The Ratzinger Report

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The following appeared in The Hebrew Catholic #64, pp. 22-23. All Rights Reserved.

The Ratzinger Report

by Elias Friedman, OCD

On the 18 August 1982, Vittorio Messori, an Italian journalist, interviewed His Eminence, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, once known as the Holy Office, or more somberly, as the Roman Inquisition. The interview which extended over a number of meetings, was characterized by the frankness of both partners to the dialogue. It took place in the old seminary of Bressanone, in South Tyrol, where the Cardinal was on vacation.

Questions were put and answers given in an atmosphere of calm and serenity, though they treated of the most disturbing phenomenon in the history of the modern Church: the apostasy of Europe from the Catholic faith.

Joseph Ratzinger was born in Bavaria in 1927, into a staunch Catholic family. Before being summoned to Rome by John Paul II to take up his present position he had been Archbishop of Munchen and had achieved fame as a theologian. At the conclusion of the meeting, Vittorio Messori set himself the task of drawing up a report of the interview, which he published under the title: Rapporto Sulla Fede (ed: Paolino 1985). His eminent interlocutor read the text and approved it for publication.

The appearance of Messori’s book sent shock-waves throughout the Catholic world. The book described the actual state of the Catholic Church as reflected in the mind of one of its most distinguished sons. A constant stream of information reaches the desk of the Prefect of the Congregation sent in by qualified persons from every point on the globe. If there be anyone of whom it can be said that he has his hand on the pulse of the Church, it is Cardinal Ratzinger. His views carry weight; they are those of an authority of the highest order.

Cardinal Ratzinger began by warning that heresy still exists though camouflaged in many ways. He affirmed frankly that the last twenty years have been unfavorable for the Catholic Church and that the results of the Vatican Council were “cruelly opposed” to expectations. The conciliar bishops expected a tranquil evolution of doctrine; the present writer would say, they gravely misread the signs of the times. The crisis that occurred was of ecclesial dimensions, affecting every level of Catholic belief and practice. The essence of the crisis, according to the eminent Cardinal, lay in the loss of the authentic view of the Catholic Church. The Cardinal seemed to define the crisis as an apostasy from the faith. He listed certain specific characteristics of the crisis without offering any explanation of the facts: 1) it was, above all, a crisis of the clergy 2) the religious, most instructed theologically (e.g., Jesuits, Dominicans), were those who suffered most gravely 3) every treatise in theology was affected: in the first place, the teaching authority of the Church, the Trinity, God the Creator, Original Sin, Christian morality, especially in the field of sexuality and marriage, law, religious life, spirituality, liturgy Latin, sacred music, the sacraments, the Last Things, the mission. Perverted views were expressed all along the line, the end of which would have been to offer an altered conception of the Catholic Church other than the one founded by Jesus Christ.

The frankness of the Cardinal Prefect deserves every praise; anyone who has lived through those painful years can testify to the objectivity of his observations. The cause of the malady was, according to the Cardinal Prefect, a false interpretation of the intentions of the Fathers of the Council; they meant to restate traditional Catholic teaching in a way more acceptable to the modern man, not to change the identity of the Church. Reacting to the danger, the Cardinal went on to affirm: “In the history of the Church there are no jumps (salti), no fracture, no dissolution of continuity … The Council did not intend in fact to introduce a division in the time of the Church”.

Be the intentions of the Fathers of the Church what they might have been, the fact remains that the Council did introduce a division in the time of the Church. What the Cardinal says is an a priori judgment, based on the truth, which is incontrovertible, that the deposit of faith cannot change. It has to be transmitted faithfully. But there are jumps, there are fractures, there are discontinuities in the history of the Church. To acknowledge the fact, does not necessarily imply that the Church ever loses its identity as the Church founded by Jesus Christ, nor could ever lose it. The Byzantine schism was a fracture, the Reformation of Luther was a fracture, Rationalism, Materialism, Communism, Nazism, all these were fractures, which impacted on the Church, because they led to the dissolution of Christendom, which is the meaning of the present crisis. The dissolution of Christendom, not Christianity of course, is the greatest fracture that ever occurred in the history of the Church. It is defined by the apostasy of the Gentiles. It has left “oases”, to use the term of the Cardinal himself, but Europe as an ensemble of nations no more bears witness to the divinity of Jesus Christ and his Church.

Not only the Cardinal, Church leaders in general miss the point at issue when they blame “the others” for the post-conciliar disaster. They adopt an a priori position, that the Council can do no wrong, given that it is guided by the Holy Spirit, therefore, the fault lies with “others”. But the accusation laid at the feet of the Fathers of the Council is not any sin of commission, but a sin of omission. It consisted in not being able to offer the clergy an acceptable reading of the signs of the times. The apostasy of the Gentiles signifies that the primacy of honor which Europe has enjoyed for so long, has been withdrawn from them, by the Holy Spirit, which has withdrawn from them not only the faith, but the capacity to believe, so rendering the application of traditional apologetics inefficacious, as the Cardinal realizes. It is for this that God has provoked the Return of the Jews to their ancient homeland, to take over the mission of the Gentiles, which was to offer collective witness to the divinity of Christ. Their return to the land, precedes their return to Christ.

The Apostasy of the Gentiles and the Return of the Jews to their ancient homeland, seen together, represent the entry of the Church into a new phase in the history of salvation, an immense “jump” in the history of Christianity, pace the Cardinal. The Lord is cutting off the dried branches of the Gentiles to make place for the ingrafting of the Jews. In this way, the Lord will compensate the Jews for the horrors of the Holocaust, work of the apostate Gentiles and a demonstration of the death of the faith in their hearts and souls.

It is this vision which the Council failed to offer the faithful, especially the clergy. It invited them to update, to adapt to the modern world, without explaining the eschatological framework in which the modern world is held. For this fault of omission the Church has had to pay a heavy price.

  • You are my witnesses (Is. 43:10)  •  You shall be my witnesses (Acts 1:8)