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 will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members.
[Faith and the Future (Ignatius Press, 2009), p. 116]
Yes. This is perfectly expressed. Ratzinger published this book, Glaub und Zukunft, in 1970! For many at this time, the hegemony of Christianity would continue into the long future. Sure, there was the sexual revolution and the student riots and much else, but the only thing necessary was an updating of the church. Aggiornamento. This was confidently mapped by Hans Küng at Tübingen, Richard McBrien at Notre Dame, and other darlings of the Western intelligentsia and privileged elites.
Of course, the aggiornamento theologians are still waiting for their update. That’s not likely to happen when Africa has millions of more practicing Catholics than Europe. The future of Christianity is not being hammered out in the Parisian cafés but, rather, in the four metropolitan sees of Uganda or in the archdiocese of Kinshasa, Congo, which is vastly more important than Paris.
As for the the global North, Ratzinger is right. “She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.” Yep. “She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity.” It is not beyond the realm of possibility to see the cathedrals of Our Lady in Reims or Paris suffer the same fate as the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. “As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges.” Preach it, brother Ratzinger! “In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society.” Welcome to the free church!
Image above: Pope Benedict XVI greeting Catholics during his visit to Luanda, Angola on March 21, 2009. (source)