Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini: Priest who believed the Catholic church is '200 years out of date'

 

Cardinal Carlo Martini, once considered as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II, was one of the Roman Catholic Church's most influential progressive thinkers, who clearly excited many forward-thinking Catholics. But in equal measure he was viewed as an extremist by more traditional Catholics, in particular the Papacy itself. He nevertheless commanded great respect from both Pope John Paul II and his successor Benedict XVI.

In the latter years of John Paul II's tenure, Martini was frequently mentioned as a contender to succeed him, especially by members of the church's progressive wing. However, under John Paul, the College of Cardinals had become increasingly conservative, and when the Pope died in 2005, Martini, by this time 78 years old, had been suffering from Parkinson's Disease since 2002, and was overlooked by the conclave, who chose the German Cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger, a hard-line defender of the faith.

As Archbishop of Milan, Martini – an accomplished academic, biblical scholar and able to speak 11 languages – dismissed the usual ceremonial trappings as "pompous," choosing a simple clerical collar and suit. He had the popular touch, and was known for his inclusive approach, choosing to visit prisons, hospitals and down-and-outs as well as producing several books a year on social issues and publishing meditations on the Christian life. He drew young people to the Church by presenting a series of forums in which believers, atheists and agnostics met to discuss issues of mutual concern. In Italy, a country often perceived as suffering from institutional corruption, he was regarded by his admirers as a beacon of moral authority.

Catholics lacked confidence in the Church, he explained. "Our culture has grown old, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our religious rites and the vestments we wear are pompous." Although his views and stances often brought him into direct conflict with the Vatican, he never directly criticised John Paul, or the inner circle who eventually ran the papacy for him. He was too subtle for that and remained resolute. Martini never advocated the throwing-out of Catholicism's entire, elaborate rulebook, though his disapproval was clear.

Martini's differences with the Vatican were always diplomatically expressed; he advocated reform on issues such as contraception and the role of women in the Church, which angered traditionalists. He even suggested a third Vatican Council to modernise some central aspects of Roman Catholic dogma; and when in September 2007 the 16th-century Tridentine Mass was reintroduced as an option for Roman Catholic churches, Martini said he would refuse to celebrate it. He did not, however, openly support women priests.

He also expressed notably liberal views on issues relating to health, believing the Church's stance had probably driven away many of the faithful. In 2006 he challenged official church policy by arguing that condom use was justified in some cases to prevent the spread of Hiv/Aids and could "in some situations, be a lesser evil". But he did not suggest, as some claimed, that the Church's continuing (though widely ignored) prohibition on "artificial contraception" be totally abandoned.

Martini also characterised the legalisation of abortion as a "positive" development, inasmuch as it could "reduce or eliminate" illegal abortions. He added, however, that the availability of legal abortion should not be construed as a "licence to kill."

Always looking for ways to increase numbers rather than alienate groups, Martini believed the Church needed to adopt a more generous attitude towards divorced people, otherwise it would lose the allegiance of future generations. The question, he suggested, was not whether divorced couples could receive Holy Communion, but "how the Church can help complex family situations". In 2007, Martini expressed qualified support for a patient's right to die, urging the Vatican to honour the requests of terminally ill patients who ask "in all lucidity" for life-prolonging treatments to be withdrawn.

Born in the small town of Orbassano, near Turin, in 1927, Carlo Maria Martini was the son of Olga and Leonardo, an engineer. Educated at a local Jesuit school, the Istituto Sociale, he joined the Jesuits at the age of 17 and was ordained at 25. Over the next three decades he undertook two doctorates in Rome and embarked on an academic career, becoming rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1969, and of the whole Gregorian University that houses it in 1978.

In 1979, a year after his appointment as Pope, Jean-Paul II appointed Martini Archbishop of Milan, Europe's largest archdiocese. His impact was immediate. Martini retired in 2002 having also served as head of the European Bishops' Conference (1987-93), seeking to try to resolve differences during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia through meetings between the Orthodox Patriarch, the Cardinal Archbishop of Zagreb and representatives of the Muslim communities.

Martini moved to Jerusalem to study for several years before returning to Italy in 2008, spending his final years in a Jesuit retreat in Gallarate near Milan. In an interview published after his death, Martini described the Church as "200 years out of date" and urged the Church to recognise its errors and embark on a radical path of change, adding that in order to conquer the tiredness of the Church a "radical transformation, beginning with the Pope and his bishops" was required.

Carlo Maria Martini, priest, scholar and author: born Orbassano, Italy 15 February 1927; died Gallarate, Varese 31 August 2012.

News
University Edible Garden, Leeds – a sustainable garden in the centre of the university, passers-by can help themselves to the home-grown produce
newsFrom a former custard factory to a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
i100
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
media
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz