"...The church will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.As many have pointed out, this is a stark and daunting vision but, as we would expect, not one devoid of hope - these are the remarkably consistent thoughts of Pope Benedict, originally published as a series of lectures as long ago as 1969 and available now in 'Faith and the Future' [here] It is clear that he has had no cause substantially to revise his assessment of the necessary future direction of the Church.
She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes . . . she will lose many of her social privileges. . . As a small society, [the Church] will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members....
It will be hard-going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek . . . The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain . . . But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualised and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.
And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. She may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but she will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man's home, where he will find life and hope beyond death...."
It would seem from our experience in the 'separated' Anglican provinces (which can now barely lay claim to the designation 'Communion,') that the choice for the Church is to conform to the surrounding culture and face a slow death by assimilation, by offering no distinctive vision, or to embrace our marginalisation as the price of remaining faithful, and, as Pope Benedict argues, "to start afresh more or less from the beginning."
We have tried the route of eagerly (or even reluctantly) embracing every passing fashion in order to remain relevant and accessible; the temptation to be both 'in' and 'of' the world has led to precipitate decline and an unprecedented degree of demoralisation of clergy and laity alike.
Perhaps the time has at last arrived to acknowledge the need for affirmative and radical Catholic orthodoxy. But in the peculiar circumstances of Anglicanism in the west, with our hierarchies fully and irrevocably signed up to theological and ethical revisionism, this 'return to the sources' can only begin from the ground up, that is at parish or 'pastoral area' level, and in the face of a great deal of opposition from all quarters. We could do worse, making allowances for the rapid way the world has 'moved on,' than begin here or even (or do I mean most particularly?) here.