Assessment and prospects – an interview with the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

Source: FSSPX News


Deutsche Tagespost, October 4, 2003

The following excerpts were translated from the French translation of the German original.

Assessment of the pontificate by Cardinal Ratzinger

Deutsche Tagespost: It is fashionable among traditional Catholics to talk of the crisis in the Church. But has it not always been the case that the average Christian has been plagued by doubts, that he has not exactly understood a great number of things concerning the faith, that he has even given way to superstition? So then, if we are talking about a crisis of faith, what exactly are its characteristics?

Card. Ratzinger : You are right. The faith of every one of us has always known difficulties and problems, it has had its ups and downs. But in this respect it is not for us to judge. However, with regard to spirituality in general, that is quite another matter: up until the Age of Enlightenment, and even afterwards, everyone was clear about God; it was evident that there was a superior intelligence behind this world, that the world and all that it contained – creation with its riches and its order and its beauty – reflected a creative spirit. And beyond all the divisions, there was fundamental evidence: God spoke to us through the Bible, he revealed his face to us ; plus: in Christ it is God who comes to us.

Thus, while there was, so to speak, a general consensus on the Faith – whatever had been its weaknesses and limits – and what conflicted with it would not be effective without a conscious rebellion, it must be noted that all that has changed since the Age of Enlightenment. The present situation is exactly the opposite of that. It seems as if an answer to everything may be found in matter. As Laplace has already said, we no longer need the hypothesis God: material elements are sufficient to explain everything. Evolution became the new divinity from that moment. There is no longer any domain that still has need of God – on the contrary : to have Him intervene seems opposed to scientific thought, and consequently untenable. (…)

In such a situation, which sees the new authority having a knowledge of science, and giving the last word , and popular science setting itself up as science itself, it is much more difficult to remain faithful to God, and above all to be disciples of the God of the Bible, of God in Jesus Christ, to obey Him and to see in the Church, the living community of the faithful. I would say therefore, that in the present situation, the Faith demands a much bigger commitment, as well as the courage to withstand the apparent certainties. Having access to God has become much more difficult.

D.T.: In the past the Church carried even the weak in the faith: it was a spiritual homeland, a place to which one belonged, an institution with its rules and commandments, which was with us in every stage of our life. But it seems that all that no longer exists today. Would it be because it isn’t only about a crisis of faith, but also a crisis in the Church as a spiritual homeland?

C.R.: The crisis in the Church is the visible face of the crisis of faith. The Church no longer seems like a living community which comes to us from Christ and vouches for His words, which is a spiritual homeland for us and provides us with that profound certainty of the truth of our faith. No, today it seems nothing more than one community among many others: there are many churches and it would not be acceptable, humanly speaking, to consider ones own to be the best, one might say. Simple politeness demands that one is obliged to consider one’s Church as relative as all the others…This loss of awareness of what the Church is….is certainly the main reason why the Word no longer comes to us with authority; we say to ourselves: yes, there are some good things there, but I must look for myself for what seems right.

D. T.: On the other hand, the Catholics who, as you say, wish to remain “faithful to the pope and to the Magisterium” and honor all that is Catholic, are organizing themselves. The divisions among the faithful are profoundly affecting parishes, and even lead some parishioners to change their parish, or even stop going to church. Do you see a solution to this rupture or a new start which could reconcile these “camps” inside the Church in Germany?

C. R.: I would say that the interior division in the Church is one of the most urgent problems of our time and we have not sufficiently realized it. We are busy promoting ecumenism and we forget the divisions that have afflicted the Church, and are devastating communities and families. Let me give you such an example. Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, archbishop of Chicago, already suffering from an illness which would eventually lead to his death, experienced very strongly this same situation in America. He had founded a project called “Common Ground”. Through this he wanted to discover, by means of large forums of discussion, what were the ways of finding a common basis among the divisions. He has since died, but he was able to bring in a bishop to carry on his work. However, everything quickly fell apart in the face of evidence, that there already is a “common ground”. This “common ground” – is the Faith of the Church. Everything that has been added, is man-made and remains incapable of uniting. (…)

The veritable and unique common basis, which alone can truly bear fruit, because it does not come from us, has not been invented, either by groups or whoever, but which has been there from the beginning, is the faith of the Church itself. We have above all, to re-learn that there is the Faith of the Church, that this is not an authoritarian fixation , but the dowry of Jesus Christ to his Church. If some people say sometimes – as for example, on the subject of the encyclical on the Eucharist – that one cannot give norms of Faith in an authoritarian way, that sounds good on a natural level. But I ask myself what the alternative is? Must each one of us invent our own faith? But then we would end up with a community of faiths. May we have one Faith, that is what makes a community. I believe that we must muster all our strength to re-learn that a “common ground” already exists and that it is our liberty, and at the same time the guarantee of diversity.

D. T.: You were talking about understanding the sacraments. One of the major worries of Catholics who stay faithful to Rome, concerns the liturgy. You often tackle themes such as the “ reform of the reform “, in other words, the reform of the liturgical reform in the wake of the Council. What can be reasonably expected or hoped for? Will the altars facing the people be removed?

C.R. : We must not start making exterior changes which have had no interior preparation. The liturgy has become a problem, because the exterior changes were implemented too quickly, without preparation nor any interior groundwork. At the time, there was a notion that the liturgy in fact, fell within the competence of the community. They hammered it in: the communityis the subject of the liturgy. That meant that it was the community that invented its manner of celebrating it. Groups were formed in order to deliberate about it. But since some people were not a party to these discussions, they were not happy with it. We will regain unity in the liturgy, only when we stop considering it to be the concern of the community, when we stop thinking that we must above all else merge into the liturgy so that it is nothing more than a representation of ourselves. We must learn, once more, that it brings us into the heart of the Church of all time, in which Our Lord Himself, gives Himself to us. There is no liturgy without Faith. If we try to make it more interesting – with Heaven knows what ideas - , but without putting the Faith in prime position, and if we reduce it to a community and do not consider it more as an encounter with Our Lord in the vast community of the entire Church, then it disappears. How the can one comprehend the obligation to assist at such a liturgy? Consequently, we have to begin with inner healing before we can embark on the externals. I cannot resolve to do anything if we immediately start tinkering with the exteriors. We must come back to a new liturgical education, which will make us aware that the liturgy belongs to the whole Church, that through it, the community is united to the entire Church of heaven and earth, and it is there, that we are assured that Our Lord comes to us, and that something happens, which happens nowhere else, in no other representation, in no show. It is in this way alone, that we will find this sense of grandeur and unity will flourish. After that we can ask ourselves what the best form of exterior rite is. But a profound awareness of the liturgy has to grow again, in order that we may be united. The liturgy is not about seeking to present our inventions – it is about penetrating that which we have not invented, but which comes to us.

D. T.: Another concern of faithful Catholics is expressed through a latent disquiet towards Church leaders: some bishops have remained too long doing nothing against the abuse, disciplinary offences or even the propagation of dangerous theological opinions. The “Hassenhüttl case” has shown clearly that a priest and theologian could work for many years, in spite of more than dubious theories. Has the Church in Germany been too liberal for too long in its higher echelons?

C.R. : You don’t expect me to pass judgment on the German bishops, past and present, of course. For five years I was with them. I leave the care of passing a calmer and more objective judgment to the future. Maybe it would be better to focus on a more general consideration : What is wrong and what is lacking? I think this has been one of the major worries for the bishops – and I speak from personal experience – to preserve the cohesion of the faithful in these troubled times, and thus to avoid causing anxieties likely to divide the faithful and destroy the peace within the Church. It was therefore always essential to confine oneself to questions of balance: this abuse, this culpable behavior, this heterodox teaching, are they so grave that I must accept the mockery of the public, as well as the uncertainty that will ensue, or should I try to resolve the situation in the most peaceable way possible and even tolerate that which, in itself, is unacceptable, in order to avoid greater harm.? It was always very difficult to pass the right judgment.

However, I would say that our tendency – and I do not exclude myself – was to put the values of the cohesion of the community above all else, to avoid big public clashes and the trail of damage which would follow. In comparison we underestimated the influence of other factors. We said at once: this book will be read by no more than a couple of thousand of our people — what is that in comparison with our entire community, the majority of whom will understand nothing of it ? — , and it was only with a heightened publicity, that these damages could affect all the faithful. For that reason we said nothing. But in doing this we underestimated the fact that all poison that is tolerated leaves traces, that it continues to act, and that it has really put the credibility of the Church in peril; indeed the prevalent opinion was, that one can say this or that, everything has its place in the Church. The mission to preserve the clarity of the faith in the Church, as its prime virtue, has been underestimated, not only in Germany, but in every place, where the struggle to know what is the right attitude of pastors is engaged upon. The question is, what will be the long term influence of this poisonous infection? One had the impression that all in all the Faith was not so important, and that no one knew exactly. I do not want to accuse anyone, but we ought, in a kind of collective examination of conscience, to be in agreement, once again regarding the primacy of the Faith and be aware of the long term effects of negations of the Faith . We must learn to see more unequivocally, that mere tranquility is not the first duty of a Christian, and that peace can be a false peace, and is nothing more than laziness, if it has no substance.