Personal View: The Vatican vendetta against ICEL
by Gabe Huck
A fierce new Vatican crackdown on ICEL - the International Commission on English in the Liturgy - is underway, promising to scuttle even modest efforts at inclusive language. ChurchWatch asked Gabe Huck, director of Liturgy Training Publications in Chicago, and a leader in U.S. liturgical renewal, to discuss the latest situation.
I've been told that the Chilean who now has charge of the Congregation for Worship in Rome is called, even by others in the Curia, Cardinal Pinochet. He's not popular, they say; he doesn't have the old "romanitá" - the kindly smile and polite words to cloak the bad things that have to be done. Last year he was one of those who asked that England just let his old friend the General go back to Chile in peace.
This then is Cardinal Jorge Medina, and he spent a good deal of time last fall mailing letters to a Scot: Bishop Maurice Taylor, chair of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL). One of those letters found its way to the NCR and, once published there, even showed up in Origins (the USCC documentary service). Time was, not so long ago, when Cardinal Ratzinger was calling all the shots for the liturgy bureau in Rome, but that has changed; they apparently trust Medina. He seems to have no credentials whatsoever in liturgy, but the job really isn't about liturgy. It is about power and the centralizing agenda.
John Allen's four stories in the NCR did an excellent job of telling the story. After years of taking shots here and there at ICEL, Medina at last was bringing in the heavy artillery. It took him page after page, letter after letter (though only the first has been published) to detail all that's wrong with ICEL and to prescribe a remedy.
The wrongs boil down to this: believing that anything of any substance whatsoever regarding the liturgy may be initiated outside the walls of the Vatican. Those who believe that Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and the various Roman documents of the next 20 years implementing the Constitution had authorized such activity are in error. ICEL, a creature of the conferences of bishops in countries where English is spoken, should not be doing the things it has been doing. If it has any role, according to Medina, that role is literal translation of Roman texts by persons approved by - guess who? - Medina. He said that the present statutes by which the bishops of English-speaking countries create and work with ICEL should be thrown out and new statutes written. These new statutes should place his office in direct control of ICEL. This would put an end to such things as dynamic equivalence as a method of translation, to any texts composed in English, to the sort of inculturation manifest in the Order of Christian Funerals and the Order of Pastoral Care of the Sick.
ICEL's greatest sin, especially in light of the growth of English (rather than Latin) as the starting point for translations into other languages, has been well publicized: modest use of inclusive language. The Roman congregations, Ratzinger's office especially, hold the ICEL psalter in singular contempt; several years ago they told the U.S. bishops to remove the imprimatur they had given to that work after years of painstaking review.
The moment must have seemed right to Cardinal Medina. Even those English-speaking bishops who might be upset know that there is no recourse to the pope these days. There is no Bernardin and no Hume. Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, for years the U.S. bishops' representative on the ICEL board and a strong supporter of ICEL's work, has been replaced by Cardinal Francis George who brings no expertise. George has managed to irritate the 10 other bishops (one each from England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, etc.) who sit on the board by implying that he's there to see Rome's will done and what could anyone else possibly have to say? (George now has his own liaison for his ICEL work, Father John Pollard of Chicago, the same fellow who single-mindedly created the USCC Office of the Catechism, whose seal of approval on all religious education books is now being demanded by some bishops. Interestingly, that office also has a thing about inclusive language; they now refuse approval to any books where they detect that the authors have willfully avoided using "he" and "him" for the deity. I'm not making this up.)
The ICEL board met in London in late January. They probably will snub Medina's demand for reforms by Easter, but they have a subcommittee rewriting their statutes and they'll probably be submitting these to Rome. "Adoremus" (the archconservative liturgy lobby) is exulting. Most bishops wish the whole affair would just go away. The Left hardly has time for such nonsense, and there are few forums to address the Catholic community about these power plays. But the slow renewal of Catholic liturgy, the deeds of eucharist and initiation, anointing and reconciling, these are surely continuing in many places where an ICEL reborn will some day be welcomed back.