Last week’s appointment of Greensburg’s Msgr. Lawrence Persico as the next bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Erie gave me a chance to touch base with outgoing Bishop Donald Trautman.
I’ve enjoyed having Bishop Trautman in my backyard. He’s a been a leader, and a very outspoken one, in the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, arguing for better translations of the Mass but deeply opposing the version that Vatican officials ultimately forced the bishops to accept. Despite the reputation that’s given him in certain church circles, he’s far from a theological or liturgical renegade. When he talks about his faith in Jesus and his devotion to the Virgin Mary he isn’t merely doctrinally orthodox, but passionate bordering on mystical. He’s also been extremely accessible and helpful to me as a reporter.
Last week, when he was busy introducing his successor to the diocese, was the only time I can remember that he didn’t get back to me on deadline, which is why I didn’t quote him in the story. But he called first thing the next morning.
So at that point we chatted about his plans for retirement. He plans to do some writing and teaching. And, unlike some retired bishops, he won't stop attending the meetings of the bishops’ conference. At their June meeting in Atlanta he proposed an item of business that Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the conference, said would be taken up in November in Baltimore.
Specifically, Bishop Trautman wants the bishops to do a study of how the new translation of the Roman Missal has been received in parishes. The new
translation was mandated by the Vatican, which wanted a highly literal translation from the Latin. Bishop Trautman, who was twice elected to lead their committee on liturgy, criticized the translation for being so slavishly faithful to the Latin that it was poor English. It became the required text in parishes nationwide in November. It didn’t result in the sort of mass exodus that changing the Mass from Latin to English did 40 years earlier, and most parishes seem to be coping well. But Bishop Trautman says he's received steady negative feedback from priests and parishioners who don’t believe it makes the Catholic faith appealing, poetic or clear.
A study of its reception “is the logical next step to take,” he said. “We spent so much time investing in efforts to prepare people for the new missal. It seems logical to take a step back after a year and see what’s working and what isn’t working.”
Some of the vocabulary in the prayers has proved quite confusing, he said. “Recently we had the word ‘abasement’ in one of the collects. People thought is meant a cellar,” he said.
The most urgent reason to study how the new missal is impacting the faithful is that the Vatican has said that the lectionary -- Bible passages read aloud in church -- must be translated using the same principles as the new missal, he said.
“If it isn’t working in the missal, we should find out now,” he said. “If it's successful, we can move ahead. If it’s not successful, then why would we apply those same rules? Lets get an honest evaluation from our priests and our people.”
He’s not the only one concerned. Last month the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, a new organization representing about 700 of the nation’s 40,000 priests, issued its own critique of the missal. I think it's fair to say that the organization represents the left to center-left of today's priesthood. Father Bernie Survil, from the Diocese of Greensburg, serves on its steering committee and says there are nine members from the greater Pittsburgh area.
About 240 members met in Florida, where they adopted a resolution citing “pastoral problems” with the new translation because of “its cumbersome style, arcane vocabulary, grammatical anomalies and confusing syntax.”
It says the translation “has caused disharmony, disruption and discord among many” that interferes with Catholics' sacramental experience. The priests’ group called on the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops take the matter up with the appropriate Vatican authorities.