Lost in the Translation

Youth catechism publisher says ‘contraceptive’ language is not in original text.

Father Joseph Fessio, SJ
Father Joseph Fessio, SJ (photo: CNS photo)

SAN FRANCISCO — The English-language publisher of a new Vatican-sponsored youth catechism says that a passage suggesting the use of contraception by Christian couples is not in the book’s original German text, which was incorrectly translated into Italian.

“The Italian translation was really a mistaken understanding of the German,” Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, Ignatius Press’ founding editor, said April 12. “We did notice in the German original there was some ambiguity, but we wanted to translate it in the way we knew was most consistent with the Church’s teachings.”

The creation of the 300-page YouCat was overseen by Cardinal Archbishop Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, who edited the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church. The German text of the YouCat received the approval of the Austrian bishops in March 2010.

According to Father Fessio and Ignatius Press’ president, Mark Brumley, the Italian version incorrectly translates the German word Empfängnisregelung. Although the term literally means “birth regulation,” in a general sense that can signify natural family planning, it is also sometimes used to refer to “birth control” through contraceptive means.

However, the Italian version of the YouCat does not translate the term according to what Father Fessio says is its literal meaning. Instead, it renders the German word as metodi anticoncezionali (contraceptive methods).

“The problem did not originate with the German text,” Brumley said in a statement on Ignatius’ website, “at least not if the Italian translation is based on the same German text as that on which Ignatius Press based its translation.”

“The German text of Question 420 asks whether a Christian married couple may regulate the number of children they have,” Brumley explained. “It does not ask whether the couple may use methods of contraception.”

Ignatius Press’ English-language version of the YouCat poses the question, “May a Christian married couple regulate the number of children they have?” It gives the answer: “Yes, a Christian married couple may and should be responsible in using the gift and privilege of transmitting life.”

However, the Italian edition gives the same positive answer in response to the question, Può una coppia cristiana fare ricorso ai metodi anticoncezionali? (May a Christian couple have recourse to contraceptive methods?).

According to Catholic News Service April 12, distribution of the Italian edition was temporarily suspended because of the mistranslation. Thousands of copies of the Italian translation of YouCat were recently released.

As a result, “the product is temporarily suspended, but not halted,” so that the Italian publisher can “examine the text,” Elena Cardinali, a spokeswoman for the Citta Nuova editorial group, said. Citta Nuova, the publishing arm of the Focolare lay movement, handled the Italian edition of the catechism.

Catholic News Service contributed to this article.