Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie lost his 10-year battle to prevent the Catholic bishops from approving a new Mass translation that he believes is awkward and ungrammatical. But his finale on the floor had the bishops tied up in knots over whether their president, Cardinal Francis George, broke church law when he gave a Vatican office permission to finish one set of English translations without the U.S. bishops' approval.
In an effort to speed approval of the new translation, the Vatican had asked to handle the translation of the antiphons -- sung refrains of psalms -- without final review and approval by the U.S. bishops. That, Bishop Trautman said, violated the church's Constitution on the Liturgy, a document of Vatican II that said translations must be approved by the bishops of the territories where they will be used.
The Vatican office "no matter how well intended, cannot trump the magisterial authority of a constitution of an ecumenical council," he told the bishops. He wanted the bishops to insist on being given a final draft from the international translation committee, so that they could review it, suggest improvements and vote on it.
Auxilairy Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago, a canon lawyer who doesn't necessarily share Bishop Trautman's concerns about the new translation, told the bishops that he believed Bishop Trautman had raised a legitimate legal point.
Moderating the debate was Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, the conference president who had given permission for Vatican officials to translate the antiphons after Vatican officials said other English-speaking nations had complained that the Americans were taking too long.
As Bishop Trautman persisted in his arguments, Cardinal George sighed, "I feel as if we're doing guerilla warfare here."
But he promised to look into a possible solution, drawing laughter when he said, "The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops could sue the Congregation [for Divine Worship] in the Apostolic Signatura" -- the Vatican's highest court. But during a coffee break, Bishop Trautman was mulling the possibility of doing that himself.
"It's the principle," he said. "I do not see how an unnamed Vatican official can trump a doctrinal statement of the second Vatican Council." If the bishops gave up their right to approve the translation, he wondered, what right might they be asked to surrender next?
But ultimately, Bishop Trautman said, he wanted "to act in concert with the other bishops."
In the end his effort was crushed. The bishops voted 166-46 against his motion to have the antiphons returned to the bishops for the approval -- an action that would also have achieved his goal of delaying Vatican approval of the entire new Mass long enough to work out solutions to problems with grammar and phrasing.
The bishops then voted 194-20 to endorse Cardinal George's decision to cede approval of the translation to the Vatican office.
Afterward Bishop Trautman said he wouldn't pursue the case in the Vatican court.
"It doesn't seem fruitful in view of the motion that was passed," he said.
The final five batches of prayers passed overwhelmingly, each with support form at least 88 percent of the Latin diocesan bishops. Auxiliary bishops and Eastern bishops weren't eligible to vote.
But some auxiliaries were vocal in the debate, including Bishop Richard Sklba [CQ} of Milwaukee.
He noted that Pope Benedict has recently announced plans to permit Episcopalians and other Anglicans to become Catholic but keep using their Book of Common Prayer. That means more Catholics will have exposure to that book.
"The language of the Book of Common Prayer is elegant ... in its phraseology and cadence," he said. "It has shaped our English language for almost 500 years. Our proposed text will be compared to that historical one, critically I'm afraid, and with less positive results. We need more time to prepare a text worthy of our church."
But Bishop Arthur Seratelli, chairman of the bishops' liturgy committee, said the Vatican had given a deadline of this month if the bishops wanted to have any of their proposed modifications to the translations considered.
"Time may be running out, for reasons not of our own choosing," he said.
When the bishops approved the last text, he thanked them and called it "an historic moment."
Though the text isn't perfect, "perfection will come when the liturgy on Earth gives way to that of heaven, as all the saints praise God with one voice," he said.
Examples of the new translation are at http://www.usccb.org/romanmissal/examples.shtml