What Does Pope Francis’ Letter To Card. Sarah Really Say?

By now you have seen coverage of a letter that his Holiness of Our Lord Pope Francis sent to an Italian site, La Nuova Bussola, for publication. [HEREInter alia, it explains something about the meaning of Magnum principium, Pope Francis’ change to law to expand the role of episcopal conferences in the preparation of liturgical translations.   [HERE]

The catholic Left has whipped itself into a spittle-flecked nutty over this new letter from Pope Francis and they are practically baying for Card. Sarah’s blood.

“It is a beat down of Cardinal Sarah!  It’s a CORRECTION!  Ooooo Cardinal Sarah is soooo stooopid!  See?!? SEE?!”

A good example of this via Twitter, is from the diligently self-promoting…


And also…


But we all know about him.  His animus is his lens.

There is a key point in Pope Francis’ letter, which the inattentive might not catch… especially if they don’t want to.

In the beginning of the letter, Pope Francis wrote (my translation):


ho ricevuto la sua lettera del 30 settembre u.s., con la quale Ella ha voluto benevolmente esprimermi la sua gratitudine per la pubblicazione del Motu Proprio Magnum Principium e trasmettermi una elaborata nota, “Commentaire”, sullo stesso finalizzata a una migliore comprensione del testo.

Your Eminence,

I received your letter of 30 September, last, by which you wanted to express to me kindly your gratitude for the publication of Motu Proprio Magnum principium and to send me an explanatory note about it, “Commentaire”, about the same aimed at a better understanding of the text.


Okay… that’s how Pope Francis’ letter begins.  What do we have here.

The Pope says that he received two things from Card. Sarah.  He received Card. Sarah’s letter in which the Cardinal thanked the Pope for Magnum principium.  He also received, with the aforementioned letter, an “explanatory note”, which the Pope calls by the French word “Commentaire”.   There are two things: Card. Sarah’s own letter and the “Commentaire” which the Cardinal sent.

After this, the Pope comments on Magnum principium and the “explanatory note”!  He doesn’t say anything like, “in your interpretation, Your Eminence”.  Not even close.

At the end of Pope Francis letter we read:

Infine, Eminenza, ribadisco il mio fraterno ringraziamento per il suo impegno e constatando [NB: constatare, not costatare] che la nota “Commentaire” è stata pubblicata su alcuni siti web, ed erroneamente attribuita alla sua persona, Le chiedo cortesemente di provvedere alla divulgazione di questa mia risposta sugli stessi siti nonché l’invio della stessa a tutte le Conferenze Episcopali, ai Membri e ai Consultori di codesto Dicastero.



Finally, Your Eminence, I reaffirm my fraternal gratitude for your diligence and, recognizing that the “Commentaire” note was published on some websites, and was wrongly attributed to your person, I ask you kindly to see to the distribution of this my response to the same sites, as well to the the forwarding of the same to all episcopal conferences, and to the members and the consultors of the Dicastery [the CDW].



At the end, the Pope thanks Card. Sarah for his “diligence”, his having taken the time and effort, “impegno”, presumably about making known to the Pope the contents of the “Commentaire”.  Then the Pope acknowledges that Card. Sarah did not write the “Commentaire”, and that he understands that it was erroneously attributed to the Cardinal.   That’s what the Pope says: “Thanks for letting me know about this Commentaire, which you did not write and which some out there on the internet have incorrectly said that you wrote.”

Hence, the Pope asks that, since that “Commentaire”, wrongly attributed to the Cardinal, was on websites, the Pope asked that Card. Sarah set the record straight by sending the Pope’s letter also around to sites and members and consultors of the Congregation, just to make things clear.  The language about the Cardinals “diligence” smacks of a followup after a meeting.  It is as if to say, you brought these things to my attention, and here’s what we determined to do about it.

And yet the catholic Left has gone into grand mal nutty about how Pope Francis beat down Card. Sarah.  But that’s not what the letter does.

There’s more to be said about the content of Pope Francis’ letter in regard to principles of translation and the mens of Magnum principium, but let’s get this part about Card. Sarah straight.

UPDATE 23 October:

And then there’s this interesting comment:

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Hmmm, white people of European ancestry and heritage want to replace an African man with somebody who is probably also a white man of European ancestry (dare I say, maybe even a German).

    If people like Mickens keep blowing on that dog whistle any harder, we’ll all be able to hear it.

  2. Cicero_NOLA says:

    Forgive me, Father, but the distinction is lost on me. I read the English version Raymond Arroyo published on Facebook. I assumed the letter (and enclosure) were a standard communication from a Prefect exercising his authority in a way that directly touches statements of the Holy Father. We did that sort of thing all the time in the Navy (“Sir, per your instruction [XYZ], this is how we will comply…”) and I figured the cover letter was just the polite stuff you always write but the meat is in the enclosure. Even if the commentaire was written by a subordinate, it seems strange for the Prefect to forward it to the Pope without his own confirmatio (or recognitio?). “Here’s what the guys who work for me came up with, but I don’t take any ownership of it, boss.” I thought that was the whole point of being grateful for Cdl. Sarah’s holding such an important position: that he can make sure the CDW is doing good things. To me this is like asking us to blame the speechwriter for a public utterance of a politician since the politician didn’t literally write the text himself.

    I also haven’t put any stock in the niceties in the Pope’s reply. That sounds like boilerplate stuff: “thanks for your hard work, brother. It was wrong and I’m stopping that work, but it’s nice that you’re there.”

    [There’s an element of boilerplate, of course. When I worked in a curial office, writing it made me crazy, until I realized that it enabled people who didn’t like each to work on a daily basis. But boilerplate aside, there is also information in those bookends. That’s the key.]

  3. Traductora says:

    I’m sorry, but I read this both in Italian and in the Spanish translation, and while it was not a “beat down,” it was a rebuke, a request for a retraction (giving Cdl Sarah the “out” of saying he was the victim of faux news) and a clear identification of the passages in LA that Francis thinks he is revoking. The latter is very important.

  4. hilltop says:

    What Father writes could be true. So could this:
    Pope Francis, knowing full well that Cardinal Sarah IS the author both of the “Thank You Note” and of the “Commentaire” (Sarah’s first language is French), offers His Eminence the opportunity to deny that he is the author of the “Commentaire”; to distance himself from it; and to thereby undermine its authority – rendering the Commentaire ignorable. The only remaining thing to do, should Cardinal Sarah be so kind as to play along, is to repair the record, for the record, in certain news outlets, with all the Bishops on the planet, and with all of his subordinates at the Curia.
    Why does Pope Francis Sarah assert that Sarah “wanted” to thank the Pope for his Motu Proprio; why didn’t the Pope simply think Sarah for thanking him rather than for “wanting” to thank him. Is the Pope putting words into Sarah’s mouth?
    Why does the Pope’s solution to the purported confusion surrounding the “Commentaire” ring so much of a punishment? One strongly senses that Cardinal Sarah is being put in his place in a very public way – and being made to be seen by all to have been put in his place.
    Entirely Possible Conclusion: Pope pulls rug out from under Cardinal Sarah and offers Cardinal Sarah chance to announce that there never was a rug in the first place.
    I hope I am wrong. It is regrettable that it is possible that I am not wrong.

  5. SenexCalvus says:

    If this is a truly “fraternal correction” and not a public rebuke, why was it published and not delivered in camera caritatis?

  6. MacCheese says:

    Your reading and understanding of this is very charitable Father, but this all seems like inside politics, not what our Holy Church and Holy Father is supposed to be caught up in.
    Lord save us, and Blessed Mother intercede for us.

  7. Lurker 59 says:

    Ok, hold on, what “Commentaire” is being discussed here?

    Are we speaking of the article in L’Homme Nouveau or something else? If that article, is Pope Francis accusing L’Homme Nouveau of “fake news”, impersonating His Eminence or some such? Does Pope Francis know who wrote the “fake” article?

    Isn’t Card. Sarah entitled to his good name? Isn’t he, as bishop and successor to the Apostles, entitled to his own voice and ability to speak, preach, and teach the Gospel and not have someone put words in his mouth? What on earth possess people to besmirch the good Cardinal’s name? May such people be found out quickly for the Church needs none of these games.

  8. JabbaPapa says:

    hilltop :

    Why does Pope Francis Sarah assert that Sarah “wanted” to thank the Pope for his Motu Proprio; why didn’t the Pope simply think Sarah for thanking him rather than for “wanting” to thank him.

    It’s just a standard politeness in Italian, don’t read anything too much into this particular translation of it.

    Similar in intent to the English expression “I’d like to thank you for …” rather than just “Thank you for …”. The purpose is to make the thanks felt more warmly.

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  10. iamlucky13 says:

    I was curious to see what Fr. Martin said on his Facebook page. Nothing sarcastic like those quoted above, but I still thought it a noteworthy exaggeration for him and others to label Pope Francis’ letter a “rebuke” and “extraordinary.”

    Then again, maybe it is somewhat extraordinary for Pope Francis to publicly clarify what a writing of his was intended to mean. Perhaps those commenting now would have been happier if the author of the commentaire had instead issued a dubia.

    Still, if that is a rebuke, then I should apologize for the stinging tone in which I worded my previous paragraphs, which in this delicate context now sound terribly offensive.

    The tone of Fr. Martin’s post aside, the comments from others that followed were much more like what you’d see at ncronline. Not pretty.

    Also, did Facebook finally change their policy, or does Fr. Martin have a dispensation from the rule of not allowing Catholic priests to include “Father” in their shown name?

  11. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    There’s a couple of other cardinals to whom I wish the Pope would write.

  12. drohan says:

    Good explanation of the left in all its misbegotten fury. The left believes the ends justify the means in every circumstance. That is their method of victory, but also their means of destruction. I try to stay faithful and understand that the wickedness cannot win out forever.

    Evil always consumes itself. It will do so again.

  13. Vincent says:

    Looks like standard work writing to me: “Hi X, thanks for your email about Y in which you included the comments Z, attached below. I would just like to note that we would find it difficult to support Z if it weren’t backed up by the evidence described in Y.”

    I.e., just clarifying that I am certain about the message I gave and the interpretation you included wasn’t quite in line with what I said.

    Surely anyone who has ever worked in an office recognises this kind of writing!? It hardly constitutes a “slap down”, in fact it’s the very opposite – It’s the kind of thing you might write to someone more senior than you whom you think may not have completely grasped the subtlety of what you had originally sent…

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  15. iamlucky13 says:

    This morning I worked up the patience to click the link to Mr. Faggioli’s twitter account.

    Wow. Although occasionally useful if you can sift through the noise for actual brief, time-sensitive updates, I generally despise twitter for its dedication to the many of the drawbacks of a badly outdated messaging service despite the fact that the original SMS service has largely been phased out in favor of more flexible services implemented in an SMS-like way, and more importantly for the way it encourages poorly written, clumsily marked up, fragmented communication.

    Faggioli really is a poster child for all of that. There’s not really a better description for his coverage of the letter to Cardinal Sarah other than, “spewing.” He is posting tweets (although it looks like only about half of the past day’s have been about Cardinal Sarah) at roughly 8 times the rate of President Trump.

  16. johnwmstevens says:

    Father, I deeply appreciate your taking the time to blog. I have no doubt you are a very busy man.
    I am not competent to parse either the languages, or the actual meanings of the niceties. I appreciate those who are, posting such commentary.

  17. JohnServorum says:

    One can only hope that Francis has so concerned himself with fraternally advising Cardinal Sarah because he strongly suspects that the good cardinal will be the next Successor of Peter.
    May it be so.

  18. VexillaRegis says:

    JohnServorum said:
    One can only hope that Francis has so concerned himself with fraternally advising Cardinal Sarah because he strongly suspects that the good cardinal will be the next Successor of Peter.
    May it be so.

    Que Saráh Saráh!

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