Interview with theologian Paul Zulehner by the press agency Apic

Source: FSSPX News


Apic: “Aufbrechen oder untergehen” (Break free or disappear) is the title of your latest book, which tackles the development of the Church. If she does not break free towards new shores, she risks vanishing totally, could it be said…..

Paul Zulehner: The Church in our part of the world finds herself in a crisis situation of transformation. It clearly seems that the period of comfort which she has been through, during which the state and society supported Christianity with all the cultural means possible, has come to an end. In that Christian Europe, Christianity was truly a part of normal everyday life, to the point that it was considered an obvious cultural fact.

We live now in a post-Christian cultural context. This does not mean that this culture is hostile to Christianity, but it demands that every citizen make up his own mind. As Karl Rahner has confirmed, we have passed from a “Christianity of generation” to a “Christianity through choice”.

In this situation, if the Church acts as if she wishes, as it were, to keep this institution alive, she is mistaken. Because this type of Church has now had its day. When I speak of disappearance, I do not want to say that the Church is going to disappear as such, but we are witnessing the end of a certain historic comfortable mode. She must now find another way of existing.

Apic: That does not seem an easy thing at all for the Church. In your book, you affirm that she has “a depressive way of enduring the crisis, almost with pleasure and without taking action” and she “laments her unproductive situation”. In the Church, one intones a traditional liturgy of lamentations….

Paul Zulehner: In the past people belonged to the Church without asking themselves questions, as it were, in the same way that they “bathed” in their mother’s milk. The social climate clearly required parents to go to church with their children.

If we evaluate in numerical terms, these facts which belong to the Church of the past, the same cry has been heard imperturbably for several decades: “What? Are we no more than…”

We are witnessing, as it were, a progress, and we are struck by this feeling: the boat is leaking, the number of members is diminishing, that of priests also, religious are disappearing before our very eyes, the faithful are getting older. It is equally certain that the number of non-baptized is increasing. Scarcely half of parents present their children for baptism in large cities, like Munich or Zurich. That means that we are losing, that we are diminishing. That is the background which justifies these “lamentations”.

Apic: But there’s nothing funny about losing.

Paul Zulehner: No, and that goes well with the attitude of lamentations. However, everywhere where life unfolds, there are crises. And a crisis means: you leave behind one way of life, but you succeed in getting through this crisis, from the moment when you begin to see it as an opportunity in sight, to reach new shores, in sight of a more intensive, more interesting life, a deeper more sincere life!

It is also an opportunity for the Church. The Traditional way is disappearing and at the same time, the strength of the Gospel is visibly weakening in men’s hearts. Here is a chance for the Church in view of a new leap forward, not quantitative, but qualitative. But one can also miss an opportunity. As in the course of a person’s life, when a heart attack is not taken as the opportunity to adopt a new lifestyle, he will pay the price. And a second warning sign often leads to death.

Apic: What does the Church have to do, in order that this heart attack may have a healthy outcome?

Paul Zulehner: The theologian will invariably claim: If the Lord does not build the house, then all the others build in vain. We are sure that the Holy Spirit is sufficiently present in the Church community, to the point where He will help us to find new shores, if she really listens to what God has to say to her. Vatican II has affirmed: You must read the signs of the times. You must ask yourself: What are the preoccupations of mankind? What constitutes his sorrows and his joys, his hopes and his fears? That is already the first lesson for the Church.

We will discover in this new spiritual search what are the concerns of men, beyond the Church. Then filled to the brim with the Gospel and replete with good will, we will say: What are we going to do now for these men with these new questions? With these questions that we ourselves have not chosen, but that men have come and asked us….

Apic: Cannot the Church already learn a lot by listening to its own members?

Paul Zulehner: Of course. The Church must, as of now, be listening to the many people which God has gained for her, women as well as men, the old as well as the young, those who have had an education and those who have not, artists as well as uninteresting people. She has everything to gain by listening attentively to what these people can bring to her through their experiences.

All of this requires strong measures, notably on the part of the authorities, so that they are able to accept not being the only channels of the transmission of the Holy Spirit in the Church. This equally requires on the part of the highest authorities, whose authority I in no way call into question, an enormous spirit of openness and a great capacity for listening to the people.

A bishop may learn which direction he should follow, through unusual prophetic signs. For example during an assembly of Christians, during a protest movement, or even a certain story which has happened in the Church, which has gone down well with nobody…(…)

Apic: We have to wish the Church a little more serenity in its decline…

Paul Zulehner: In the sense that if this sentiment of humility is calm, the first step has already been taken! But at present, I see only lamentations. That means that there is no prospect of setting off. I see it in many planning conferences, at Episcopal Conferences. They are so busy with financing the old institution, that I have the impression that plans for the future are still a long way away.