I came to this book--or, rather, interview--as a person feeling the pull to Catholicism. This was probably not the best book to read this early in the journey to Rome, since it presumes something of a knowledge of the Church and its "crisis" in modern times, particularly after Vatican II--unlike, say, an introduction to Catholic theology or liturgy. In that respect, then, not being a Catholic, I was probably limited in what I could take from the book.
Nevertheless, I found it extremely fascinating and worthwhile. For starters, Ratzinger's understanding of the Church speaks directly to why I was drawn to it in the first place. He conveys a sense of the Church's community of believers, the communion of saints, emphasizing the very important communal aspects of the Catholic faith and suggesting that theology is not just a matter for individuals and academicians and "theologians"--it is pursued as a community. He describes this community, this unity quite wonderfully, I think: "harmonic wholeness."
His description as the Church going up against the powerful cultural forces of our time was also quite convincing and appealing. Indeed, the Church stands virtually alone against the tide of permissivity. Ratzinger discusses the difficulties the Church was facing in the mid-1980s, from feminism and liberation theology to the dangers of extreme individualism. His proposed solutions are probably not surprising to those familiar--among others: not an abandonment of Vatican II but a discovery of its true spirit; a re-affirmation of traditional doctrines (such as the Virgin Mary); a recognition that the Church is not democratic but sacramental and hierarchical instead; and a restoration of the virtues of motherhood and virginity.
All in all, a great survey of the Catholic Church's position in the modern world, which deals with problems as well as possible answers. Moreover, Ratzinger speaks, either directly or indirectly, to the problems facing the world in general, and his solutions could just as easily be applied in that broader context. This book, then, in many ways, transcends its intended Catholic audience--a true achievement.
In this interview, Cardinal Ratzinger, perhaps the second most influential person in the Catholic church, shows everyone to be wrong about him. He is less conservative than the conservatives think and progressives fear. Ratzinger is an example of how the Catholic church is something entirely different, such that you cannot fit it's mission into a 'progressive' or 'conservative' form. Rather, there is simply Catholicism. Ratzinger's main goal is to make us, progressives and conservatives, understand that Vatican II cannot be ignored, but must exert its full affect upon the Church.