By Philip Pullella
VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict on Saturday started a new Vatican department to promote the study and use of Latin in the Roman Catholic Church and beyond.
The old-style Latin Mass was phased out more than 40 years ago in favor of local languages, but the pope is giving it another try. Latin remains the official language of the universal church.
The Vatican said the pope had instituted the Pontifical Academy for Latin Studies, placing it under the auspices of the Vatican's ministry for culture.
In his letter announcing the new department, the pope said that Latin was the subject of renewed interest around the world and the purpose of the academy was to encourage further growth.
He said Catholic seminarians studying for the priesthood were weak in studies of the humanities in general and Latin in particular. They would benefit from a deeper knowledge of the language and be able to read ancient Church texts in the original.
It was the latest attempt by a string of modern-day popes to give the ancient language a boost.
In 1962, Pope John XXIII published "Veterum Sapientia" a document aimed at promoting the study of Latin, and in 1976 Pope Paul VI started the Latin Foundation and its quarterly "Latinitas". But those ventures met with mixed results at best.
"It appears necessary to support a commitment to a greater understanding of the use of Latin, both in the Church and in the greater world of culture," Pope Benedict wrote in the letter setting up the academy.
The new academy's statutes, written of course in Latin, say its goal is to promote both written and spoken Latin through publications, conferences, seminars and performances.
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Stephen Powell)