The Ratzinger Report is a book-long interview with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger that his friend and former student, Father Joseph Fessio, S.J., says could be called the “Magna Carta” of the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI.

Following are some excerpts from this book, published in English by Ignatius Press in 1985. Fr. Fessio, founder and editor-in-chief of Ignatius Press, said the statements in The Ratzinger Report remain true today.

On Vatican II: In this interview, Cardinal Ratzinger said that Vatican II is part of a continuum that includes previous Church councils, all of which are subject to the workings of the Holy Spirit, but that its promise has not yet been realized.

“I believe, rather, that the true time of Vatican II has not yet come, that its authentic reception has not yet begun: its documents were quickly buried under a pile of superficial or frankly inexact publications. The reading of the letter of the documents will enable us to discover their true spirit. If thus rediscovered in their truth, those great texts will make it possible for us to understand just what happened and to react with a new vigor. I repeat: the Catholic who clearly and consequently, painfully perceives the damage that has been wrought in his Church by the misinterpretations of Vatican II must find the possibility of revival in Vatican II itself. The Council is his, it does not belong to those who want to continue along a road whose results have been catastrophic. It does not belong to those, who, not by chance, don’t know just what to make of Vatican II, which they look upon as a ‘fossil of the clerical era’.” P.40

On Christians in the world:

“Vatican II was right in its desire for a revision of the relations between the Church and the world. There are in fact values, which, even though they originated outside the Church, can find their place—provided they are clarified and corrected—in her perspective. This task has been accomplished in these years. But whoever thinks that these two realities can meet each other without conflict or even be identical would betray that he understands neither the Church nor the world.”

The interviewer than asked: Are you proposing, perhaps, a return to the old spirit of “opposition to the world”?

“It is not Christians who oppose the world, but rather the world which opposes itself to them when the truth about God, about Christ and about man is proclaimed. The world waxes indignant when sin and grace are called by their names. After the phase of indiscriminate ‘openness’ it is time that the Christian reacquire the consciousness of belonging to a minority and of often being in opposition to what is obvious, plausible and natural for that mentality which the New Testament calls—and certainly not in a positive sense—the ‘spirit of the world’. It is time to find again the courage of non-conformism, the capacity to oppose many of the trends of the surrounding culture, renouncing a certain euphoric post-conciliar solidarity.” pp. 36-37

Unexpected turning away from God after Vatican II:

“What is certain is that the Council did not take the turn that John XXIII had expected (let us recall that countries like Holland, Switzerland and the United States were strongholds of traditionalism and loyalty to Rome!). It must also be admitted that, in respect to the whole Church, the prayer of Pope John that the Council signify a new leap forward for the Church, to renewed life and unity, has not—at least not yet—been granted.” P. 41-42

“Up to now, what aspect a life without God, a world without faith, would assume was known only in theory. Now it has been ascertained in reality. Starting out from this emptiness, we can newly discover the richness of the faith, its indispensability. For many, these years have been like an arduous purification, almost a path through fire, that has opened the possibility of a deeper faith.” P42

“….Salvation for the Church comes from within her, but this in no way means to say that it comes from decrees of the hierarchy. Whether Vatican II and its results will be considered as a luminous period of Church history will depend upon all the Catholics who are called to give it life. As John Paul II said in his commemoration of Borromeo in Milan: ‘the Church of today does not need any new reformers. The Church needs new saints’.” pp. 42-43

On the priesthood and on bishops:

“The very situation of the priest is singular, alien to modern society. A function, a role that is not based on the consent of the majority but on the representation of another who lets a man share his authority appears as something incomprehensible.” P. 56

For example, then-Cardinal Ratzinger said, the sacrament of reconciliation, of confession, shows how priests represent Christ to the people of the Church:

“There are priests who tend to transform it almost exclusively into a ‘conversation’, into a kind of therapeutic self-analysis between two persons on the same level. That seems to be much more human, more personal and more adapted to modern man. But this kind of confession incurs the risk of having little to do with the Catholic conception of the sacrament, where the performance, the ability of the person entrusted with the office are not of such great import. Rather it is much more necessary that the priest be willing to remain in the background, thus leaving space for Christ, who alone can remit sin.”

“…I don’t mean to say that there could not also be a meaningful reform of the external celebration of confession. Here history shows such a breadth of developments that it would be absurd to want to canonize forever a single form, the present one.” Pp. 57-58

On bishops and “collegiality”:

Bishops are “authentic teachers” of the Christian doctrine who enjoy “ordinary, autonomous and immediate authority in the dioceses entrusted to them” of which they are the “principle and foundation of unity”. United in the episcopal college with their head, the pope, “they act in the person of Christ” in order to govern the universal Church. P. 59

Vatican II “wanted specifically to strengthen the role and responsibility of bishops” Ratzinger said. However, the council documents are not put into practice correctly, Ratzinger said. “The decisive new emphasis on the role of the bishops is in reality restrained or actually risks being smothered by the insertion of bishops into episcopal conferences that are ever more organized, often with burdensome bureaucratic structures. We must not forget that the episcopal conferences have no theological basis, they do not belong to the structure of the Church, as willed by Christ, that cannot be eliminated; they have only a practical, concrete function.’” pp. 60

“No episcopal conference, as such, has a teaching mission; its documents have no weight of their own save that of the consent given to them by the individual bishops.”

The interviewer asks, why does the Prefect insist on this point?

“Because it is a matter of safeguarding the very nature of the Catholic Church, which is based on an episcopal structure and not on a kind of federation of national churches. The national level is not an ecclesial dimension.”

Episcopal conferences can hide “personal lapses” by bishops, Ratzinger notes. P. 60-61

He recalls an episcopal conference held in his country of Germany during the 1930s. “Well, the really powerful documents against National Socialism were those that came from individual courageous bishops. The documents of the conference, on the contrary, were often rather wan and too weak with respect to what the tragedy called for.” P. 61

On “saints”:

“The saints were all people of imagination, not functionaries of apparatuses. Outwardly, they were perhaps ‘unusual’ personalities, but nevertheless they were profoundly obedient and, at the same time, persons of great originality and personal independence. And the Church, I will never tire of repeating it, needs saints more than functionaries.” p. 67

“The law is there for man, not man for the law: the structure has its justifications, but they must not stifle persons.” P. 67.

On Dogma, Theology and Theologians, p 71-71:

“Every theologian now seems to want to be ‘creative’. But his proper task is to deepen the common deposit of faith as well as to help in proclaiming it, not ‘to create’ it. Otherwise faith will be fragmentized into a series of often conflicting schools and currents to the grave harm of the disconcerted people of God.” P. 71

“In this subjective view of theology, dogma is often viewed as an intolerable straitjacket, an assault on the freedom of the individual scholar. But this loses sight of the fact that the dogmatic definition is rather a service to the truth, a gift offered to believers by the authority willed by God. Dogmas—someone has said—are not walls that prevent us from seeing. On the contrary, they are windows that open upon the infinite.” p. 72

On Reading the Bible:

“Every Catholic must have the courage to believe that his faith (in communion with that of the Church) surpasses every ‘new magisterium’ of the experts, the intellectuals. Their hypotheses can be helpful in providing a better understanding of the genesis of the biblical books, but it is a prejudice of evolutionistic provenance if it is asserted that the text is understandable only if its origin and development are studied. The rule of faith, yesterday as today, is not based on the discoveries (be they true or hypothetical) of biblical sources and layers but on the Bible just as it is, as it has been read in the Church since the time of the Fathers until now. It is precisely the fidelity to this reading of the Bible that has given us the saints, who were often uneducated and, at any rate, frequently knew nothing about exegetical contexts. Yet they were the ones who understood it best.” P. 76

Economic liberalism and moral permissiveness seem to go hand in hand:

“In a world like the West, where money and wealth are the measure of all things, and where the model of the free market imposes its implacable laws on every aspect of life, authentic Catholic ethics now appears to many like an alien body from times long past, as a kind of meteorite which is in opposition, not only to the concrete habits of life, but also to the way of thinking underlying them. Economic liberalism creates its exact counterpart, permissivism, on the moral plane.”

Accordingly, “it becomes difficult, if not altogether impossible, to present Catholic morality as reasonable. It is too distant from what is considered to be obvious, as normal by the majority of persons, conditioned by the dominant culture with which not a few ‘Catholic’ moralists have aligned themselves as influential supporters.” P. 83


“The issue is the rupture between sexuality and marriage. Separated from motherhood, sex has remained without a locus and has lost its point of reference: it is a kind of drifting mine, a problem and at the same time an omnipresent power.” P. 84

“After the separation between sexuality and motherhood was effected, sexuality was also separated from procreation. The movement, however, ended up going in an opposite direction: procreation without sexuality. Out of this follow the increasingly shocking medical-technical experiments so prevalent in our day where, precisely, procreation is independent of sexuality. Biological manipulation is striving to uncouple man from nature (the very existence of which is being disputed). There is an attempt to transform man, to manipulate him as one does every other ‘thing’: he is nothing but a product planned according to one’s pleasure.” P. 84.

The interviewer observes, “If I am not mistaken, I observe, our cultures are the first in history in which such ruptures have come to pass.

“Yes, and at the end of this march to shatter fundamental, natural linkages (and not, as is said, only those that are cultural), there are unimaginable consequences which, however, derive from the very logic that lies at the base of a venture of this kind.” P. 85

Homosexuality, Abortion, Contraception and the Church:

“No longer having an objective reason to justify it, sex seeks the subjective reason in the gratification of desire, in the most ‘satisfying’ answer for the individual, to the instincts no longer subject to rational restraints. Everyone is free to give to his personal libido the content considered suitable for himself.”

“…Hence, it naturally follows that all forms of sexual gratification are transformed into ‘rights’ of the individual. Thus, to cite an especially current example, homosexuality becomes an inalienable right. (Given the aforementioned premises, how can one deny it?) On the contrary, its full recognition appears to be an aspect of human liberation.” P. 85

“Fecundity separated from marriage based on a life-long fidelity turns from being a blessing (as it was understood in every culture) into its opposite: that is to say a threat to the free development of the ‘individual’s right to happiness’. Thus abortion, institutionalized, free and socially guaranteed, becomes another ‘right’, another form of ‘liberation’.” P. 86

“Even as regards the question of homosexuality, attempts at its justification are in the making. Indeed, it has come to pass that bishops—on the basis of insufficient information or because of sense of guilt among Catholics toward an ‘oppressed minority’—have placed churches at the disposal of ‘gays’ for their gatherings. Then there is the case of Humanae vitae, the encyclical of Paul VI, which reaffirmed the ‘no’ to contraceptives and which has not been understood. Instead it has been more or less openly rejected in broad ecclesial circles.” P. 87