The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Catholic Church Paperback – 1 Sep 1992
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About the Author
On April 19, 2005, CARDINAL JOSEPH RATZINGER was elected POPE BENEDICT XVI and became the 264th successor to Peter as the "Vicar of Jesus Christ." He may well be the most accomplished theologian to be elected Pope in modern times. Beginning in 1981 he spent over 20 years as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a role often depicted as the "defender of the faith." Cardinal Ratzinger was also President of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and of the Preparatory Commission that codified the new "Catechism of the Catholic Church," published in 1994.
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Nevertheless, I found it extremely fascinating and worthwhile. For starters, Ratzinger's understanding of the Church speaks directly to why I was drawn to it in the first place. He conveys a sense of the Church's community of believers, the communion of saints, emphasizing the very important communal aspects of the Catholic faith and suggesting that theology is not just a matter for individuals and academicians and "theologians"--it is pursued as a community. He describes this community, this unity quite wonderfully, I think: "harmonic wholeness."
His description as the Church going up against the powerful cultural forces of our time was also quite convincing and appealing. Indeed, the Church stands virtually alone against the tide of permissivity. Ratzinger discusses the difficulties the Church was facing in the mid-1980s, from feminism and liberation theology to the dangers of extreme individualism. His proposed solutions are probably not surprising to those familiar--among others: not an abandonment of Vatican II but a discovery of its true spirit; a re-affirmation of traditional doctrines (such as the Virgin Mary); a recognition that the Church is not democratic but sacramental and hierarchical instead; and a restoration of the virtues of motherhood and virginity.
All in all, a great survey of the Catholic Church's position in the modern world, which deals with problems as well as possible answers. Moreover, Ratzinger speaks, either directly or indirectly, to the problems facing the world in general, and his solutions could just as easily be applied in that broader context. This book, then, in many ways, transcends its intended Catholic audience--a true achievement.
Certainly this is sort of an elevated dialogue -- Ratzinger is, primarily, an intellectual and theologian. Every book under his name, even the few devotional ones, are in that vein and it comes with the territory. That said, he speaks as plainly and directly as he can, and -- for an upper level churchman -- is remarkably candid and does not dodge controversy. This quality, plus the fact that Ratzinger was a major player in Vatican 2 -- is what gives the book historical value with or without his recent election.
The topics covered are very wide ranging -- though most concern the state of the Catholic church, not Christian or Catholic theology in general. Overall, it might be called a report card on Vatican 2, with mixed grades. Here, Ratzinger clearly stated his continuing thesis that the council has not yet been implented properly or in its wholeness. All positions are stated rather openly and without rancor but cooly. The startling things he states thus give the reader a sort of double-take. For instance, he is convinced that civilization at present is in a grave and unprecedented crisis on many fronts, and the future hardly certain. He thus does not really echo John Paul II's motto, "Be not afraid" in every conceivable sense. In the sense of the ultimate goodness of God and the triumph of redemption afforded by Christ, sure. But on a temporal level, Ratzinger's view is that nations and peoples, at any historical moment, possess and exercise will to accept or reject those gifts. Doubtless this is a view seared into his being from having been brought up under the Nazis. And he sees disturbing general parallels to that disaster in what the entire European civilization is doing at present. His spooky discussion concerning the Fatima message only underscores this viewpoint. For afficionados of that event, his 1 and 1/2 pageworth of dry discussion of the 3rd secret prophesy, in this book, constitutes the only cogent, authoritative official description of that subject (as compared to the vision released some years later, with JP 2's interpretation attatched, and which Ratzinger's "official" and generalistic commentary --likewise very dry -- noted was not a matter of faith).
Ratzinger is no romantic. His sometimes terse observations, so casual and so comfortably delivered, can be quite numbing in their realism and impact. What is done in history is done; to the extent the council failed, for instance, it needs be remedied, but there is no going back. Thus while generally conservative in viewpoint he is no believer in "restorations" or "returns" to a prior situation. Indeed he sees the council as part and parcel of a general historical crisis in the west; deviations and mis-interpretations are not merely an intra-Catholic issue. Indeed the nature and causes of this historical crisis in western civilization is the main personal ingrediant he brings to the table.
All in all, this is a book that once read, a thoughtful reader will return to on several occasions. His papal name only doubly underscores the point of view which emerges throughout these friendly chats -- connecting the two dots (Saint Benedict, the cornerstone of western Christian civilization in his Catholic view, and Benedict XV, pope at the time of the start of its endgame) which are the most passionate focus of this otherwise -- to all outward appearances -- most urbane academician.
The Ratzinger Report offers insight into this great man, his philosophy, his faith and his vision.
In this book Cardinal Ratzinger expresses his concerns about the modern world. Although I am in not complete agreement with all of his ideas (such as his opinions of liberation theology which although his criticisms of it are well taken I believe the churches stand could have been modified could have been modified to accommodate both a continuation of the struggle for the poor of Latin America while at the same time condemning Marxism) he presents them well. This book show a man dedicated to preserving the main essence of Catholicism and to continue to make it a refuge and alternative to the excesses of the modern world while at the same time building bridges of understanding to other faiths. It seems as though some of the most important "bridge-buiding projects" that the church will have to undertake is not with other religions or some exotic lands but to the West which actively does its best not to understand the Catholic church and obscure its message.
The book is a both a call of alarm and a message of hope. I believe hope is the quality that shines through most in this book.
One of the great messages of this book is that Catholicism is a faith not dictated by a hierarchy but a dialogue between the clergy and the faithful. These are not sentiments that would be expressed by a "hard liner". This book show the new Pope to be not the rigid conservative many have unfairly made him out to be.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on this new Pope. I suggest that anyone with a fair mind who wishes to express an opinion about the new Pope have an informed opinion and read this book.