Lost in translation and afterward

The “Youcat” snafu is the latest in a series of Vatican communications screw-ups, but the response of papal spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi is hard to understand.
In talking about doctrinal errors introduced when the youth catechism was translated from German to Italian, he said, “As you can see, the German language isn’t so easy for everyone.”
If the newspapers have it right, that’s a strange statement for him to make, really. Are we supposed to believe that there isn’t enough language competency left in the Vatican’s staff to find a capable translator? Is there not enough common sense left to require that the book be reviewed for content prior to publication? Is there not enough doctrinal probity left to ensure that the censor librorum would catch the doctrinal errors introduced into the text by the translator?
So Fr. Lombardi’s remark is an admission of gross incompetence on the part of at least one and probably several people.
And to make excuses about not knowing German well when the current Pope is a German is ridiculous. It’s not nearly as tough as, say, Polish.


  1. “A Catechism, which is a systematic summary of Church teaching, written for young people, indeed in some ways by young people, is almost a “miracle”. This is howCardinal Christoph Schoenborn, presented “Youcat,” a yellow booklet that all young pilgrims at World Youth Day in Madrid will find in their backpack, translated into their language.
    Already the Great Catechism of the Catholic Church, compiled at the express wishes of John Paul II under the leadership of then Cardinal Ratzinger was a “miracle”, because few people believed in the possibility of reaching a common unitary, systematic and comprehensive formulation of our faith in an era of rapidly evolving mentalities, languages, cultural diversity and explosive fragmentation.
    It is a miracle of the unity of faith in the troubled path of history, a miracle of a centripetal force that draws many to Christ, despite the centrifugal forces that actively lead us astray in the Babel of the world.
    But this one faith has to be proclaimed in languages to reach the hearts and minds of young people today, it has to be articulated into answers to questions that they ask every day. If not, it will gradually grow more distant from everyday life. So we have to study the Great Catechism together with young people, in community, to understand and rewrite in words the wealth available to friends and companions, who are also full of questions and expectations. We must translate the book of faith so that Jesus Christ still speaks to young people today, not just young people in one country, but in many different countries, so they can share not only their trends in music and fashion, but also the most crucial questions of all time … a wonderful adventure! A courageous undertaking! Youcat was not born perfect, but it’s quite a miracle that we have in hand. We need to improve it and nurture it together, in step with the pace of new generations, with the passion of the unity of faith that is in their deep desire for community and hope. Youcat is a good guide to show young people the path to happiness!”
    Lombardi editorial: Youcat

  2. “And to make excuses about not knowing German well when the current Pope is a German is ridiculous. It’s not nearly as tough as, say, Polish.”
    Eh, same thing was reported to have happened under Pope John Paul II. Then it turned out to be something else entirely different. I’m sure it’s the same now as it was than.
    [I don’t recall any translation problem comparable to this under JP II; can you point to a case?–RC]

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