Martini and Hume speak from beyond the grave
Basil Hume and Carlo Martini were good friends. Hume was the Cardinal
archbishop of Westminister and Martini was the Cardinal archbishop of Milan.
Both were on the ‘progressive’ wing of the Catholic Church, both lamented
the swerve back to the past under the pontificate of Pope John Paul II and
both were uneasy about the power of the curial officials at the Vatican.
Hume and Martini visited each other and no doubt discussed what was
happening to the Church they both loved and their growing isolation as more
and more bishops from the ‘conservative’ wing of the Church were appointed.
No doubt they felt frustrated and wondered what they could actually say in a
Church that would have preferred them to keep their silence.
Over the years they made statements or commented on events or responded to
questions and while they could never be accused of disloyalty to Church or
to Pope it was possible to read between the lines their unhappiness over the
drift of the Church. It was noticeable too that some of Martini’s more
controversial statements were issued after his London visits to visit Hume.
Both are now dead, Martini dying last week.
What is remarkable is that Hume and Martini have, in a sense, both spoken
from the grave. The symmetry between their after-death speeches prompts the
question as to whether there was an agreement between them to give voice to
their opinions with a clarity and a precision that neither seemed prepared
to countenance while they were alive.
What might have appeared to be disloyal and divisive while they were alive
has given huge authority and purpose and new hope to those who believe that
the Catholic Church needs to respond to today’s world rather than slink back
to the nineteenth century. The testimony of two profound thinkers, holy men
and two servants of the Church – men who were long regarded as ‘papibile¹
(suitable candidates for pope) – has given new hope to a Church drifting
back to the past.
So what did the voices from the grave actually say?
Martini said the following: The Church has been left behind for 200 years.
What are we afraid of? The Church must recognize her mistakes and must
follow a path of radical change, starting with the Pope and the bishops. 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
accumulates, our rituals and our clothes are pompous. The sacraments are not
a tool for discipline, but an aid to people in the moments of their journey
and weaknesses of life. The question of whether the divorced can go to
Communion should be reversed. Questions on sexuality and all issues
involving the body (need to be looked at). I advise the Pope and the
bishops to seek twelve people who work outside the box to point the way.
Hume, in a video, played after he died, said he was concerned about how the
authority of the local Church was being ignored by Rome, the way theologians
and thinkers were being investigated, the effort to exclude from the
faith-community those who ‘dissent’¹, how bishops were being appointed, the
need for the principle of ‘collegiality’ to be upheld and finally he called
on Pope John Paul to meet with the heads of bishops’ conferences around the
world every two years and to listen to what they were saying.
This testimony, albeit from the grave, of two giants of the modern Church
gives the lie to the oft repeated opinion that there is only one view, that
loyalty demands assent to that view and that discussion and debate confuse
Twenty years ago, looking at the situation in the Catholic Church, Martini
had said: ‘This is 1993, but some Catholics are still mentally in 1963, some
in 1940 and some even in the last century. It¹s inevitable that there will
be a clash of mentalities¹. In other words debate and discussion are
important, inevitable, necessary, if the Church is to respond to the
challenges of the day, as the reforms of the Second Vatican Council
intended. And those who attempt to close down debate are doing a grave
disservice to the Church and to the Gospel.
Martini uses an image he took from the great theologian Karl Rahner of
‘embers under the ashes’. We need, Martini argued, to remove the ash from
the fire so as to revive the flame of love. He saw so much ash over the
coals that often a sense of helplessness came over him. But, he asks, what
are we afraid of? We need faith, confidence, courage.
Martini’s ringing endorsement of the Church envisaged by the great Council
has caused a great stir around the world, mainly because it runs counter to
the received wisdom of the Church now, the una voce approach. It echoes
Hume¹s voice from the grave and reminds us again that here were men of
substance, authority, position and holiness who were prepared to debate
issues like clerical celibacy, birth control, homosexuality and who
recognised the death by a thousand cuts of the insights of the Council. What
a loss that neither became Pope.
It would have been better, of course, if they had found their voices
earlier, if they had placed their authority full square behind a very
different model of Church. Their silence and the continuing silence of
others like them contributes effectively to an acceptance of the official
position that there are ‘authentic’ Catholics and then there’s the rest of
us. But at least no one is in any doubt of their concerns for the Church
they loved and served so well.
The hope would be that the voices from the grave of Carlo Martini and Basil
Hume would give a voice to Catholics, to priests and to bishops who can see
what’s happening but who struggle for the freedom to speak the truth as they
see it and know it.
Some of them will gather in the Clayton Hotel in Galway on Saturday, October
6th from 10am to 4pm to avail of an opportunity to find that voice. It¹s
open to all Catholics and it¹s free. Why not join us? Why? Because your
Church needs you.