JOSEPH CARDINAL RATZINGER is the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (once called the Holy Office), the Vatican bureau that has the duty of defending and promoting Roman Catholic orthodoxy. He has developed the habit of giving interviews, and this book publishes his most famous one, given to an Italian journalist last year. When excerpts from it appeared in an Italian magazine some months ago, they aroused a great deal of controversy. The book's title calls it a ''report,'' but it is really a collection of sometimes highly personal observations and evaluations offered by a man who occupies an extremely important post in the Roman Curia. It is not an official interpretation, but his private views, which have, therefore, roughly the same significance as the views of Chief Justice Warren E. Burger when he comments on the state of the legal profession today -not legally binding, but perhaps important as indications of how he might vote on issues that come before the Supreme Court....
After eliciting this general assessment, the interviewer takes Cardinal Ratzinger through a series of discussions in which he identifies the many problems the church faces today - a reductionist view of the church as a human construction rather than a divine institution; the loss of the sacred identity of the priest; the surrender by bishops of their individual authority to the bureaucratic structure of national episcopal conferences; individualism in theology and selectivity in catechesis; a loss of faith in God and Christ; a loss of the sense of original sin; permissiveness in morality, particularly the separation of sexuality from procreation; the denial of the proper role of women; the decline in Marian faith and piety; a trivialization of the liturgy; a dangerous neglect of the role and power of the Devil; too much accommodation in ecumenism and a liaison with Marxism in liberation theology. All in all, a most unhappy scene is painted, very rarely illuminated by some faint signs of vitality and hope. It is, he says, a ''confused period where truly every type of heretical aberration seems to be pressing upon the doors of the authentic faith.'' As disparate as these topics are, a common viewpoint and method are visible in the Cardinal's discussion of them. By far the greatest part of the treatment is devoted to dangers, abuses and fears. There is usually some brief warning against going too far in reacting to them and at times an equally brief indication that he believes there are also some positive aspects of the phenomenon under discussion. No names of those distrusted or criticized are ever given, nor is there any verifiable indication of how widespread a particular trend may be; frustratingly general words like ''some,'' ''certain'' and ''many'' abound. It is a very one-sided description, perhaps inevitable given the fact that, as a member of the Cardinal's Vatican congregation puts it, his daily work involves him with ''the pathology of faith.''
Friday, September 27, 2013
New York Times, December 22, 1985:
Posted Friday, September 27, 2013