Ecclesial Movements in the Pastoral Concern of the Bishops
Cardinal Ratzinger dialogue with Bishops, June 1999
Highlighted for study

Before answering questions from an assembly of Bishops and Cardinals from all over the world, Cardinal Ratzinger said:

...the pastors of the Church are the ones who must guarantee the ecclesial character of the movements. The pastors are not just persons who hold a certain office. They themselves are charismatics; they are responsible for keeping the Church open to the action of the Holy Spirit.  -New Outpourings of the Holy Spirit, pg 66

Baptism at the center
He recalled that his first contacts with the movements went back to the 60s. He spoke about his meeting with the Neo-Catechumens, who put Baptism back at the center,
"a very much forgotten sacrament in the Church, although it is the foundation of our faith, at a time when families and schools were not initiating people into the faith." 

"...even if we were baptized as children, we must enter into the reality of our baptism; throughout our lives - in various stages, of course - we must enter into this initiation to communion with Christ in the Church"  Ibid. 67

Christian faith is a radical revolution
He went on to mention how he came to know Communion and Liberation at the end of the 60s:

"I saw that, at the time of the great Marxist revolution, there were others - in this case young university students in particular - who had grasped the Christian revolution and who responded to the Marxist revolution and the bourgeois conditions in the world, not with a form of conservatism, but with the new and far more radical revolution of the Christian faith". ibid 68

Holy Spirit overcomes two dangers: cold theology and bureaucratization

Ratzinger also referred to his experience with the Charismatic Renewal:

"I have had the joy and the grace to see young Christians touched by the power of the Holy Spirit, of seeing that in a troublesome time for the Church, at a moment when people were speaking of a "winter in the Church", the Holy Spirit was creating a new springtime and that the joy of being Christian was being reawakened in young people, the joy of being Catholic, of living in the Church, the living Body of Christ, the people of God in pilgrimage.

For me this was truly encouraging, because I had two very negative experiences to contrast with it. On the one hand, I saw an academic world that was increasingly losing its enthusiasm for the faith. Anxious to conform themselves completely to the other university disciplines, theologians no longer dared to profess the faith openly as the motivating force of their theological work. Instead they wanted to prove that they were scholars through and through, and so theology became permeated with coldness, a detachment that seemed to me worrisome and whose effects are still visible.  //  The other negative experience was the bureaucratization of the Church in my country. The money that the Church in Germany has at its disposal, in abundance I would say, can undoubtedly be of great help (for example, in works of charity). It is not only a help however; it may also become a hindrance that makes the Church materialistic and generates bureaucracies that somehow manage nothing but themselves, becoming something of an end in themselves.

 Seeing these two dangers for the Church - a theology that was no longer the attainment of reasonableness by faith but rather an oppression of faith by a truncated reason, and bureaucratization, which no longer serves to open doors to the faith, but becomes self-enclosed - at a time when these two factors were all too evident, I really welcomed the newness of the movements as a gesture of God's benevolence: I saw the Council was bearing fruit, that the Lord was present in his Church. I saw that, whereas all our efforts, however well intentioned, both in the theological faculties and in the bureaucracies, were not bearing fruit but, on the contrary, were becoming counterproductive, the Lord was finding the doors and throwing them wide open for his presence in situations where the sole resources were those of the faith and grace.  Ibid 68-70.

Questions from the Bishops

Question: In the past we had three "states" in the Church, made up of priests, religious, and the laity...  In the future will the categories be: priests, religious, members of movements, and laity?

Ratzinger: I think that the tripartite division of priests, religious, and laity is fundamental: it follows from the structure of the Church and hence will be decisive in the future, too. It seems to me, however, that since the Second Vatican Council there has been greater communication among the three states, in the sense that new ways of interrelating, new forms of collaboration among the different vocations are being found. In all the major movements we see in fact that the three sectors are thriving within each of them... vocations to the priesthood and hence new forms of associations in the priestly life are springing up in these movements. Yet branches of religious life or consecrated life are also developing within them, and in any case the commitment of the laity remains very important.

As regards the future of the Curia, the fact that we now find the three states under the same roof can certainly create problems. Cardinal Stafford and Bishop Rylko know that better than I: Since the Pontifical Council for the Laity is responsible for these movements, it happens to be responsible also for families of consecrated life and fraternities of priests. Someday the question will have to be decided: How can we best respond to this new intercommunication among the three states, which nonetheless remain distinct, since they are essentially different walks of life? I think that organization should follow life. It is better, therefore, to see how life evolves, without rushing to tackle the organizational questions.  Ibid 72-73

The Bishop. Question: May 30 marked the end of the first phase in the history of the movements, that of trying to make room for them in the institutional Church. At present, we are in the second phase, recognizing the substantial unity of the charismatic realities and the institution. When the Pope says that "the Church itself is a movement," what is he trying to say to us, the Bishops?

Cardinal Ratzinger: That the Bishop is becoming less of a monarch and more a shepherd of a flock. He is face to face with the flock and a pilgrim among pilgrims, as Saint Augustine said. We are all disciples in Christ's school. Although a representative of the sacrament, the Bishop is more like a brother in a school where there is only one Father and one Teacher.

This guarantees that the Church is not a market, but a family. It identifies the local Church and the universal Church. It is not the source of rights and law, but rather a guide and witness to unity in the context of the familiarity of the Church with one single teacher. Therefore, it is necessary to avoid the danger of super-institutionalization: many "Councils," although useful, cannot act as a government group that complicates the life of the faithful and makes the pastors lose direct contact with them.

Someone once said to me, "I would like to speak with my parish priest, but I am always told he is in a meeting!" There must be collaboration with all those who make up God's people so that there will be a richer unity.

-- Are the movements heading toward institutionalization?

Cardinal Ratzinger: This has also happened in the past. Suffice it to think of monasticism, or the Franciscan movement. A degree of structure is essential for a more ordered result and integration in the life of the Church. But it is important to be attentive and not allow institutionalization to become a breastplate for life; it is important that the institutional dimension does not extinguish the Spirit.

-- What relation is there between the institutional and charismatic dimensions?

Cardinal Ratzinger: Bishops are not just institutional. Without the charismatic dimension, you cannot be a good Bishop. They are the ones with the grace to discern the real charisms. The final decision is the Bishop's, in communion with the episcopal body and the Holy Father. But it is understood that the Bishop feels the responsibility not to extinguish the Spirit; that he has discernment.

It is his task to discern and to help the movements to purify everything that needs purification. Because although the source is the Holy Spirit, the implementation is human; the human element is present. The Bishops, therefore, have the task of discernment in order to help the movements find the right path for peaceful unity, and to help the parish priests to open themselves and allow themselves to be surprised by these ways inspired by the Spirit.

-- What relation should there be between parishes and movements, between parishes and communities of persons?

Cardinal Ratzinger: It is necessary to safeguard the unity of the faithful, who are one single Church and not many churches. It is very important to be very aware of being part of one single Church, in such a way that the phenomena that arise are at the service of the one Church in which everyone has a place. Christianity is not a group of friends who separate, but men who have met in the Lord: in other words, brothers. To accept your brothers united in the faith is elementary, even if you do not like them.

-- Will the Church always be a minority? What is the importance of movements?

Cardinal Ratzinger: The development over the last fifty years proves that religiosity does not disappear, because it is a desire of the human heart that cannot be eliminated. If it is poorly directed, it could end as religious pathology. This is why we have the responsibility to give the true answer. This is a historical responsibility of the Church at this time when religion can become an illness, not offering God's face, but substitutes that do not cure.

Even when we are a minority, our priority is the message. In the West, the statistics reveal a reduction in the number of believers; we are living in a time of apostasy of the faith, while the identity between the European-American culture and Christian culture has almost dissolved.

The challenge today is not to allow the faith to withdraw into closed groups, but to have it enlighten everyone and speak to everyone. If we go back to the Church of the first centuries, the Christians were few, but they caught people's attention because they were not a closed group. They carried a general challenge to all which touched all. Today we also have a universal mission: to make present the real answer to the demand of a life that corresponds to the Creator.

The Gospel is for everyone and the movements can be of great help, because they have the missionary impulse of the early times, even in the smallness of their numbers, and they can give impetus to the life of the Gospel in the world.


Love Crucified Logo