A Meditation : Church-Speak



Orwell would have more than a few cynical remarks about today’s institutional church.


In 1946 George Orwell wrote “Politics and the English Language” — a perceptive essay about the institutional use of language. In this essay he lamented the quality of the English of his day, citing examples of the pretentious rhetoric of institutional leaders and the use of absolutely meaningless words: all of which contribute to fuzzy ideas, a lack of logical thinking, and making falsehood appear as truth.

I thought about this October 7th when Pope Benedict XVI addressed an International Congress for the Catholic Press sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. As one of my Rome-based friends observed: “Not only was his address exclusively in Italian, but neither the Holy See Press Office nor any other Vatican office saw the purpose of issuing a full translation in any other language, such as English, French or Spanish.”

This is the same pope of course who is implementing a liturgical “reform of the reform.” What terrific Church-speak!

It is of course no reform at all. It is rather a slowly-moving regression back to a 1950’s Catholic ethos of clerical-centered triumphalist ritual which turns its back on the congregation, glorifies obfuscating language, and denigrates the non-ordained.

Next stage after the Church-speak proclamation of Jesus Christ  as “consubstantial with the Father” will be more liturgical Latin-Latin and more liturgical Latinized-English (as in the “new and improved” English liturgy arriving officially in Advent 2011).

Vatican liturgists are already preparing for reintroduction (more “reform of the reform”) of communion on tongues because hands are sinful. They forget that Jesus said one should not worry about eating with dirty hands because what defiles a person is what comes out of the mouth. And the tongue, though a little member, defiles the whole body with evil and corrupt communication.

Two expert Catholic theologians, well-anchored in the theological tradition of the church, have written an excellent book on human sexuality. The USCCB Committee on Doctrine, headed by Archbishop (no doubt soon to be crowned with a red hat) Donald Wuerl of Washington, has condemned the Todd Salzman and Michael Lawler book  The Sexual Person as an “inauthentic expression of Catholic theology” and “harmful to one’s moral and spiritual life.”

Church-speak: Making falsehood appear as truth. Loyalty to institutional ideology versus ministry to people.

I am reminded of Archbishop Raymond Burke’s continued condemnations of President Obama for “aggressively advancing an anti-life and anti-family agenda.”

Burke has great praise of course for former Presidnet George W. Bush and remains closed-lipped about Bush’s immoral and illegal war in Iraq, his continued support for capital punishment, and his taxation policies making the rich ever richer, eliminating the middle class, and making ever-more America poor (now about 45 million) even poorer.

In Orwell’s 1946 article he reminded his readers: “When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.

Now I have to think again. Was that phrase “consubstantial” or “Constantinople with the Father”……………..or does it make any difference?






3 thoughts on “Pope Benedict’s Institutional Church is Playing Language Games

  1. Latinized “English” flows from a closed, foreign clerical caste that looks down upon the People of God, lusting for ever more power, and forgetting that the supreme power emanated from the selflessness of the cross and Christ’s refusal to coerce anybody. These clerical bureaucrats view themselves as THE CHURCH and the billions as mere sheep. James McLellan, Dr theol

  2. In our little neck of the woods we are still awaiting instruction as to when these “reforms” actually go into effect. Does Advent 2011 mean THIS December of 2010? (Which is what I think- as the Church year begins with the First Sunday of Advent.) Or is it next year?
    Nobody else seems to think it important- but if I have to completely re-learn the Gloria with a new musical setting and teach it to the congregation- it would be nice to get a head start.

    I am so tempted to weep when I see all my fears about this Pope coming true. I never did look good in hats.

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