Let’s remember the prophecy of Benedict XVI as we begin the New Year

In 1970 Joseph Ratzinger predicted the Church’s declining influence in the world

I bumped into a fellow parishioner when I was lighting candles after Mass on New Year’s Day. He wished me a “Happy New Year” and then mentioned his fears about several potential political crises in the world in 2017. I reminded him (I hope I didn’t sound smug or naively optimistic) that as Christians our hope has to be in Christ who has said “Do not be afraid; I have overcome the world.” The fellow parishioner looked slightly startled; after all, Catholics never mention what they believe, especially straight after Mass.

I mention this encounter partly because I am trying to cure myself from the (very English) habit I have referred to above – perhaps it should be my New Year’s resolution? – and partly because I was reminded by this man’s very natural, human anxieties of the profound words of the then Professor Ratzinger, first published in the book Faith and the Future (Ignatius Press, 2009.)

Delivered in June 1970 in a lecture in Munich entitled “Why I am still in the Church today”, which I read recently in Father Benedict: The Spiritual and Intellectual Legacy of Pope Benedict XVI, by James Day(Sophia Press), it is worth quoting these words in full:

“From today’s crisis will emerge a church that has lost a great deal. It will no longer have use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity. The reduction in the number of faithful will lead to it losing an important part of its social privileges. It will become small and will have to start pretty much over again. It will be a more spiritual church and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.”

Professor Ratzinger was speaking before the abuse scandal rocked the Church, when it was still prosperous and respected. The numbers of practising Catholics in the West had begun to decline, certainly, but the stark prophetic aspect of his words is only obvious in retrospect, as we look back over the last fifty years.

Perhaps we have needed the election of Pope Francis to remind us that “Lady Poverty”, along with humility and service, is not meant to be the special charism of a medieval saint but the hallmark of the institution as a whole.

After all, Christ did not promise his followers worldly power, prestige, political influence or wealth. He simply promised them salvation – and the Cross. I foresee a further serious conversation with my fellow-parishioner when I am next lighting candles after Mass.




  1. thomraff Reply

    The money phrase in this article is “social privileges.” For several centuries, Christianity, and especially the Catholic Church, has had too much social privilege and has made a mess of things. It is time for wisdom and reason based on evidence to prevail. Science has falsified Christianity and all religions. The problem is, religions continue to live in denial of this fact.

  2. Patrick Gannon Reply

    It seems to me that the Church faces some insurmountable problems. It will have to morph into something very different, something devoid of shame, guilt and fear in order to maintain relevance. The manic obsession with sex will have to fall away. The problem the Church faces is that its very core has been chiseled away. We know beyond any reasonable doubt that there was no six day creation, no two-person DNA bottleneck*, no global flood, no mass Exodus from Egypt, and no conquest of Canaan. Unbiased researchers and scholars are in near universal agreement on these things. The problem is that the Abrahamic god is completely dependent on these things being true in order to be real. His foundation has washed away.
    *The lack of a two-person DNA bottleneck is the core problem for the RCC. Evolution and DNA evidence tell us that we evolved from a pool of early human ancestors, not two. If we had evolved from only two individuals (Adam and Eve) our DNA would look quite different. Without Adam and Eve, there is no fall from grace, no talking snakes, no original sin, no need to be saved by Jesus by believing, saying and doing the right things, (as dictated by celibate virgins dressed in robes). It took the Church a long time to admit that the earth goes around the sun. In time they will have to accept the evolutionary and DNA evidence. They’ve already dug themselves into a hole by having several Popes admit that evolution explains how we got to where we are.
    Our early ancestors (a few 10s of thousands), did not wake up in a garden of Paradise. They woke up on the menu. They scratched and fought tooth and nail to eke out an existence, striving to live long enough to reproduce, in a constant battle for life. There is no room for anything even allegorically resembling the garden myth to have occurred. Paul was wrong. Sin did not enter the world through one man, Adam. What was original sin? Attaining a greater self-aware consciousness than other primates? Learning to speak? Learning to make tools or use fire? What exactly was the horrible original sin these struggling early humans committed that justifies sending unbaptized babies to Hell?
    The problems appear insurmountable. The myth has been exposed. The Catholic Church invented Hell as we know it today, and in so doing created an evil god. How does it get around that? How does it make amends for all the unnecessary psychological child abuse, all the unnecessary shame, guilt and fear? How can it ever repent enough to continue as a relevant organization that tries to do some good? A century from now, I think things will be very different – that’s my prophecy.

  3. Peter Aiello Reply

    The part of the prophecy that says: “It will be a more spiritual church and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next” is certainly not happening yet.
    There is too much flirting with the Left at the present time.

  4. John Jedallen Reply

    It seems to me me the root of the decline of the Catholic Church since 1960 isn’t the sex scandals with the so called Priests, but with the convening of Vatican 2 and the Protestantism of the Catholic Church. When the Pandora’s Box of Ecumenism was released on the earth, there has been nothing but decline and corruption. Return the and Restore the Church to pre Vatican 2 standards..

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