Ratzinger has long spoken in stark terms about the dire implications of Europe’s shrinking faith. In a much-quoted interview in 2001—when he already wielded enormous influence within the Vatican of John Paul II—Ratzinger posed radical questions about the sustainability of Europe’s Christian identity, citing the German city of Magdeburg, where only 8 percent of the population claimed affiliation to any Christian denomination whatsoever. Beyond force of habit, he asked, what sense did it make to continue claiming that Europe, was still a Christian society? And what implications did that weakening have for the Church as a whole? But he did not advocate despair. Yes, he said, “the mass Church may be something lovely, but it is not necessarily the Church’s only way of being.” Europe’s future church “will be reduced in its dimensions,” he admitted—but the rise of humanism, relativism, and atheism, he added, ought to be seen as a reason for Christianity on the continent “to start again.” It was imperative that Christianity not be abandoned, though it did need to be re-booted.
more from Philip Jenkins at TNR here.