BY DAN FRANK
CARDINAL Joseph Ratzinger has spoken out in defence of “the new springtime” of the Church, but explained that its effects are likely to be spiritual rather than numerical.
The Cardinal, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and one of the most powerful figure within the Curia, argued that the new groups in the Church represent a “springtime of the Church that renews the world”. But, in an interview with the Polish Catholic news agency KAI, he cautioned: “We should not think that in the near future Christianity will become a movement of the masses again, going back to a situation like Medieval times.” “At least we cannot expect that in the current conditions,” he added.
Pope John Paul II has often written and spoken about a “new springtime”, referring to the flourishing of new movements and communities within the Church following the Second Vatican Council. This, he has said, is an indication of “a new missionary age”. In contrast, Cardinal Ratzinger has in the past been accused of pessimism over his claim that in the future the Church “will be numerically reduced”. He outlined his position in an interview with Peter Seewald, in which he noted: “Statistical data shows irrefutable tendencies”, adding that, in some European cities, “Christians are only eight per cent of the total population, including all Christian denominations”. However, he denied that this was pessimism, calling it instead “healthy 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,” he said.
“The process of numerical reduction, which we are experiencing today, will also have to be addressed precisely by exploring new ways of openness to the outside, of new ways of participation by those who are outside the community of believers. I have nothing against people who, though they never enter a church during the year, go to Christmas midnight Mass, or go on the occasion of some other celebration, because this is also a way of coming close to the light.” He added that there must therefore be different forms of involvement and participation.