Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Voice Cries in the Wilderness

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, retired Archbishop of Milan, died this past week at age 85.   Martini, a Jesuit, was a noted biblical scholar who held two doctorates from Roman Universities—the Doctorate in Systematic Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University and the Doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Biblical Institute.  He was to serve as the Chancellor of the Gregorian University and as the Rector Magnificus of the Biblical Institute at points later in his life.  John Paul II named him Archbishop of Milan in 1979—Martini had not previously served as a bishop—and in 1983 he was named to the College of Cardinals.  An impeccable scholar (he was, after all, a Jesuit), he often advanced ideas that challenged more narrow Catholic teaching on such issues as the use of condoms to prevent transmission of HIV-AIDS, admitting divorced and remarried to the sacraments, and the right of the terminally ill to refuse treatment.   He advocated the admission of women to the Diaconate.  A 2007 talk that he gave was interpreted by many commentators as undermining Pope Benedict XVI’s efforts to insist that Catholic legislators oppose civil recognition for same-sex unions.  He was particularly outspoken in his criticisms of John Paul II and Benedict XVI for not taking the collegiality of bishops—defined at Vatican II as the right and duty of the bishops to share with the Pope in the governance of the Church—seriously.  Despite his regular criticisms of Vatican policy and teaching he was never challenged by those further up the ladder—which, of course, would be only the Pope himself.  Pope John Paul II did, however, accept his resignation immediately upon his 75th birthday.  Like the American Cardinal McCarrick—another papal critic—Martini was not invited to stay on in his diocese a few extra years after the mandatory age for submitting retirement.  Nevertheless, at the time of the 2005 conclave upon the death of John Paul II, Martini was still eligible to participate in the conclave and was initially a strong candidate to succeed John Paul. (According to some sources he received more ballots in the first round than did Cardinal Ratzinger who would eventually be elected.) Martini, like John Paul II, suffered from Parkinson’s disease and the prospect of another pope who was as physically disabled as had been John Paul in his final years was daunting.  In any event the coalition of progressive cardinals who were trying to prevent the election of Joseph Ratzinger soon fell apart in the face of the inevitable.   (By the way, I think the election of Benedict, while he has been somewhat of a “Jimmy Carter Pope,” will prove to have been beneficial in the long-term picture, but I will have to do an entry on that someday.)  In his retirement, Martini moved to Jerusalem for several years to continue his research, teaching and writing on scripture, and then returned to live in a Jesuit fraternity in northern Italy.  Less than two weeks ago he granted a final interview to be released after his death which was a final blast against the restorationism that has marked the Church during the reigns of the current and previous Popes.  According to Reuters, Martini in claiming that the Church was “200 years behind the times,” declared "Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous."  (Of course I have been saying this in the year and a half I have been doing this blog and does anyone listen to me?  No!  But then I have neither the prestige of a Cardinal nor the scholarly integrity of a Jesuit, so I gladly accede: YOU GO, CARLO!).  I suspect that Pope Benedict was very sincere in his prayers for the Cardinal and, as a scholar himself, regrets the loss of a critical but perceptive voice in the Church.  On the other hand, I am sure that many a curial head lies more easily on the pillow at night knowing that one more person who sees through the charade of their pompous but inane domination has left the stage.  Requiem Aeternum Dona Ei, Domine.     

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