Cardinal one of few to query Roman consensus

Tue, Sep 11, 2012, 01:00

RITE AND REASON:One of the last independent-minded bishops in the Catholic Church has died

CARDINAL CARLO Maria Martini, one of the great figures in the Catholic Church during the past five decades, died in Milan on August 31st after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was born on February 15th, 1927, and entered the Society of Jesus in 1944. He was ordained in 1952.

A brilliant teacher and serious academic, he received a doctorate in fundamental theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1958, and a second doctorate at the Pontifical Biblical Institute. This was followed by a fruitful period teaching at the institute, and in 1969, he became its rector. Nine years later he was nominated chancellor of the Pontifical Gregorian University.

In 1979, pope John Paul II appointed him archbishop of Milan, one of the most prominent and historic dioceses in the world. He received a cardinal’s red hat at a consistory in 1983. He had an extraordinarily successful 23 years as archbishop of Milan.

The left-wing mayor of Milan, Giuliano Pisapia, led the tributes. “Difficult times require words of wisdom and hope from great men,” he said. “Carlo Maria Martini illuminated the way for the entire city, not just for part of it. For this reason, today more than ever, Milan mourns its archbishop.”

In his final interview, published in Corriere della Sera after his death, the cardinal called for “radical transformation” of the church, and he challenged many of the entrenched positions that have become the hallmark of the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI. He felt that the contemporary church was “200 years out of date”.

“Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous,” the cardinal said.

“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 supported optional celibacy and argued that women should be ordained deacons. He called for more collegiality in the exercise of leadership in the church and a greater commitment to ecumenism. He championed the use of condoms in certain circumstances, especially where it might prevent the spread of HIV. He was much more sympathetic to the plight of people, especially women, in second relationships. He believed the church should examine what constitutes a family in the 21st century or risk losing even more of its flock.

His death marks the passing of one of the last independent- minded bishops in the Catholic Church. When he retired, he was replaced by Archbishop Dionigi Tettamanzi, a conservative prelate with links to Opus Dei.

Since the 1980s, the Vatican has systematically appointed conservative bishops, even though they are frequently pastorally incompetent, to dioceses where “liberal” bishops have served. Today there is hardly one bishop anywhere who is willing to publicly question the Roman consensus, even though they know, from listening to their people and priests, that the Catholic Church is collapsing.

In this vacuum, associations of priests dedicated to promoting the church of the Second Vatican Council have emerged in Australia, Austria, Britain, France, Ireland and the US. They are courageously asking the same questions raised by prophets such as Cardinal Martini and Brazil’s former archbishop Hélder Câmara. Will the bishops and Rome listen and take action before it is too late?


FR SEÁN McDONAGHis a Columban priest and a member of the leadership team of the Association of Catholic Priests

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