Monday, October 12, 2015

Dear Synod Fathers: Language Matters

Archbishop Coleridge (photo courtesy of Catholic
The first week of the Synod is behind us, and the language working groups offered their first summary of their deliberations on the "first section of the Synod’s working document, or Instrumentum Laboris, focused on the challenges facing family life today." (Vatican Radio, 10/09/15)

Vatican radio reported on the comments of Archbishop Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia regarding the English language working groups.

A couple of the English language words he used to express the progress of the groups struck me as unusual. Here are two of Archbishop Coleridge's quoted remarks:
  • "We came to feel that there are issues that need to be addressed, analysis that needs to be done and decisions that need to be taken at the local or regional level." (emphasis added) 
  •  "What’s really in crisis is our understanding of what marriage is and what the family is…It’s easy to look back to a golden age when there was mum, dad and three of four kids……that’s not the reality today…" (emphasis added)
Let's start with something truly basic in the first sentence of the first quote: No, indeed you came to deliberate; the Synod was not gathered to express "feelings". These groups were assembled to discuss and consider issues related to the family and society, and address strategies to assist in their resolution in accordance with Church teaching. It is wise that these issues be analyzed at the regional and local level, but based on facts, not sentimentality.

In the second quote, I find a fundamental flaw in reporting. How can a Catholic reporter quote an Archbishop in such an ambiguous way, potentially calling into question whether he's supporting a change in definition of marriage and family? That's a truly irresponsible quote!

What did he say that those ellipses are leaving out?

And whether the reality of the circumstances currently do not match the definition of family in the 50's, the 20's or before Jesus became Incarnate doesn't make much difference. The definition is the God appointed definition -- simple. It is our obligation to stay the course and influence the culture. In that case, using language that doesn't compromise the original definition, but is more accessible to the current culture is admirable, if not completely daunting.

In conclusion, the article reads:
Finally there was a lot of talk about language, words lost in translation and why it’s important to do away with the kind of ‘Church-speak’ that means nothing at all to young people today. Instead many bishops cited Pope Francis’ own down-to-earth, colourful choice of words that has made people from all countries and all cultures sit up discover a new, fresh face to the unchanging truths of the Church. (emphasis added)
We need to make the language accessible -- I agree. We do not need to dumb the language down!

Do away with Church-speak?

What on earth does that mean (speaking of language)? Should we just become a philanthropic, non-profit NGO? Are we not about the salvation of souls? Wait, is that Church-speak?

This particular language is confusing.

Concerning the use of precise language, Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia put it plainly in his address to the Synod Fathers:
“Imprecise language leads to confused thinking,” the archbishop said Oct. 10 at the Vatican, giving “two examples that should cause us some concern”: 'inclusive' and 'unity in diversity'.
Language matters: in the way we articulate the faith, in the way we show respect for people's intelligence and faith, and in the way we report the Synod to the world.

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