Home Page   Back to Flawed Expectations Home Page


The English Translation
of the


Questionable interpretations of its intent and content were not the only problems the Catechism of the Catholic Church was to encounter in the United States. For there was also the whole controversial saga of the translation of the work into English.

When Pope John Paul II promulgated the approved French text of the Catechism in early December 1992, it was initially expected that an approved English version of it would not be very long in coming. What could possibly go wrong? It was a simple matter of translation. Primary responsibility for supervising the translation of the text into English was assigned to Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, along with Bishop David Konstant of Leeds, England.

Cardinal Law, of course, had been highly instrumental at the 1985 Synod of Bishops in getting the whole project of a universal catechism launched in the first place; he had also served as a member of the Commission on the Catechism for the Universal Church. In addition, he was one of five bishops, symbolically representing the five inhabited continents, to whom the Holy Father formally presented copies 129 of the Catechism when it was finally completed; he it was who formally responded to the Holy Father on that occasion on behalf of all the bishops of the world.1 Few deserved greater personal credit for the whole vast enterprise of the Catechism than Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston.

Bishop David Konstant, for his part, had served as one of the seven key bishop-authors (and one priest) of the Catechism, and hence his own personal Contribution to the project was also of the highest order. Few could match or even come close to the contribution that both of these prelates had already made to the whole enterprise. The choice of them to supervise the English translation thus seemed to be an especially auspicious one.

In the event, however, the translation of the Catechism into English turned out to be one of the most difficult and contentious things encountered in the entire course of the almost seven-year writing and editing project. The biblical Jacob labored for seven years for the comely Rachel, only to discover at the end of the seven years that he had the uncomely Leah on his hands instead. This is pretty much how the initial project to translate the Catechism into English fared as well.

It had early been decided that the task of rendering the text into English should be primarily done by a single translator, both to ensure a consistent narrative style and to produce a relatively rapid translation. In principle, this was a very good decision. On the basis of a sample translation submitted, a pastor in Richmond Hill, Georgia, Fr. Douglas Kent Clark, was chosen to be the translator. He was a former North American College classmate of the rector of 130 Boston's St. John's Seminary; earlier, he had been one of a small number who had provided Cardinal Law, at the latter's request, with critiques of early drafts of the Catechism.

Two editorial committees were established to assist Fr. Clark in preparing the English translation: one in Britain, headed by Bishop Konstant; and one in the United States, headed by Boston's seminary rector, Msgr. Timothy J. Moran. According to his own account, Fr. Clark worked at the seminary, taking a leave of absence from his parish for that purpose. He began work on the translation in January 1992 and completed a draft in October of that same year. Having circulated this draft for comments and criticisms, he completed his final version in time for submission to the Holy See by February 1993.2

That was when the trouble started. The public record as to what actually happened is sparse. Rumors of course abounded—and naturally multiplied over the period of more than one year before an English translation of the Catechism was finally approved by Rome. In the course of that same protracted year, and more, during which no official English version of the text was available and there was no public explanation of the fact nor any certainty as to when an English text would be available, statements were made at different times by various interested parties, not all of which served to clarify the real cause of the delay.

The brief account that follows of what lay behind Rome's difficulties with Fr. Clark's translation and of what Rome then proceeded to do in order to get an acceptable translation is quite deliberately limited, except where explicitly noted, to facts already in the public domain. 131 Both the present authors have worked as professional translators from the French. The question of the translation of the Catechism was naturally a matter of intense interest to both of us. As it happened, one of us, Msgr. Wrenn, came into possession of a copy of the Clark translation. After reading and studying this translation, and consulting with others about it, he became greatly disturbed since he found serious—and he thought obvious—deficiencies. He soon sought the assistance of another New York archdiocesan priest, also fluent in French, Fr. Gerald E. Murray, and the two of them spent many hours laboriously comparing the Clark translation with the original French text.3 It soon became abundantly clear that this English translation that had been submitted to Rome for approval fell far short of the standard required for the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The deficiencies both priests found were carefully documented so that they could be given to those in a position to call them to the attention of Roman authorities.

Further, from late 1992 through 1993, Msgr. Wrenn worked with Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ., head of Ignatius Press in San Francisco, and with Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis of the University of San Francisco, to document the pervasive errors in translation and, as part of this process, to provide examples of an accurate, literary translation. This documentation was submitted to interested ecclesiastical authorities.

It became clear enough later that these were not the only reservations about the translation prepared by Fr. Clark that had been submitted to Church authorities or that Roman analysts themselves discovered and developed. Very early, apparently, the Roman authorities already had a soberly objective 132 appreciation of the deficiencies of the translation that had been submitted to them.

In the course of the year 1993, the Holy See came under increasing pressure, from more than one bishops' conference in the English-speaking world for neither producing an approved English-language version of the Catechism nor explaining what the delay was all about. At this time, Msgr. Wrenn approached Mr. Whitehead for further assistance on the whole question of the translation of the Catechism.

Because the chorus of disapproval against Rome was swelling by then to new heights, we decided to prepare our own article-length critique of the Clark translation so that Catholics in English-speaking countries would be enabled to understand that the translation had to be delayed. This article, entitled The Translation of the Catechism, was published simultaneously in late 1993 and early 1994 in periodicals in Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, and the United States (as well as, in an adapted French version, in France).

Our article attracted a fair amount of attention at the time, and we hope and trust that it served to convince many that there were very good reasons for the delay in Rome in releasing an approved English translation of the Catechism. In our view, we provided ample documentation and analysis to justify delaying the translation. The reader may reach his own conclusions about this particular question, though, since we have included in Appendix One of this volume the complete text of this article, The Translation of the Catechism, as it was originally written and published.

What the general public record indicates concerning Rome's unwillingness to accept the English translation originally submitted is that Cardinal Bernard Law and Bishop David Konstant met in Rome on February 3-4, 1993, with Cardinal Ratzinger and others connected with what came to 133 be called the Interdicasterial Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We know of no published record of what actually occurred at that meeting. In a later public lecture, Archbishop Schönborn remarked in passing that the proper principles of translation were discussed and decided upon at this meeting.

About a week after the meeting, however, Bishop David Konstant issued a statement that simply stated that "the principal matter under discussion was the inclusive use of language. It was agreed that great sensitivity must be paid to this matter. In translation the meaning must be clear and accurate. This will require great attention to how the word man is used."4

By the end of March 1993, however, further press accounts had surfaced that indicated that the meeting had in fact been highly critical of the translation, mostly, it seemed —but not entirely—because of the inclusive-language issue. One press account related that "Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger told Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston that there was too much inclusive language",5 while another press account reported that "the Vatican has delayed publication of the English translation of the Roman Catholic Church's Universal Catechism, concerned that language used to assuage feminists could alter the text's theological meaning."6

However that may be, it would appear that, whatever was said at the meeting in Rome in early February, the criticisms 134 cannot have been either unduly harsh or entirely definitive, since the immediate public reaction of Cardinal Law was to publish in the issue of February 12, 1993, of his archdiocesan newspaper, The Pilot, a defence of the translation that had been made, indicating that the translator, Fr. Douglas Kent Clark, had "rendered a magnificent service to the whole Church in putting into English the Catechism of the Catholic Church." The Boston Cardinal wrote that "there was a time when man would generally be understood in the light of a context as meaning all human beings. This is not always true today," he declared, "given the cultural shifts concerning inclusivity." Cardinal Law indicated at the same time that the criticisms made in Rome could easily be remedied and that Fr. Clark should be able to do so "in several weeks." 7

Nearly a year and a half later, after the Catechism had finally appeared in English, British Vaticanologist-journalist Peter Hebblethwaite, looking back, reported that "Law and Konstant thought Clark would be well able to respond to the objections. . . . There was no sense of danger Immediately after the February 1993 meeting, Clark set to work to respond to the ninety-three pages of criticism to which his work had been subjected."8 This same report would seem to indicate, by the way, that Cardinal Law, Bishop Konstant, and Fr. Clark were themselves given every opportunity, without any public disclosure or possible embarrassment, to provide the necessary corrections to the translation that Rome had found to be unacceptable as it was.

Apparently their decision (judging from Cardinal Law's laudatory article in The Pilot) was to try to defend the translation 135 as made. Fr. Clark produced an eighty-one-page reply to the objections that had been registered. Peter Hebblethwaite later judged Fr. Clark's response to be simply superb —but then he saw nothing wrong with the original translation or with the use of inclusive language.

At the May 1993 conference on the Catechism at the Catholic University of America already mentioned above, Fr. Clark denied, contrary to what Bishop Konstant had plainly said, that inclusive language was the major issue. He claimed that the problems with his translation "largely revolved around æsthetics"; his critics, he said, preferred "a Latinate style". (He also claimed that "two priests" had "leaked", presumably deviously and secretly, criticisms of his translation to Rome. Since Rome was reviewing the translation at that time, it is hard to see how privately transmitting criticisms to competent authority can be described as a "leak".)9

Fr. Clark turned out to be, at the Catholic University conference and also in print, an almost belligerent defender of radical feminist language, claiming that "so-called inclusive language reflects a concern that is almost overwhelming in the United States"10—a proposition that could be classified as true only if the phrase "among radical feminists and those influenced by them" were added to it. One has to wonder what sort of people a priest such as this meets and talks to; it is hard to picture parishioners in Richmond Hill, Georgia, being "overwhelmingly concerned" with the issue of inclusive language.

Even while defending the decision to use inclusive language 136, however, Fr. Clark asserted that the decision was not his alone but was made by the editorial committees he worked under. He concluded the apologia he published about it by citing testimonials to the supposed excellence of his translation from former skeptics converted to the cause of inclusive language by reading his translation.11 In point of fact, Cardinal Law, in his Boston Pilot article mentioned above, seemed to be stating his belief that inclusive language was here to stay. Bishop Konstant, too, has been publicly quoted as saying that inclusive language is "basically a matter of ordinary development of language", which, the English prelate added, "pressure groups who try to associate the use of inclusive language with the feminist movement .. . should' not be allowed to politicize."12

On this subject, the present writers must strenuously beg to differ. First of all, we refer the reader to Appendix One, where Fr. Clark's Catechism translation is examined at some length; and also to Appendix Two, where the principles of translation on which Fr. Clark claimed to be working. are similarly subjected to scrutiny in a paper that one of the authors delivered at a conference in late 1993. Appendix Three further includes a few examples comparing the Clark translation both with the original French text and with the final English text approved by Rome.

What is very clear in retrospect is that the Roman authorities did not fail to notice the manifold defects in the Clark translation, regardless of who it might have been who first called their attention to these defects (or who, in the colorful language of Fr. Andrew Greeley in his syndicated 137 newspaper column, first "snitched" on the American bishops about the whole thing).13

In our view, it would have been hard to miss these defects. Evidently the eighty-one-page rebuttal of criticisms that Fr. Clark submitted was also considered insufficient, in spite of the confidence Cardinal Law and Bishop Konstant apparently reposed in it. Their own views in favor of inclusive language would appear to have badly misled them here.

However that may be, some time around April 1993, the final decision was made in Rome to undertake a thorough revision, if not an outright rewrite, of the English translation of the Catechism that had been submitted. This decision inevitably meant that there would be a rather considerable delay in the publication of the Catechism in English.

Peter Hebblethwaite later reported that "the battle for inclusive language was lost in a special subcommittee of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith set up after the February meeting. While Clark toiled away at his answer to the objections, the decision was being made to entrust the revision to Joseph Eric D'Arcy, archbishop of Hobart, Tasmania, the island off the southern coast of Australia."14

It should be further emphasized that the defects of the Clark translation were not limited to the question of in­clusive language. The same Peter Hebblethwaite whom we have been quoting—mostly because he was the principal journalist who continued to write about the issue—had reported, following the February 1993 Rome meeting with Cardinal Law and Bishop Konstant, that only "some of the objections" to the translation went back to the inclusive 138 language issue. Other objections were ascribed to what Hebblethwaite coyly styled "an ideology that dare not speak its name", but which we may probably understand in normal English to be theological objections: in other words, the translation was not doctrinally sound in certain respects, quite apart from the inclusive-language issue.

All along, then, it was the responsibility and, indeed, the duty, of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith not to allow such a translation to go forward. In particular, it is worth noting, again according to Peter Hebblethwaite, that "the latest delay is due to a sixty-five-page catalog of objections from Dominican Bishop Christoph Schönborn, auxiliary of Vienna, and secretary of the committee that composed the Catechism.15

In short, by all indications, there were serious, very serious reasons why Rome had to decline to accept the initial English version of the Catechism. Anyone interested in seeing the Catechism done right in English—and that should mean everyoneshould surely have applauded the vigilance and perception of the Holy See in this matter. Any authority responsible for the basic integrity of any organization, or for its basic "policy documents", would have been strictly obliged to take the same kind of action that Rome took on this translation. This would have been standard "management" practice in the secular world.

In the event, a drumfire of constant, carping criticism was heard in many English-speaking countries throughout the entire course of the year and more that no Catechism in English was available. The U.S. bishops even passed a resolution at their June 1993 meeting in New Orleans expressing 139 their "serious concern about the pastoral implications of the continued delay of the Catechism's publication".16 In September 1993, a group of U.S. bishops on their ad limina visit to Rome raised the issue again with the Pope himself, and so did a group of Canadian bishops the same month.17 Similar criticisms were still being made as late as December 1993, when the Pope reportedly "shrugged his shoulders as if to say, 'it's coming. "18

Frustration was understandable. Many programs, conferences, workshops, and the like had been organized on the assumption that an English-language Catechism would soon be available. The original timetables of the publishers had to be scrapped. Hundreds of thousands of buyers of the book, who had ordered advance copies, were left empty handed sine die. What could possibly have gone wrong with what should have been a relatively simple translation from the French? "Everyone is aware that it is an embarrassment to have it still not out", Bishop John C. Reiss of Trenton, New Jersey, was quoted in the press as saying.19

It was an embarrassment, all right. But where did the fault for it lie? Was it the fault of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or of the Interdicasterial Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church? This was what the average person was more or less led to believe, based on the publicly available information and news stories: "The Vatican" had been presented with a perfectly good English 140 translation, but for tortuous, capricious, and otherwise incomprehensible reasons, it was continuing to hold it up. And, as usual, nobody in Rome ever offered any explanation (perhaps so as not to have to state publicly—and embarrassingly—the fact that the translation submitted was, in fact, not "a perfectly good English translation").

It is unfortunate that this Roman decision was not everywhere accepted. Like a dedicated military officer concerned for the morale of his men, Cardinal Law, in particular, seemed to consider it his special duty to defend the translator and the original "team" that had been engaged to do the work. In a way, this is admirable, of course, but not when carried to Richard Nixon-style lengths of defending whatever one's men end up doing. Surely the conscientious decision of the Roman authorities who reviewed and decided to reject the translation deserved some respect as well. Yet as late as September 1993, Cardinal Law was still being quoted in the press as saying that questioning the motives of the team that did the original translation was "manifestly unjust and not in the spirit of the Gospel. . . . [They had] one agenda, and one agenda only, and that was to render an accurate, effective, useful English translation."20

That may very well be. But on the basis of the public record that is available, it is not clear that questioning the motives of anybody has ever been an issue. In the nature of the case, it is impossible to know what the motives of the translator and his collaborators were, beyond their own publicly stated reasons for doing what they did.

The objections made to the translation, however, were 141 patently based, not upon motives, but upon an examination of the end product that was submitted. Whatever the motives of the translator and his team, their product was carefully and responsibly "weighed in the balance and found wanting" (Dan 5:27). Any objective judgment of the case would have to conclude on the evidence that it was, first of all, Cardinal Law and Bishop Konstant themselves who were not well served by the "team" that was initially engaged by them to do the English translation.

This has long been a not uncommon phenomenon in the postconciliar Church: the principal shepherds and teachers "sent out" by Christ, the bishops, have not always been well served by the secondary and tertiary "apostles" whom they have "sent out" in their turn. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the successors of the original apostles have sometimes been let down rather badly in recent years, and we certainly have another instance of that here.


In early 1993, when Roman authorities evidently realized that a thorough revision of the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church submitted to them was going to be necessary, these same Roman authorities turned, characteristically, to another residential bishop in order to get the job done properly. We have repeatedly stressed in this narrative the extent to which the Catechism has been, quite simply, the work of bishops. This has been consistently true from the outset of the project, and it proved to be true again when it came to producing an acceptable English translation of the work.

The superintending Providence that has evidently overseen 142 the conception, development, completion, and publication of this new Catechism has hovered over a process of absolutely first-class execution of the work at nearly every stage. This has only been possible, humanly speaking, because of the ability—and the availability—of specific ordained successors of the apostles for each important phase of the work. Christ's plan providing for the episcopacy to guide his Church on the human level most certainly did not go awry as far as this Catechism is concerned.

In the matter of the English translation, the bishop to whom Rome was able to turn at the critical juncture was the Most Reverend Eric D'Arcy, archbishop of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. Archbishop D'Arcy is probably best known,in the United States for his book Conscience and Its Right to Freedom, published by the original Sheed and Ward firm back in 1960. At that time, the young Fr. D'Arcy was a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Melbourne, and, in this book, he undertook to show from a primarily Thomistic standpoint that, properly understood, Catholic doctrine not only allows but positively demands full freedom of conscience for all, even those who unfortunately happen to be in error.21

When we consider that the book was written five years before Vatican II enacted its Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humane, it has to be considered an even more remarkable and seminal achievement. Some Catholic traditionalists have long darkly suspected that the American Jesuit Fr. John Courtney Murray somehow put the Fathers of the Council up to something outside the Catholic tradition when they came out in favor of religious freedom. 143 These traditionalists have failed to reckon with the fact that an independent investigator, the young Fr. Eric D'Arcy, derived the same conclusion from the same Catholic, Thomistic tradition independently of, and before, the Council.

That the same man, since becoming an archbishop, should have been called upon more than thirty years later to correct the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church no doubt constitutes a major irony. In point of fact, though, Archbishop D'Arcy had long been seriously interested in the problems of catechesis. He had also perceptively written of the need to combine the doctrinal approach of conveying truth to the mind with a more experiential approach effecting a more solid assimilation into one's life of the truths taught. His model here was Cardinal John Henry Newman, who, Archbishop D'Arcy has noted, "insists passionately on the objective truths of Christian doctrine, but he insists with equal passion on the intensely personal character of the believer's possession of them". "For Newman," the Archbishop has emphasized, "authentic Christian faith involves both intellect and heart."

"Experience is indispensable for making the truths of the faith one's own", Archbishop D'Arcy has further written. Nevertheless, the truths of the faith themselves still remain, as too many of today's new catechists have evidently forgotten and have therefore tried to form and motivate the pupil instead on the basis of "experience" alone. The truths of the faith are what the Church proclaims, of course, most recently and comprehensively in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Archbishop considers the latter "a providential initiative of the universal Church". And "to catechetical writers and publishers," he believes, "it holds out the most glorious opportunity in four hundred years." "An active 144 knowledge of the catechism is a motivum credibilitatis", he further quotes Newman as saying.22

In brief, the bishop called upon to rescue the English translation of the Catechism was fluent in French and thoroughly knowledgeable about modern catechesis and its problems, including especially its overemphasis on experience at the expense of truth and knowledge. He was also thoroughly knowledgeable about how the Catechism can and must fit into the larger picture of the Church's life today.

By May 1994, after the approved official text in English had finally been unveiled—this text was first formally presented by Cardinal Ratzinger to the ongoing Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops on May 4, 199423 —it had generally become publicly known that Archbishop D'Arcy had been the one primarily responsible for making the corrections and revisions in the English translation of the Catechism and for producing what we now possess in the published English text.

On May 21, 1994, the London Tablet interviewed Archbishop D'Arcy about how the revision was done. The published article based on this interview probably represents the most unvarnished public account we have about how the Catechism was finally able to make its entry into English- language discourse.24 According to this article, Archbishop D'Arcy received the text of the Clark translation in April 145 1993 and worked on it intensively for more than three and a half months, after which the revision he had made was sent out by Rome to various consultants for comments and criticisms. Presumably further work was then done on the basis of the responses received. The Archbishop was assisted in his task by another Australian priest and lecturer at the University of Tasmania, Fr. John Wall.

Archbishop D'Arcy made no claim to be the sole crafter of the final revised and rewritten English translation. He remarked in his Tablet interview that he had no sure way of knowing what the final version would look like, although he had no reason to think it would depart significantly from the revision he had made. The "final" final version was evidently completed in Rome and was communicated to the heads of the episcopal conferences in English-speaking countries by the Interdicasterial Commission for the Catechism of the Catholic Church in February 1994.25

Although Archbishop D'Arcy bore the burden of making all the tedious textual corrections and revisions, he was exceedingly generous in his appreciation of the Clark translation. "Eighty percent of Clark is still there", he said at one point in his Tablet interview. "Our contribution is maybe one percent." Or again: "To my mind, Clark reads better stylistically than what we gave. My hope is that we conveyed less elegantly, but a little more closely, the substantial content of the French original." (In the view of the present writers, this is a gracious understatement of rather considerable magnitude.)

Even though he was thus very modest about his own contribution and treated the version he was commissioned to correct more than fairly, Archbishop D'Arcy still did not 146 fail to bring out certain abiding key issues with regard to the whole translation question. On the basis of the quoted comments of the Archbishop in this interview, we formulate several generalizations on this subject; each of these gener­alizations is followed by some of his own remarks:

  • It is the responsibility of a translator to render what an original text says, not what someone thinks it should have said. Archbishop D'Arcy's interview: "I think that for the first translation a lot of language was taboo, and I think that if you are translating an original you mustn't treat anything as taboo. You've got to put it in, whether you furiously dis­agree with it yourself or not, whether or not you would express it that way. I think you've got to find the most faithful counterpart you can to the original."

  • The use of so-called "inclusive language" inescapably distorts the meaning of many texts. Archbishop D'Arcy's interview: " 'Mankind' and 'humankind' . . . I don't think that there's much difference in the connotation or the denotation. Those who propose inclusive language are often anxious to avoid the word 'man', so they often put in 'mortal' or 'mortals'. Well, I don't think that has the same connotation as 'man'. But feminism and inclusivism, I suppose, they're both subspecies, are they, of politically correct speech?"

  • The distortions that arise from using inclusive language can cause doctrinal distortions in theological texts. Archbishop D'Arcy's interview (in answer to the question of whether inclusive language carries doctrinal implications): "On occasion, yes. The second divine person became man—that would be the clearest example. But in a way, even more sinuously throughout the whole thought, it seems to me, one of the many teachings being developed throughout the whole Catechism is the relationship between God and man. If you use different words you dilute the richness of that relationship. . . . The relationship between the two is 147 one of the main teachings of the Catechism, and it is more perspicuous if you keep the same words."
  • Those who claim to be offended by the traditional generic language that is a natural feature of English are denying to others the right to know what the original text says. Archbishop D'Arcy's interview: "I do hope they're not offended at us trying to give a faithful rendering. It would be wrong for us to be bowdlerizing and avoiding words that give offense— well, that's what Bowdler did, didn't he: he went through Shakespeare and anything that would bring a blush of shame to a maiden cheek went out. We think that you're entitled to know what Shakespeare said and that you're entitled to know what this Catechism says. Our revision isn't meant to be at all insensitive. It's trying to convey faithfully what's there in the French original."

Even if there were no other objections to the use of inclusive language—and there are, of course—all these points made by Archbishop D'Arcy in his London Tablet interview by themselves add up to a rather decisive indictment against the attempt to render the Catholic Church's own modern statement of her faith and life in such artificial language. The combination of both blindness and arrogance inherent in such an attempt is really breathtaking, in fact. Although we should not lose sight of the fact that there were other things wrong with the Clark translation besides the inclusive language, this issue nevertheless did surely constitute the greatest single obstacle to the acceptance of any such translation for the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The rather dramatic failure in this instance of the radical feminist version of what novelist George Orwell aptly called totalitarian "newspeak"—ideologically driven artificial language employed to serve politicized ends—is significant not only as far as catechesis is concerned. Hopefully, 148 it will have further implications in the life of the Church at large, most especially in the liturgy, since there appear to be not a few liturgists in official positions in the Church to­day who evidently believe that radical feminist imperatives must override nearly every other consideration of meaning, tradition, taste, or practice. 26

One such influential liturgical expert recently wrote, rather in wonderment, with regard to the very idea that anyone might ever want to question the use of inclusive language: "Most people supposed [it] had been largely resolved in the liturgical and biblical fields during the 1970s and 1980s."27

What he appears to mean by "largely resolved" is that he and his like-minded colleagues have been steadily introducing inclusive language into both liturgical texts and scriptural translations, and, for a long time, nobody in authority objected.

Not only had the bishops of the United States not objected up to then, for example, but in 1990 they actually issued their own set of "criteria" for "evaluating" the use of inclusive language in ecclesiastical texts. Fr. Douglas Kent Clark did not fail to seize upon precisely these bishops' criteria as at least partial justification for his own use of this artificial, feminist-inspired type of language in his translation of the Catechism.28 In the light of Rome's decision on the Clark translation, however, it is no longer clear whether these criteria can continue to stand. 149 It is amazing how so many people today seem to take it for granted that inclusive language simply has to be used, that somehow it truly does constitute the wave of the future, without these questions ever having been seriously discussed or debated. This, of course, is one of the dangers of simply leaving important questions to those in "fields" such as Scripture, liturgy, or catechetics; as part of an educational elite, they are as likely as not to be so out of touch with the average person, and even with the society or culture as a whole, as simply not to know any longer what is appropriate and what is not. Such people are the natural prey of ideologues of the modern radical feminist type, who somehow successfully persuade them that the feminist cause— while it is actually fading in society at large as its deleterious consequences become more and more evident—is still of "overwhelming concern" to everybody.

Surely Christ "sent out" average men as his apostles —fishermen, tax collectors, tent makers—in part to guard against the potential tyranny of "experts" and "establishments" of every kind. But not even the system Christ established is going to work if those "sent out" elect to put themselves instead back into the hands of the ideological elites who are our modern experts and the mainstays of our various scriptural, theological, liturgical, and catechetical establishments.

When Rome was faced in the cold light of dawn with the full-blown text of an entire Catechism attempting to set forth Catholic doctrine in inclusive language, however, it must have rather quickly become evident that the whole thing was simply not going to work. Even those who perhaps had no antecedent objection to the attempt to use inclusive language could no longer fail to grasp the reality of the situation. Confronted with the actual result, there really 150 was no choice except to reject it, whatever the other difficulties and embarrassments that might then ensue. One senses the realization of this even behind the unfailing courtesy and generosity of Archbishop D'Arcy's remarks: whatever praise he might have seen fit to bestow on the Clark translation, and however sincerely in the particular situation, there could surely not have been, at the same time, any doubt whatsoever in his mind that this translation would simply never do.

Faced with the ineluctable fact of the actual inclusive-language translation, others have independently reached the same conclusion. One of the most sober and sensible of all the evaluations of the question came from another one of the bishops who had already played a vitally significant role in bringing the Catechism into being. This was Archbishop William J. Levada, then ordinary of Portland, Oregon and later of San Francisco, one of the seven bishop-writers (and one priest) who served on the international editorial committee for the Catechism.

Ever since he became a member of the hierarchy, Archbishop Levada has apparently been cognizant of a large, twofold fact about the Church in our day, a fact of which many, many people are equally conscious and knowledgeable but which, for whatever reason, has never been officially admitted by the hierarchy as a whole to be the case. This large, twofold fact consists of the following: namely, that (1) there is widespread public dissent from authentic Catholic teaching in the Church today, especially on the part of some theologians and other Church professionals; and that (2) this dissent from Church teachings, far from being a theoretical, academic, ivory-tower-type (and therefore relatively harmless) phenomenon, sometimes ends up being taught as normative in Catholic classrooms at all levels in the Church. 151

In the 1980s, Archbishop Levada discovered in a publication issued by the National Catholic Education Association (NCEA) that Catholic educators were henceforth supposed "to teach . . . students the importance of dialogue and respectful dissent" (emphasis added). Many American Catholics had already made the same or a similar discovery, to their dismay; but as a member of the hierarchy, the then Archbishop of Portland was in a position to do something about it. And he did.

He went before the NCEA's 1986 national convention as a featured speaker and told the assembled Catholic educators in no uncertain terms that:

Catholic theology does not recognize the right to dissent, if by that we mean adopting conclusions which are contrary to the clear teachings of the authoritative, noninfallible magisterium and which are presented to the public in such a way as to constitute equivalently an alternative personal magisterium.29

This is a careful, measured statement—but an exact one. To our knowledge it constitutes the first time that a member of the American hierarchy ever spoke out before a national forum and excluded the type of theological dissent that has unfortunately been only too common in the United States in the postconciliar era. No doubt it took both courage and persistence on the part of the Archbishop to do this. Moreover, the statement was actually made prior to the definitive decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that pioneer dissenter Fr. Charles E. Curran of the Catholic University of America was no longer eligible to teach Catholic theology because of his public espousal of such dissent. 152

And Archbishop Levada's statement also came four years before the CDF finally issued a definitive ruling on the question. The CDF "Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian" (May 1990) said, in effect, what Archbishop Levada had already said to the NCEA convention, namely, that theological dissent was not legitimate.

On the subject of the Clark translation of the Catechism, the Archbishop again forthrightly came forward to explain why this translation simply could not in the nature of the case be suitable, however sincere and dedicated the translator and the members of his team may have been. His analysis was not a critique of the translation as such. Rather, it was an examination of Fr. Clark's own exposition of the principles upon which his translation was based. Archbishop Levada, in an article that proved to be a model of both clarity and charity, showed how these principles were necessarily defective and inadequate for the kind of translation the Catechism represented.30

In his article, the Archbishop spoke favorably of Fr. Clark as a "knowledgeable and dedicated craftsman", who had undertaken the "daunting task" of producing "an English text which is contemporary". Nevertheless, in Archbishop Levada's judgment, and on the basis of the same principles Fr. Clark had enunciated in his article in The Living Light which we have already drawn upon above,31 "a thorough revision of this translation was necessary." Indeed, the Archbishop thought that "the process of producing the English translation should probably have had a wider consultation." 153

"One can imagine", he wrote, "projects for which a freer translation, even a paraphrase, might be desirable. The Catechism is not one of them"—not if it is going to be a "compendium of all Catholic doctrine concerning both faith and morals", which is what the 1985 Synod of Bishops had called for.

In order for the Catechism to be the "sure norm" for teaching the faith that Pope John Paul II had said it was, Archbishop Levada believed it had to be "the same in every language, and it must be exactly what has been approved as an exercise of the ordinary magisterium of the pope." In this connection, it was surely a mistake to adopt, he thought, as Fr. Clark had adopted, principles of translation developed for liturgical texts. Since these texts must be proclaimed aloud, words and phrases may sometimes have to be added, or omitted, or sometimes moved around, in order to produce a smooth-flowing oral text. Applying similar principles to the translation of the Catechism "frequently produced an English text which substantially alters the original", in Archbishop Levada's view.

On the specific question of inclusive language, Archbishop Levada recalled that "the earliest discussions of the translation project did not object to such an attempt." Viewing the result, however, he concluded that "the translation of a doctrinal text such as the Catechism into an 'inclusive' English translation is always difficult and may not even be possible." In his view, "the decision to produce a (horizontal) inclusive-language translation took on a priority to which even the principle of fidelity to the original was sacrificed." He thought the same thing to be true of the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which was used by the Clark translation: textual accuracy was "sacrificed . . . to the principle of inclusivity". 154

Archbishop Levada adduced and discussed several examples from this NRSV Bible that tended to prove his point. For example, the NRSV begins Psalm 1 with: "Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked"—instead of the Revised Standard Version's "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked." According to Archbishop Levada, the NRSV version does not allow the "traditional liturgical sense of the Church praying the psalms with Christ, when it changes the singular person of the Hebrew original to the plural". Just so.


In many ways, producing an acceptable English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church proved to be as difficult as writing it in the first place. Moreover, the fact that this English text—necessarily—came out written in the traditional generic English that has characterized the language for more than a thousand years proved to be as big an obstacle to the proper reception of it, at least in certain quarters, as did the fact that it continued to insist on teaching Catholic "doctrine".

We have seen how the Roman authorities realized that the translation produced for them by what we may surely characterize as "typical" modern Church "professionals" simply could not be used. This has been true of the Catechism project generally. If it had been left to today's typical experts and professionals, it is a pretty sure bet that there never would have been any Catechism at all. The sad fact is that too many of today's professionals and experts in the Church are simply attuned too closely to the Weltanschauung of the contemporary secular world. They are convinced 155 that what Vatican Council II meant is that Catholics should henceforth adopt many of the standards of the modern world.

What the Council really meant, of course, is that Catholics should go out into the modern world with the standards of the Church! It is the decadent modern standards of what Pope John Paul II has aptly styled our contemporary "culture of death" that must yield to the tenets of the ancient faith that once, for a period of time, did provide the foundations and standards for the Western world.

The tenets of this ancient faith are now embodied in a wholly contemporary form in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism project was able to be realized when the successors of the apostles of Christ, the Catholic bishops, took Christ's commission seriously and determined to do what was necessary to fulfill the teaching aspect of that commission by providing an authoritative and usable compendium of Catholic truths and practice for modern man. There is an important lesson residing in the fact that all this was carried out on the episcopal level.

The same thing turned out to be true of the translation of the Catechism into English: only when the bishops themselves took the task in hand did an acceptable product materialize. As we have just been recounting, one archbishop had to take in hand the task of correcting the defective translation produced, as it were, by the "experts"; and another archbishop had to undertake personally the public defense of the need to revise that translation in the pages of a journal too often given over to the conventionally liberal revisionist views of the today's catechetical establishment.

In the climate that currently prevails in the Church, however, especially among these same Church professionals and experts, it is by no means assured that these sterling efforts 156 personally exerted by members of the hierarchy will themselves be accepted.

On the contrary, the long delay in bringing out an official English translation of the Catechism came in for sharp public criticism. The delay was caused, in the view of two of the current pillars of the catechetical establishment in the United States, by "an organized effort led by a group of dissidents who had their own agenda".32

The irrepressible Fr. Andrew Greeley blamed Fr. Joseph Fessio, SJ., for persuading Rome to reject the inclusive- language translation. Fr. Greeley called Fr. Fessio "the most powerful person in American Catholicism", a priest who supposedly "won a one-on-one with Cardinal Law" in getting the, Clark translation suppressed.33 It was implied that Archbishop D'Arcy, who made the revisions, was no doubt the subservient tool of all these same "dissidents"; perhaps Cardinal Ratzinger or even Pope John Paul II have now fallen under their sway as well! We can guess what these American Catholic establishmentarians must think of the cardinals and bishops who produced the Catechism itself.

If anything, though, this kind of criticism from people whose salaries are paid by the bishops, and, ultimately, by the faithful, turned out to be even sharper after the responsible Church authorities had fully and carefully explained why they had been strictly obliged to act as they did. Archbishops D'Arcy and Levada, for example, certainly provided reasonable and persuasive justifications for the actions taken by 157 Church authorities, as we have seen. Nevertheless, the periodical Church, for example, published by the quasi-official National Pastoral Life Center and widely distributed within the Church's own organizations and among Church professionals, quite intemperately denounced, in its fall 1994 number, the whole process by which U.S. Catholics obtained their Catechism in English.

"The Vatican displayed a dramatic lack of collegiality in the way it heard but did not heed the U.S. bishops, who had endorsed an inclusive language translation", an editorial in Church thundered. "Nor did the Vatican let them play any part in producing or approving the final text", it charged.

And again: "The Vatican walked the extra mile, albeit a mile out of its way, to offend many English-speaking women and men by replacing the inclusive-language text with a masculine-language one." "The Catechism, or substantial parts of it, will have to be retranslated in inclusive terms before it can be used effectively in many quarters", this editorial in Church concluded.34

The shallowness, as well as the inaccuracy, of this type of snap judgment is striking. This editorial evinces no concern whatsoever for the integrity of Church doctrine, for the idea that the Church is strictly obliged to "guard what has been entrusted" to her (1 Tim 6:20). It is devoid of any appreciation for the obviously arduous and extraordinary efforts of the prelates involved to do the right and necessary thing with the least possible offense to anyone. Instead, it is wholly and uncritically caught up in the coils of a modern ideology of radical feminism fundamentally alien to the Catholic faith.

Unhappily, even some American bishops appear unwisely 158 to have become caught up in the same cause. In a 1995 document submitted to the U.S. bishops' Ad Hoc Committee on Mission and Structure concerned with restructuring the bishops' conference, these particular bishops included the following complaint:

On vital issues of a pastoral nature, the bishops sometimes feel ignored. A recent example was the English translation of the Catechism. This was taken completely out of our hands and the hands of other English-speaking conferences. The English draft that we saw earlier appears to have been "intercepted" by a small group who succeeded in reintroducing sexist language at considerable delay, all this without consultation with us. We patiently waited, almost like children. This is cause for some wonder and suggests the need to develop a more mature, adult, collegial relationship with Rome.35

Unfortunately, this type of judgment is not untypical of those who particularly like to think they are "modern Catholics" today. We could cite other views against the generic English translation in the same vein. But let us again quote the late Vaticanologist-journalist Peter Hebblethwaite and his cry of indignation over the "offense" now given by the Catholic Church to "women" by issuing the Catechism in standard English: "Man, man, man booms like a cannon. It would be offensive even if we did not know the Clark version. 159 Knowing the Clark version, it becomes gratuitously offensive and almost incomprehensible. It involves a certain paranoia."36

According to Peter Hebblethwaite in the same article, "ordinary courtesy and late 20th century usage demands that inclusive language be used whenever possible."

Why is this thought to be so? Nowhere has it been demonstrated by anybody that inclusive language is what "women" either need or want, or that "women" have simply been excluded from English discourse for the last thousand years. There has, of course, been a sustained ideological push for inclusive language over the past twenty or thirty years by the radical feminists, and many people have inescapably been influenced by this. There are even people who go on trying to use inclusive language. Perhaps there are even many who are convinced that it ought to be used. Perhaps there are even some women who really are "offended" when it is not used; they have certainly been told often enough they should be offended.

Nevertheless, inclusive language still naturally strikes most native speakers of English as artificial, stilted, inelegant, and clumsy. Few people ever do resort to it unless they are specifically thinking about it, and even then the results they come up with are rarely happy, as some of them almost ruefully realize themselves. Inclusive language is unnatural, in short, and native speakers of English know it.

Some people who pay close attention to questions of style in writing or speaking have the growing impression that the fad or fashion for this highly contrived type of speech is in any case beginning to fade in the secular world at large. Even some convinced feminists are increasingly lapsing into normal 160 speech. It is true that some recently published dictionaries, in response to feminist pressure, now list the definition "an adult male human being" as the first definition of "man"; but these very same dictionaries have also retained the meaning "human being" or "member of the human species" in their definition of the word. They have retained this definition for the simple reason that these meanings also continue to be basic English usage. It is almost impossible to speak the language without resorting to these meanings, at least sometimes. If the Catechism translation exercise proved anything, it certainly proved this: inclusive language does not work.

In other words, the word "man" still does "include" women when used in a generic sense—a sense always recogniz­able and understandable by any native speaker of English, feminist sympathizer or not. The notion that standard English usage is inherently offensive to women, however, is still imagined to be the case by some Church professionals, including, sad to say, some clerics and even bishops, as we have seen. Catholic priests (and bishops) may even be par­ticularly vulnerable to feminist-style propaganda in this regard, since there was a time, not very long ago, when the typical clerical culture in the United States did sometimes tend toward neglect of certain women's concerns. There was even at times a deliberate clerical avoidance of contact with women—prudently keeping one's distance, as it were. Today's feminists have not been slow to exploit possible feelings of uneasiness, or even of guilt, about this former clerical culture on the part of some of those in Holy Orders.

But decisions concerning the Church's new Catechism for the twenty-first century and beyond should never be made on the basis of such superficial and even transient considerations. The Holy See's action in the matter of the English 161 translation of the Catechism was exactly right. Where, indeed, would we be without the oversight of the Holy See on this as on a number of other issues? Over and over again its judgments on some controversial matters have been resoundingly vindicated.

We may fittingly conclude this chapter by looking briefly at Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's own serene account of the whole English-translation process. In view of all the rumors, charges, and countercharges that swirled around this whole affair at its height, the Cardinal's own sober and careful summary of what took place deserves to be noted. First of all, the Cardinal spoke of the need for an accurate single English translation for use in various countries where perhaps the "demand" for inclusive language may not be quite as visible as it is in the United States and the United Kingdom. Secondly, Cardinal Ratzinger stressed that the translation had to be accuratefaithfully reflecting what the original says. It also had to be in a style "in keeping with the magisterial nature of the text".

Cardinal Ratzinger did not fail to thank publicly the episcopal conferences for their contributions and to thank Cardinal Law and Bishop Konstant warmly by name as well. It cannot be said that Rome failed to give them every opportunity to extricate themselves from the inclusive-language morass without any embarrassment to them personally or to their bishops' conferences. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that Rome simply took the heat, without complaint or evasion, on the whole Catechism-translation business.

Thus, Cardinal Ratzinger, on behalf of the Holy See, can certainly not be said to have failed to accord both maximum respect to the concerned bishops and maximum credit where credit was due. Furthermore, his own description of what subsequently took place could hardly have been more delicately 161 or judiciously stated. One keeps hoping and wishing that Rome would sometimes at least get credit for the respect and sensitivity with which it does typically proceed in these matters, as the following paragraph of Cardinal Ratzinger's account evidences:

The [translation] was subsequently revised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The revision, which by the same token was necessary for every translation of the Catechism, was carried out in accordance with the procedure specified by the Interdicasterial Commission established by the Holy See on 28 February, 1993, to deal with all questions relating to the Catechism after its promulgation. In examining the various translations of the Catechism (to date, about 60), the Congregation is particularly concerned to ensure that the content of the translation faithfully corresponds to the originally promulgated text. . . . For the revision of the English translation, the Congregation also made use of the collaboration of several diocesan ordinaries and various experts with competence in the different theological disciplines, who belonged to. English-speaking countries.37

This last sentence would certainly seem to be a remarkably tactful way of mentioning the central role of Archbishop Eric D'Arcy in the revision of the English translation.

What is there to be added? When the official English version of the Catechism was presented to the Holy Father on May 27, 1994, there were present at the ceremony not only Cardinal Law and Bishop Konstant, as was entirely fitting and proper; there was also present Archbishop Joseph Eric D'Arcy of Hobart, Tasmania, Australia!38


1. See Fr. John E. Pollard, "Planning the Implementation of the The Catechism of the Catholic Church" The Living Light, summer 1993, 75.     

2. See Douglas Kent Clark, "On `Englishing' the Catechism", " The Living Light, summer 1993, esp. 14-15.

3. Kathleen Nowacki Correia gave valuable assistance in serving as secretary for this effort.

4. Quoted by Peter Hebblethwaite, "Rome Mishandled Catechism's Language", National Catholic Reporter, March 26, 1993.

5. Quoted by Dawn Gibeau, "Changes Delay English-Language Catechism", National Catholic Reporter, March 26, 1993.

6. Larry Witham, "Gender-Neutral Catechism on Hold", Washington Times, March 26, 1993.

7. Quoted by Hebblethwaite, "Rome Mishandled".

8. Ibid.

9. See DOA: the Ambush of the Universal Catechism (by "Catholicus") (Notre Dame, Ind.: Crisis Books, 1993 113-14.

10. See Clark, "On 'Englishing' the Catechism".

11. Ibid.

12. Quoted by Linda Piwowarski, "I'm Not a Man of God", U.S. Catholic, October 1994.

13. Andrew M. Greeley, "Father Fessio's Power", Daily Southtown (Chicago area), November 27, 1994.

14. Hebblethwaite, "Rome Mishandled".

15. Peter Hebblethwaite, "Holy See Compiles Tome of Objections to British Edition", National Catholic Reporter, March 26, 1993.

16. "Resolution on Catechism translation", Origins, CNS Documentary Service, July 1, 1993.

17. CNS news story, "English Catechism Not Ready before End of Year", Arlington Catholic Herald, September 30, 1993.

18. CNS news story, "English-Language Catechism Still under Review", Arlington Catholic Herald, December 16, 1993.

19. Ibid.

20. CNS news story, "English Catechism Not Ready".

21. Eric D'Arcy, Conscience and Its Right to Freedom (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1960).

22. Eric D'Arcy, "The New Catechism and Cardinal Newman", Communio, fall 1993; see also Eric D'Arcy, "The Universal Catechism and Anglo-American Philosophy", The Living Light, winter 1991.

23. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, "A Single English Translation: Cardinal Ratzinger Presents Catechism Text to African Synod", L'Osservatore Romano (English Edition), May 11, 1994, 15.

24. See "Doctoring the Catechism: Chris McGillion Interviews Eric D'Arcy", The Tablet, May 21, 1994.

25. Ratzinger, "Single English Translation".

26. See especially Helen Hull Hitchcock, ed., The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992).

27. Frederick R. McManus,"Texts and Translations: The ICEL Story", The Living Light, spring 1995.

28. See Clark, "On `Englishing' the Catechism".

29. Archbishop William Levada, "Dissent and the Catholic Religion Teacher", Origins, NC Documentary Service, August 14, 1986.

30. Most Reverend William J Levada, "The Problem with 'Englishing' the Catechism", The Living Light, spring 1994.

31. See note 2 supra.

32. Mary Collins and Berard L. Marthaler, preface to Introducing the Catechism of the Catholic Church: Traditional Themes and Contemporary Issues, ed. Berard L. Marthaler (New York and Mahwah, NJ.: Paulist Press, 1994).

33. See Greeley, "Father Fessio's Power".

34. "Translating the Faith", Church, fall 1994.

35. "Issues in Restructuring the Bishops' Conference", Origins, CNS Documentary Service, July 13, 1995. This document was signed by Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee; Bishops Raymond Lucker of New Ulm, Kenneth Untener of Saginaw, Walter Sullivan of Richmond, and William Hughes of Covington; Auxiliary Bishops P. Francis Murphy of Baltimore, Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit, Peter Rosazza of Hartford, and Thomas Costello of Syracuse; and retired Bishops Charles Buswell of Pueblo and John Fitzpatrick of Brownsville.

36. Hebblethwaite, "Rome Mishandled".

37. Ratzinger, "Single English Translation".

38. See "Catechism Is Instrument of Church's Unity", L'Osservatore Romano (English Edition), June 1, 1994.

Chapter 5

This above book has been discontinued by Ignatius Press and is being reproduced with the permission of Ignatius Press and the copyright holders.

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

Version: 5th June 2009

Home Page   Back to Flawed Expectations Home Page