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

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

£8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

£55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Pete Doherty: To anyone struggling with addiction, just hang on — for more than ten years I've been powerless, but there's a way out

Pete Doherty
Former Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry and the image she tweeted from Rochester  

Rochester by-election: Forget Emily Thornberry, Labour long since betrayed the working class

Michael Collins
US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines