More missing words: For various social milieux

I’ve mentioned before the translation problems on the Vatican website, even including missing paragraphs. See here for an example. Now here’s another example of a highly significant phrase that is completely missing from the English translation of the Vatican II document, Presbyterorum Ordinis, The Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests.

It concerns Paragraph No. 10 on The Distribution of Priests, and Vocations to the Priesthood. And this time it is the translator of an article by Antonio Viana from the University of Navarre who has highlighted the error in Viana’s article Personal Ordinariates and Personal Prelatures. Notes on a Doctrinal Dialogue.

As Viana’s translator notes, “the English version of the document which appears on the Vatican website omits the phrase ‘for different social groups” corresponding to the phrase “pro diversis coetibus socialibus‘ in the Latin text”.

Here is the paragraph concerned, which is the basis for the establishment of the institition of the personal prelature, the juridical form now used by Opus Dei.

English version:

Present norms of incardination and excardination should be so revised that, while this ancient institution still remains intact, they will better correspond to today’s pastoral needs. Where a real apostolic spirit requires it, not only should a better distribution of priests be brought about but there should also be favored such particular pastoral works as are necessary in any region or nation anywhere on earth. To accomplish this purpose there should be set up international seminaries, special personal dioceses or prelatures (vicariates), and so forth, by means of which, according to their particular statutes and always saving the right of bishops, priests may be trained and incardinated for the good of the whole Church.

French version:

Les règles d’incardination et d’excardination devront d’ailleurs être révisées : tout en maintenant cette institution très ancienne, on l’adaptera aux besoins pastoraux actuels. Là où les conditions de l’apostolat le réclameront, on facilitera non seulement une répartition adaptée des prêtres, mais encore des activités pastorales particulières pour les différents milieux sociaux à l’échelle d’une région, d’une nation ou d’un continent. Il pourra être utile de créer à cette fin des séminaires internationaux, des diocèses particuliers, des prélatures personnelles et autres institutions auxquelles les prêtres pourront être affectés ou incardinés pour le bien commun de toute l’Église, suivant des modalités à établir pour chaque cas, et toujours dans le respect des droits des ordinaires locaux.

Latin version:

Normae praeterea de incardinatione et excardinatione ita recognoscantur ut, pervetere hoc instituto firmo manente, ipsum tamen hodiernis pastoralibus necessitatibus melius respondeat. Ubi vero ratio apostolatus postulaverit, faciliora reddantur non solum apta Presbyterorum distributio, sed etiam peculiaria opera pastoralia pro diversis coetibus socialibus, quae in aliqua regione, vel natione aut in quacumque terrarum orbis parte perficienda sunt. Ad hoc ergo quaedam seminaria internationalia, peculiares dioeceses vel praelaturae personales et alia huiusmodi utiliter constitui possunt, quibus, modis pro singulis inceptis statuendis et salvis semper iuribus Ordinariorum locorum, Presbyteri addici vel incardinari queant in bonum commune totius Ecclesiae.

In Italian, the phrase used is: diversi gruppi sociali, and in Spanish it is: los diversos grupos sociales.

But as we can see, the English makes no mention of social groups and simply says “as are necessary”.

Except for French, the other languages, however, translate coetibus as groups, which is certainly a correct translation.

Notice how the French version refers to “les différents milieux sociaux” – the various social milieux – in the sense of the various social milieux that became the basis of specialised Catholic Action.

And in fact this is undoubtedly the intended meaning of the phrase, which was originally proposed by a group of mainly French bishops, including Cardinal Liénart, who wanted to create an appropriate juridical structure for the specialised Catholic Action movements modeled on the French Mission de France.

I mentioned this in this my articles, Avant l’Action catholique: Le Sillon et la JOC. and also Recognition and status of the IYCW in the Church.

Ironically, although initially designed to encompass the work of the various milieux addressed by the specialised Catholic Action movements, those movements have never taken up the opportunity. Why did these movements fail to do so? Perhaps because as lay movements, the very idea of a clerical structure seemed alien. Nevertheless, although based on the ministerial priesthood, the fact remains that the personal prelature is one of the most flexible structures available in canon law, which no doubt explains why Opus Dei were so interested to adopt it themselves.

In any event, I have long believed that one of the reasons that Paul VI made Cardijn a bishop and cardinal was precisely as a model for the future structure of the personal prelature. Indeed, as Cardinal Montini before he became pope, he had supported the proposal for the text in Paragraph 10.

To date, however, Opus Dei remains the only presonal prelature in the Church, although as Eduardo Baura points out, others based on social groups have been suggested e.g. for migrant agricultural workers and for Gypsies.

No doubt there’s still a great deal more scope for the future use of such an entity. Hence the need for a correct translation for the English speaking world of the phrase “pro diversis coetibus socialibus” – “for the various social milieux”.

Stefan Gigacz


Lothar Wolleh

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