The problem with Francis is that it is almost impossible to decide whether he is stupid or cunning. Of course, he could be both.
The recent intervention about the translation of the Lord’s Prayer is a case in point. It has certainly gained him column inches in the Western press, who are, of course, ignorant of the niceties and given to the broad brush. (The Daily Telegraph seemed to suppose that the alleged problem arose from the translation of the Paternoster into Greek!)
The nub of the matter, however, was the recent (and hotly contested) change to the official French translation. Whatever the merits of this new version – and they are few – it is clear that it is in no way a faithful rendering of the official Latin. The Latin, be it understood, is the norm to which all vernacular translations must adhere.
It is difficult to know what to make of Francis’s own confused theologising The meaning of the phrase in question is dealt with extensively in the Catechism of the Catholic Church [2846-9] (to which the Pope could easily have had recourse – or requested Cardinal Schoenborn to explain it to him, if he had problems of comprehension.)
So what was it all about?
The hermeneutic of suspicion leads one to wonder if Francis’s recent decision that regional conferences of bishops should have greater autonomy in translating liturgical texts lies at the heart of the conundrum. It is difficult, these days, to change doctrine by Papal fiat. But piecemeal changes in local vernacular translations might do the trick – without unnecessary complications. Lex orandi, lex credendi, after all.
If I were Cardinal Sarah I would watch out.