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Ratzinger comments on changing papacy.

OXFORD, England - Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, showed himself remarkably conciliatory in a recent debate on the future of ecumenism with Paolo Ricca, professor at the Waldensian Theology Faculty in Rome. The Waldensians, or Vaudois, are the Protestant minority who have survived in Italy since the 12th century.

What caused Ricca "joyful surprise" were Ratzinger's remarks on the papacy - for so long the chief stumbling block for Protestants. "The papacy is the most palpable symptom of our problems," said Ratzinger, "but to tackle it properly we have to bear in mind the wider framework of church unity."

The essential point to grasp is that the papacy - better, the Petrine ministry - is not set in concrete. "The ministry of unity entrusted to Peter and his successors," Ratzinger admitted, "can be realized in very different ways. History offers examples of different styles. But they do not have to be repeated.

"Today we have to respond to new situations. But I wouldn't dare for the moment to say what the future possible practical realizations or the papacy might be."

So Ratzinger is cautiously keeping his powder dry. At what point will he "dare' to speak his mind? He offered a clue in his remark that in ecumenism one always has to distinguish between "the final aim, which is the unity of the church, and the intermediate stages that are needed to attain it."

Unity, the final aim, he emphasized, should not be thought of as implying uniformity but as "unity in pluriformity." He went on: "The ancient church offers a model along these lines. United on the three fundamentals [scripture, the rule of faith and, the sacramental structure of the church], for the rest there was great pluriformity."

In the interim, said Ratzinger, the model for church unity was that of "reconciled diversity."

Ricca welcomed Ratzinger's statement, saying he was 99 percent in agreement with it. "We are meeting here for the first time," he said, "but we have known each other for eight centuries." Eight centuries of polemic, he might have added. But this, said the organizers, was "a duet rather than a duel."

Ricca accepted that the papacy was the most difficult crux facing Catholics and Protestants, because it is both "the foundation of Catholic unity and the obstacle to Christian unity, as Paul VI courageously recognized in 1967."

Ricca outlined three possible scenarios for the future of the Petrine office:

* 1. It could remain as it is, insisting on submission cum Petro and sub Petro. Other churches would find it difficult to accept this solution, so unity would be postponed until Christ's second coming.

* 2. The Petrine office could change, undergoing "an ecumenical conversion." It would then be at the service of the unity of all Christians and not just of Catholics. "This would require a conscious change," said Ricca, that only a pope could undertake. This is possibility, not just a dream."

* 3. The third scenario envisages the Petrine office remaining as the center of Catholic unity without seeking to act as the fulcrum of Christian unity. Then the different churches could extend the hand of friendship, "mutually recognizing that they were really different and really united." They could meet regularly in councils that were truly universal to decide on "common witness and joint action." This is broadly the project of "conciliar communion" promoted by the World Council of Churches.

Ratzinger did not comment on these three possibilities. No doubt he is waiting for the next conclave, whenever it occurs, when the debate will be about "what sort of pope is needed in what sort of world for what sort of church."

Only when the job description is clear can one sensibly discuss who might succeed. It is clear that the next pope, whoever he is, will be different from John Paul. But how far he will have a different conception of the papacy is an open question.
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Title Annotation:Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Author:Hebblethwaite, Peter
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Feb 26, 1993
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