Cardinal Mueller Goes Against Pope’s Magnum Principium

The former prefect of the CDF Cardinal Mueller has voiced reservations about Pope Francis’ Magnum principium, which gave national Bishops’ Conferences more freedom in translating liturgical texts.

Translated from Passauer Neue Presse:

Muller expresses reserve about giving bishops’ conferences more freedom in the translation of liturgical texts. The Cardinal says the liturgy should unite and not divide. “The last authority in cases of doubt cannot lie with bishops’ conferences.” Otherwise one could fear that the unity of the Catholic Church in faith, confession, and prayer would be destroyed. . . .  The cardinal referred to experiences where bishops have brought in translators who watered down Biblical and other texts under the pretext of better comprehension.

You can find the full report, in German, here.


  1. Methinks the esteemed cardinal is positioning himself for the next conclave. With Francis on “The Joy of Love” (will everyone please stop referring to this document by its Latin name), not so much with Francis on “The Great Principle”. This is not cynicism. Most Cardinals are not naive enough to suppose that leaving the results of conclaves to the Holy Spirit eliminates making known the kind of leader you might make if chosen.

  2. I am genuinely confused. The title of this piece says Mueller is “against” Magnum Principium. Yet what the Cardinal actually said was that he had reservations about the document.

    Does having reservations constitute opposition? It seems the title casts Mueller in an adversarial role…and yet the man merely has reservations, questions, and concerns…

    1. I understand your question, Lee. The confusion arises because the source is a bit ambiguous.

      There are several possible ways to translate what Mueller said. In the body of our post, we went with a mild translation. But his comments can be seen as “going against” — as in “against the grain” — of the main idea of the motu proprio, which is that Episcopal Conferences have been given authority over translation.

      Google Translate offered a more adamant rendering: “The German Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller does not believe that Pope Francis has granted more freedom to the national episcopal conferences in the translation of liturgical texts.” and renders the quote of him saying “The ultimate authority in the case of doubt cannot lie with the Episcopal Conferences.”

      I hope that what he really meant to do was to voice reservations, and not to contradict the motu proprio. But it could be read as an outright contradiction.

    2. Caveat: I can’t read German. But, I agree that you can have ‘concerns’ without stating outright opposition. Unity is certainly a valid, maybe even a primary, goal. At the same time, without specific examples of a watered down translation that haas divided the Church, I can’t see that he is saying that happened. Clarity and comprehension are also worthy goals, and sacrificing those goals in the name of unity is unlikely to achieve unity.

    3. “Reservations about” is civilised Vatican speak for “Dead set against it, now and forever, world without end, Amen.” Diplomacy………………..

  3. The translation quoted in the post is not faithful to the original.

    1. Original: “Kardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller hat die Entscheidung des Papstes kritisiert, den nationalen Bischofskonferenzen bei der Übersetzung liturgischer Texte mehr Kompetenzen einzuräumen.”

    2. Quoted in the post: “Muller expresses reserve about giving bishops’ conferences more freedom in the translation of liturgical texts. The Cardinal says the liturgy should unite and not divide.”

    3. More faithful translation: “Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller has criticized the Pope’s decision to give more powers to the national episcopal conferences when translating liturgical texts.”

    I could not find “The Cardinal says the liturgy should unite and not divide.”‘ in the original German. Did the translator add this sentence?

  4. Hello all,

    Though it’s my month off, I did a quick translation of a report on the interview, not of the interview. My translation of that report is accurate, although where I had a decision to make I de-escalated things. Maybe I was over-correcting, but I didn’t want Pray Tell to be guilty of playing up the cardinal’s disagreement with the pope.

    Here’s the “unify, not divide” comment: “Die Liturgie vereint und darf nicht trennen und Gegensätze erzeugen.”

    The German report saying he is against Magnum Principium is an interpretation, to be sure. The interview as a whole supports that interpretation, for Mueller seems to think that the Vatican should determine translations and there should not be regional differences (contra Vatican II).


    1. I have been patiently waiting for Vatican II to be implemented. Pope Francis’ attempts to introduce collegiality to a reluctant group of Bishops and now assigning responsibility for liturgical translations to locals were a delight to my hopes for more needed changes.
      Mueller seems to ignore the problems with central control of the 2011 English translation.
      Some locals such as Germans have delayed their translations are they were unacceptable. Francis realizes that local responsibility will be a better solution than “uniform” incomprehensible Vatican versions.

  5. I would think that the English speaking conferences have at least a couple of important safeguards against any danger of disunity. One is their approach of delegating translation responsibility to a single mixed commission, ICEL, to produce what is, for all practical purposes, a common vernacular text for worship in the English language. This approach ensures that a common text is used in countries as diverse and disparate as the US, the UK, Ghana, India, Australia and many other nations, geographies and cultures. Assuming that common translation is faithful (see the next point), that approach would certainly seem to minimize the danger of conferences going in their own direction.

    The second safeguard is the “bottom-up” approach to translation originally established in the wake of Vatican II and restored now by Francis. Any draft text by ICEL is going to be reviewed separately by at least 25 national conferences for accuracy, fidelity and the like. The likelihood of any doctrinal issue or important inaccuracy slipping through that many separate and independent reviews seems vanishingly small.

    I read Mueller’s comments here as implying that only the Holy See can guarantee unity. But it is not just the Holy See that is responsible for faithfully preserving the deposit of faith and worship. That responsibility truly rests with the entire college of bishops, including that expression of collegiality known as the national conference. The bishops and their conferences should have sufficient competence in these matters to ensure that the prayer of the church is properly translated. It seems that Francis is calling his officials to trust the bishops, and perhaps some officials are not finding it easy to do so.

    1. Any draft text by ICEL is going to be reviewed separately by at least 25 national conferences for accuracy, fidelity and the like. The likelihood of any doctrinal issue or important inaccuracy slipping through that many separate and independent reviews seems vanishingly small.

      If only that were so. The review process for translations is only as good as the reviewers. Some of those who posted here on the 2010 debacle as it unfolded were highly competent and yet were not official consultants to any episcopal conference nor consultants to ICEL. But in any case there was another body in play — Vox Clara — which did all the revising, in the course of which they demonstrated for the whole world to see their sad lack of Latin and translation skills. As far as I am aware, none of our bloggers were consultants to that body either.

      1. I support Jim’s point of view on this, and would only comment that Paul’s observation proves rather than disproves Jim’s contention that there are structures of self-policing within the collaborative structures we have, that can do at least as well if not better than distant and anonymous re-writers in Rome.

        It is because of Roman distrust that we have Vox Clara to “advise” the congregation (i.e. rewrite the texts.) Rather than being a salutary check on doctrinal failures of the local churches that Cardinal Mueller seems to think it must be, oversight from the CDWDS has deep flaws.

        It’s Jim’s final point however that I want to affirm most strongly. If our bishops don’t have the theological chops to know what’s sound and what isn’t in a text, the jig is up. We have to trust the bishops, and in a way this whole thing has been just the latest end run around the bishops that has been happening in liturgical regulation repeatedly and for years. Redemptionis Sacramentum urges sending complaints to Rome; Summorum Pontificum removed the role of local bishops effectively from the regulation of the EF; and more. This tide has got to turn unless we really want our bishops to have a diminishing role in liturgical regulation overall.

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