Cardinal Ratzinger Reflects on Authority, Diversity

Catholic World News [Rome]
February 4, 2004

In a wide-ranging interview in this week's issue of the Italian weekly magazine Famiglia Cristiana, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (bio - news) said that the function of the Roman Curia is to reconcile unity and diversity within the Catholic Church, demonstrating that the faith is a "polyphonic reality."

Famiglia Cristiana published the interview with the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to coincide with the appearance of the Italian edition of the cardinal's latest book, which focuses on the understanding of communion within the Church. He explained, in his magazine interview, that the Curia aims to foster communion among the local churches, or dioceses, of the Catholic world.

Cardinal Ratzinger explained that "it is not simply a matter of cultivating the proper relations between the Curia and the local churches, but rather of promoting the unity and multiplicity that is the Church." He said that the Vatican does not seek to question the authority or "submerge the charisms" of the local churches. Instead, the Roman Curia hope to balance the demands of unity and diversity. As he put it:

On one hand, the central service of the Roman Curia should not be involved with issues that could be better treated by the local Church; on the other hand, the local churches should not live in an autonomous manner, but should work to enrich the unity, because Christ is one.

Speaking of his own particular role in defending orthodox Catholic doctrine, the German cardinal said that he is also pleased when local bishops or episcopal conferences can handle questions regarding the teaching of dissident theologians. But he said that "often they tell us that the questions go beyond the limits of the local Church, touching upon the debate within the universal Church, and they look for us to help them."

Cardinal Ratzinger said that in order to understand the workings of the Church properly, it is essential to realize that "the Church is a theological, rather than sociological, fact." It would be a serious error, he said, to transform the idea of communion into a "purely sociological" notion. At the same time, he continued, "building upon the foundation of a theological concept of communion, a more profound social vision emerges."

Cardinal Ratzinger also observed that in some countries, the national bishops' conference is so large-- "sometimes including more than 200 bishops"-- that it is difficult to handle serious theological concerns within the context of a regular meeting. "There is a risk that the discussions and the solutions wil be guided by the bureaucracy," he said. "Frankly, a deeper exchange on disputed topics is impossible." In those cases, he remarked, it may often be advisable to leave issues to the discretion of individual bishops.

The cardinal mentioned that there are similar problems with the Synod of Bishops, saying that synodal meetings have become "too ritualized" to allow a full range of discussions among the bishops who participate. He suggested that although Synod meetings must be organized properly in order to streamline the process, some provisions should be made for "real, full discussions."

Touching on many other issues in the course of his conversation with Famiglia Cristiana, Cardinal Ratzinger:

* Lamented a widespread tendency to view the Eucharistic liturgy as a means of communication, or "a spectacle, a show," rather than emphasizing "interior participation" of the faithful in the sacrifice.

* Noted that attendance at Sunday Mass in his native Germany has declined by 70 percent in the past 20 years, and suggested that the faithful evidently do not feel attracted to the "creative" liturgical celebrations that they often encounter.

* Confirmed that he has submitted his resignation "several times" to Pope John Paul, but indicated that now, at the age of 76, he is leaving that decision in the hands of the Pope.


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