The bombshell fell October 31, 2010, 8:31 am (Collegeville time). I suppose some might make the connection to Martin Luther’s 95 Theses on October 31, but in all honesty I didn’t have that in mind. I said a brief prayer, made the Sign of the Cross, and hit PUBLISH. Then my heart started pounding, and I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary. I had in mind serving the Church by bringing the truth to light. More truth and light were to follow – NCR published reports here and here on the “missal mess” and the internal report “Areas of Difficulty in the Received Text of the Missal.”
And now the “Witch Hunt” (the term used by an insider) is on. WHO leaked the internal report?, they want to know. People are being questioned. The leak must be plugged.
May I gently suggest that this is the wrong question?
If we learned anything from the last round of scandals, it’s that blaming the messenger and trying to push the truth, like toothpaste, back into the tube doesn’t work. It makes us look stupid.
The question is not how to go backward and plug what leaked a couple weeks ago. The question is what to do in the coming weeks as the truth continues to leak out.
And the truth is this: the Roman missal, English edition, got hijacked in a case of bad judgment, abuse of power, and incompetence.
In sensitive matters, it is claimed, secrecy and confidentiality are essential. One thinks of the recent Wikileaks controversy, and the need for tight security in the war on terror. Same with the translation of the missal, right? The comparison holds up best if the Holy See thinks the laity out in the general public are the enemy in this war. Or are the laity the population to be protected from the attacks of individuals within the translation machinery?
I ran into Msgr. James Moroney in early morning, last July 7, on the sidewalk at Mundelein Seminary. We were both there for the 10th anniversary of the Mundelein Liturgical Institute (where I was on the faculty in the founding year). Jim was his usual friendly, likable, and outgoing self. He had a copy of the Received Text, and he handled it like a prized trophy, or perhaps a beloved first-born baby. “They got it right, Anthony,” he beamed. “The Holy See drew together the very best people in all the needed fields, and starting last September, they got the text right.” I just about blurted out, “Then how come the final text is such an incoherent mess?”, but bit my lip. Jim continued, “As I go around making presentations, I can stand behind this text with no hesitation whatsoever.” “We shall see,” I thought to myself.
And now we all would very much like to know who these experts were and how they went about their work. A little bit of elevated language here (“beseech,” “laud,” “suffer not”), a little bit of colloquial 1973 there, a little bit of text not in the Latin here, a little bit of Latin left out there. Identical Latin text translated one way here, another way there.
Did they roll dice? Did they take turns around the table, with one person as the Elevater, one as the Colloquializer, one as the Adder, one as the Subtracter, one as the Mixer?
Then there are the conspiracy theories, some of which, as to be expected in such a bizarre story, get pretty bizarre. Did they set out to derail the unpopular missal for the good of the Church by guaranteeing its rejection? Did they intentionally propose a lousy version so that the 2008 text approved by the bishops could then be reintroduced to general acclaim and relief? (This reminds me of the theory that President Bush nominated Harriet Miers for Supreme Court knowing she would sink, so that he could then nominate the right-wing white male he really wanted.) Did someone seek to rise in the hierarchy by getting into the text all the failed amendments individual bishops had submitted much earlier in the process?
The hijacking of the Roman missal, English edition, is the strangest thing I have ever seen in all my years of church ministry. I’m not surprised that it elicits strange conspiracy theories.
It also elicits leaks. How could it not?
Think of all the people with a stake in this, all the people who have seen the texts. The Vatican officials, their staff, their friends, the Vox Clara members, their staff and friends, the translators, the consultants, the national conferences and their staff, the individual bishops and their advisors and staff and friends, and on and on.
Think of all the feelings among these people: shock, concern, disbelief, outrage, resentment, discouragement, fear, disgust, anger, …
All this is dry tinder waiting to burst into flames.
Did Moroney’s “experts” really think they would get away with this? Did the Vatican officials who approved the text (and remember, it is they and not Vox Clara who grant recognitio) think that no one would notice?
I fear that the good people at ICEL will take a hit (yet again). Gotta blame someone, they’re a handy target. Let’s punish whoever produced the internal report for disobedience, rather than praise them for competence and honesty. (A certain cardinal once called down the wrath of God upon the Boston Globe for bringing out the truth. It turned out not to be an effective move.)
If only there had been no internal report, officialdom wants to believe, if only there had been no leaks, if only no one would have reported the leaks, this would have worked. And when the missals arrived in the mail… no one would have noticed. Yeah, right.
For the record: no one at ICEL leaked the internal report to me. These are people of integrity and great loyalty to the Church, and I can’t imagine any of them leaking anything to anyone. The report was leaked to me by an intermediary with no connection to ICEL, and I will carry to my grave the name of this person without divulging it. My intermediary likewise refuses to divulge to me who his source is.
For the record: I am not Xavier Rindfleisch. One obvious giveaway: he likes the 2008 text more than I do, much as I want a new translation which is accurate and beautiful. I will carry to my grave… (you know the rest). He came to me with his leaked information and his series of articles, and I do not know who his source is.
Why the secrecy, why the anonymity, some will object. Couldn’t agree more. Let’s have a Church, I say, where people can speak up freely without losing their job or their priestly faculties or their speaking invitations in dioceses. Let’s have, from the top all the way down, transparency and honesty and competence and fairness. Until we have that, alas, there will be pseudonyms and anonymity and leaks from unknown sources. May all the critics of this join me in calling for a structural reform of our Church making it possible for everyone to speak in his own name.
What now? Don’t know. More leaks, probably. Frantic efforts, probably, to assure everyone that it is only 9,993 changes to the 2008 text, not more than 10,000: the blogs have it all wrong, ignore them. Frantic efforts to highlight that this or that little inaccuracy in the blogs’ reportage (this from people who won’t give us accurate information in the first place): ignore, therefore, the 99.3 % of blog reporting which is accurate. Frantic efforts to assure us that the Congregation has fixed at least a quarter or a third of the problems: everything is under control.
Implementation of the missal will probably go forward – maybe on schedule, maybe with delays. Meanwhile, some of the Church officials have white patches all over their fingers – from trying to push the toothpaste back in. This will hardly help them implement the missal successfully.
Godfrey, Virgil, Pius, Lambert, Justine, Prosper, all you holy men and women: pray for us.