Italy honours controversial cardinal

Il 31 agosto 2012 è morto Carlo Maria Martini. Un breve ed efficace articolo del Financial Times tratteggia il profilo dell’uomo.



September 3, 2012 6:05 pm

Italy honours controversial cardinal

By Guy Dinmore in Rome and Eric Sylvers in Milan

Carlo Maria Martini, the most liberal among Italian cardinals and once contender for the papacy, was laid to rest on Monday after a national outpouring of emotion.

The cardinal also generated controversy with an interview published after his death in which he criticised the Catholic Church for being “200 years out of date”.

The funeral mass for the former archbishop of Milan, who died on Friday aged 85, drew large crowds in the rain outside the city’s packed gothic cathedral.

Church officials, who took the rare step of keeping the doors open all Saturday night, estimated that some 200,000 people had filed past his coffin to pay their last respects. Mario Monti, prime minister and a practising Catholic, led a government delegation.

For a country that worships its heroes but has felt starved of them in recent years, the Jesuit priest represented openness and simplicity but also a reformist spirit who, while suffering from a rare form of Parkinson’s disease, tilted against what he saw as the Church’s authoritarian dogma.

Never shy of airing liberal views at odds with the Vatican, Martini opined that condoms could be used in certain cases, such as in prevention of Aids infection; that civil unions for gays could be acceptable; and that divorced and remarried Catholics should not be barred from receiving communion.

Such controversy – and his retirement as archbishop in 2002 on announcing his illness – made him unacceptable to conservative prelates advanced by Pope John Paul II. On the pope’s death in 2005 it was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Vatican’s doctrinal guardian, who was quickly elected as the papal successor, becoming Pope Benedict.

The pontiff did not attend the funeral. In a message read out by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, he praised Martini as a man of dialogue and “profound pastoral charity”.

Milan’s Jewish community honoured Martini with a minute’s silence for his work in supporting dialogue between the faiths.

As his disease progressed, Martini could not write by hand and took to using an iPad. His voice was reduced to a whisper. Before he could no longer swallow he instructed doctors not to feed him artificially, a position that the Vatican spokesman said was in keeping with the Church’s teaching.

On August 8 he gave a last interview to a Jesuit priest and Corriere della Sera, a leading newspaper, which was published the day after his death and sent shockwaves through the Catholic establishment.

“The Church is tired, in the Europe of wealth and in America. Our culture has aged, our churches are big, our religious houses empty, the Church bureaucracy is growing and our rites and vestments are pompous.”

Turning to the scandals of child abuse committed by priests and their protection by senior clerics, Martini went on: “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.”

The Church, he said, was 200 years out of date and needed faith, trust and courage to move on.

Following the service in the piazza, Cristina Airoldi, 47. from Milan agreed. “He was the only one in the Church who had charisma and could talk to young people,” she said. “I have three kids and I can see that they have trouble relating to the Church. I know that is because there is nobody like Martini who can speak to them. The Church is tired and old in every sense.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012.

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