Leading article: A final warning that the Pope ignores at his peril

 

Share

If Pope Benedict does attend the funeral in Milan of Cardinal Martini, whose body, robed and mitred, crosier at his side, was laid out for the veneration of the faithful at the weekend, it will surely be with mixed feelings.

The danger of not attending the last obsequies of such a high-ranking prince of the Church is that it might appear cowardly, tantamount to a public admission that a rift had grown up between them. But to attend will take real nerves, and humility, for Carlo Maria Martini's parting shot was a devastating and – coming from a cardinal – an almost unprecedented attack on the Catholic Church's leadership, in effect on the Pope himself, in the form of a final interview with an Italian newspaper.

The Cardinal pulled no punches in his indictment of the contemporary Church, describing it as moribund and out of touch. It was 200 years behind the times on numerous social issues, he said, which was why churches built to hold great congregations now served huddles. By failing to accommodate itself to new kinds of patterns of family life, he added, the Church risked throwing away contact with the next generation. "Why don't we rouse ourselves?" he concluded. "Are we afraid?"

The answer to that question from beyond the grave, is, alas, yes. The rest of the Catholic hierarchy is afraid of its authoritarian leader, and seems unwilling even to question, let alone oppose, his hard-line views on contraception, homosexual relationships, the remarriage of divorced people in church, the admission of women to the priesthood, the abolition of clerical celibacy and a lot of other issues.

This culture of silence is not surprising. A policy of replacing liberal bishops and cardinals with conservatives of the same stamp as the Pope, which has been in place since the late 1970s, when Benedict's predecessor and hero, Karol Wojtyla, became Pope John Paul II, has cleansed the Church's inner sanctum of questioning minds. Martini's promotion to Archbishop of Milan in 1979 came just before the clampdown got going. In other words, we may have heard the last of the more open-minded Catholic leaders, and we may be wrong if we imagine that the Cardinal's call for modernisation will restart a debate inside the Church on topics that the Pope regards as off-limits.

To the Pope's conservative allies, this can only be good: the less discussion the better. They tend to see all or most of the changes that took place in the Church since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s as regrettable, and prize obedience as a virtue. Their allies, in a sense, are those militant atheists who draw satisfaction from the sight of the Catholic Church, and all the other churches, rendering itself ridiculous in the eyes of the modern world by tying itself up in the moth-eaten brocade of worn-out dogmas.

Most of the rest of us will feel regretful that the doors of the papal apartments remain so tightly closed to voices like that of the Cardinal – if only because what he said in his interview ought to have been blindingly obvious.

As Archbishop of Milan, the city from which the Emperor Constantine in 317 issued the historic edict proclaiming toleration for the Christian religion, Martini was keenly aware of the importance of maintaining the Church's association with the broad currents of social and intellectual life in Europe – a partnership that lasted the best part of two millennia but which is dwindling to nothing. His message was about the need to re-engage before it's too late. Perhaps it already is too late, and the Church and Europe are destined to go their entirely separate ways, inhabiting the same space but not involved in any kind of conversation, in which case both sides will be impoverished – the Church, perhaps, more than the world around it, as the Cardinal appeared to recognise.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (ASP.NET, F#, SQL, MVC, Bootstrap, JavaScript)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Payment Developer (Swift, FOX, Vigil, .NET, SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Payment Dev...

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Barclays are reducing the number of staff in their branches - and giving those remain ipads  

A bag? In the bagging area? Whatever next?

Andrew Martin
Pablo Zabaleta celebrates Argentina's World Cup semi-final penalty shootout win over the Netherlands.  

Who is the winner of this World Cup? Twitter

Dom Joly
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

The Open 2014

Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?