Favourite for papacy in talks with Carey: Liberal Catholics back Martini

THE Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, yesterday met the man many Catholics hope will be the next Pope. Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, Archbishop of Milan, is spending three days with Dr Carey on a personal visit.

He preached at Westminster Cathedral before travelling to Canterbury for evensong. He will preach in the cathedral there this morning.

Cardinal Martini has a formidable reputation for scholarship. A Jesuit, he speaks 11 languages and is the author of numerous books.

He combines shrewdness, elegance and authority with his learning. 'You realise at once that you are in the presence of a prince of the church,' says one admirer. 'He is sophisticated and very cool. He could easily have been a papal diplomat abroad. He is one of the few men in the Italian church who speaks in ordinary language, but eloquently, to the people.'

The cardinal has demonstrated enough liberalism to have been lionised by Catholic commentators dismayed by the attitudes of the present pontiff. Could he become the next pope, as so many believe?

In some ways he epitomises the generation of churchmen which for so long conferred on Italy's Christian Democrats the aura of holiness that helped to keep it in power, except that in his case he parted company with that self-enriching regime some time before it was fashionable to do so.

He spoke out in 1986, at the height of the boom, when the Socialist prime minister, Bettino Craxi, was proclaiming a 'new Italy' run by himself and his Christian Democrat allies. In a pastoral letter that year, the cardinal called for an end to the 'cycle of degradation' in Italian public life.

Whether such rectitude will help Cardinal Martini to become Pope is open to question. A Vatican saying has it that 'He who enters the conclave as pope leaves a cardinal' - or, as a bookmaker would say, the favourite never wins.

The chief problem for Cardinal Martini is that while he has been in Milan, the politics of the Vatican have changed. It is not just that liberal inquiry and the questioning of doctrine are no longer prized. The College of Cardinals has been transformed, at least 80 of its 100 or so eligible members having been selected by John Paul II. They are cast in his own image of tradition, timeless authority and all the tendencies in Catholicism that remain unembarrassed by relics, prophecies and miracles.

The college traditionally may move in mysterious ways, but few would expect this particular collection of cardinals to choose a liberal.

Cardinal Martini's visit to the Archbishop of Canterbury, with its overtones of ecumenical fellow-feeling, is unlikely to win friends in such quarters. He already has enemies: Opus Dei, a powerful and secretive sect within the church, dislikes him, and he is openly at odds with Communion and Liberation, a right-wing Italian Catholic revival movement.

Then there is the matter of charisma. John Paul II was elected at a turning point in world affairs, and proved to be the man for the hour. For the Vatican, the confrontation with communism had ranked with the early persecutions, the contest with the Holy Roman Emperors, the Reformation and the French Revolution as a great historic test for the church. Thus to preside over the collapse of communism was a triumph of a kind granted to few popes in history.

It will be a very hard act to follow, and many believe that only a vigorous, telegenic evangelist can meet that challenge. Cardinal Martini, the refined biblical scholar, the Piedmontese bourgeois, the thoughtful observer of political complexities is clearly not cut from that clerical cloth. That he is already 67 years old (the Pope is 74) hardly helps his case.

Despite all the rigid certainty of the present pontificate, however, the College of Cardinals, when it eventually meets to choose the next pope, will have to consider one great question not now being addressed: the Catholic Church may thrive in Africa, Asia and Latin America, but it has manifestly lost the battle against materialism and the proliferation of secular beliefs in the Western democracies.

John Paul II does not much care about dissenting, educated Catholics in America or northern Europe. Yet even in Poland the church has found it easier to defy communism than defeat consumerism. Empty churches and declining birth rate in Italy itself speak volumes.

Can the Catholic Church ever reverse such a historic change? It could be argued that the only method is a change of course, and such a change May just favour Cardinal Martini. The Vatican, it used confidently to be said, thinks only in millennia. The cardinal may be reflecting that the next millennium is only six years away.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea