NYT used bad translations, made gross errors

The big question is… will Hell’s Bible print a correction?

From CNA:

Italian political paper: NY Times needs consultants more than Vatican doe

Rome, Italy, Apr 6, 2010 / 05:52 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The influential Italian political newspaper Il Foglio [Paolo Rodari] published an article today criticizing the New York Times for relying on a computer-generated translation from Italian to English [Yah… that always works well…] of important responses from the Vatican to a sex abuse case. The failure to translate led the American newspaper to argue that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was protecting a sexually abusive priest from Milwaukee.

The article, titled “What the New York Times does not translate,” starts by saying, “Last Sunday, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd returned to attack the Pope. Commenting on the words of exorcist Gabriele Amorth, who said that behind pedophile priests is the devil, Dowd suggested a way for the Catholic church to solve the problem: hire a ‘sexorcist.’"

Nevertheless, “after re-reading the NYT’s allegations against the current Pope on the case of the pedophile priest Lawrence Murphy, who abused hundreds of deaf children when he worked at a school in Milwaukee, it is the American newspaper which seems to be in need of some consultants,” the paper opines.

Behind the accusations,” says Il Foglio’s senior writer Paolo Rodari, “there is a gross translation mistake.”

Rodari reviews how NYT’s Laurie Goodstein reconstructed the events on her March 25 article and concentrates on the correspondence between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Archbishop Rembert Weakland, then of Milwaukee, his Auxiliary, Bishop Richard Skilba and the Bishop of Superior, Raphael Fliss.

“This is a meeting of crucial importance, because it reveals what path Bertone, on behalf of Ratzinger, decides to take once they know the facts.”

Il Foglio notes that the NYT story provides links to both the English and Italian version of the 1998 meeting, “but it omits to say one thing: the English version is a grossly distorted translation of the Italian, made with ‘Yahoo translator,’ a translation that the Vicar of the diocese, Thomas Brundage, sent to his authority, Bishop Fliss, to help him understand the Italian,” the Italian political paper explains.

According to Il Foglio, Fr. Brundage warned in his letter [Get that?   But the NYT had a goal, and they weren’t going to let facts interfere.] that “It is a very rough translation and the computer certainly cannot distinguish some of the peculiarities of canon law.”

The computer-generated English version would support the NYT’s allegations against Bertone and Ratzinger, “but that same conclusion is not possible if a correct review of the sources is done, in other words, if (the story) is based in the official text written by the CDF in Italian,” Rodari explains. [In other words, had the NYT done its work in a professional manner.]

“And it is here, in the Italian version, that many important things are said.” “It is explained that either Fr. Murphy gives ‘clear signs of repentance’ or the canonical process will go to the end, including his dismissal from the clerical state.”

But in the English version used by the NYT, instead, not only are some passages omitted, but frequently the contrary is said,” Rodari writes.

“It is true, Bertone requests to take into consideration Murphy’s frail physical condition, who indeed soon after dies. But he never says that because of such conditions the process should be stopped. He says, and this is omitted in the automated English version, that in order to help Fr. Murphy’s repentance, ‘a period of retreat may be granted,’ otherwise, the measure will be ‘more rigorous,’” the Italian paper states.

NYT = biased hacks

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Mike says:

    This is good to know; it shows how dedicated such media are to their ideology.

    Today, after Mass, a thought came to me: Though the Reformation had many unfortunate effects, it finally brought us the reforms of Trent. We should pray and hope that this problem–which is a hydra in all its various deep-seated causes–will bring about a similar renewal, a re-strengthening of the Church. But I guess there’s got to be a whole lot of dying before that rebirth!

  2. Traductora says:

    Incredible. I’m a translator and it is unthinkable to me that anybody would use a computer-generated translation of anything as a resource. It mentions that the letter was sent by the Vicar, a Fr. Brundage, to Bp Skilba; I wonder if this means that Fr. Brundage did not read Italian himself? It seems pretty negligent on both the part of Fr Brundage and that of the New York Times (although the latter lost all credibility long ago, with Jayson Blair, so I’m not shocked).

  3. Henry Edwards says:

    Father Z: Especially being there in NY right now, perhaps you can point this out to Fox News, who has been covering this in a more “fair and balanced” way.

  4. jucundushomo says:

    Even for The Times, this is stunning… and laughable.

    I’m writing another letter to their Public Editor, who is supposed to be the reader’s independent advocate in critiquing the paper.

    This sort of sloppy conduct is, suffice to say, way below acceptable journalistic standards. St Francis de Sales, patron of journalists, intercede for all honest and fair newsmen!

  5. DavidJ says:

    As much as it pains me to say this, even this evidence doesn’t “help.” I’ve been stumping for the “Catholic” side of the abuse issues with friends for weeks now and they’re so inundated with stories vilifying the bishops and the CDF that they don’t care what the other side of the story is. The damage has already been done, and I am rapidly losing credibility for being a supporter of “institutionalized” child abuse and cover-ups. They don’t care anymore.

    My options at this point are to ignore the further discussions and give up on the issue or keep raising the same points and lose more credibility in their eyes, even if I am right (oh, and deal with the higher blood-pressure/stress levels that come with said discussions.) What is a faithful Catholic to do?

  6. chloesmom says:

    Sloppy journalism and writing at its worst . As a former English teacher who loves my language, I find this really offensive. And in the online NYT this morning, Maureen Dowd continues her unrelenting, ignorant sniping at the Church. What happened to this once great paper? It’s pretty sad to see it turn into a rag. Off topic: the Montreal Gazette this morning has a cartoon by its resident cartoonist Aislin. The panel depicts St. Peter’s with a sign on the front reading “Condos” (i.e., condominiums) and the caption: “A solution?” So it’s not just the NYT joining the baying wolves. It seems so orchestrated, down to the Easter/Holy Week timing. Of course, Christians know that Old Nick is behind it all, but one wonders who’s using as his human agent?

  7. rakesvines says:

    Re: ” But the NYT had a goal, and they were going to let facts interfere.”

    The translation excuse could be a cover for another motive.

    “Ms. Goodstein cites internal church documents, which the Times posted online. The documents were provided by Jeff Anderson and Mike Finnegan. They are described as “lawyers for five men who have brought four lawsuits against the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.”

    What she did not tell readers is that Mr. Anderson isn’t just any old lawyer. When it comes to suing the church, he is America’s leading plaintiffs attorney. Back in 2002, he told the Associated Press that he’d won more than $60 million in settlements from the church, and he once boasted to a Twin Cities weekly that he’s “suing the s–t out of them everywhere.” Nor did the Times report another salient fact about Mr. Anderson: He’s now trying to sue the Vatican in U.S. federal court.

    Source http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304017404575165792228341212.html

  8. maynardus says:

    Imagine a world in which the Church, being universal, would have a common language used for all official documents and correspondence. Priests, bishops, and others to whom these methods of communication were necessary would be taught this common language as part of their training. The common language would have to be one which was ancient and widely-used, but not restricted to one people or nation. It would need to have applicability in the fields of science as well as literature and religion. And as such it would be widely taught so that anyone with a high school or college diploma would be expected able to read and comprehend it; even, say, a journalist…

  9. Tominellay says:

    The TIMES never expected anyone to check its story…

  10. Dave N. says:

    …for relying on a computer-generated translation from Italian to English

    You have GOT to be kidding me.

    Next time try Google translator! :)

    Just kidding–this is appalling.

  11. This only indicates how “low” things have gone due to the education, in grade school, high school, college, and graduate school. I taught before I entered religious life and was appalled even then (in the early ’80s, that students could not spell, could not write complete sentences, could not compose any semblance of a cogent paper without constant, remedial assistance).
    Is it so difficult to find an Italian translator in NYC, for heaven’s sake?
    No, it isn’t. But I guess that’s not the point…the lazy buzzards…they had an agenda and by gosh and by golly, they were gonna get their deadline met.
    Real good work, NYTimes. I hope you suffer for this.

  12. Mariana says:

    “the New York Times…relying on a computer-generated translation from Italian to English”

    Words fail me.

  13. MWP says:

    Wasn’t it the ubiquitous Babelfish? (nomen est omen!)

  14. Wow, if only there were people who spoke Italian in Manhattan. Darn Darn Darn!

  15. Bill in Texas says:

    When I read this, I was thinking, “There must be a couple hundred thousand people in Manhattan who are fluent in Italian — maybe even several dozen working at the Times. They couldn’t ask one of them to translate the documents?”

    But Fr. Toborowsky beat me to it.

    Of course, ABC, NBC, and CBS, also in New York, have been going down the same rabbit hole right after the Times, so we can bet that we will never see any of this information in the MSM.

  16. Magpie says:

    *What the New York Times does not translate*

    Reminds me of the name of a good blog I read…

  17. Clinton says:

    But will the nitwitterati at the New York Times ever take responsibility for their gross mishandling of this story? They’ve
    damaged the reputations of good people through their own negligence (or worse, design). Will they lift one finger to
    make amends?

  18. J Kusske says:

    Mariana: “Words fail me.” You’re not the only one! The words “epic fail” seem to apply in this case!

  19. Peter in Canberra says:

    I said in a previous thread – journalists in my experinece are lazy. I resay it.

    This shows that some are stupid as well.

    But in this world you can get by being both if the prejudices are the right way.

  20. KarenLH says:

    “As much as it pains me to say this, even this evidence doesn’t “help.” I’ve been stumping for the “Catholic” side of the abuse issues with friends for weeks now and they’re so inundated with stories vilifying the bishops and the CDF that they don’t care what the other side of the story is. The damage has already been done, and I am rapidly losing credibility for being a supporter of “institutionalized” child abuse and cover-ups. They don’t care anymore.

    My options at this point are to ignore the further discussions and give up on the issue or keep raising the same points and lose more credibility in their eyes, even if I am right (oh, and deal with the higher blood-pressure/stress levels that come with said discussions.) What is a faithful Catholic to do?”


    I don’t know if this approach would work, but what if, instead of defending the Church directly, one were to ask these folks to defend their position. Why—specifically—do they think that the bishops and the CDF are covering up child abuse? On what actual evidence are they basing their judgment? Then start knocking down their “evidence”, which (unless some new facts emerge) is going to consist of misreported facts and vague impressions.

  21. DavidJ says:

    Already tried it. Their responses are that the evidence prior to the US scandals and reforms reveal a culture more interested in PR control and bureaucracy than actually helping people, and with this recent priest from India case, it proves the reforms are ineffective–which is malarkey. One of their biggest beefs is that the CDF does not inform local authorities when it finds evidence of credible allegations–jurisdiction doesn’t matter, as anyone who finds evidence that someone is being abused has a moral obligation to ensure that something is done about it and that the person is reported to the authorities. I am hard pressed for a good response to that (unless we’re talking about a case involving the confessional).

  22. catholicmidwest says:

    The NYT has been using babelfish (or something like it). Sweet. So much for their “sophisticated high-brow” coverage. They probably have no-one on their staff who knows any Latin. Wonder what else they’re guessing about and bluffing.

  23. catholicmidwest says:

    As an aside, I’m a working chemist and I did a stint toward the beginning of my career working in a nuclear power plant chemistry department. News coverage of nuclear power plant issues (and physical chemistry in general) is the biggest cartoon out there. The news media generally is composed of people who know nothing about science, absolutely nothing. I would be willing to bet most of them couldn’t pass a high school chemistry test. The situation passes because, in general, rates of scientific literacy in the United States are very, very low. I suspect the same is true when Latin is talked about. I know the dynamic certainly applies when it comes to religious matters, particularly those related to Catholicism, Islam and other world religions, as well.

  24. catholicmidwest says:

    And math. Many people can’t manage to calculate using percents and fractions in this country. It’s why we have these nifty calculators which can output fractions, and it’s why the stores always give the concrete prices under the 20% off sign (which are sometimes wrong). If most people don’t have the signs or a calculator, they are simply lost and have no idea what the price is. Geometry, trig, calculus and the real math after that is out of the question for most of the population. No one wants to admit it but it’s verifiably true.

    I’m completely convinced that this is one of the largest factors in our economic situation in this country. People simply have no practical idea about the relationship between incomes, employment, taxation and government programs. They don’t understand currency issues either. Americans also don’t have the experience that Germans, for example, have. The American news media is similarly incapacitated when it comes to logic and common sense. We could get a big lesson here pretty soon–I hope we don’t because I don’t want to suffer. But we easily could.

  25. catholicmidwest: Add spelling, English grammar and syntax, and logic to your list!
    As well as the philosophical/theological backbone of the West; these media people are just idiots! We have the degradation of our educational system to thank for this; but the general lack of any kind of “culture”, in the broadest sense of the word, based in Judeo-Christian tradition is going, if not gone. There can be actual atheists who understand the history and culture of the Christian West; but these folks are barbarians with three-piece suits, Prada dresses and bags, Guicci shoes, whatnot.

  26. catholicmidwest says:

    Americans are anti-intellectual, always have been, and it’s a very dangerous thing. Most of them couldn’t fight their way out of a paper bag and they think that’s a good thing. A shocking percentage of them are proud of it.

  27. catholicmidwest says:

    Nazareth Priest,

    Many people think that we don’t have a culture in the US. On the contrary, we do, but it’s not something most people here want to talk about, being too busy trying to make a buck and an impression on somebody. We don’t think big; we don’t think beyond the deal we’re making.

    Don’t get me wrong: There are good things about the American “character” and way of life, but there are also some very bad things. We abuse our capable members like no other culture. People feel perfectly fine about making fun of any sign of competence and ability to the point where many children and women hide what they can do, for fear of not looking sociable enough, or not looking “nice” enough which is the real “social sin” in our culture.

    We have a very unfortunate hangup around talent/ability and the alottment of it, denying what nature so clearly and unequivocally dictates. Americans try to decree things contrary to reality. This is one of the marks of our culture. Sometimes we can innovate to ameliorate things, but there are some things that can’t be changed and so we deny them culturally–a stupid move and an expensive one.

  28. catholicmidwest says:

    BTW, some American Catholics are especially bad in this regard. Perhaps history has told them that they are as good as the prominent and so they deny the trappings of success reflexively. But that doesn’t mean that the predictors of success, which are ability and talent, are bad. Ability and talent is no respecter of class or religious background; we should appreciate it wherever it appears because it appears often enough among our own too. Waste is a very bad thing.

  29. catholicmidwest: Agreed.
    It is interesting that in Europe, from my understanding, they consider American Catholics to be the “hope” for the future; even though the statistics are low about weekly Mass attendance, the Catholic Church in the US is far more vibrant than in Europe. The pro-life movement, the adherents to the Extraordinary Form and its presence throughout the US, the new religious communities and associations, the home school movement, and the countless places of Eucharistic Adoration are “signs” of hope, from what I understand, for Pope Benedict. May these prosper and may we return, albeit in smaller numbers, to the real cultural and intellectual heritage we have been given.

  30. catholicmidwest says:

    Yes, Nazareth Priest,

    Religiousity is one of the good things about American culture. Many Americans can’t describe or agree on much about God, but many of them believe in God and his providence.

    And right now, church attendance rates are much higher in the US than in Europe. I don’t know if that’s a permanent situation or not. I do know that the Second World War was devastating to religion in Europe, because it shook faith in providence so solidly. Europe has never recovered from that.

  31. catholicmidwest says:

    One of the more interesting things about traveling to Europe with a group of Americans is that they tend to see a lot of the historical evidence of past religious practice and interpret it as evidence of current religious practice. They don’t “get” it. However, if you travel alone or actually have friends in Europe, you know the situation is really much different. Many Europeans are angry with huge swaths of their own history, many of them look toward another sort of future, and most of them regard the great cathedrals as artifacts. They’re not above declaring those “artifacts” as national treasures of a sort, but they know darned well it’s because they are architecturally interesting and they are money makers–tourism, you know.

    Many of the churches in some countries are really owned by the government and are used as tourist attractions, recital halls or government offices, and sometimes a combination of these in order to optimize income/utility. As I type, I’m thinking of the Oude Kirk in Amsterdam.

    In order to see the real churches of Europe, you have to look a little bit further, and then you find some interesting things. I made a visit to St Nicholas in Amsterdam, which is still an operating Catholic parish, among a sea of non-operating ex-catholic buildings. There I found vespers in Latin, sung very well. The extremes are much more prominent in Europe than here. Americans love homogeneity (another of our national characteristics) but don’t expect that elsewhere. Homogeneity, when it comes to catholic religious practice in the US, means that everything is pretty much shabby pretty much everywhere, but there’s not much trouble finding it. And it’s earnest even though it sounds awful.

  32. CMW: I have heard and seen evidence in the Netherlands that the practicing Catholics are the ones who embrace tradition. As for other countries in Europe, when we were in Portugal on pilgrimage, Lisbon, to be exact, I was a bit frightened in the city, wearing my religious habit.
    Compestella, outside the shrine of Saint James, as well. England I was accosted and sworn at.
    I haven’t been to Ireland, but I hear Dublin is scary. Milan, Italy, on the subway, I was actually afraid for my life in the subway…the looks I was getting weren’t just angry, but menacing, satanic, even. I’m not paranoid by nature; but I did not make eye contact or venture from my companion!
    Europe is a whole ‘nother thing. I agree with you. Europeans have got a whole different worldview.
    I happened to be in Italy when Obama was elected President. You would have thought it was the Second Coming…frightening.

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