Problem in the Italian of the 2021 Plessy v. Ferguson document, Traditionis custodes.

I saw on twitter an interesting point about the English and Italian versions of the 2021 Plessy v. Ferguson document, Traditionis custodes.

My many years in Rome inform me that the second, “alternative” translation is more accurate.

I consulted with a highly educated native Italian speaker whose knowledge of Italian (and world) literature and poetry is amazing.  He said that the second translation is more accurate.

When asked whether the first was possible, his reaction, the same as mine, was “barely”.

That said, there is an disconnect between the Italian and English texts.  And there is no indication of time, long or short.  (There was no vacatio legis, either.)

In short, whether it was originally drafted in Italian (which I strongly suspect) or in English, the English-Italian translation discrepancy, along with the internal incoherence of the document, reveal both haste and lack of proper competent consultation.

Unless… it was purposely botched so that it would be largely ignored.


Yeah… right.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Save The Liturgy - Save The World, Traditionis custodes and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Charles Sercer says:

    Okay. I am absolutely in the dark about how applying the second translation rather than the first makes any difference. What difference is there between “need to return in due time [to the Novus Ordo]” and “need time to return” to it? Both assume/imply that the only acceptable long-term option is to attend the Novus Ordo exclusively. Maybe (?) the tone in the latter translation is less harsh but it is clear that intent remains the same. Neither translation makes what Pope Francis has done acceptable.

  2. donato2 says:

    The “official” English translation would have it that the need (“bisogno”) is to return while the Italian says that that the need is for time (“hanno bisogno di tempo”). That’s a significant difference.

  3. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Under correction, something else that struck me as odd was the (as I take it) translation of the Italian “edito” in “il Messale Romano edito da san Giovanni XXIII nell’anno 1962” as “edited” in English (“the Roman Missal edited by John XXIII in 1962”) when ‘edito’ means ‘published’, ‘issued’, etc. (cf. the Spanish “el Misal Romano publicado por San Juan XXIII en 1962”). Whether it’s a question of insufficient knowledge of Italian, English, or both, the impression is one of sloppiness – “both haste and lack of proper competent consultation”, indeed (unless, “purposely botched” (so to say) trollingly?).

  4. Charles E Flynn says:


    Italian: e hanno bisogno di tempo per ritornare

    English: and they need time to return

  5. An Liaigh says:

    There is a concern I have with the document which may seem small but has very large potential ramifications: the use of the word ‘unique’. The Novus Ordo is the unique expression of the Roman Rite. On the face of it, this is simply factually inaccurate. Even this document allows for the, albeit restricted, celebration of the mass of John XXIII. Beyond that, are the Carthusians still allowed to do their own thing? What about the Dominicans or the Anglican Ordinariates or the other historical versions of the Latin Rite? Either ‘unique’ is simply wrong or these others are also disallowed. ls this also problem of translation?

  6. Prayerful says:

    There is something basically stupid about the Motu proprio. First the ‘Missal antecedent to the reform of 1970’ refers to the Novus of 1969, the transitional missal from 1964 onwards, and the 1962 missal, which is referred to specifically later on. Second, it effectively bans the TLM from almost everywhere. Dioceses generally have almost nothing beyond parish churches and a cathedral.

  7. Andrew says:

    Traditio can also be translated as “betrayal” as used, for example, by S. Augustine, who writes in Ps. 93 no. 28:

    “Traditio Christi sit nostra receptio, et Christi venditio sit nostra redemptio.” (May the betrayal of Christ be our acceptance and the selling out of Christ be our redemption). In that sense “traditionis custodes” can be translated as “the guardians of betrayal”.

  8. Gaetano says:

    The multiple errors raise the suspicion that TC was done without: (1) sufficient deliberation; (2) sufficient knowledge of the subject matter; (3) editorial review to avoid basic technical errors; (4) sufficient knowledge of English; and (5) adequate notice to ordinaries so they could prepare to implement a document that has immediate effect.

    I’ve seen better documents prepared for a papal address to athletes.

    The effort would be laughable if TC’s impact weren’t so horrific.

  9. Rich M. says:

    I think the Spanish is the original. The phrase “was exploited to widen the gaps” holds up better as a translation of the Spanish than as a translation of the Italian.

  10. JMody says:

    Father, I humbly suggest that it MAY be on purpose, for three reasons:
    1. As you point out in another post, one of the caudillismo tenets is to stir it up, cause some chaos. This Holy Father has established a predictable track record of being unpredictable. If he says something blunt and yet toothless, the truly deep-rooted, healthy parishes and healthy dioceses can continue, and we shall see a dichotomy develop.
    2. While he has taken far more action against tradition than against modernism, he has clearly set some of the modernist favorite articles on a path that leads to the cooler. I’m thinking of the deaconette commission as an example. A poor translation leaving some breathing room is the same kind of maneuver.
    3. Evil exists but is foiled to bring about a greater good. Maybe, someone’s English skills were exceptionally, noteworthily, SUPERNATURALLY bad that day.

    Now to try to appeal to St. Thomas Aquinas, I offer in refutation of myself the following:
    1. This does not stir up, this is short clear and concise and clearly says that the bishop can and should limit growth, etc. {And yet it does not say he must}.
    2. If we presuppose modernism, there is an imbalance, but no examples … er, never mind.
    3. The translation is not bad, it is correct. The Holy Father is a Spanish-speaker first, and clearly none of this is being done in Latin, so we cannot consider the Italian, but must look at the Spanish origi- … original is in Italian? Never mind.

    I sure wish I had been exposed to more Thomas, but as we all know, that hates Vatican II, or something.

  11. WVC says:

    My question is – what is a parochial church? What other kinds of churches are there in a diocese? What other classifications of diocesan buildings can be made? I assume that there are clever folks out there who can help make this jesuitical as far as categories and labels of buildings and such?

    Part of what irritates me is that the argument that there wasn’t much Benedict could have done because so many bishops were against him (the “my authority doesn’t extend beyond this door” spiel) – that was why he couldn’t be bolder in restoring order and reverence to the liturgy, including the hot mess that the Novus Ordo is in some parishes/diocese/and even countries. Yet when trying his darndest to upend the apple cart, Francis is able to request and expect to receive complete, abject, and unquestioned obedience?

    What’s good for the goose, y’all. Why can’t the good bishops band together and say, “Huh? What? Oh, I never got anything on that. I don’t subscribe to L’Osservatore Romano . . . etc.” Why not direct the staff to forward an email to all pastors but somehow the staffer got the email addresses wrong? Gum up the works. Hagan Lio and such. Do anything and everything to hamper the enemy, impede his cause, and support your own.

  12. TheDude05 says:

    Just did a Google translation of the Motu Proprio and rather than “the unique expression” it translated it to “the only expression”. The Italian uses l’unica which translated by itself with Google comes to “the only one”. Now while that fits the general definition of unique in the English language it means something more in English, more like one of a kind. So it would seem there are definite issues with the translation and also with the wording in terms of the history and reality of the liturgy in the Roman Rite. Would this mean that Rome is going to abrogate the Rite for the Anglican Ordinariate? How about the Hindu Rite or the Zairean Rite? What does this mean for the future Amazonian Rite? If the Holy Father was ok with new Rites and Liturgies for indigenous peoples how would he square that with the Missal of Paul vi being “the only” or “the unique” expression of the Roman Rite?

  13. Pingback: VVEDNESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  14. robtbrown says:

    Aet 1. The liturgical books promulgated by Saint Paul VI and Saint John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, are the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.

    I don’t think it matters very much whether the translation is “unique” or “only”.

    What does matter is that anyone who has used the 1970 Missal knows that the 1st Eucharists Prayer is identified as the Roman Canon. That means the others are not, which means they are not part of the historical Roman Rite.

    So what is being said is that the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite contains many elements that have nothing to do with it.

    This document can best be read by keeping in mind that it was promulgated by the same man who sold out the Chinese Catholics. Perhaps he should now be known as Confusionis Custos.

  15. LT Brass Bancroft says:

    Here is how “Bishop Brass Bancroft” would execute Traditiones Custodes.

    1. Identify the most beautiful parish church in each county in the diocese.
    2. Close their respective parishes.
    3. Now that those parishes are closed, the church buildings are no longer parish churches. They will now be used exclusively for EF masses.

  16. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Two other features of that sentence invite attention: the terminology and imagery of “rooted” (Italian “radicati”, Spanish “arraigados”) and “return” (Italian “ritornare”, Spanish “volver”). Do they, separately or in combination, have obvious distinct implications in Italian or Spanish?

    In general, “return” would seem to imply ‘previous departure’, in the context of which, “rooted” would seem to suggest ‘having become rooted after previous departure’. In who knows how many cases – such as, converts or baptized cradle Catholics whose families had fallen away before they ever (recall having) experienced any Mass – there can be no question of literal ‘return’: such will have become directly “rooted in the previous form of celebration” – which ‘rootedness’ would clearly seem a good thing. Does the context however suggest that any ‘rootedness’ in anything except in the (putatively) “unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite” is bad in itself?

    Is this (for example) all a play with ‘return of the Prodigal Son’ imagery?

  17. robtbrown says:


    That has often been the approach, excepting choosing the most beautiful churches.

    I know of a church exclusively using the TLM that was formerly Episcopalian. Another was an older Catholic church that had trouble supporting itself.

    In the US and Western Europe there is no shortage of closed or seldom used churches.

  18. TonyO says:

    BBB, I had the same idea, but with the tweak for FSSP places that are already there: close the “parish” and then dedicate the building as a “shrine” or something else (maybe, oratory, chapel, etc). Then business as usual. As long as it is not called a “parish”, you aren’t in trouble.

    But I suspect that ultimately the response by good bishops, for FSSP parishes, will be to say “they are ALREADY achieving that stuff Francis wanted regarding unity, so they are good as is” and just ignore into oblivion Article 1.

    About Article 1, I think Francis wanted to be understood to be expressing the idea that the Novus Ordo missal has the only expression of the lex orandi that will be the SOLE use in some (not TOO distant) future, at which point it will then be the “unique” current expression of the lex orandi. Unfortunately, it appears that he botched it pretty badly, both because he clearly did not account for the Ordinariate and other situations / uses, but also because even in that imagined future in which everybody in the Latin Rite uses the NO and nothing else, it WILL HAVE BEEN the case that the old mass is a true mass of the Latin Rite. He cannot change the past. And the past dictates that the old mass IS a mass of the Latin Rite. The NO can never be the “only” mass the Latin Rite has ever had.

    I get that people may want to read into the numerous gaffe’s in this document as more of Francis’s “hagan lio” and “being unpredictable”. But I don’t think it works. First, because the one clear bias Francis has been consistent on over his papacy is antipathy to tradition: more likely than not, he WANTS to suppress it. Second, because when you make a habit of both thought and speech that is full of ambiguity and lacking in distinctions, you eventually are unable to break out of that pattern at will: there is no clear evidence that the Pope is – in his own right and without handlers “helping” him – capable of that level of thinking and subtlety. Third, he has to be thinking of his “term limits”: he is 84, not in great health, he cannot ASSUME he will be able and ready, in a few years, to follow-up on the new chaos with some clever “fix” that he planned all along. He is not going to situate land mines in his own document creating pathways of non-compliance for some theoretical future action.

Comments are closed.