Peter Popham: Church prefers to gag its critics than listen to them


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The Independent Online

The last testament of one of the towering figures in the Roman Catholic church could not have been clearer: in an interview with Corriere della Sera before he died, Cardinal Carlo Martini, the Archbishop of Milan, spelled out the dangers the church faces: the empty churches, the burgeoning power of the bureaucracy, the face of indifference and intolerance it often shows to those most in need of grace.

To take a single example: "The question of whether divorcees can receive communion should be turned upside down," Martini said. The correct question is, "how can the Church find a way to help with the power of the sacraments those who find themselves in complicated family situations?"

All told it was a bold, trenchant restatement of the liberal Catholic position by a man who would have stood an excellent chance of being elected pope on the death of John Paul II in 2005, had he not had Parkinson's disease. In a church open to dialogue, debate and renewal the last, tough words of this greatly loved and respected churchman would have rung from the rafters of churches all over Italy, as priests searched their souls for an honest response.

Instead ,what happened? Corriere della Sera sat on the interview until the Cardinal was dead, then published it – but only in the print edition. Was that the idea of editor Ferruccio de Bortoli – famous for once standing up to Silvio Berlusconi and getting sacked – or was there a discreet request from on high? When Michael Day tried to find out, de Bortoli told him by email that the decision not to put it online was the newspaper's alone. But three hours later, he mailed back to say that – thanks to The Independent – they had had a rethink. The piece is finally online.

Whatever the reason for the change of heart, it is welcome. Any reporter who has covered the Vatican knows how efficient they can be in burying bad news.

If a little moral pressure from a fellow European newspaper helps to lever things open a crack, we are happy to help out.