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Thursday, January 19, 2006

Pope's first encyclical on love and sex is lost in translation

Richard Owen in Rome
The Times

POPE BENEDICT XVI’s first important pronouncement has been delayed by an unprecedented tussle over the final wording between key Vatican departments and the Pope’s German household staff.
Vatican officials said that the delay in publishing the encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, on the subject of love, was because of the Pope’s busy schedule over Christmas.

Other Vatican sources said, however, that the reason was a disagreement over the translation of the final 50-page draft into various languages, inclu- ding English and Italian. The official language of encyclicals is Latin.

Andrea Tornielli, the Pope’s biographer, said that Pope Benedict had put the finishing touches to the text only late on Tuesday.

There had been “unheard- of tension” over the wording between the German section of the Secretariat of State, or Vatican Prime Minister’s office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Pope’s German entourage, headed by Sister Ingrid Stampa, his housekeeper, and Father Georg Gaenswein, his secretary.

Sister Ingrid, 55, is regarded as the Pope’s confidante rather than merely head of his household. A member of the Schoenstatt Sisters of Mary, she shares his interests in music and literature and has been his “right-hand woman” for 15 years.

Vatican sources said that tensions had been exacerbated because the Pope had written the first part of the encyclical in German during his summer break and the second part was an adaptation of a document left behind in Polish by the late John Paul II. It had been passed to Vatican specialists for further revision but remained unfinished at the time of John Paul’s death ten months ago. The two parts had had to be “harmonised”.

The Pope, responding to growing speculation about the delay, told pilgrims at his weekly audience yesterday that the release of the text, originally planned for early December, had been delayed until next Wednesday.

An encyclical is the most authoritative doctrinal statement a Pope can issue and this one has been eagerly awaited because the first from each Pope is seen as a particularly important guide to his thinking. Pope Benedict said that it would discuss the concept of love “in its various dimensions” from “the love between man and woman to the love that the Catholic Church has for others in its expression of charity”. He added: “In today’s terminology, ‘love’ seems very far from what a Christian thinks about when he speaks of Christian charity. I want to show that it is about one single movement with different dimensions.” He noted the difference between “eros” — love between man and woman — and the Greek concept of “agape” or spiritual love.

This week the Italian press carried purported leaks from the text focusing on the concept of eros. Vatican officials, however, said that some of the quoted passages were inaccurate or speculative. The Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana, which will issue the encyclical, said that it had still not received the final text.

Pope Benedict will visit the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, the traditional venue for ecumenical celebrations, next Wednesday.

He said that the focus of his encyclical was not ecumenism, “but let us say the big picture is the ecumenical theme, because the love of God is the foundation of Christian unity and the condition for peace in the world”. According to Italian media reports, the Pope says in the encyclical that eros risks being degraded to mere sex if it does not have a balancing component of spiritual love.

In an unusual move, the encyclical will be the subject of a Vatican-sponsored conference next week involving Liliana Cavani, the film director, and James Wolfensohn, the former head of the World Bank. Signora Cavani is best known for The Night Porter and Ripley’s Game but is valued in the Vatican for an earlier film on the life of St Francis.

The late Pope John Paul II issued 14 encyclicals. The Vatican’s recent instruction banning homosexuals from the priesthood was also delayed for months because of disagreements over the wording.

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