In 'God and the World', a new book based on an interview with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger by German journalist Peter Seewald, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith comments on the future of the Church.
St Paul's in Italy has recently published the book. The following are edited extracts of some of the book's questions and answers that appeared in the Italian newspaper 'Avvenire'.
Question: Many years ago, you spoke in prophetic terms about the Church of the future. At the time you said, "it will be reduced in its dimensions, it will be necessary to start again. However, from this test a Church would emerge that will have been strengthened by the process of simplification it experienced, by its renewed capacity to look within itself." What are the prospects that await us in Europe?
Cardinal Ratzinger: To begin with, the Church "will be numerically reduced." When I made this affirmation, I was overwhelmed with reproaches of pessimism.
And today, when all prohibitions seem obsolete, among them those that refer to what has been called pessimism and which, often, is nothing other than healthy realism, increasingly more [people] admit the decrease in the percentage of baptised Christians in today's Europe: in a city like Magdeburg, Christians are only 8 percent of the total population, including all Christian denominations. Statistical data shows irrefutable tendencies.
In this connection, in certain cultural areas, there is a reduction in the possibility of identification between people and Church. We must take note, with simplicity and realism. The mass Church may be something lovely, but it is not necessarily the Church's only way of being. The Church of the first three centuries was small, without being, by this fact, a sectarian community. On the contrary, it was not closed in on itself, but felt a great responsibility in regard to the poor, the sick - in regard to all ...
However, can the Church really renounce its aspiration to be a Church of the majority?
The Church will continue to propose the great universal human values. Because, if law no longer has common moral foundations, it collapses insofar as it is law. From this point of view, the Church has a universal responsibility. As the Pope says, missionary responsibility means, precisely, to really attempt a new evangelisation. We cannot calmly accept the rest of humanity falling back again into paganism. We must find the way to take the Gospel, also, to non-believers. The Church must tap all her creativity so that the living force of the Gospel will not be extinguished.
What changes will the Church undergo?
We will have to be very cautious when it comes to the risk of forecasts, because historical development has always produced many surprises ...
What is most important, in my opinion, is to look at the "essence," to use an expression of Romano Guardini. It is necessary to avoid elaborating fantastic preconstructions of something that could manifest itself very differently and that we cannot prefabricate in the meanderings of our brain, but to concentrate on the essential, which later might find new ways of incarnating itself.
A process of simplification is important, which will enable us to distinguish between what is the master beam of our doctrine, of our faith, what is of perennial value in it. It is important to propose again the great underlying constants in their fundamental components, the questions on God, salvation, hope, life, especially what has a basic ethical value.