Friday, February 03, 2006

The Birth of an Encylical: Three Years, Eight Dicasteries, Lots of Screaming

It's Friday, and you know what that means....

Robert Mickens gets the backstory on Deus caritas est, reporting that the final text "was being revised and changed up to three days before it was on the presses."

Per usual, Mickens and his sources have provided the best tick-tock of what happened and who's to blame.
The first “final draft” of the text – back in November – was signed by the Pope and pre-dated for 8 December. Speculation was rife at that time that the text would be released for Christmas. However, a source close to the developments told The Tablet that the encyclical, which was already considered completed, then underwent at least three or four total revisions. Evidently, there was a major problem with translations, handled by the Vatican’s Secretariat of State.

The completed encyclical was originally written in the Pope’s and Archbishop Cordes’ native German. It was then translated into Italian, some say by the Pope’s long-time special aide, Ingrid Stampa. But an Italian monsignor who saw the text claimed that the first translation was almost “unintelligible”. An English-speaking official confirmed that. “My Italian colleagues said it was legnoso – wooden.” he said. At that point the Italian translation had to be re-worked because senior State officials were insistent that it – and not the original German – be the basis for the official Latin edition. This latter text is thus a translation of a translation. (If you read it in English, you are reading a translation of an Italian version of the original German, rather than a translation of the Latin official text.)

The Italian adage “tradutore traditore” – basically that the translator is a traitor – perhaps explains why the text had to be revised several times in order fully to get the Pope’s words and intentions right.

But evidently there were also a number of questions raised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). “They sent observations or concerns over in a document about the size of a telephone book,” another official said. “Up until about three days before the encyclical was sent to the printers they were re-doing things, like adding introductions and conclusions,” one of the translators said.

Pope Benedict broke with custom by speaking publicly about the encyclical in the days prior to its actual release. Not only was he able to put his own “spin” on the most important points he was hoping to make in the document, but he also saved Cor Unum from the embarrassment of holding a pre-scheduled international conference that was planned on the understanding that the text would have already been made public. One source opined that officials in the Secretariat of State had deliberately helped delay the encyclical’s release in order to prevent Cor Unum from being the agency by which the text would be launched or at least showcased.
And even with intrigue like that, some wonder why this outlet remains in business....