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The last testament of the Pope who never was

2012 September 14

I did not actually read the deathbed interview given by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini two weeks before he died until after I had seen the gloss which conservative Roman Catholics tried to put upon it. Do not believe media accounts, the reactionaries said – in what proved to be a dextrous display of revisionist mental gymnastics – the cardinal was calling for a religious revival, not for the abolition of unpopular church teachings.

But go to the text and you see something very much what you might have expected from the man who was the guardian of a more open kind of orthodoxy for the past 30 years – and who was distinguished by his ability to communicate the message of the gospel to doubters and those who were far from faith. Unlike much of the hierarchy he was a man who was not afraid of dialogue.

What was a surprise was how candid, and indeed withering, was his last spiritual testament.  “The Church is 200 years behind the times,” he said. It is old, tired, bureaucratic, with liturgies and vestments which are pompous. Its wealth is as heavy a burden as was that of the rich young man who went sadly away . It needs a “radical transformation beginning with the Pope and his bishops.” The paedophilia scandals oblige it to undertake a path of conversion. It needs to see the sacraments not as “an instrument to discipline people but to help them on their journey of life and during their weaker moments”. Unless the church “adopts a more generous attitude towards divorced persons, it will lose the allegiance of future generations,” he said.

No wonder that The Tablet called it “a sweeping indictment of the last two papacies” and saw the interview as “an agenda for a papacy that never was, but might have been”. It was “a manifesto for the next conclave” from beyond the grave. No wonder, too, that the Vatican media ignored the interview; the in-house newspaper L’Osservatore Romano didn’t even mention it. The degree of official concern in Rome was clear from the fact that neither Pope Benedict nor his number two, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, attended the cardinal’s funeral. The Pope didn’t dare mention the late cardinal during his Sunday Angelus prayer in St. Peter’s Square.

Equally revealing was the language the Pope used in an address the day before Cardinal Martini’s death in which he suggested that those who disagree with Catholic teachings should leave the church. “Judas,” the Pope said, “could have left, as many of the disciples did; indeed, he would have left if he were honest. Instead he remained with Jesus. He did not remain because of faith, or because of love, but with the secret intention of taking vengeance on the Master.”

Note not just the extremity of branding those who dare to demand dialogue on church teaching as Judases, but also how he chose to refer to Jesus as “the Master”. This is the language of power and control. By contrast a close friend of Cardinal Martini described his testamentary interview as “an act of love towards the Church”. The 200,000 people who filed past the cardinal’s body would appear to agree.

Among Cardinal Martini’s final recommendations was that the Pope and the bishops should find “twelve unconventional people to take on leadership roles”. They should be “those who are close to the poor” or “who can galvanise young people by being willing to try new approaches”. Those who are ratchetting the church further and further to the right are unlikely to embrace that notion. “Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt,” said Reinhold Niebuhr.  A young Martini in the church today would not be made a bishop let alone a cardinal.

The Church Times

2 Responses
  1. Mary Anstey permalink
    September 16, 2012

    With regard to dialogue:
    The following is from an article in Origins Vol 13 1984:
    ‘.only after regular familial discussion can the notion of the good spring into the soul like light springing from a small spark (Plato 7th letter) . This constant ‘familial discussion ‘ within the Church must build up the community conscience-those who try to express their word in the teaching office. as well as those who wish to learn that word from within themselves.’
    Who wrote it? Josef Ratzinger…………may be he should be reminded of this!

  2. Ted Millichap permalink
    September 17, 2012

    Sadly, Mary, there are many examples where XVI has show himself distinctly at odds with the work and words of Joseph Ratzinger. JR was the perito who drew up many of the documents of Vatican II which HH Pope Benedict has told us contained many flaws. Professor JR spoke of open dialogue between theologians, whereas HH Pope Benedict has silenced many theologians. Joseph Ratzinger advised HH Pope John Paul II to institute the guideline that all Bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, should be ‘allowed’ to retire at age 75. HH Pope Benedict is now 85.

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