Pope Benedict XVI issued a decree Saturday creating a new pontifical academy for Latin studies to try to boost interest in the official language of the Roman Catholic Church that is nevertheless out of widespread use elsewhere.
Benedict acknowledged Latin's fall from grace in his decree, saying future priests nowadays often learn only a "superficial" knowledge of Latin in their seminaries. The new academy will promote Latin through conferences, publications and instruction in Catholic schools, universities and seminaries, he wrote.
As expected, the decree and its founding statutes were written in Latin.
Benedict's move is further evidence of his attempt to restore the church to its traditional roots as it battles to prevent the faithful from straying in today's increasingly secular world. Benedict has been promoting this "new evangelization" to try to reassert Christianity's place in society in parts of the world where it's fallen by the wayside, a victim of competition from Pentecostal churches and its own priest sex abuse scandals.
The initiative is also an olive branch to traditionalist Catholics, who have long lamented the modernizing reforms of the Second Vatican Council which replaced the Latin liturgy with Mass in the vernacular.
In 2007, Benedict relaxed restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass, a move that supporters say has increased interest in the Latin language and the Latin liturgy.
Since becoming pope in 2005, Benedict has reintroduced Latin in much of his own Vatican celebrations, with the gospel often chanted in the ancient language.
The Vatican argues that while few ordinary Catholics may understand Latin, it is a universal language that represents the universal church and doesn't favor the language of one particular group over another. Critics say the return to Latin is just another indication of how out of touch today's Catholic Church is with the modern world.
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