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 Pope's vision of a smaller church

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Rome -- Joseph Ratzinger, as a theologian and cardinal, returned to the question often over the years. And now that he is Pope Benedict XVI, his paper trail on the issue provokes skepticism about him among more liberal Roman Catholics. The question, in his own words: "Is the church really going to get smaller?"

At another point, in an interview published in 1997 in "Salt of the Earth," he explained it this way: "Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the church's history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intense struggle against evil and bring good into the world - that let God in."

The standard argument is that Benedict "wants a more fervent, orthodox, evangelical church - even if it drives people away," as a New Yorker headline put it recently.

But, as with much around this new pope, the whole story is complicated. He has yet to announce an overall program, having been in office just five weeks, but both critics and supporters alike say that it is unlikely that he would plan to prune back the church intentionally - or that he could.


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