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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 January 2007, 20:38 GMT
Latinist laments 'dying language'
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

Father Reginald Foster. File photo
Father Foster says he can see no future for Latin
One of the world's foremost scholars in Latin has said he believes the language is dying out.

Father Reginald Foster, who was appointed the papal Latinist 38 years ago, says Latin is almost extinct.

He says priests are no longer compelled to study it at seminaries and find it impossible to read important theological texts.

Father Foster has also condemned the loss of Latin teaching in schools across most of Europe.

'Missing out'

Father Foster has just opened a new Latin academy in Rome near the Pantheon, in his final effort to preserve the official language of the priesthood.

St Augustine thought in Latin, you can't read his text in English, it's like listening to Mozart through a jukebox
Father Reginald Foster

He hopes to attract 130 students a year.

But the chief Latinist, who has translated speeches and letters for four popes, says he can see no future for the language he is teaching and has been forced to acknowledge that Latin is dying out.

The reason is that more junior members of the Catholic hierarchy are less enthusiastic about Latin than the recent Popes.

At the Vatican, bishops' appointments are still written on papyrus in Latin as are letters of congratulations from the pope, but many bishops and cardinals write back asking for translations.

He has also condemned the loss of Latin teaching in Europe.

In Italy, most schoolchildren are still taught Latin for at least four hours a week until they are 18.

But in other European countries it has been replaced by the more modern languages.

Father Foster believes that without Latin they are missing out on important elements of history.

"St Augustine thought in Latin, you can't read his text in English, it's like listening to Mozart through a jukebox," he says.

Papal leadership

Reports that Pope Benedict XVI might re-introduce Latin mass are way off the mark says Father Foster, not least because of the pontiff's desire to avoid more controversy.

Roman Catholic cardinals celebrate Mass. File photo
The Pope might re-introduce Latin mass, reports say

In any case, he says, it just makes the Vatican look medieval. Father Foster does, however, propose a solution - he has called on the Pope to lead by example.

Instead of a siesta, he says, Benedict should announce that he will be reading Latin in his Vatican quarters.

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