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. by


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  1. 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. 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.

  3. 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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Written by Raphael Benedict

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