The Italian cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a Jesuit, former Archbishop of Milan and a representative figure of 20th-century Catholic progressivism, died on August 31, 2012, at the age of 85. He had been afflicted for several years with Parkinson’s disease. Retired as of 2002, he spent 6 years in Jerusalem before being forced to return to Italy because of the deterioration of his health.
On the day after his death, the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera published a posthumous interview with the former Archbishop of Milan conducted by a Jesuit confrere on August 8 of this year. In it the prelate described a “tired” Church that was out of step with the times and called to “conversion”. “The Church,” he explained, “must acknowledge its errors and take the radical path of change, starting with the pope and the bishops.” In this final interview with Fr. Georg Sporschill, Cardinal Martini called the Catholic Church to reconsider in particular its approach with regard to divorced and remarried people; he likewise invited the Church to ask itself whether people were still listening to its advice in matters of sexuality. And thus he concluded this final intervention in the form of a testament: “The Church is 200 years behind the times. Why does it not wake up? Are we afraid? Do we have fears instead of having courage?”
A theologian who was audacious to the point of temerity, Cardinal Martini liked to talk about the possibilities for the “development” of Catholic doctrine. Thus, in Autumn 1999, during the Synod for Europe at the Vatican, he had asserted that it was necessary to rethink the primacy of the pope, and he had called for the creation of an organization allowing the bishops to resolve together, that is to say collegially, the problems of the day. In April 2006, in an Italian magazine, the cardinal had described the condom as “the lesser evil” in some cases. He had also taken a favorable view of assisted fertilization and the adoption of frozen embryos by single women. In January 2007 he had intervened once again when the Italian Church declared its opposition to euthanasia and had just refused a religious funeral to a man whose death a physician had hastened at his request. Cardinal Martini had not hesitated then to call the Church to show “more pastoral attention” to this question.
Hence one can only be shocked to see the life of a prelate whose doctrine was so suspect, praised now in exalted language by the Roman authorities, without the least misgiving about his many errors and incessant provocations. Thus Fr. Federico Lombardi, the spokesman of the Vatican, did not hesitate to mention “the precious legacy” of Cardinal Martini, on which one must “reflect seriously when one looks for the paths of the ‘new evangelization’…. In his words, his many writings and his innovative pastoral initiatives, he was able to witness to the faith and to announce it effectively to the men and women of our era.”
The French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran declared irenically that his Italian confrere “was too intelligent to be either progressive or conservative”, because “those are reductive categories”. And in a message read during the funeral in the Cathedral in Milan on September 3, Benedict XVI saluted Cardinal Martini’s “great open-mindedness”. Two days prior to that, in a telegram expressing condolences, the pope had paid homage to the generous service rendered to the Gospel and to the Church by that bishop, whom he described as “wise”.
(Sources: Apic/IMedia – DICI no. 260 dated September 14, 2012)