstraction. Only individual men have bodies and souls, as the French text clearly says in speaking of how "l'homme" is "vraiment un" though possessing "corps et âme". In paragraph 659, the same abstract word, "humanity", is used to translate Christ's "body", glorified at the Resurrection; indeed, according to this passage, it was Christ's "humanity" which was taken up into heaven! Quite apart from the questionable theological implications here, this is the kind of writing that wouldn't pass freshman English.

Oblivious to all other considerations in its single-minded determination to imprison the Catechism within the cheerless 382 walls of "inclusive language", then, this translation even proves capable of changing the inspired phrase in Romans 8:29 familiar to every Christian, "the first-born among many brethren", into—can this even be believed?—"the first­born within a large family". This absurdity appears not just once (CCC 381), not just twice (CCC 501), but at least three times (CCC 2790).

Enough then! How much easier it would have been simply to bow to the millennium-old fact that the word "man" is already "inclusive". More could be said, of course; many more examples could be adduced. But enough has now surely been said to indicate the utter folly of trying to bring out the Catechism of the Catholic Church in feminist-influenced "inclusive language". The translator of the Catechism should have stayed away from this minefield as surely as Adam and Eve should have passed up the forbidden fruit in the beginning.

In view of all the deficiencies of this "Englished" version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that we have been examining, then, it is surely devoutly to be hoped that the protracted sojourn of this translation in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome meansthat it is in the process of being thoroughly revised and corrected.


This article, originally entitled "The Translation of the Catechism", appeared under varying titles in Crisis, November 1993 (United States), AD2000, November 1993 (Australia), Le Temps de l'Fglise, December 1993 (France), Challenge, January 1994 (Canada), Brandsma Review, January 1994 (Ireland), and Faith, January/February 1994 (United Kingdom). It is reprinted here as written.

This above book has been discontinued by Ignatius Press and is being reproduced with the permission of Ignatius Press and the copyright holders. It is hoped to publish further parts of this book in the coming months.

Copyright ©; Kenneth D. Whitehead and the family of the late Msgr. Michael J. Wrenn. 1996 & 2009.

Version: 6th March 2009

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