Inclusive English:A Violation of Our Rights?

Author: St. Joseph Foundation


St. Joseph Foundation Staff and "Friends"

Feminism and the world

The movement to recognize and advance the rights of women in our secular society has been around for well over a hundred years. Until recently, the women's rights movement concentrated on broader issues such as universal suffrage, the basic equality of men and women before the law and "equal pay for equal work," things with which we could all agree, at least in principle. Nonetheless, from our point of view, there remain some serious doubts about the movement's underlying ideology.

Over the last twenty-five years or so, however, the movement has taken on different objectives which give every appearance of being influenced by the more radical forms of feminism. We have seen reflected in secular life a growing disrespect of the role of women as wives and mothers, hostility toward Christian teachings on the sanctity of life and sexual morality and advancement of the homosexual lifestyle as equal to—or maybe superior to—marriage between man and woman. In sum, the radical feminist notion is that there are no differences whatever between men and women except for some obvious, physiological details related to reproduction. We are asked—or sometimes told—to believe that such observed differences between males and females as average height, weight and physical strength can be attributed to "selective breeding" imposed by male-dominated societies throughout history. Furthermore, just as modern technology has made it possible to have sex without procreation, so we now have procreation without sex. Thus, these biological differences between men and women no longer have any application to the way we live out our lives—or so the story goes.

Feminism, inclusive English and the Church

The Church has never been immune to the destructive effects of various fads in secular culture and this has been remarkably true with respect to feminism. By far, the best account of what feminism in general has done to the Church in North America is Donna Steichen's masterful book, <Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism,> published by Ignatius Press in 1991. As she documents beyond question-and nothing has happened in the four years since her book was published to change the picture-one of the foremost demands of the Catholic feminists has been the use of so-called "inclusive" English in catechetics and the liturgy itself. As we know, this form of English is a deformation of the language which has as its object the same "gender-free" standards applied to English nouns, pronouns, prefixes and suffixes as the feminists seek to impose on society as a whole.

Ever since it evolved as a distinct language, English has employed the use of certain masculine words or parts of words to include both males and females. This characteristic is not common to most other languages and, when the war to feminize secular culture began in earnest some twenty years ago, the linguistic battle both outside and inside the Church was, by and large, limited to English.

If this disfiguring of our language were restricted to the elimination of masculine forms, except when they refer to individual males or groups composed solely of males, it would be bad enough; but we now see the attempted infliction of inclusive English on God Himself. Probably, there is not one of us who has not heard the likes of "God our Mother/Father" or "the Holy Spirit blows where She will."

As <Ungodly Rage> shows so well, the woeful results of the feminist campaign in the Church are not limited to inclusive English, but it is an old saying that to change ideas you have to change language first. This notion has been the primary force behind the assault on the English language and, within the Church, in places where English is the predominant language.

Inclusive English and faithful Catholics

It is sad but true that decisions in such important matters as the language in which we worship, the language of catechesis and even the language of Sacred Scripture has been heavily influenced by organized pressure groups dedicated to the agenda of militant feminism. The members of these groups often seem to have ideas pertaining to the Church's structure and teaching authority that differ radically from ours. They are supported as well in keeping up their constant pressure by the media, whose pervasive, open antagonism toward authentic Catholicism is well-known.

There remain millions of loyal, practicing Catholics who are serious about living their faith and handing it on to their children and grandchildren. These Catholics have been relatively silent while an entire generation of public dissenters, whose self-styled "loyal opposition" to Rome has been getting the lion's share of media coverage and inordinately sympathetic patronage from the U.S. and Canadian episcopal conferences. These loyalist members of the faithful have witnessed and suffered through terrible abuses in the liturgy and in Catholic education. Many feel that they cannot trust their children to parochial schools and must, in some cases, travel considerable distances to find a parish where the Holy Sacrifice is offered according to the Church's liturgical norms.

But with the prospect of new "inclusive" translations of liturgical and scriptural texts, there is a distinct sense that these Catholics feel that a line may have been crossed. If the campaign of the language engineers succeeds, they will have no escape and will no longer be able to worship and hear God's Word proclaimed in their mother tongue, standard English. This possibility is so appalling that they cannot, and will not, remain silent.

The St. Joseph Foundation has heard the rumblings. Many <CHRISTIFIDELIS> readers tell us that they cannot, in conscience, use an inclusive English missal and read or hear the Word of God proclaimed from a lectionary or Bible couched in the same way. Moreover, we have heard from priests who say that they cannot celebrate Mass in inclusive English. These faithful clergy and laity surely do not want to be forced into public opposition to their bishops, but they have learned the lessons of the past thirty years: dissenters not only go unpunished, they prevail; and their influence imperils the faith of millions. Catholics who choose to follow the authentic teaching and laws of the Church are ignored or, if stonewalling fails, marginalized, intimidated or persecuted.

These are good people. Theirs are the families from which vocations to the clergy and religious life still come, families who freely and joyously embrace the Church's teaching on marriage and family life. They are the priests who are exiled to the "boondocks" and reviled as "papists" simply for agreeing with the Holy Father. They are the sisters who are regarded as retrograde merely because they want to wear a distinctive religious habit. Truly, these are the "little ones" who have been suffering at the hands of the Church for which they would give their lives.

We at the St. Joseph Foundation understand their heartache, pray for them constantly and do all that is possible to assist them in using the means established by the Church to obtain relief. Because we understand their suffering, we cannot in conscience encourage them to accept an "inclusivist" version of the Mass or of Holy Scripture which has been deformed by an ideology basically at odds with the perennial Catholic faith. We cannot support or accept these aberrations ourselves. Indeed, for the sake of those English-speaking Catholics we serve and for the greater good of the Church, we are obliged to oppose them with all our energy.

Inclusive English and the North American bishops

The U.S. and Canadian bishops have been subject to intense pressures from the secular media and from influential dissenters in the Church who often describe themselves as the "party of change." Our bishops' position is a difficult and unenviable one and they need every bit of spiritual support we can give them so that they will not make further compromises. They are the only ones who can offset effectively the influence of the secular media and the dissenters within the Church.

In private conversations, several bishops have said that the reason a majority of their colleagues accede to appeasing the advocates of inclusive English is that they want catechetics, liturgy and Scripture to be "healing" and "unifying." Thus, they want to avoid offending those who claim to be excluded by standard English usage and they have correctly recognized that these people will not accept anything if it is not translated in accord with their views. Clearly, bishops' strategy ignores large numbers of sincere but less vocal and influential Catholics who cannot abide acquiescence to the feminist agenda, which they rightly see as going far beyond a mere linguistic accommodation.

There is no question that the majority of our bishops would like to resolve this controversy, but they cannot do so while pleasing both the dissenters and the orthodox believers. The obsessive desire on the part of many of our bishops to preserve an "appearance of unity," which seems to outweigh almost all other considerations, has most often resulted in caving in to those who demand inclusive English. It is this very strategy which has given the inclusivists an unbroken string of victories—until this year.

Inclusive English and the Catechism

The publication of the <Catechism of the Catholic Church> in 1992 was a momentous event, eagerly awaited by faithful Catholics throughout the world who were disheartened and confused by the turmoil in the Church following the Second Vatican Council. Since the original version of the Catechism was written in French, it had to be translated into many other languages and it was the English translation, as we have seen, that caused the most controversy. Indeed, to the best of our knowledge, it was the only translation that caused any controversy at all.

Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Bishop David Konstant of Leeds, England were appointed as overseers of the English translation and Father Douglas Clark of Richmond Hill, Georgia, was the chief translator. A meeting between a group of English-speaking bishops and Vatican officials was held in Rome on Feb. 3-4, 1993 to determine the procedures to be followed in making final revisions to and publishing the English translation of the <Catechism of the Catholic Church>. Although the proceedings of that meeting have not been made public, statements made by some of the participants indicate that the subject of inclusive English had come up and the headline of a Catholic News Service story which appeared soon thereafter proclaimed: "ENGLISH VERSION WILL HAVE INCLUSIVE LANGUAGE." Well, the Catechism is in our hands and we now know that this headline was the ecclesiastical counterpart of the famous Chicago Tribune headline gaffe of 1948: "DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN."

Inclusive English and Sacred Scripture

English translations of the Bible, both Catholic and Protestant, have been in general use for four hundred years. As we know, for most of this period the "standard" version among Catholics was the Douay-Rheims with its subsequent revisions and, among Protestants, the King James. In the twentieth century, a number of English translations were produced and, in 1966, Cardinal Cushing of Boston granted an <imprimatur> to, and thus approved for Catholic use, the Revised Standard Version (RSV), a translation originally produced by Protestant scholars. Accordingly, the RSV was the first English Bible to receive both Protestant and Catholic approval. This and all previous English translations were, naturally, non-inclusive. In 1990, the first inclusive English translation of the complete Bible, the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), appeared, although a Revised New Testament and Revised Psalms of The New American Bible (Catholic) were published in 1986 and 1991 respectively.

Despite the publication of inclusive English Bibles, many of the more traditional editions remain in print and are available in book stores and, auspiciously, a Catholic edition of the RSV has been published recently by Ignatius Press. Catholics are free to purchase any edition approved by competent ecclesiastical authority for their personal use, so we can exercise control over what Bibles we use for private reading and meditation. The same is not true, however, of the version of Sacred Scripture read to us at Mass, a fact which is at the center of the present controversy.

Scripture readings have always been an important part of the Mass but, according to present norms, the Bible itself is not a liturgical book and not all translations of the Bible are approved for liturgical use. The <Missale Romanum> consists of two parts: The <Sacramentary>, or Altar Missal, contains the text of the Mass and the instructions for its celebration while the <Lectionary>, unlike the Bible, contains only the Scripture readings for Mass, arranged according to the liturgical calendar. Readings for some Masses contain non-consecutive verses. For example, the second reading for the Second Sunday of Advent this year is Philippians 1:4-6,8-11 and the omitted verses do not appear in the lectionary, as they do in the Bible. Finally, some readings may be slightly edited to make them more suitable for oral proclamation. These are some of the reasons why the lectionary is a liturgical book and the Bible is not.

When the Mass of Pope Paul VI came into use in 1970, three biblical translations were published in lectionary form for use in the United States: <The New American Bible> [NAB] (1970 edition); the <Revised Standard Version> [RSV] (1966 edition), and; the <Jerusalem Bible> [JB] (1966 edition). The RSV and JB lectionaries are now out of print, although they are still in use in a few parishes, and the NAB is the lectionary heard in most U.S. parishes. These three lectionaries remain the only ones approved by the NCCB and confirmed by the Holy See.

According to c. 838, #3, it is the conferences of bishops who are to prepare translations of liturgical books and publish them with prior approval of the Holy See. Consequently, In 1991 the NCCB approved the NRSV translation for publication as a lectionary and this action was reviewed favorably by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.

Whether or not the NRSV is an improvement over the existing lectionaries is, in our opinion, highly questionable. To help you in making up your own mind, we offer the following examples of some familiar verses as they appear in two of the three existing lectionaries as well as the NRSV. Spelling, punctuation and capitalization are as they appear in the text.

Matthew 16:25-26

For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? (RSV)

Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would a man show if he were to gain the whole world and destroy himself in the process? (NAB)

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? (NRSV)

Genesis 9:6

Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his own blood be shed; for God made man in his own image. (RSV)

If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; For in the image of God has man been made. (NAB)

Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person's blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind. (NRSV)

Mark 2:27-28

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; so the Son of man is lord even of the Sabbath. (RSV)

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath. (NAB)

The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath. (NRSV)

Matthew 25:40

Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of my brethren, you did it to me. (RSV)

I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it to me. (NAB)

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least who are members of my family, you did it to me. (NRSV)

Hundreds of examples of the transparently clumsy, inclusive English contained in the NRSV could be given. Far more important than the ungraceful style is the way God's word is collectivized and rendered abstract by the mania for inclusive English.

According to c. 825, #1 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, translations of the Bible into English or any other modern language cannot be published without the approval of the conference of bishops or the Apostolic See and must be "annotated with necessary and sufficient explanations." This means that the RSV and NRSV translations could be approved by the conference of bishops alone; but translations of Scripture to be published as liturgical books (i.e., lectionaries) are subject to the prior review of the Holy See (c. 838, #3). In the case of the NRSV, approval of this translation for use in the liturgy was given by the NCCB IN 1991 and reviewed favorably by the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments the following year, so many parishes, assuming that the publication of an NRSV lectionary was a certainty, began substituting the NRSV translations for the readings at Mass. At the same time, those of us who opposed inclusive English in the liturgy resigned ourselves to another defeat.

It seems, however, that the pro-inclusive English forces made a fatal mistake. The <Catechism of the Catholic Church> abounds with quotations from Scripture and the proposed translation, discussed in that meeting in Rome on February 3-4, 1993, took these quotations from the NRSV translation. Since the Catechism is a teaching book instead of a lectionary, the final approval of the English translation rested not with the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments but with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which found the inclusive English of the NRSV translations to be inadequate from a doctrinal standpoint. If the NRSV translation was inadequate for the Catechism it could hardly be considered suitable for use in the liturgy and the result was the withdrawal of the earlier approval of the NRSV lectionary.

It may be worth noting here that hardly a single important document produced under the auspices of the American bishops' conference has not required vigorous intervention by Rome to avoid doctrinal confusion or, at least, embarrassment to the Church. (Witness the pastorals on Peace, the Economy, AIDS, Women's Concerns and the translation of the Catechism.) In view of this, one could hardly be blamed for wondering if the American bishops, using the present bureaucratic structure of the NCCB/USCC, are capable of producing on their own something which is thoroughly and universally Catholic.

Inclusive English and our rights

It is useful to remember that for the past four hundred years the English-speaking world, with the exception of what is now the Republic of Ireland (itself under foreign oppression for most of that time), has been and still is a Protestant world. Our Catholic ancestors who lived in that world and held to their faith, often did so at the cost of their fortunes, their freedoms and, sometimes, their very lives.

Given these historical conditions and the dominance of the papacy and Roman curia by Italians, we are not astonished that the expression of Catholic doctrine in English was not at the top of the list of priorities in Rome. It seems that the Holy See depended on the bishops in English-speaking countries to attend to such matters and, with few exceptions, this confidence was justified. Now we have an ideologically-driven campaign to change the English language but, fortunately, the number of English-speaking members of the curia has increased and high officials of the Church, including Cardinal Ratzinger and the Holy Father himself, are fluent in the language.

As we have seen, the objections to inclusive English rest primarily on the real possibility that divine and Catholic truth will be rendered ambiguous and, therefore, open to confusion. Canon 213 affirms the right of the faithful to the word of God. The Catechism (No. 2037), referring to this canon, states: "The law of God entrusted to the Church is taught to the faithful as the way of life and truth. The faithful therefore have the <right> to be instructed in the divine and saving precepts that purify judgment and, with grace, heal wounded human reason." It goes without saying that we have a right to receive this instruction in a language that does not obscure or muddle these "saving precepts."

Even though the primary concerns about inclusive English have to do the clarity of doctrine, matters of style and grace should not be written off as insignificant. Language, including literary style and means of expression, is at the heart of every culture. The ecclesiology flowing from Vatican II, particularly <Gaudium et spes>, viewed the Church as a communion of persons, a communion of communions and a hierarchy of service. Such an ecclesiology could not but affect liturgical theology for now culture had to be viewed positively.

True and full humanity is achieved only within culture. Thus the conciliar vision highlighted the value of culture and, rejoicing in unity in diversity, the Council praised the "patrimony proper to each human community." It expressly noted, moreover, the close connection between culture and liberty, even in the life of the Church. The result was to give culture liturgical value. As we have a right to worship according to the norms established by lawful authority, we have a right to our cultural heritage. For us, that heritage does not embrace inclusive English.

With the retraction of the approval of the NRSV as a liturgical text, the issues are now in the open. This is not a question of Vatican authoritarianism vs. a true consensus of American and Canadian Catholics represented by their pastors. It is rather the loyal Catholics in English-speaking North America praying that Peter will "strengthen the brothers", who are under severe pressures in a secularist and consumerist society. What is at stake is whether our liturgical and catechetical heritage will be one with that of the Church universal.


Charles M. Wilson

There was not room at the end of the lead article to explain its authorship. With the permission of the original authors, I incorporated text from several sources, did some editing and added a few words of my own. Whatever is good in the article is the work of someone else and whatever is bad you can blame on me. I gladly assume full responsibility for the complete article.

I might add that the first version of the article was about three times as long as what you see in this issue. As always, we had to eliminate a lot of things which ought to have been said but I think we retained all the essentials. In short, the withdrawal of the approval of the NRSV translation for liturgical use is the best and most significant development I can remember. This puts the Holy See and the U.S. and Canadian bishops on what looks like a collision course with Rome.

As of the day this is written (November 7), we still have a week before the NCCB meets in Washington. By the time this issue reaches you, the meeting will be over and we will all know what happened. My guess is that the conference will side-step the inclusive English issues until they see what kind of compromise (if any) can be reached with Rome.

The big question about inclusive English is the same as for a number of liturgical abuses. That is, will Rome be able to enforce the norm? Wholesale disobedience of the lawful prohibitions of Communion-in-the-hand, Communion under both species and altar girls was successful, so why can't the NRSV translation be used for the liturgy anyway? Spokesmen for the U.S. and Canadian conferences of bishops say that each body is committed to inclusive English, so it probably will be.

It probably comes as no surprise to most of our readers that the next attempts of trendy changes in the liturgy (already imposed in some parishes) will be the elimination of all kneeling at Mass and the removal of the tabernacle to some kind of chapel or enclosure apart from the main church. Following close behind may be the "democratic Communion", where the Hosts are distributed to everyone they can cram into the sanctuary. Then all these readers, altar boys and girls, clergy and eucharistic ministers face the people while holding their Hosts aloft for the <Ecce Agnus Dei> and <Domine non sum dignus>. Watch for these and other exciting innovations at a theater (formerly called a parish church) near you!

Taken from the November 30, 1994 issue of "Christifidelis". To subscribe to "Christifidelis", please contact: The Saint Joseph Foundation, 11107 Wurzbach, #404, San Antonio, TX 78230-2553, (210) 697-0717, Fax (210) 699-9439.