The Synod of Bishops’ English-language translations are not always accurate and some synod fathers are worried about whether they will understand the synod’s final document before they vote on it, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said Wednesday.
“Among English speakers, we don’t have typically the skills in as many languages as the French and the Spanish,” the archbishop said at an Oct. 7 press briefing at the Vatican.
“So one of the issues we’re dealing with is the official documents are in Italian, and the translations are more or less, accurate. Not always.”
Archbishop Chaput is a spokesman, also known as a relator, for one of the four English-language discussion circles at the synod. He said the English-speaking bishops have “the additional problem of trying to deal with very serious issues, in languages we don’t clearly understand.”
“As we move on to the process, there is a bit of worry in our group that when the final document is pronounced in Italian, and we’re asked to vote, we may not be very clear on what we’re voting for,” he said.
The archbishop faulted himself rather than Vatican personnel.
“That’s my problem, not the Holy See’s problem, because I don’t know languages as I wish I did, and perhaps I should.”
At the same time, the English-speaking bishops have asked for translations of the synod’s official documents, he said.
He noted that “we also have an English translation of Cardinal Erdo’s talk; but it’s not considered official, it’s just background information.”
An English translation of Cardinal Erdo’s Oct. 5 introductory speech to the synod fathers has been provided by Catholic News Agency. The Vatican had released the text only in Italian.
Archbishop Chaput also noted the importance of the wording used in the original, definitive versions of synod documents – not only their translations.
“The language is a big issue, it’s not just sensitivity to the world but also sensitivity to the Gospel and the truth of the Gospel and we have to be careful in the language we use to protect both,” he said. “We must affirm the ninety-nine when we go looking for the one.”
During the press briefing, Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Holy See press officer, noted that while the statements, or interventions, of bishops at the synod will not be distributed by the press office, bishops are free to publicize the text of their own interventions at their will.
Archbishop Chaput in his Oct. 6 intervention suggested that the synod’s instrumentum laboris, or working document, appears to present “two conflicting views: pastoral despair or a decision to hope.”
“When Jesus experienced the pastoral despair of his apostles, he reminded them that for man a thing may seem impossible, but for God all things are possible,” the archbishop said.
He particularly reflected on paragraphs 7-10 of the working document, which discussed anthropological changes, cultural and social contradictions, and the weaknesses and strengths of the family.
While the archbishop praised these sections’ description of the condition of contemporary families, he worried that “overall, the text engenders a subtle hopelessness.”
“This leads to a spirit of compromise with certain sinful patterns of life and the reduction of Christian truths about marriage and sexuality to a set of beautiful ideals – which then leads to surrendering the redemptive mission of the Church,” he said. “The work of this synod needs to show much more confidence in the Word of God, the transformative power of grace, and the ability of people to actually live what the Church believes. And it should honor the heroism of abandoned spouses who remain faithful to their vows and the teaching of the Church.”
Archbishop Chaput cited the French writer George Bernanos’ definition of hope: “despair, overcome.”
“We have no reason to despair. We have every reason to hope. Pope Francis saw this himself in Philadelphia. Nearly 900,000 people crowded the streets for the papal Mass that closed the World Meeting of Families,” he added.
People attended the World Meeting of Families both because they love the Pope and because they believe in marriage and the family, he said. They were “hungry to be fed by real food from the Vicar of Jesus Christ.”
Archbishop Chaput made several recommendations to the synod.
“We need to call people to perseverance in grace and to trust in the greatness God intended for them – not confirm them in their errors. Marriage embodies Christian hope – hope made flesh and sealed permanently in the love of a man and a woman,” he said.
“This synod needs to preach that truth more clearly with the radical passion of the Cross and Resurrection.”