08Sep 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
the people.

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.

7 Responses

  1. Mary O Vallely

    It is so sad that truth apparently can only be spoken by bishops when they have either retired or are about to expire. This isn’t real courage when they have nothing to lose. Brendan Hoban and the priests of the ACP are speaking out now and I think that is much more admirable.
    There is a lot of game playing, isn’t there, in the official church with its titles and privileges and favours to be had. People not saying what they really think for fear of losing favour with their line manager, be he bishop or Pope. Take away the titles and the privileges and courage might find its way through. This Sunday’s second reading from St James speaks about God having no favourites and warning us not to make distinctions among people. Rather ironic,eh?
    I do hope and pray that many priests/bishops/lay people will find the courage to speak out and more importantly to listen to all voices with respect. I thank God for the ACP’s courage and wisdom in setting up this forum so that we can listen and learn from one another. Bail ó Dhia ar an obair.
    Mary V

  2. Ann Lardeur

    Interestingly, both cardinals were members of religious orders, called from their communities to prominent diocescan positions. One wonders whether not rising through ranks of diocescan clergy gave them a different perspective, and security in a prophetic role.
    By the way the “English Priests Call to Action Group” are having an open meeting on Wednesday 10th October at Heythrop College, London. It would be good if both groups prayed for each other’s success.

  3. Erick

    I hope i won’t misinterpret the message i can read between the lines of Brendan’s article. If i’m wrong then i will be happy to be corrected. I got the impression as i read the above article that Hume and Martini, holy men, loved and served the Church very well, whereas John Paul and Benedict and all so called “conservatists” don’t. If they love anything that is the power, their positions and so on.
    i believe that the members of the different wings would meet together and discuss even the most difficult issues many times. After all who raised Hume and Martini to the rank of cardinals? Hume was raised by Paul VI who was considered conservative especially after publishing Humanea Vitae and Martini was raised by John Paul. So were they not listened to or ignored all together?
    If the opinions of Hume and Martini were not favoured and followed, perhaps their arguments were not strong enough.
    I think we should assume that both Martini and Pope Benedict have good will and love of the Church. St. Ignatius of Loyola says: “Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved” (Spiritual Exercises, 22)

  4. Ger Gleeson.

    I agree with everything Mary O Vallely has stated. Within the past couple of years, two Bishops who had recently retired made the following comments on T.V. One stated that he would have no problem with WOMEN PRIESTS, and the other stated that he would have no problem if MARRIED PRIESTS were allowed within our church.

    In this country we have in the region of seven Diocese’s who are presently without a Bishop. Is it possible that there are no more YES MEN available for Rome to appoint?

  5. John Setright

    There is an excellent editorial in this week’s Tablet on the Martini views….. very balanced and reflective….but those of us on the ” liberal” wing of the Church would say that anyway!

    (Incidentally,I have just finished Brendan Hoban’s latest book which, if not exactly blowing away the cobwebs,at least says we need the duster)

  6. Eddie Finnegan

    I see Rowan Williams has been floating the idea of a President for the Anglican Church in addition to the Ab of Canterbury. Rowan, too, is demob happy so he can say what he likes, just like our own pensioner bishops and ‘cardinales morituri’ (not to be confused with the ‘moribundi’ who live and die by the motto:”Whatever you say, say nothing!”)
    Isn’t the Papacy, too, a bit much for one pair of shoulders? If the Pope is not just Christ’s Vicar – every bishop is that, as Ignatius of Antioch told us a while ago – but God’s Vicar on Earth, shouldn’t the Papacy be a ‘triumviratus’ or, to be more inclusive, a troika, to reflect something of the Trinity? This would allow for a greater ‘continuity’, avoiding the sort of irregular ‘rupture’ of an interregnum. While the Church is not a democracy (perish the thought!) my proposal could be a faint Catholic nod towards representative democracy and small’c’catholicism. My current troika nominees:
    Peter Turkson (West African, specialising in Justice & Peace & the UN)
    Marc Ouellet (N. American+Latin American expertise+he’s not Dolan)
    Christof Schonborn (Intelligent, deep Austrian Catholic roots, with a few scores to settle with Bertone’s Boys and the Curia Sodanites).

    They could be known as Pope Peter, Pope Marc, Pope Christof. For the sentimentalists, the old customs of smoke and mirrors at the Sistine could be retained. “Habemus tres Papas” could be the initial announcement, but subsequent elections would probably all be singular.
    Each pope would have a seven-year term, with an option for a second term if under 75 years. (As soon as the College of voting Cardinals includes 40 women, at least one pope must be female, eligible for a second term if under 82 years.)
    I commend this motion to your Eminences’ House.

  7. Joe O'Leary

    I think we Catholics are in a pathetic posture when we pin our hopes on hero-cardinals such as Hume and Martini. Hume could repeat reams of authoritarian Vaticanspeak without blushing.

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