lördag 14 mars 2009

Poor Papal communication

Pope Benedict XVI has sent a letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales has issued a statement and summary of the letter here

Their statement has been widely criticised for giving a partial picture of what the Pope was trying to say, but there is a link to the original letter, which I downloaded and printed. I started to read it last night, but had not got past the second paragraph when I woke up at 3 am to find the lights still on. I eventually finished reading it next day and an excellent document it is once one has penetrated the complicated sentences, which presumably were translated straight out of the German, not the best of starts where clarity is needed, and goodness knows how - it might even have been done by some computer programme. I wonder how many people have managed to read the whole thing right through?

In my view, Pope Benedict is the best thing that has happened to the Catholic Church for several decades. He is trying to reconnect the Church to the best of its older traditions, and for this reason there are those inside and outside who will try to attack and misrepresent him. And so my reaction to the document was to ask why the Vatican cannot get someone to edit it into decent fluent British English before publication?

People do themselves and us no favours when they churn out this turgid stuff. It is not the only example - Centesimus Annus is in similar turgid prose. Again, almost nobody has read it but it apparently contains valuable insights. The same can be said also of the Catechism and Compendium of Catholic Social Teaching, which lack clarity and are difficult documents to navigate.

The hierarchy must communicate in clear English or they will be ignored or their message picked up by someone else and distorted, and hardly anyone will go back to the original to check. I am not suggesting it should use the language of the tabloid gutter press, but it should not be more complex than quality newspapers like the Financial Times. That is just sloppiness, inept and inconsiderate, if not plain rude.

Whether one likes it or not, English is the biggest language in the world and the British version remains the standard. What is little better than word-for-word translation out of some other language is not good enough.

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