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Premature Publication? January 23, 2006

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Religion.

Even though I’m a Southern Baptist, I’m reluctant to be critical of another faith, and it truly pains me to see the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention frequently speaking such harsh words toward the Catholic church. I see members of the Catholic church not only as brothers and sisters in faith, but also as the legacy of the Christian church.

Onan, the Barbarian
Therefore, it’s comforting for me to find my Catholic bretheren struggling with the recent announcement from the Vatican to enforce a strict copyright on the Pope’s words. From the linked article, one paragraph jumped out and grabbed my attention:

A Vatican spokesman said that the Holy See had to defend itself against “pirated editions”. The move is also aimed at “premature publication”. Journalists accredited to the Vatican are handed papal texts under embargo.

Am I the only person to read this, and immediately see the parallel to the sin of Onan? Actually, it begs the question of whose words are deserving of copyright.

Pirates of the Galilean
Questions of contraception aside, there is an interesting issue that arises from the notion of copyright enforced on “words of divine inspiration.” To the best of my knowledge, the Vatican has never equated papal writings with those of scripture.

However, the Pope is clearly set apart as the “primary interpreter” of scripture for the Catholic church. In effect, the proposed copyright seems to be to charge a fee for correct (or at least authorized, depending on your view) interpretation of scripture. Is the copyright intended to protect the revenue generated from the Pope’s writings and pronouncements, or protecting the meaning and intent of the scripture itself?

I’m struggling with the notion of Jesus being upset at someone reprinting his teaching (assuming the reprint accurately communicated the message) without formal attribution. Would he have demanded DRM encoding of an MP3 of the Sermon on the Mount?

Pope for Today, Pope for Tomorrow?
On the other side of the fence are those of us who see the Pope as a valuable leader, but don’t place a significantly higher regard for his interpretation of scripture than any number of others. At the extreme are traditional Baptists, who cling to priesthood of the believer more strongly than most other Protestant denominations. In this light, my own interpretation of scripture becomes critical, as I not only have that right, but the corresponding responsibility.

In light of the Vatican’s announcement and traditional Baptist theology, I suppose if I’m to be a good Baptist, my interpretation of scripture should carry its own copyright. Unfortunately, I don’t think enforcement is going to be a problem there.


1. Father Joe - July 23, 2006

The late Paulist priest Father Illig used to joke that the Catholic Church should have gotten a copyright on the Bible back at the fourth century council of Hippo when the canon was established.

We have had a similar problem with the current translations of the Bible which are copyrighted. It seems to me that papal pronouncements, approved Scripture translations, the words and rituals of the Church’s sacramental life (like the Mass)– should all be public domain.

Otherwise, we inhibit the proclamation that constitutes the mission of the Church.

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