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Ratzinger speaks out in new book, debate

NCR Staff

On the heels of a document asserting that followers of other religions are in a “gravely deficient” situation compared to Catholics, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger has added that the church is waiting for the moment when Jews will “say yes to Christ.”

The comment comes in a new book, God and the World, to be published Oct. 10 in Germany. Extracts from the book, a question-and-answer session between Ratzinger and a journalist covering a wide range of topics, were published Sept. 10 by the German weekly Focus.

In another context, Ratzinger said in a Sept. 21 public debate with an atheist that Christianity has always claimed to be the logical fulfillment of human reason, and hence Christianity is the “right” answer for every human being, but the faith must not be imposed by force.

Ratzinger’s debate against philosopher Paolo Flores d’Arcais took place in a downtown Rome theatre before a standing-room-only crowd of several hundred people.

Ratzinger, a native of Germany, is the Vatican’s top doctrinal official.

“That the Jews are connected with God in a special way and that God does not allow that bond to fail is entirely obvious,” Ratzinger said in the new book. “We wait for the instant in which Israel will say yes to Christ, but we know that it has a special mission in history now … which is significant for the world.”

Asked if Jews must, or should, acknowledge Jesus as the messiah, Ratzinger replied, “We believe that.”

“That does not mean that we should force Christ upon them,” Ratzinger said. “The fact remains, however, that our Christian conviction is that Christ is also the messiah of Israel. Certainly it is in the hands of God how and when the unification of Jews and Christians into the people of God will take place.”

The comments build on a Sept. 5 Vatican document issued by Ratzinger titled Dominus Iesus, which rejected the idea that non-Christian religions can offer paths to salvation independent of Christianity (NCR, Sept. 15).

Many Catholic theologians have argued that God’s original covenant with Israel remains valid, meaning that Jews are not destined or required to become Christians. Pope John Paul II, during a historic 1986 visit to the Rome synagogue, seemed to endorse this view when he called the covenant with Judaism “irrevocable.”

On other topics, Ratzinger paints a near-apocalyptic picture of the potentially negative consequences of genetic research: “God will react against a last crime, a last criminal self-destruction of the human being. He will resist the degradation of the human person through the breeding of slave-people. There is a last boundary that we cannot cross without becoming the destroyers of creation itself.”

Ratzinger also revealed that he has signed up to be an organ donor, leading journalist Petter Seewald to comment that it would be an “exciting idea” if an African Muslim in Paris ended up with Ratzinger’s heart. “Could be soon,” Ratzinger replied.

Asked if he fears death, Ratzinger said: “Since I know well all my inadequacies, the thought of judgment stands before my eyes, but I also hope that God is greater than my failures.”

A previous Ratzinger interview with Seewald became 1996’s Salt of the Earth, which has appeared in 14 languages and sold 70,000 copies. Seewald, who writes for the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, returned to the Catholic faith after the encounter.

Jesuit Fr. Joseph Fessio, whose Ignatius press is Ratzinger’s primary English-language publisher, told NCR that it will probably be a year before God and the World appears in English translation.

In the Sept. 21 debate, Ratzinger defended Pope John Paul’s II mid-March liturgy of penance for failings of the Catholic church. Some bishops from former communist nations had opposed the gesture, he said, on the grounds that it would destroy trust in the church, but Ratzinger said he thought it helped the church’s credibility.

When his opponent drew cheers for suggesting that sometimes non-believers have done a better job of living gospel values than believers, Ratzinger said: “I am satisfied with the applause [for this idea]. It’s good for both of us to be self-critical, to reflect anew.”

Ratzinger insisted on the existence of inalienable human rights. “I defend absolutely the existence of rights that cannot be decided by a majority of votes,” he said. “We Germans know the importance of this. We wanted to create a pure race, a pure humanity, ignoring precisely the existence of these rights.”

National Catholic Reporter, October 6, 2000