Vatican embarrassed by error-filled catechism book

AP News
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Posted: Apr 13, 2011 1:34 PM
Vatican embarrassed by error-filled catechism book

The Vatican has again been embarrassed by a botched translation of its teachings, with the launch Wednesday of an error-plagued book that implies the Holy See approves of contraception and euthanasia.

The errors came to light during a Vatican press conference launching "Youcat: Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church," a youth-focused compilation of the thick volume of core church teachings. The book, a project of the Austrian, German and Swiss bishops' conferences, is to be given to young people attending this year's World Youth Day in Madrid.

The launch, though, focused heavily on translation and interpretation problems. The errors were so serious the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, immediately announced it was creating a working group to compile the errors and fix them.

The Vatican's problems began on the eve of the launch, when officials confirmed that Nuova Citta, the Italian-language publisher of "YouCat," had pulled Italian copies to fix an error concerning whether married couples could plan the size of their families.

Editions handed out Wednesday crossed out the erroneous passage and included a paper insert with the correct translation. But at the news conference, another problem in the Italian edition was highlighted in a section on euthanasia. Officials also admitted that French editions had been delayed because of errors in the translation from German about how Catholics should view other religions.

"As you can see, the German language isn't so easy for everyone," Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi conceded at the end of the press conference.

It was the second time in just a few months that a much-hyped book had mistranslated key church teachings. In November, the Vatican's publishing house misconstrued the pope's comments about condoms and AIDS, implying that condom use for prostitutes was justified in some cases.

The mistake, made in Italian editions from the original German, made international headlines since it indicated the church had softened its firm opposition to artificial contraception. The Vatican insisted Pope Benedict XVI was doing no such thing.

Lombardi referred to the condom "misunderstandings" Wednesday, saying "let's go ahead with the understanding that the new editions will, shall we say, be improved, and that it's important that they arrive in time for World Youth Day."

The Vatican opposes artificial contraception, holding that life begins at conception. The church does, however, approve of natural family planning, in which married couples chart the changes in a woman's menstrual cycle to determine when she might, or might not, conceive.

"YouCat" makes clear that the Catholic Church opposes condoms, the pill and other forms of artificial contraception.

The book is set out as a series of questions and answers with commentary. In the original German, one question concerns whether married couples can "regulate conception."

The answer reads: "Yes, a Christian married couple may and should be responsible in using the gift and privilege of transmitting life." References to natural family planning follow in the commentary.

In the Italian version, however, the original question was mistranslated to read rather whether married couples can "use contraceptive methods." The answer remained the same, an affirmative yes, implying that the Church was sanctioning contraception.

Another problem brought to the attention of organizers Wednesday concerned the offering of assistance to the dying.

The book distinguishes between "active euthanasia" and "passive euthanasia," explaining that "active euthanasia" isn't condoned by the church because it violates the commandment against killing others.

"In so-called passive euthanasia someone helps another person in the dying process and thereby obeys the commandment 'Love your neighbor,'" it says.

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the archbishop of Vienna who spearheaded the book effort, said the original German book did not use the term "euthanasia," but rather the less loaded word "Sterbehilfe," which can either refer to medically assisted suicide or hospice-type care for someone on their deathbed.

"Perhaps the word 'euthanasia' introduces an erroneous interpretation, but these are things that the Italians must study. In German the text is clear," he said.

Monsignor Rino Fisichella, an Italian who heads the Vatican's evangelization office, seemed genuinely aghast that the euthanasia terminology was used, saying such terms were no longer in use and shouldn't be because they create such misunderstandings.

"It's best to be most precise so as to not run into useless misunderstandings on such an important and delicate issue," he said.

Asked how such mistakes could have been included, Schoenborn noted that each translation had a high-ranking churchman designated to vouch for the accuracy of the contents. While blaming translators for the errors, he named Venice patriarch Cardinal Angelo Scola as being responsible for the Italian translation _ a remarkable public shaming of a fellow high-ranking cardinal.

"YouCat" was prepared in an initial 17 languages, but upwards of 30 languages are planned, including Chinese. About 50 young people, alongside a team of theologians and other experts, helped compile the book which is designed to distill the official catechism into a more easily understandable read for young people.

Benedict wrote a preface to the book and on the back cover he is quoted as exhorting: "Study this catechism! This is my heartfelt desire."