Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Pro-Second-Vatican-Council Clergy Distrust Traditionalist Vatican Administrations: Translating Ecclesiastical Partisanship

A survey of Roman Catholic priests in 2013 conducted at Saint John’s University School of Theology Seminary suggests that priests did not like the new English translation of the Missal by a two to one margin (59% to 39%). Eighty percent of the priests who responded thought the language is “awkward and distracting.” Yet still more damning to the Vatican hierarchy are the findings that 55 percent of the priests were not confident that their views on the translation would be taken seriously. Nearly half of the priests indicated disapproval of the Holy See’s role in bringing about the new translation. Put another way, less than two in five priests approved of the Vatican’s leadership on the new Missal under Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  As dire as this news of distrust and liturgical disagreement may seem, the survey comes with a significant drawback that exaggerates the opposition. The devil is in the details.

The online survey attracted responses from 1,536 priests. This total represents a response rate of 42.5 percent. Although such a rate is typical of the “empirical research” studies conducted at business schools, the results from such a low rate cannot be generalized to apply to all of the Church’s priests. We cannot say that nearly 60% of Roman Catholic priests opposed the new translation, and that about half of all of the priests did not like the Vatican’s role in the process and did not trust their clerical superiors to take the priests’ concerns seriously. We cannot assume that the 42.5 percent who were motivated to respond online are just like the 56.5 percent who chose not to submit a reply. In other words, their respective reasons may differ.

Generally speaking, people who are unhappy with something may be more motivated to say something about it. Within the Catholic Church, priests critical of the new translation may tend to favor the Second Vatican Council, which allowed for less ecclesiastical distance between the clergy and the laity; traditionalist priests would be less inclined ideologically to voice even anonymous criticism of their superiors. Such priests would tend to favor the new translation’s more “literal” capturing of the original Latin, and the greater clergy-laity distance behind some of the changes in wording. For example, “with your spirit” is from the interpretation that only the priest, rather than the congregation, shares in Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass. The priest says, “Peace be with you.” Instead of the previous “And also with you,” the laity reply, “And with your spirit” because the priest’s spirit participates in Christ’s sacrifice in the liturgy. In short, the priest is no longer a “you” alongside you and you and you, but is qualitatively different—back up there where he was prior to the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s.

What is the highest point in the Catholic Mass? Who is central in it? To what extent does the language support and maintain the pivotal moment and person? (Image Source: AP)

Therefore, we would be on firmer ground interpreting the survey results as pertaining primarily to the loyal opposition to the restorative traditionalist movements of John Paul II and Benedict XVI rather than to the traditionalist priests. I suppose the most notable finding is that the loyal opposition may not be so loyal after all, considering the mistrust underlying the relatively superficial linguistic differences. Put another way, we can conclude that at least some of the more moderate priests do not trust the Holy See to be impartial at least when it comes to taking into account their opinions. If the new translation is really a Trojan Horse carrying traditionalism back into the Mass,  of course distrust would result among the pro-Vatican II contingent of the clergy.

It is in the nature of ideology to willow down to a purity of “true believers.” It is also in the nature of ideology to make use of subterfuges, or lies, in doing so. Hence distrust breeds particularly well in such a climate.

In conclusion, the news for the Vatican is both better and worse than a simple reading of the survey results indicates. The “devil is in the details,” in that the lack of faith in the Vatican by some of its own priests suggests that ideology has been alive and well under the rubric of liturgy. What we cannot say is that an overwhelming of priests did not like the new translation in 2013 or even that over a majority of all priests do not feel respected by those clerics in the Vatican hierarchy. Particularly among kindred souls as religious are wont to be, at least ideally, distrust is a silent killer that can be expected to gradually eat away the foundation to the ecclesiastical edifice that has endured for centuries.