US bishops vote on embryo research, liturgical translations


Orlando, Jun. 16, 2008 - The US bishops adopted a strong statement of opposition to embryonic stem-cell research, but failed to approve a new set of liturgical translations, at a meeting June 12- 14 in Orlando, Florida.

The bishops were scheduled to vote approval of a 700-page document containing the English-language translations of Proper prayers from the Roman Missal. Debate on the proposed translations was lengthy and sometimes heated, with some bishops charging that the translations-- prepared in response to Vatican directives demanding greater respect for the Latin original-- were at times awkward or stilted in their wording. Bishop Arthur Seratelli, the chairman of the bishops' liturgy committee, which had supervised the translation process, defended his work, saying that the texts were a "marked improvement" over the liturgical translations now in use.

Because of light attendance at the Orlando meeting, the bishops' final vote was inconclusive. Canon law required a vote by two-thirds of the US bishops to approve the translation, or one-third to reject it. Roughly two-thirds of the bishops in attendance voted to accept the translation, but the total fell well short of the standard for final approval. Cardinal Francis George, the president of the US bishops' conference, announced that the vote would be completed by a mail ballot.

Debates over English-language translations of liturgical texts have been common within the US bishops' conference for well over a decade. Led by Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pennsylvania, the former chairman of the bishops' liturgy committee, critics of the new translations have complained that they use archaic language and defended the earlier work of the International Commission for English in the Liturgy. That group, in turn, has drawn criticism from conservative Catholics-- and from the Vatican-- for making unauthorized changes in the language and meaning of the Latin originals.

The bishops gave overwhelming approval, however, to the document on embryonic stem-cell research. The statement said that hopes for a medical breakthrough cannot justify the cavalier disregard for the lives of human embryos. "In fact," the statement argued, "policies undermining our respect for human life can only endanger the vulnerable patients that stem-cell research offers to help. The same ethic that justifies taking some lives to help the patient with Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease today can be used to sacrifice that very patient tomorrow."