2 October 2012
That the Church is ‘200 years out of date,’ was the way some Catholics learned of the death of one of the Church’s most senior and controversial cardinals. The emeritus Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Martini, who died on August 31, had made the statement in an interview published shortly after his death.
Cardinal Martini had been living with Parkinson’s disease for many years when he died on August 31. A noted teacher and biblical scholar, Martini’s liberal views were controversial in some quarters of the Church. To the world at large he is perhaps best known as the man who didn’t become Pope after the death of John Paul II.
It is believed that the state of his health worked against his being elevated to Bishop of Rome.
His last interview appeared in Milan’s Corriere della Serra and has been widely reported in the international media (English translations can be found at the Catholic Church Conservation blog and the Commonweal Magazine website).
Martini urged the Church to start talking constructively about gender and sexuality, HIV/AIDS and the paedophilia scandals that have rocked the Church.
‘The Church is tired in Europe and America. Our culture has aged, our churches are large, our religious houses are empty and the bureaucracy of the Church climbs higher, our rituals and our clothes are pompous. Do these things express what we are today?
‘The Church must recognise her mistakes and follow a path of radical change, starting with the Pope and the bishops. The scandals of paedophilia impel us to embark on a journey of conversion. The questions on sexuality and all issues involving the body are one example. We must ask ourselves if people still listen to the advice of the Church on sexual matters. Is the Church still an authority in this field of reference or only a caricature in the media?’
Asked about the impact of Vatican II, he said it had restored the bible to Catholics.
‘Only someone who receives this Word in their heart can be among those who will help the renewal of the Church and will know how to respond to personal questions wisely. The Word of God is simple and seeks as its companion a heart that is listening. Neither the clergy nor Church law can substitute for a person’s inwardness. All the external rules, the laws, the dogmas were given to us in order to clarify the inner voice and to discern spirits.’
The sacraments, he said, are not a disciplinary instrument, but a help for people at moments on their journey and when life makes them weak. Cardinal Martini said the Church needed to ask whether it was bringing the sacraments to the people who need a new strength.
‘I’m thinking of all the divorced people and couples who have remarried and extended families. The Church maintains the indissolubility of marriage. It is a grace when a marriage and a family succeed. The attitude we take toward extended families will determine whether their children come near the Church.
‘A woman is abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion who is concerned for her and her three children. The second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against, not only the mother is cut off but also the children. If the parents feel external to the Church and do not experience its support, the Church will lose the future generation.’
Cardinal Martini was born on February 15, 1927 and, after education by the Jesuits, entered the Society of Jesus in 1944, being ordained in 1952. He earned two doctorates (and, later in his life, an honorary doctorate from the Russian Academy of Sciences) and engaged in a distinguished academic career, editing scholarly works and writing books on spirituality. He had never been a parish priest.
Appointed archbishop of Milan in 1979, Martini was assigned the title of Cardinal Priest of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere in 1983. The motto he chose for his coat of arms is translated as ‘For the love of truth, dare to choose adverse situations’.
Martini retired in 2002, and lived out his final years in Jerusalem, returning to his studies at the Biblical Institute, and Milan, where he died.