02Sep Cardinal Martini is Dead

The former archbishop of Milan and papal candidate Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini said the Catholic Church as “200 years out of date” in his final interview before his death, published today.

Cardinal Martini, once favoured by Vatican progressives to succeed Pope John Paul II and a prominent voice in the church until his death at the age of 85 yesterday, gave a scathing portrayal of a pompous and bureaucratic church failing to move with the times.

“Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous,” he said in the interview published in Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

“The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops. The paedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation,” he said in the interview.

“The Church is tired… our prayer rooms are empty.”

In the last decade the Church has been accused of failing to fully address a series of child abuse scandals which have undermined its status as a moral arbiter, though it has paid many millions in compensation settlements worldwide.

Cardinal Martini, famous for comments that the use of condoms could be acceptable in some cases, told interviewers the Church should open up to new kinds of families or risk losing its flock.

“A woman is abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion to look after her and her children. A second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against, not just the mother will be cut off but also her children.”

In this way “the Church loses the future generation”, he said in the interview, made a fortnight before he died. The Vatican opposes divorce and forbids contraception in favour of fidelity within marriage and abstinence without.

A liberal voice in the church, Cardinal Martini’s chances of becoming pope were damaged when he revealed he was suffering from a rare form of Parkinson’s disease and he retired in 2002.

Pope John Paul II was instead succeeded in 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI, a hero of Catholic conservatives who is known by such critical epithets as “God’s rottweiler” because of his stern stand on theological issues.

Cardinal Martini’s final message to Pope Benedict was to begin a shake up of the Catholic church without delay.

“The church is 200 years out of date. Why don’t we rouse ourselves? Are we afraid?”

Martini was much loved and thousands paid their respects at his coffin in Milan cathedral today.


13 Responses

  1. Eddie Finnegan

    Indeed, there goes another of the best popes we never had. (The current archbishop of Milan, Angelo Scola, would seem to have more conservative credentials for a move south.)
    I hope they’ve founded the Association of Cheated Popes (ACP!) in the Celestial Realms where they can meet from time to time over a good meal and a few bottles of good wine, not just red martini, to discuss how things could have been done differently back in the day.
    And I hope that among their number will be the man quoted in this week’s Tablet, addressing his priests at his installation Mass thirty years ago:
    “As our lives and ministries are mingled together
    through the breaking of the Bread and the blessing
    of the Cup, I hope that long before my name falls
    from the eucharistic prayer in the silence of death
    you will know well who I am. You will know because we
    will work and play together, feast and pray together,
    mourn and rejoice together, despair and hope together,
    dispute and be reconciled together. You will know me
    as a friend, fellow priest, and bishop. You will know
    also that I love you. For I am Joseph, your brother!”
    – Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, Chicago (1928-1996)

    Of course, maybe all bishops talk to their priests like that all the time. I wouldn’t know.

  2. Malcolm R

    It is ironic that the posting for Cardinal Martini’s announcement is beneath the heading ‘Whited Sepulchres’
    Catholics lacked confidence in the Church, he said.
    “Our culture has grown old, our churches are big and empty, and the church bureaucracy rises up (increases), our religious rites, and the vestments(attire) we wear are pompous,” he said
    The advice he leaves behind to conquer the ‘tiredness’ of the Church was a “radical transformation, beginning with the Pope and his bishops.
    ACP needs look no further for an agenda for the AGM!.
    To implement these ideas we could wait for Vat III, or each Catholic could decide to follow her or his own conscience, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to begin the process of renewal today
    ‘Catholics who have lacked confidence in the Church’ may applaud this move and return to fill the empty seats, as long as they are not confronted with pompus religious rites with convoluted language, and pompous clerical attire.
    Cardinal Martini has given the challenge. How will we respond?

  3. LP

    There is a long and superbly written obituary in The Times (of London) this morning, 3 September.

  4. Pól Ó Duibhir

    And to think he might have been Pope.
    But no way, with a packed deck of Card(inal)s.
    He might well have nicked his comment on clerical garb from Tony Flannery’s pre IEC challenge. Which, of course, was not taken up. Instead, there was clearly a shopping spree for vestments.

  5. Sean O'Conaill

    The whole of this last interview with Cardinal Martini is worth reading. Here is one translation posted to me. Perhaps there is a better?


    Father Georg Sporschill, a fellow Jesuit who interviewed him for Night Conversations in Jerusalem , and Federica Radice met Cardinal Martini on August 8: “A sort of spiritual testament. Cardinal Martini read and approved the text. ”

    How do you see the situation of 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 burden of care. We stand there like the rich young man who went away sad when Jesus called him to make him his disciple. I know that we can not leave it all with ease. But at least we can try to be people who are free and closer to our neighbours. As were Bishop Romero and the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador. Where are our heroes to inspire us? For no reason, should we restrict them within the constraints of the institution ‘

    Who can help the Church today?

    “Father Karl Rahner willingly used the image of the embers hidden under ashes. I see in the Church today is so much ash over the coals that often a sense of helplessness comes over me.

    Can you remove the ash from the fire so as to revive the flame of love? For first we have to look for this fire. Where are the individuals full of generosity like the Good Samaritan? Who has faith like the Roman centurion? Who are enthusiastic as John the Baptist? Who dare to be new as Paul? Who are as faithful as Mary Magdalene?

    I advise the Pope and the bishops to seek twelve people who work outside the box to point the way.

    Men that are close to the poor and are surrounded by young and that experience things in a new way . We need the comparison with men who are passionate so that the spirit can spread everywhere. ”

    What tools are recommended to fight against fatigue of the Church?
    “I recommend three very strongly.

    The first is conversion. The Church must recognize her mistakes and must 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. These are important for everyone and sometimes maybe they are too important. 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?

    The second is the Word of God

    The Second Vatican Council returned the Bible to Catholics. (…) Only those who feels in their heart that Word may be part of those who help the renewal of Church and will answer personal questions with a correct choice. The Word of God is simple and looks like a heart that listens companionably (…). Neither the clergy nor the Church law can replace the interiority of man. All the external rules, laws, dogmas are data given to clarify the inner voice and the discernment of spirits.

    What are the sacraments?

    These are the third instrument of healing.
    The sacraments are not a tool for discipline, but an aid to men in the moments of their journey and weaknesses of life. We bring the sacraments to the people that need a new power? I think of all the divorced and remarried couples who create families. These need a special protection. The Church supports the indissolubility of marriage. It is a grace when a marriage and a family succeed (…).

    The attitude we take toward extended families will determine the approach to the Church of the next generation of children. A woman was abandoned by her husband and finds a new partner that takes care of her and her three children. The second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against, not only the mother is cut off but also his children. If parents feel outside the Church or do not feel the support, the Church will lose the next generation. Before Communion we pray: “Lord I am not worthy …” We know we are not worthy (…). Love is grace. Love is a gift. The question of whether the divorced can go to Communion should be reversed. How can the Church get to help with the power of the sacraments those who have complex family situations? ”

    What do you do personally?
    The Church has been left behind for 200 years. Why does she not shake? What are we afraid of? Fear instead of courage? However, the faith is the foundation of the Church. The faith, confidence, courage. I am old and sick, and I depend on the help of others. The good people around me make me feel the love. This love is stronger than the feeling of distrust that I sometimes perceive in the Church in Europe. Only love conquers fatigue. God is Love. I still have a question for you: what can you do for the Church?

  6. Ann Lardeur

    Let us pray he has more influence on the papacy from his heavenly address than he had from his own See. On vestments etc. put “Cost of looking good in the magic kingdom. Huguccio della Chiesa” into search engine. Laugh – then cry!

  7. Ger Gleeson.

    If Cardinal Martini had been elected Pope, then there would be no need for the ACP. The Cardinal and the ACP’S objectives are the same. “I still have a question for you, what can you do for the Church”. Think about it.

  8. Paddy Ferry

    Sean,thank you for letting us see the whole of the interview. For those of us now in near complete despair with the current sorry state of our beloved Church it is some consolation to know that someone of Cardinal Martini’s calibre was basically thinking like the rest of us.

  9. Sean O'Conaill

    I was especially struck by two references in the interview.
    First, the cardinal’s comparison of the church today with ‘the rich young man who went away sad’.
    This is a very serious indictment of the current magisterium. We see its keenest point in the failure of the papacy to investigate honestly the universal failure of Catholic bishops to prioritise the safety of children in the church until the whole world became aware that they were not doing so. It is surely fear of further litigation (which could oblige the universal church to auction the Vatican) that prevents the papacy from launching an honest investigation of its greatest moral failure since the Inquisition. Fear of financial bankruptcy was precisely what inhibited the sad young man.
    Second, the reference to Karl Rahner’s image of ’embers hidden under ashes’. Ashes are also a strong Catholic symbol of repentance. If the magisterium would lift the ashes from the fire and wear them, it would reveal also the embers waiting to become the fervent fire of a church in renewal. Repentance in its literal sense of ‘rethinking’ is precisely how the magisterium needs to approach the synod on the ‘New Evangelisation’ and the ‘Year of Faith’ — especially in relation to critical issues of justice, governance and sexuality within the church.
    If that does not happen, Cardinal Martini’s warning will become a prophetic underlining of another opportunity lost, and the embers will be covered by another load of ash.
    That doesn’t mean those embers will die, however. It has always been inspired individuals like Francis Of Assisi who were best at fanning embers – and we often forget that Francis refused even the honour of ordination within the church.

  10. Eddie Finnegan

    But Ger, does it matter any longer which cardinal becomes pope? “The Prisoner of the Vatican” really only became a real prisoner of the Vatican/Curia after 1929, not in the fifty years before. “The bureaucracy of the Church climbs higher”: as it has been doing for the best part of a century. Roncalli, old and ill, tried to make a small dent in it in 1961-62. The Curia were knocked off their stride, but not off their pedestals, till the mid-60s. Montini, ‘Hamlet-like’, dithered while the Curia recovered. Between them and JPII they emasculated the Council into an impotence of synods, and the world’s bishops played along just like the comfortable muddle-management of any multi-national usually do.
    It would take a couple of generations and a couple of progressive popes to undo the Curia’s spider’s web. But where would you find them? Wojtyla and his co-adjutor Ratzinger have had well over a generation between them. They’ve had other fish to fry, besides being the main authors by omission of what Martini was bemoaning.
    Any wonder Benedict damned him with faint praise from Castel Gandolfo and sent the curial types off to Milan yesterday to bury, not praise him? (Benedict was busy entertaining Vincent Twomey and his fellow ‘Ratzinger Schulerkreis’ luminaries.)
    I guess even if the Milanesi, who once came out to shout “Let Ambrose be Bishop!”, had improvised a well planned spontaneous spur-of-the-moment “Santo Subito!” manifestazione in front of the Duomo yesterday, they’d be quietly ignored. Already it’s being put about by the editor of the Italian bishops’ L’Avvenire paper that other media are distorting the ramblings of a dying man in an “anti-ecclesiastical way”.

  11. Ger Gleeson.

    Eddie, you frighten the life out of me. Are you really saying that there is no hope?

  12. Mary Burke

    Eddie, you are so right about the impotence of synods. What happens there is a travesty of consultation and a travesty of synodal government. The conclusions of the October synod on the New Evangelisation are most likely already being circulated before the delegates even assemble.

  13. Chris McDonnell

    From my posting of September 4th in relation to Cardinal Martini’s last interview:
    Thomas Merton in a letter to Czeslaw Milosz, the Polish poet and Nobel prize winner, wrote this in 1968. ‘You can say absolutely nothing about the Church that will shock me. If I stay with the Church it is out of a disillusioned love, and with a realization that I myself could not be happy outside, though I have no guarantee of being happy inside either. In effect, my ‘happiness’ does not depend on any institution or any establishment. As for you, you are part of my ‘Church’ of friends who are in many ways more important to me than the institution…’ For my full response see comments box for September 4th