Translation problems in the Letter to Chinese Catholics and the Notes

Translations are the plague of the modern Church.   We know that several documents have been delayed because of translation problems.  Some have been amended.  Many people study and quote documents without knowing what the really say because of the discontinuity between the original and the translation, and then when they emerge in the Acta Apostolica Sedis between Latin and … everything else.
Now  Joseph Card. Zen Ze-kiun of Hong Kong says mistakes have been made in Chinese translations of two recently released documents, the Pope’s Letter to Catholics in China and the Explanatory Note accompanying the letter.
The Hong Kong Catholic Diocese released the Cardina’s statement on July 3,  The Cardinal’s own Chinese version of the papal letter is available at:
The English version of Cardinal Zen’s release follows (my emphases):

Some mistakes in the Chinese translation of the Pope’s letter and in the "explanatory notes"
(1) From a cursory reading of the Pope’s letter some serious mistake has been found: in the last second section of paragraph 7 (Chinese translation) after the words "In not a few particular instances, however" the following words are missing "indeed almost always"
(2) In the "explanatory notes" (A) last fourth paragraph, last section, instead of the original "some sectors of the Catholic community were disorientated by the legitimizing of numerous Bishops who had been illicitly consecrated" the Chinese version reads: "disorientated by the numerous illicit ordinations of bishops.
(3) In the explanatory notes, which do not constitute part of the Pope’s letter and which bear no signature of the author, some expression is found which is at considerable variance from what is said in the Pope’s letter and is very inappropriate:
About the Bishops who, many years ago, accepted illicit ordination, the Pope’s letter says (section 11 of paragraph 8): "other pastors, however, under the pressure of particular circumstances, have consented …" This is a neutral expression which avoids judgment. But the "explanatory notes" say (section 6 of A): "others, who were especially concerned with the good of the faithful and with an eye to the future, have consented … "
Such expression, praising the bishops who accepted the illicit ordination, puts the others, who refused to surrender to pressure, in a very bad light, as if they neglected the good of the faithful and were short sighted!? I dare to protest in the name of the latter.
Cardinal Joseph ZEN

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. danphunter1 says:

    Might the same happen with the Motu Proprio and accompanying letter of explanation?

  2. mike says:

    Look what happened in Poland when Wojtyla was elected…hmmmmm


  3. Andy S. says:

    Luckily the motu proprio and accompanying letter will only be 7 pages long. It shouldn’t take too long to identify any mistakes.

  4. Boko Fittleworth says:

    God bless Cardinal Zen.

    No (far-)ost-politik.

  5. Kim D'Souza says:

    Cardinal Joseph Zen’s “protest” touches upon a very thorny question that is bound to stir up strong emotions in Chinese Catholics: how are we to think of men like Bishop Aloysius Jin Luxian on the one hand and Ignatius Cardinal Kung Pin-Mei on the other? Who are the true heroes, whose choice has been more beneficial to the faithful? I think that part of the real brilliance of the letter is that Pope Benedict XVI doesn’t ask those who have been convinced of the holiness and rightness of one side to suddenly switch allegiances: hence the neutrality of the letter, which Cardinal Zen rightly thinks has been distorted in the explanatory note. What the Holy Father does ask of Chinese Catholics is that they work for unity, taking different steps depending on where they are coming from.

    Adam Minter (see his profile of Bishop Jin in the July/August issue of the Atlantic) would argue that Jin’s path was the more prudent insofar as it was more grounded in the objective realities of the political situation in China. The Cardinal Kung foundation would argue that Jin’s strategy is not true prudence, since his cooperation with the Patriotic Association constituted a sell out of orthodoxy, whereas Kung remained uncompromisingly committed to the Catholic faith and to Rome – even if Jin did not in fact compromise his loyalty to the Pope, he was seen to have done so, whereas Kung sought to remain publicly unwavering. However, it needs to be remembered that it was precisely Jin’s limited cooperation with the government that allowed him to have a vibrant seminary and moreover have strongly pro-Roman faculty like Joseph Zen Ze-Kiun to form his priests. This in turn prepared the way for Chinese priests to study abroad, including at pontifical faculties of theology, which has resulted in a local church that is quite unanimously loyal to the Holy Father. Still, I’m not sure I subscribe entirely to Minter’s portrayal of the situation, in part because I believe so fervently in the heroic sanctity of Cardinal Kung. Perhaps it is the case that, in God’s providence, both men played equally significant roles in bringing the Church in China and in Shanghai in particular to where it is now. In any case, it is ultimately up to Christ to judge history; we cannot always put together all the pieces of the puzzle. What is essential is that we do not let our inability to judge perfectly prevent us from acting at all, and that we act now for the unity of Christ’s Church in China, as directed by His Vicar on earth, Pope Benedict XVI.

    By the way, I am surprised that there has been no reference on this blog to Cardinal Zen’s preliminary response to Pope Benedict’s letter. It is available on AsiaNews and Zenit:
    What do people make of this? Minter blogged about it a couple of days ago on but I don’t think Minter is correct to see the admittedly cryptic preface to Zen’s statement as a criticism of the Pope.

  6. dan: Might the same happen with the Motu Proprio and accompanying letter of explanation?

    Not on my watch.

  7. Tim Hallett says:

    Just my 2c
    The parts that I reviewed and compared were stylistically quite good, and no omissions were seen, but I only looked at a few sections of particular interest, and not at all at the cover letter. Honestly, considering the lack of “infrastructure” for Chinese that likely exists in Rome, I am surprised there were not more or more serious mistakes in the main text. As for the cover letter, this is inexcusable. Frankly, in the case of Papal letters in non-European languages, the Pope should be working personally with a trusted assistant in the target language. In other words, Zen or his personal delegate should have been the proofreader before any release.

  8. swmichigancatholic says:

    Not on my watch.

    Thank you, Father Zuhlsdorf.

  9. Bede says:

    Fr. Z: Not on my watch.

    God bless you, Father.

  10. Brian Day says:

    Fr. Z: “Not on my watch.”

    Since Dan was asking will there be problems with the translation of the MP and you respond thusly, then the logical conclusion is that you are actually the official translator (or part of the team) of the MP into English.

    Too cool! :-)

  11. Brian: NO. It doesn’t. I am not.

  12. Craigmaddie says:

    Not on my watch.

    Thank you so much, Father. It’s sad that we have to be cautious about the translation of Church documents but a great comfort that you are so passionate about fidelity in this area.

    Thank you again.

  13. swmichigancatholic says:

    Brian, I think Fr’s statement means that he will be checking the document to see if the translation makes sense like he has other documents. And just like before appeals to justice will be made if the translations have been botched.

  14. swmichigancatholic says:

    And we appreciate it.

  15. Brian Day says:

    SW –
    I know what Father Z meant. It’s just the way that Dan had asked and Father responded that you could make a case for Father being able to prevent the translation problems from even happening – “not on my watch”.

    Just having a little fun. That why I included the :-) to make sure people knew it.

  16. Maureen says:

    Yeah, fun’s fun, but we’re talking about people who work for the world’s oldest continuous bureaucracy. They don’t tend to be amused, and they do tend to hold grudges. Sooooo, don’t make jokes about people’s jobs. Especially if it might cause rumors or backfire on Fr. Z.

    Making jokes about Swiss Ninja is a lot safer.

    Unless, of course, there _is_ a squad of Swiss Ninja, in which case you will someday find my head adorning a Swiss naginata. :)

  17. Brian Day says:


    That’s a scary thought that members of the Vatican would be trolling Fr Z’s comboxes looking for entries that they could hang on Father.

    But not to worry, I have the Swiss Ninja Death Guard’s number for the Pope. :-)

  18. Kim,

    I beg to differ with you as to the neutrality of the letter. The Holy Father is doing what he can to bring reconciliation. However, as indicated, for instance, by his insistence that regularized bishops make their allegiance to the Holy See public, he obviously is favoring those Catholics who have always refused to do other than what the principles of the faith demand. In the first section of the letter, Pope Benedict makes this clear.

    Neither does Cardinal Zen suggest that the letter is neutral. He points to one phrase in the explanatory note which in the correct translation makes no judgement relative to illicit consecrations, but in the mistaken translation looks upon them favorably.

    In no way does he suggest that the letter is neutral. In particular, in respect to illicit consecrations such a suggestion would be clearly contrary to any fair reading of the letter.

Comments are closed.