Carlo Maria Martini, former Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, recently described the Roman Catholic Church as being “200 years behind the times.” At age 85, he died Friday, 31 August, in Milan, after serving there as Archbishop for twenty years. (He had retired in 2002, suffering from Parkinson’s Disease.)
Martini, a brilliant biblical scholar, was once seen as a future Pope. Many had hoped he would succeed John Paul II. He was also an outspoken critic of contemporary Catholic leadership and urged his fellow bishops to recognize the institutional church’s errors and launch a program of thoroughgoing structural reform and theological updating, starting with the papal office.
He was a courageous and wonderfully outspoken man. A contemporary Roman Catholic prophet. I met him once, briefly; but he was my hero for many years, especially when, accused of heresy, I tangled with church authorities. He reminded me and encouraged me with the conviction that a Catholic theologian can, and must be, a contemporary thinking believer.
Cardinal Martini gave his last interview to a fellow Jesuit, Fr. Georg Sporschill, at the beginning of August when he knew his death was near.
Martini criticized the way the church far too often addresses contemporary believers with negatives and prohibitions rather than words of encouragement.
Contemporary Catholics lack confidence in the church, he said in the recent interview, because: “Our culture has grown old. Our churches are big and empty. The church bureaucracy rises up, and our religious rites, and the vestments we wear, are pompous.”
Speaking about divorced Catholics, Martini stressed that the church must adopt “a more generous attitude towards divorced persons.” The question, he said, was not whether divorced couples can receive communion, but how the church can help complex family situations.
“The child sex scandals oblige us to undertake a journey of transformation,” Cardinal Martini said. And he stressed “a radical transformation, beginning with the Pope and his bishops.”
A courageous and pastoral bishop indeed. Cardinal Martini was not afraid to speak his mind on issues considered taboo at the Vatican, like priestly celibacy, expanding the role of women in the church, homosexuality, or advocating the use of condoms to combat Aids. In 2008 he criticized the official church’s prohibition of birth control.
Cardinal Martini was well-known and well-liked by Italians. Many got to know him by his frequent contributions to the leading daily newspaper Corriere della Sera, in which for three years he wrote a popular column ‘‘Letters to Cardinal Martini,’’ in which he responded to questions submitted by readers.
His funeral will be on Monday in Milan’s cathedral.
“Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
― T.S. Eliot