17Feb The Art of Wilful Blindness. Brendan Hoban

(With acknowledgement to the Western People|)

In a remarkable interview at the gates of Dáil Éireann on his last day as a
TD, Bertie Ahearn lamented the fact that no one had told him what was going
on in the banks. If only someone told me, he pined. Yes, I know.
But before we cast any more stones at the hapless Bertie who pronounced (in
that same interview) that his greatest regret was that he didn¹t get his way
and build the Bertie Bowl, it is clear that Bertie suffers from a very
common condition.
The truth is that we are all afflicted with what the writer Margaret
Heffernan in a recent book calls ‘Wilful Blindness.¹ Things happen before
our noses but we simply choose not to look and not to question. And we do
that because the mind tends to filter out information that would threaten
our present understanding, and especially our position.
Experts and leaders particularly tend to suffer from Wilful Blindness. If
you commit your thinking and your practice to a certain truth for some
years, it takes a long time to see what eventually appears as a blindingly
obvious reality. And even when a doubt is created in the mind, we tend to
search out data that confirms our previously held convictions – talking to
those who agree with us and reading books that support our own opinions. The
last opinion we tend to consider is anything that might challenge our
The Financial Regulator, during the glory years of the Celtic Tiger, is a
case in point. The banks were heading down a slippery slope – 100%
mortgages, dodgy accounting practices, moving debts from one financial
institution to another and all the rest of it – but those in charge didn¹t
see it. Or probably couldn¹t bring themselves to see it. And no one told
Churchpeople too are notoriously prone to Wilful Blindness. The most obvious
example of this disability in church circles at present is the proposal or
rather decision to introduce, this coming November, a re-wording of parts of
the English translation of the text of the Mass. The present translation,
though much loved and after 40-plus years part of the groove of our worship,
has been deemed to be banal and not sufficiently ‘sacred.¹
However, the new translation – effectively a literal translation from the
Latin – is much more complicated, less user-friendly and needlessly obscure.
Experts in linguistics have dismissed the new translation as incompetent and
even a cursory reading of the available texts shows that the language is
old-fashioned and convoluted and ignores the natural rhythm, cadence and
syntax of the English language.
Sentences are too long (up to 80 words sometimes); the vocabulary is elitist
(the word ‘consubstantial¹ finds its way into the Creed); and the new texts
revert to exclusive language – not taking into account the fact that ‘man’
and ‘mankind’ are no longer understood as generic terms for humankind. Women
will rightly be displeased if not angry by being addressed once again as
‘men’ and even ‘brothers’. Why, in God¹s name, are we insisting on
gratuitously insulting and alienating the most loyal half of our
You’d imagine that the first to be consulted about any change in the
language of the Mass would be the people, priests and bishops. While the
latter had a passing influence on the new texts, priests and people were
ignored. You¹d imagine too that the new texts would be carefully piloted in
parishes to surface any problems but that didn¹t happen either. And it seems
very clear now, looking back on the development of the texts, that experts
who didn’t favour the literal translation from the Latin were moved to the
It is becoming progressively clearer that introducing the new texts is going
to cause confusion bordering on chaos in parishes next November. 40 years ago one change was
made to the present text: ‘We have raised them up to the Lord¹ was replaced
with ‘We lift them up to the Lord¹ but 40 years on most people are still
saying ‘We have raised . . .¹ Imagine what¹s going to happen when people are
expected to respond to the greeting ‘The Lord be with you¹ with ‘And with
your spirit¹ instead of ‘And also with you.¹ Not to speak of words like
‘consubstantial¹, ‘incarnate¹ and the various emendations and additions that
will have people in the pews going in all directions.
There is widespread unease about the proposed changes already and it¹s
nothing like the unease when they will be introduced. For instance the
Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) believes that the last thing the Irish
Catholic Church needs now is the predictable frustration and anger of laity,
religious and priests and the confusion and disharmony that will ensue, as
the celebration of the Eucharist, instead of being a symbol of unity, could
become a focus of disagreement and division.
The ACP has asked the Irish bishops to postpone the launch of these new
translations and to engage with Irish Catholics with a view to developing a
new set of texts.
The introduction of the new texts is a classic case of Wilful Blindness,
indeed of what Margaret Heffernan also calls ‘collective myopia.¹ The dogs
in the streets can tell that after the frustration of the run-in to November
there will be a huge variety of practice. Some parishes will be ‘And also
with you¹ parishes while others will be ‘And with your spirit¹ parishes.
Some will continue to use the old form of the Creed, while others will
struggle with the new version. Some will adopt some eccentric version of
pick-and mix and some will be silent parishes because they won¹t know what
to say.
To some degree, of course, at a personal level we all suffer from Wilful
Blindness but the antidote to the condition is the honesty of our friends.
However, the fear is that for institutions under threat it may be a terminal
condition. The recent statement by the Vox Clara committee, which provides
advice to Rome concerning English-language liturgical books, is not
reassuring. It recently announced that the completion of the English
translation of the Roman Missal has been welcomed throughout the
English-speaking world!
It¹s not easy being a team player in the Catholic Church while so many of
our leaders conspire to ignore the writing on every possible wall. It¹s bad
enough being on a perpetually losing side, several goals down and playing
into a gale-force wind but having some of the leaders of the pack intent on
scoring own goals at every opportunity will decimate whatever morale is left
in a depleted team.
It¹s not that we can¹t predict what¹s going to happen. It¹s just that those
who make the decisions are suffering from a terminal case of Wilful
Blindness. Sometimes I just feel like sitting down and weeping for my

3 Responses

  1. Joe O'Leary

    This is a very plausible prediction — Nov 27 could be the beginning of the end for an already sorely wounded church.

  2. Gerard Flynn

    The link below concerns Msgr Andrew Wadsworth, Exeecutive Director of the ICEL secretariat, in which he praises a sedevacantist’s liturgy book. ICEL produced the new (interlinear)’translation’ of the missal.


  3. Joe O'Leary

    The head of ICEL treats a sedevacantist screed with great respect while he ignores and scoffs at all the critics of the horrible translation he and his gang have perpetrated. This is outrageous. More than ever I think we will be morally obliged to boycott the new translations. Why should we play along with these rogues in destroying the Church’s worship and leaving the People of God in the lurch once again?

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