Pope Francis Issues Clarifying Letter

by Alex Wasilkoff


Pope Francis issued a letter to Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, on October 15 correcting and clarifying a commentary falsely attributed to the Cardinal.


To understand this newest letter, a brief overview of issue is necessary. Pope Francis issued Magnum Principium, a motu proprio on liturgical translation, in September. In Magnum Principium, Pope Francis gave the responsibility of translating the Mass into vernacular languages to local bishops’ conferences. However, he reaffirmed the right of the Holy See to confirm the translations.


Cardinal Sarah sent a letter to the pope and along with an accompanying commentary on Magnum Principium which was published by L’Homme Nouveau and falsely attributed to Cardinal Sarah. In the resulting commentary from the letter, the role of the Vatican in matters of translation was reaffirmed. The commentary also argued that the norms implemented by Liturgiam Authenticam (a document promulgated under Pope Benedict which called for extremely literal translations of the Latin) are still in effect. It also emphasized that the Vatican still had the absolute right over all decisions made in translation even if bishops’ conferences were to take the lead. This point comes from the interpretation of modified canon 383: “It is for the Apostolic See to […] recognise adaptations approved by Conferences of Bishops” and “It pertains to the Conferences of Bishops [...] to publish the liturgical books [...] after the confirmation of the Apostolic See.” The author of the commentary maintained that this allowed the Vatican to impose corrections on the translations after detailed review.


Pope Francis’s response clearly stated that this is not the case. He spelled out that “no longer holds that the translations must be in conformity on all points with the norms of Liturgiam Authenticam.” Another major point was the pope’s comment on what translating fideliter (faithfully) means. He says that in the light of Magnum Principium, it “implies a threefold fidelity: to the original text in primis; to the particular language into which it is translated and finally to the intelligibility of the text for the recipients.”


Also, the pope emphasized that the bishops’ conferences are to be given a good deal of independence in matters of translation. He said that the recognition of the Holy See “indicates only the verification and safeguarding of the conformity to the law and to the communion of the Church” and should not “lead to a spirit of “imposition” on the Episcopal Conferences of a translation.” Throughout the letter, the pope emphasized the importance of dialogue between the bishops’ conferences and the Vatican. He ended the letter by asking that his response be published on all websites that the commentary had been.


More importantly, Pope Francis’ letter began by thanking Cardinal Sarah for his letter and expressing gratitude for it. Moreover, he ends the letter by explicitly saying that he (Pope Francis) knew that the commentary was wrongly attributed to the Cardinal. Pope Francis went as far as to thank Cardinal Sarah for his “diligence” in these matters. To be clear, Cardinal Sarah sent a letter expressing gratitude for his role in Magnum Principium and the resulting commentary that criticized it was falsely attributed to the Cardinal.


Many commentators have seen the principles in this letter as indicative of the pope’s wider project of decentralization of decision making and emphasis on syndolity. In part this positive view of bishops’ conferences comes from the years he spent working with CELAM (Latin American Episcopal Conference). Pope Francis’s clarification of the role of the bishops’ conferences continues to underscore the themes he has made important for his papacy.

BC Torch on Facebook Visit us on Facebook

Trending Articles

We are an Easter People

by Jeffrey Lindholm