Address by Archbishop Ricard to Pope John Paul II

Source: FSSPX News


The two documents that we reproduce here must be read together. They explain each other. The first is taken from a speech addressed to the pope by Mgr. Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux and president of the French Bishops Conference on February 13, during its ad limina visit. The second is taken from the interview which the Austrian theologian Paul Zulehner gave to the press agency Apic, on February 9.

Both men can see the crisis in the Church, at least from the point of view of numbers: fall in vocations, major downturn in religious practice; but their reactions are different. The Archbishop lists the pastoral worries of his colleagues in the episcopate – without daring to say that they are forced, in fact, to just cope with the shortage; the theologian invites us to forge ahead, to accept serenely, this quantitative decline, certain that it is of a “new qualitative thrust” – which, one might wonder, might not be the equivalent of jumping into a void.

Neither the Archbishop nor the theologian look for a reason for this crisis in the Church’s recent history; neither of them can see in it, the opening up to the world, desired and promoted since Vatican II. Both think that the world changes and that the Church must adapt to these changes, promptly dubbed “signs of the times”. This incapacity to call into question the conciliar orientation, hastily identified as the “breath of the Holy Spirit” is characteristic. Archbishop Ricard denounces “those who are nostalgic about the past and fearful of the future”. Paul Zulehner wants to be finished with the “lamentations” over a Church which is no longer what it was. He proposes “get moving or disappear”, without reflecting for a second that marching into a void is condemning oneself to swift annihilation.

Address by Archbishop Ricard to Pope John Paul II

“(…) As far as religion goes, our dioceses, setting aside some countries of ancient Christian permeation, have never been marked by unanimous religious practice. The religious wars of the 16th century and the anticlerical struggles of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, have left their mark on the religious landscape, and in the behavior of its people. Today, the movement of secularization, which is sweeping through Western society, is being felt strongly in our dioceses, as in other dioceses of France. The visible outcome of this, is low numbers (low numbers of priests, of seminarians, of regular churchgoers, of catechists, of militant laymen), but also the changing in mentality; falling away of Church membership, privatization of faith, religious relativism. This is not a new phenomenon. In 1879, Newman, denouncing the advance of liberalism in religion, wrote: “Liberalism in religion is the doctrine that there is no positive truth in religion, but that one creed is as good as another, and this is the teaching which is gaining ground and force daily. It is inconsistent with any recognition of any religion, as true. It teaches that all are to be tolerated, for all are matters of opinion. Revealed religion is not a truth, but a sentiment and a taste; not an objective neither a miraculous fact; and it is the right of each individual to make it say just what strikes his fancy.” These lines have lost none of their relevance. Even more, one can say that this mentality has left its domain in limited circles, to become a widely held common opinion.

“In the face of this development, some people are inhabited by nostalgia for the past and are afraid of the future. As bishops, we have to help them to deepen their faith and to establish once more, their hope in Christ. During a storm on the Sea of Galilee, did not Jesus say to his disciples, when they called to him: ”Lord, save us, we perish”: “Why are you fearful, O ye of little faith?” (Matt. 8: 25-26)? In order to enter into this assurance which gives us faith, we invite Christian communities to make a more precise discernment of the situation in which we find ourselves. Apart from the indisputable gloom, there are also signs of light and hope which are promising for the future: conversions and adult baptisms in increasing numbers, a spiritual thirst and a demand for spiritual support, a desire to be nourished by the Word of God, young people at one’s disposal and enthusiastic, the public word of the Church more eagerly anticipated than one imagines, a commitment by many laymen to bear witness to their faith in the world, and to take on the life of the Church, a greater sense of brotherhood between priests, an investment by many Christians in charitable works and solidarity. The Holy Spirit is at work and we give thanks to the Lord to be able to contemplate His action each day amongst us.

“In relation to this appeal for discernment of our faith, we have been able to promote a pastoral movement, which enables our diocesan churches to better respond to their vocation and mission. It is what we are doing through the synods, synodal measures, diocesan projects, which have marked, and which today mark anew, the life of each one of our churches. I would like to emphasize four major concerns which seem to me at the present time, the things which direct the pastoral policy we are setting up in the dioceses (…)”

Then Archbishop Ricard explained in detail these four main pastoral concerns: the necessity for the Christian community to “take root more deeply in the gift of God”, to “take up the challenge of evangelization” (the spiritual care of the young; the welcoming of pastoral demands; the spiritual care of the family and culture and a Christian presence in all these places where, within our society, men experience the frailty of life, exclusion, illness, handicap, old age or loneliness), to “allow a renewed apostolic dynamism to our parish communities”, and “to support priests and appeal with conviction to the priestly ministry”.