… Let’s discuss translations for a moment. Are they 100% accurate? Not always. Hence the phrase, “lost in translation”. Knowing that, I am willing to take into consideration that this is sometimes the case with Pope Francis; however, I refuse to accept it as an excuse. On that note I’d like to share this post, Francis: Interview 2, by Sr. Anne Flanagan.
There are things in that conversation that will raise questions; I’ve only scanned the interview and found two eyebrow-raisers. A bit of research into the Italian original showed me that both are translation issues. And serious ones, to my mind. (What? Did they use Google Translate?) So I am going to just hurry to post the differences between the English as published, and my own rather literal Italian.
And then she gives this example of the variations in translations and their implied meaning.
If “everyone has his own idea of good and evil and must choose to follow the good and fight evil as he conceives them,” is the Pope saying that there is no such thing as objective truth, or objective right or wrong? This is where it is really, really helpful to know Italian: “Ciascuno di noi ha una sua visione del Bene e anche del Male. Noi dobbiamo incitarlo a procedere verso quello che lui pensa sia il Bene” is more literally (and helpfully?) translated as “Each one of us has his/her own vision of the Good or even of Evil. We must encourage him/her to move toward that which he/she sees as the Good.”
The Pope is not leveling the difference between truth and untruth, right and wrong: he is saying that we all have a duty to encourage people to pursue the Good, knowing that the true Good will not fail to manifest himself, even if “through a glass darkly.”
I see the subtle nuances in the different translation, yes. But is it now our duty to read into what may or not be implied? Even with the help of Sr. Anne’s more literal translation I have to wonder at the ambiguous answer to such a straight forward question. And it is ambiguous, no? Or else it wouldn’t have so many people scrambling to interpret the Pope’s meaning.
Are we supposed to read Francis’s comments like protestants read their bibles now, through the lenses of their own personal interpretation? It’s exhausting. And confusing. And I don’t know that I buy the language barrier excuse anymore, not that I ever really did. The Pope is a smart man and capable of saying what he means and, it’s the fact that he doesn’t that’s so troubling.
And how many interviews has it been now? I think it’s safe to say we’ve crossed the point were we can continue to ignore the intentional vagueness of his remarks. I hate to say it but maybe Francis should stick to well thought out and carefully worded encyclicals and addresses, or at the very least, give off the cuff interviews to media outlets that can be trusted not to heavily edit the content to fit their specific narrative. Because let’s be honest, how many of you thought of calling BS while reading it — that’s how wonky the whole thing read. When people are making excuses for language or suspecting La Reppulica of taking liberties with the Holy Father’s words maybe it’s time to hang up the informal interview gig.
It’s ecumenical outreach time in Rome. Meanwhile, all this effort to chase after the lost sheep leaves the rest of the herd alone to wander off. Or at least that is what it feels like.
So there it is. My final word on the subject of this particular interview. Should more develop I’ll add more, redact all the wrongs, and mea all the culpas. In the meantime, below you’ll find some excellent articles written by others.
Simcha Fisher — Utterly Predictable News Flash : Pope Mistranslated
Tom McDonald — Parsing Francis, Shepherd of a Lost Sheep
Calah Alexander — Less Fear, More Faith
Will Duquette — Dissent Detectors
Elizabeth Scalia — Translating Francis