A vision for the future of the Church set forth in 1969, 44 years ago, by the relatively young theologian Joseph Ratzinger, then 42 — so at almost the exact midpoint of his life from his birth in 1927 until now — was recalled today by Italian writer Marco Bardazzi on the Vatican Insider website.
It was a vision of a Church with “far fewer members” and with “little influence over political decisions,” to the point of being almost “socially irrelevant” and forced to “start over.”
But it was also a vision of a Church that would find herself again and be reborn a “simpler and more spiritual” entity following “enormous confusion.”
The vision was set forth is a series of five radio homilies by Ratzinger in 1969, and was published in book form just two years ago by Ignatius Press as Faith and the Future.
Ratzinger said he was convinced the modern Church was going through a dramatic era similar to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.
“We are at a huge turning point in the evolution of mankind,” he said. “This moment makes the move from medieval to modern times seem insignificant.”
From the crisis “will emerge a Church that has lost a great deal,” he warned. “It will become small and will have to start pretty much all over again. It will no longer have use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity… It will be a more spiritual Church, and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.”
The process outlined by Ratzinger was a “long” one “but when all the suffering is past, a great power will emerge from a more spiritual and simple Church.”
Then, and only then, Ratzinger concluded, would Catholics begin to see “that small flock of faithful as something completely new… as a source of hope for themselves, the answer they had always secretly been searching for.”