The nation's Roman Catholic bishops yesterday rejected what were described as "modest" revisions of the Psalms that would have made the language more sexually inclusive.
The bishops voted 154 to 117 against a recommendation of their liturgy committee to endorse a proposed language psalter, produced by the British branch of an international order of Catholic women called The Grail.
The proposed Grail revision, which would retain traditional images of God as male, addresses a growing problem in the church in a culture in which men as well as women are troubled by sexism in the Bible.
Auxiliary Bishop Austin B. Vaughn of New York branded the proposed version part of "a radical feminist push." To accept it would be to alter the Scripture "to suit current attitudes," he said. "It raises the question of how far we are prepared to be pushed even on Scripture texts . . . because something is offensive to them."
Archbishop John F. Whealon of Hartford, nationally renowned as a biblical scholar, countered that "all modern Scripture translations have a certain degree of paraphrase" to accommodate language changes.
Whealon unsuccessfully urged that the bishops approve the translation in principle, and negotiate specific instances with Grail.
But Bishop Francis Stafford of Mobile said, "I favor very much the intention that the ladies of the Grail have, but I fear very much the precedent it would set." Stafford alluded to the controversy sparked by efforts of the National Council of Churches and their more radically inclusive lectionary, which referred to God as "Sovereign" instead of "Lord" and called Jesus the "Child of God" rather than "Son of God."
It is expected that the bishops will have to address this question again in their planned pastoral letter on women in church and society.
In a brief report on Latin America, Archbishop Patrick Flores of San Antonio commended U.S. Catholics for contributing an average of $2 million a year to Latin American churches, which he said are beset by war and inflation.
Flores also denounced fundamentalist Protestant groups for their proselytizing efforts. "The amount of anti-Catholic propaganda is unbelievable," he said. "There is constant pressure on Catholics to join these sects," coming from "well-financed" radio and television programs, "night and day, seven days a week."
Archbishop John R. Quinn of San Francisco, reporting on a study ordered by the Vatican two years ago of religious orders of men and women in this country, said that most bishops have held "listening sessions" with orders in their dioceses as directed by the Vatican.
He detailed long lists of both strengths and weaknesses in religious orders that the sessions turned up, but summarized, "Without wishing to deny the negative points which arose, bishops rather unanimously characterized their meetings as open, supportive, fruitful and marked by a deep commitment to the church . . . .
"A very large number of both bishops and religious members of religious orders saw in these meetings the begining of a new period of understanding and collaboration placing religious more fully at the heart of the mission of the church."
Quinn asked his brother bishops to continue the dialogue with religious orders, proposed that the Bishops' Conference develop a pastoral letter on religious life, and also proposed the creation within the conference of a standing committee on the concerns of religious orders.