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His upcoming trip may well be one of his biggest challenges.
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To such minds, evangelization is hardly a priority. Instead, their focus is upon two things. The first is power within the structures of German Catholicism because (sotto voce) “we all know” life is really about acquiring power rather than knowing truth. The second is upon changing Catholicism to make the Church look much more like “the world” because (sotto voce) “we all know” the fullness of divine truth is “out there” rather than in the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
This state of affairs has been worsened by many German Catholic bishops’ abject failure to provide evangelical leadership in the Church. Over the past forty years, German Catholicism has not had anyone like a Jean-Marie Lustiger in France or George Pell in Australia who — through formidable combinations of intellect, personality, strategic thinking, and, above all, sheer fearlessness — almost singlehandedly shakes a Church out of its sterile complacency and sullen defeatism.
By contrast, some German bishops’ attitude is one of “don’t rock the boat otherwise important people won’t talk to us.” Unfortunately, there’s no strong evidence that secular German elites pay much attention to what progressive Catholics have to say. After all, it’s virtually indistinguishable from progressivist-secularism. In fact, prominent left-inclined secularist Germans such as Jürgen Habermas and, more recently, Gregor Gysi, have indicated they’re far more interested in what Joseph Ratzinger thinks.
Fortunately, like everywhere in global Catholicism, German Catholicism is changing. Younger bishops, priests and laity are far less worried about upsetting those tenured theologians who aren’t sure if Christ is God but who are absolutely convinced no sin could possibly be mortal. The epicenter of German Catholic life is shifting away from what Benedict once called “the spent and tired” bureaucracy and is increasingly with what he describes as initiatives that “come from within, from the joy of young people.”
And that, perhaps, is what Benedict will bring to the German Church: a sense of the joy of living a full Christian life, a message that contrasts sharply with the Götterdämmerung of a fading generation of Catholics in perpetual rebellion against anything which suggests modernity doesn’t have all the answers. And in the contest of hope versus despair, we all know who ultimately wins.
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