When Father Joseph Ratzinger Predicted the Future of the Church

Laying it out in a 1969 broadcast on German radio …

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 72, is the vice-dean of the College of Cardinals and was once archbishop of Munich. Known as "the Panzer Cardinal," the conservative Ratzinger is powerful in the Vatican but may be too close to the pope for the cardinals' taste. While there is no official talk at the Vatican about who will succeed the ailing Pope John Paul II, several potential candidates have emerged--including Ratzinger. (Photo by Grzegorz Galazka/Getty Images)

Grzegorz Jakubowski/GettyImages

 [  Emphasis and {commentary} in red type by Abyssum ]

He didn’t pretend he could tell the future. No. He was much too wise for that. As a matter of fact, he tempered his initial remarks with this disclaimer,

“Let us, therefore, be cautious in our prognostications. What St. Augustine said is still true: man is an abyss; what will rise out of these depths, no one can see in advance. And whoever believes that the Church is not only determined by the abyss that is man, but reaches down into the greater, infinite abyss that is God, will be the first to hesitate with his predictions, for this naïve desire to know for sure could only be the announcement of his own historical ineptitude.”

But his era, brimming with existential danger, political cynicism and moral waywardness, hungered for an answer. The Catholic Church, a moral beacon in the turbulent waters of its time, had recently experienced certain changes of its own with adherents and dissenters alike wondering, “What will become of the Church in the future?”

And so, in a 1969  { This would be just one year after Pope Paul VI published his Encyclical Humanae Vitae and all hell would break loose in the United States and Europe as ‘theologians’ dissented from the papal teaching which enjoyed at least a fair amount of the infallibility guaranteed by Christ to his Church when a pope teaches the the world on a matter of faith and morals. }  German radio broadcast, Father Joseph Ratzinger would offer his thoughtfully considered answer. Here are his concluding remarks,

“The future of the Church can and will issue from those whose roots are deep and who live from the pure fullness of their faith. It will not issue from those who accommodate themselves merely to the passing moment or from those who merely criticize others and assume that they themselves are infallible measuring rods; nor will it issue from those who take the easier road, who sidestep the passion of faith, declaring false and obsolete, tyrannous and legalistic, all that makes demands upon men, that hurts them and compels them to sacrifice themselves. To put this more positively: The future of the Church, once again as always, will be reshaped by saints, by men {and women, Ratzinger is using the word “man” in its generic sense}  , that is, whose minds probe deeper than the slogans of the day, who see more than others see, because their lives embrace a wider reality. Unselfishness, which makes men free, is attained only through the patience of small daily acts of self-denial. By this daily passion, which alone reveals to a man in how many ways he is enslaved by his own ego { one common characeristic of the dissenters of 1968 is that they were all known to persons with HUGE EGOS }, by this daily passion and by it alone, a man’s eyes are slowly opened. He sees only to the extent that he has lived and suffered. If today we are scarcely able any longer to become aware of God, that is because we find it so easy to evade ourselves, to flee from the depths of our being by means of the narcotic of some pleasure or other. Thus our own interior depths remain closed to us. If it is true that a man can see only with his heart, then how blind we are! 

“How does all this affect the problem we are examining? It means that the big talk of those who prophesy a Church without God and without faith is all empty chatter. We have no need of a Church that celebrates the cult of action in political prayers. It is utterly superfluous. Therefore, it will destroy itself. What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death. The kind of priest who is no more than a social worker can be replaced by the psychotherapist and other specialists; but the priest who is no specialist, who does not stand on the [sidelines], watching the game, giving official advice, but in the name of God places himself at the disposal of man, who is beside them in their sorrows, in their joys, in their hope and in their fear, such a priest will certainly be needed in the future. 

“Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion {The Benedict Option}. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

“The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed {this is something many of today’s bishops AND CARDINALS are finding it very hard to do.  Yes, they can move into more modest residences, but they continue to act in the manner of the prince-bishops of the past) . One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain — to the renewal of the nineteenth century. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers {the Benedict Option} as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

“And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death.

The Catholic Church will survive in spite of men and women, not necessarily because of them. And yet, we still have our part to do. We must pray for and cultivate unselfishness, self-denial, faithfulness, Sacramental devotion and a life centered on Christ.

In 2009 Ignatius Press released Father Joseph Ratzinger’s speech “What Will the Church Look Like in 2000” in full, in a book entitled Faith and the Future.

{ In 1970, just a year after I joined the presbyterate of the Diocese of Miami, Bishop John Wright, Bishop of Pittsburgh, spoke to the Convocation of Priests of the Diocese of Miami and delivered an address which was probably based on what Father Joseph Ratzinger had said in the speech quoted above.  Bishop Wright, one of the more intellectually inclined bishops of the time, was undoubtedly familiar with the speech by Father Joseph Ratzinger.  I was both impressed, shocked and puzzled by what I heard.  Although the Humanae Vitae dissent of the previous year made what Bishop Wright said  believable. }

2 days ago
He knew what he was saying and said only what he knew.Thanks to him for this alert sine alarm.We hope the faithful have noted it as needed.
2 days ago
He had a vission for a mission, even though he resigned or stepped aside as a pontiff. I believe he is still relevant in today’s church, his prophecy many years ago is about fulfilling,and I asked myself as Evangelizer,how should I contribute towards the growth of this church.I will corporate with God’s grace and the church to give the little I can.
3 days ago
David M.Lord
The church has begun her passion. Like her spouse, Our Lord, she begins the agonizing steps to Calvary. She will know death and degradation, be crucified, buried, but will rise in glory on the third day!

3 days ago
Don Campbell

People have the wrong idea if they think the Church is going to continually expand and prosper until the Second Coming.  That is not what will happen. There will be a great apostasy and the Church will undergo a trial in which she will shrink dramatically and be left virtually without any members.  See, Catechism of the Catholic Church 675-677.

The Church’s ultimate trial

675 Before Christ’s second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the “mystery of iniquity” in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.

676 The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism.

677 The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God’s victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world.

2 days ago
The roots of what the catechism speaks of come from the Bible. A key passage is 2 Thessalonians chapter 2. There we see that the apostasy is ended by Jesus who banishes his enemies (the demons) by the “breath of his mouth” (the Holy Spirit). Fatima spoke of the same thing when Mary ended her mournful prophesies with the words: “My Immaculate Heart will triumph and a time of peace will be given to the world.” That is why she urged us to hasten salvation especially by praying the rosary.

3 days ago
Don Campbell

Pope Benedict XVI was the greatest theologian of the 20th Century.  In my view, his diagnosis of the problems facing the Church in the 21st Century was spot-on. He clearly felt that the two greatest threats to the Church in the post-Vatican II era consisted of a) the Dictatorship of Relativism; and b) the Hermeneutic of Rupture.

Unfortunately, despite the 35 years of combined effort by Pope St. John Paul the Great and Pope Benedict, these two threats now seem poised to overwhelm the Church from within, despite the fact that She has grown to (technically) include 1.2 billion members worldwide.  I say technically because the vast majority of Catholics neither believe nor practice what the Church teaches is necessary for salvation


4 days ago
This was in the midst of the ‘spirit’ of Vatican II so he already could see the damage being done to the Church by the liberals.

3 days ago
Of course it’s about liberals undermining the Faith. That’s what Pope Benedict meant by ‘hermeneutic of rupture’. It is why he issued Summorum Pontificum…..he saw what was being done to the liturgy by the liberals and the Holy Spirit put him in a position to do something about it. Thankfully we have men who followed his lead like Cardinal Burke and Cardinal Sarah who are strong voices against the liberals.
3 days ago
 “Hater, homophobic, intolerant, bigot” and  any other name calling that liberals can come up with to bury the Truth in relativism.

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires. – Pope Benedict XVI
3 days ago
Smasher Lagru
Of course liberals have damaged the Church, but I think the reality is that the Church without Vatican II would have been in a much worse position to deal with the changes that were coming in the world, the rapid seculisation, relativism etc.  It’s a massive mistake to simply compare 1950s Catholicism, high vocations, Mass attendance etc with today and say “See, if there’d been no Vatican II everything would have been fine”.  I don’t think it would.  The collapse could have been even greater and the grace of God may have saved us.  The key point of Ratzinger’s talk is not that he wants the church to be like this – in the sense I sometimes hear people say – a small, select Church. No, Ratzinger was forecasting what would happen when the collapse came.  He knew, as many relatively conservative Churchmen did, that the foundations of the 1950s church was fairly shaky.  But the other key is that the new, revived small church is a starting point for re-evangelization, not an end in itself.
4 days ago
He is such a great man, the greatest theological thinker of our age.  I will quibble with him on his pronostication that the church will become small.  It may shrink somewhat but I believe that humanity needs the church and so while it may not have the same reach it once had it will still pull the billions to herself.  The center of society cannot hold (“Turning and turning in the widening gyre/The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”) and the Church will be there to pick up the pieces.  We aren’t shrinking in the last twnety years.  We are growing.  Humanity needs the Church.

4 days ago
William Beckman
4 days ago
Elizabeth Scalia
Corrected, and a better pic, too, thanks – ED
4 days ago


2 days ago
Pope Benedict was truly right, insightful in a human and modern way. Amazing how right he was in 1969. Let us pray that church finds a way-out now of these issues through our Lord Jesus Christ.

– See more at: http://aleteia.org/2016/06/13/when-cardinal-joseph-ratzinger-predicted-the-future-of-the-church/#sthash.Q2Mb3T50.dpuf

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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  1. God Bless HH B XIV. In a curious way here in the UK, I see the proto-parishes of the wonderful Anglican Ordinariate up and down Great Britain as embodying “the Benedict Option” in the midst of the populace. The AO is, I think, the green shoots of Bl. Cardinal John Henry Newman’s prophecies “Second Spring”: which will eventually see England, Scotland, Wales — and yes, Ireland, which has great need of revival — reconverted to the Catholic Faith. And this after genuine Catholics will suffer persecution; and the country degenerates from 1st-world to 3rd-world conditions.

    I am filled with unease when I hear Pope Francis “shooting from the lip and hitting his foot.” Still, I am loyal and pray for him but keep a sharp eye on the catechism backstopped by the Summa Theologica when considering his statements on faith and Morals in today’s cultural / political climate of infernal chaos. However the Anglican Ordinariate gives me hope for a future.

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