Catholic World News News Feature

Putting God First: Ratzinger Reflects on the Synod October 31, 2001

Vatican, Oct 31, 01 (FIDES/ -- As the month-long Synod of Bishops neared its conclusion last week, Father Bernardo Cervellera, the director of the Fides news service, spoke about the bishops' discussions with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The text of their discussion follows.

FATHER CERVELLERA: Your Eminence, how would you assess the Synod that is coming to an end?

CARDINAL RATZINGER: This Synod was a cordial and tranquil meeting. Perhaps there were no great intuitions or surprises: the ideas and problems are known-- nothing out of the ordinary. But it was an experience of great expectancy and of profound collegiality which has been built up over the past twenty years.

I have lived every Synod meeting since 1977 and in some I have seen high tension. Comparing this Synod with the early post-Council fermentation, this tranquility shows that we are in a new generation, which has assimilated the Council and is in search of news paths for evangelization. The first assessment is therefore genuine cordiality and profound harmony.

We no longer need to discuss questions of organization, or even of interpretation. Now is the time for showing to the world the face of Christ. With no great surprises, the essential experience [of this Synod] has been for me this new profound unity of the college of bishops proceeding together in the announcement of the Gospel to a world which needs to hear once again about God and Christ.

CERVELLERA: In your intervention, you spoke of self-secularization of bishops. You said bishops tend to be concerned with interior problems "while the world longs for God."

RATZINGER: This, thank goodness, did not happen. There could have been fear of dwelling on questions of relations between the Roman Curia and the bishops, Synod powers, the structures of national and intercontinental bishops' conferences. This could really suffocate the life of the Church-- always discussing penultimate things while neglecting the ultimate ones. This was the risk at a certain period of the post-Council era, with the major restructuring in those times, which was useful in itself, but the Church was busy thinking almost exclusively about herself-- a situation which brings no fruits for the "rest of the world," and moves only the Church. This is useless. I wish to speak out against this danger.

If the Church is concerned with herself, she forgets that she is only at the service of something far greater: she must be a window through which people can see God; she must be an open space in which the Word of God appears and enters the world.

There is also a risk of another type of secularism: so concerned with the problems of the world, filled with suffering, we could end up by being only social workers, forgetting that the first service to the world, also the social world, is to make God known.

Therefore: a false self-preoccupation on the part of the Church and a horizontalism which-- also wounded by the evils in the world-- thinks only of doing material things, and God is only secondary. Thank goodness, to ward off these two dangers great attention is being given to the prime necessity: the first need of this world is to know God. If I do not know him, then all the rest comes to a halt, as we learned from the giant atheist systems of the last century.

CERVELLERA: The bishops' proposals seemed like a long list of "duties"-- things the bishop must do, or care for: priests, religious, youth, ecumenism, social justice, etc. Is there not a danger that so many duties can never be fulfilled?

RATZINGER: This is always a danger for all Synods in their efforts to be comprehensive. They seem to want to be a sort of handbook, instead of shedding light on a few important imperatives. Various indications coming from the Synod fathers regarding a change in Synod methods are along this line: the aim is not to produce a handbook, but to give simply a few instructions of real importance. In any case, there is hope that the next post- Synodal document will not be a long handbook, but rather the presentation of a few essential elements: something like Novo Millennio Ineunte, which is a document that addresses the heart of the matter.

CERVELLERA: The discussion and final documents seem to indicate that the bishop is a master of the Church. The bishop does this, he does that… Is there not a moment when the bishop realizes that he is a son of the Church, not only a father and a master? Your Eminence, you once said "the Church is female"-- that is, the Church is more important that all her ministries.

RATZINGER: Perhaps this danger is real. Underlining the duties of the bishop and all the riches of the episcopal sacramental function, we tend to forget that the bishop is a believer and a servant. He is a son of the Church and only in this way can he be also a father. In our efforts to indicate everything that the bishop receives in the sacrament, all his responsibilities, we might tend to overlook this ultimate humility, which is also a great grace. After all, our work does not depend on us; we can only entrust everything to the Lord.