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Survey on priests' dislike of Missal may be inaccurate
By Carl Bunderson
Credit: Jeffrey Bruno/CNA.
Credit: Jeffrey Bruno/CNA.

.- A survey of U.S. priests' attitudes towards the new English translation of the Roman Missal showing “widespread skepticism” may be inaccurate because of its methods, according to a polling expert.

On May 21, St. John's School of Theology, located in Collegeville, Minn., released its survey results saying that the majority of priests in America dislike the new Missal.

Of the some 1,500 priests who responded to the survey, 39 percent like the new text, and 59 percent dislike it, according to the Collegeville survey.

“All 178 Roman Catholic Latin rite dioceses in the U.S. were invited to take part in this study; 32 dioceses participated...in the period February 21 – May 6, 2013, priests in participating dioceses were invited to participate in the online survey via an email to all priests on the diocesan distribution list,” according to the survey's executive summary.

Peter Brown, who is assistant director of Quinnipiac University's Polling Institute, discussed polling procedures with CNA May 23. “Random sampling is the key to getting accurate poll results,” he said.

Since only a few dioceses chose to participate in the survey – just under 18 percent – and only some priests in those dioceses chose to respond, survey respondents were “self-selecting.”

“They participated not randomly, but because they were the ones that chose to respond,” Brown explained. “Self-selected samples are not generally thought of....they don't produce a random sample.”

Since polls rely on a small number of people to represent the attitudes or beliefs of a larger population, “you have to be absolutely sure that the random group is a random group.”

The Collegeville survey, Brown said, “might not meet those criteria” since its participants were self-selecting.

“It's very difficult to know exactly” in this particular case, he added, though he had noted that self-selecting samples are generally not random.

The survey's project manager, Chase Becker, is a graduate student in liturgical studies at St. John's School of Theology, and holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy. No ostensible polling experts were involved, and the survey's professional consultant was an associate professor of psychology at the institution.

The poll also had no indication of its margin of error.

The survey's results were welcomed by vocal critics of the new translation, such as Bishop Donald W. Trautman, Erie's bishop emeritus. He said the texts of the new Missal are “unintelligible and non-proclaimable” and have “lengthy sentences.”

And Bishop Robert H. Brom of San Diego complained that opening prayers in the newly translated Missal are “especially difficult” and said the Missal has “strange vocabulary.”

Meanwhile, Monsignor Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of the group responsible for preparing the new Missal, noted that “the 1,536 priests who responded may represent less than 3.7 percent of priests in the US...a significant fact in determining just how representative this consultation can be considered.”

Jeffrey Tucker, director of publications at the Church Music Association of America, noted that the survey “lacks demographic data,” failing to break down priests' response by their age and other factors.

“I suspect a generational split is at work here. It shouldn't really be surprising that some priests of an older generation are annoyed,” he wrote May 21 at The Chant Café website. “They came (to) terms with one way, received vast amounts of catechesis along these lines, and developed a more casual liturgical style to go with it, and now they are told to do it another way.”

The new translation of the Missal, which has been in use since Nov. 27, 2011, is more faithful to the Latin original than was the translation in use since the 1970s.

In accord with a 2001 document on the implementation of Vatican II, the new translation is meant to be closer not only to the sense of the original Latin, but its structure as well, and is less informal than the 1970s translation.

A poll conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate surveyed American Catholics, not only priests, about their perception of the new Missal last September. That poll showed that Catholics in the pews have overwhelmingly been positive about the new translation.

Seventy percent of those polled agreed that “the new translation of the Mass is a good thing.” And those who attend Mass at least weekly were even stronger in their approval, at 80 percent. The poll had a margin of err of plus or minus three percentage points.

Tags: Missal translation


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