In 1969 a young priest gave an interview to a radio station in his native country. Read with the benefit of hindsight that interview contained many prophetic elements which have already or are in the process of coming about. He began by predicting that the church would have to go through a time of painful purification. It will become small and will have to start pretty much all over. It will no longer have the use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity.
The reduction in the number of faithful will result in it losing an important part of its social privileges. Renewal will start off with small groups and movements and a minority that will make faith central to experience 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. As a small society it will make bigger demands on the initiatives of its individual members.” He described the journey ahead as “a long and sometimes painful one” but “when the suffering is passed, a great power will emerge from a more spiritual and simple church.”
These predictions were made by a young German priest, an up and coming theologian called Joseph Ratzinger, who would later become Pope Benedict XVI. In the light of the happenings of the past twenty years and the ongoing traumatic events, that interview sounds strangely prophetic. The church is without a doubt changing, and a leaner simpler church is already beginning to take shape.
Hanging in there…..
Many people are hurt and confused by the problems that have convulsed the church, and many have walked away in disgust. We can only hope and pray that they might one day return. Others, thank God have chosen to remain despite the scandals. Those who remain can be the catalyst of change, challenging the church to greater transparency and openness, insisting on standards that stand up to the test of the Gospels; the faithful need to find their voice. Silence has had its day, and look at the havoc it has left in its wake.
On a parish level we need to work at continuing to build communities with Gospel values at the heart, where all feel welcome and valued, with a special care for those in need of any kind, communities where children are happy and safe, and where a spirit of faith and thanksgiving pervades all. Every small step in the right direction can be part of the new beginning; it involves every one of us.
Fr. Philip Curran