Saturday, June 07, 2008

Martini calls for Church reform

Web Editor's Note: Translation from the Spanish by Phoebe, formerly known as Rebel Girl.

by Juan G. Bedoya
El País

"The Church must have the courage to reform itself." This is the main idea of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (Turin, 1927), one of the great contemporary church leaders. With praise for the Protestant reformer Martin Luther, the Cardinal asks the Catholic Church to consider the possibility of ordaining viri probati (married men, but of proven faith), and women. It also calls for an encyclical to end the prohibitions of Humanae Vitae, issued by Paul VI in 1968 with severe censorship in matters of sex.

Cardinal Martini has been rector of the Gregorian University of Rome, archbishop of the largest diocese in the world (Milan) and papabile. He is a Jesuit, has published books, written for newspapers and debated with intellectuals. At the Synod of European Bishops in 1999, he called for the convocation of a new council to finalize the reforms put on the back burner by the Second Vatican Council, held in Rome between 1962 and 1965. Now he is back in the news because his book, Jerusalemer Nachtgespräche (Nocturnal Talks in Jerusalem), has been published in Germany (by the Herder publishing house) -- the spiritual testament of a great thinker. Georg Sporschill, also a Jesuit, is co-author.

Without beating around the bush, what Martini demands of the Vatican is the courage to reform and concrete changes, for example, in the politics of sex -- an issue that always triggers anger and nerves in the popes since they are unmarried.

Celibacy, Martini argues, should be a vocation because "perhaps not everyone has the charism." He hopes, moreover, for authorization of the use of condoms. And he is not afraid to argue against the priesthood being denied to women because "to entrust ever more parishes to one pastor or import priests from abroad is not a solution." He reminds the Vatican that there were deaconesses in the New Testament.

Several European newspapers have already echoed the publication Jerusalemer Nachtgespräche, stressing the Cardinal's exhortation not to depart from the Second Vatican Council and not to be afraid to "confront young people."

Precisely, about sex among young people, Martini asks them not to waste relationships and emotions, learning to save what is best for marriage. And he breaks the taboos of Paul VI, Pope John Paul II and the current pope, Joseph Ratzinger. He says: "Unfortunately, the encyclical Humanae Vitae has had negative consequences. Paul VI consciously avoided creating a problem for the conciliar fathers. He wanted to take responsibility for deciding about contraceptives. This solitude in the decision-making has not been, over the long term, a positive premise for dealing with issues of sexuality and the family "

Cardinal calls for a "fresh look" at the issue, forty years after the council. Whoever heads the Church today can "indicate a way better than that proposed by Humanae Vitae," he says.

On homosexuality, the cardinal says with subtlety: "Among my acquaintances there are homosexual couples, very respected and social men and women. I have never been asked, nor would it have occurred to me, to condemn them."

Martini exhibits his whole personality in this book, a boundless intellectual curiosity, to the point of admitting that when he was bishop he asked God: "Why don't You offer us better ideas? Why do You not make us stronger in love and more courageous to face current problems? Why do we have so few priests?"

Today, retired and sick, he has just left Jerusalem, where he lived and devoted himself to studying sacred texts, to be treated by doctors in Italy, and he limits himself to "asking God" not to abandon him.

In addition to praising Luther, Cardinal Martini reveals doubts about faith, reminiscent of Teresa of Calcutta. He also speaks of the risks that a bishop has to incur, referring to his trip to a prison to talk with militants of the terrorist group Red Brigades. "I listened and prayed for them and even baptized two twin children of terrorist parents, born during a trial," he reports.

"I've had problems with God," he confesses at one time. It was because he could not understand "why He made His Son suffer on the cross." He added: "Even when I was bishop there were times when I could not look at a crucifix because I was tormented by doubt." Nor was he able to accept death. "Could God not have saved men after the Christ?" Later he understood. "Without death, we would not be delivered up to God. We would keep emergency exits open. But no. We must surrender hope itself to God and believe in Him."

Life is perceived differently from Jerusalem, especially the paraphernalia of Rome. Martini recounts: "There was a time when I dreamed of a church in poverty and humility, one that does not depend on the powers of this world. A church that gives space to people who think outside the box. A church that transmits courage and worth, especially to those who feel belittled or like sinners. A young Church. Today I no longer have those dreams. After 75 years I have decided to pray for the Church. "


Faithful Catholic said...

This is great news that Martini is deciding to speak so publicly about these issues.

Hugh said...

Martini is not only one of the last lions left in the hierarchy but one of its last real leaders. In a swelling sea of "yes men" and bishops who are more branch managers, Cardinal Martini is a real "pontiff" or bridge builder. I say that not simply because I agree with him, but he is one of the very few at the top bold enough to open discussion on topics that continue to divide us and drive people away from the Church. We have our share of intellectuals in high places, Pope Benedict pre eminent among them, but very few thinkers. The Pope has subordinated his agile mind to his iron will and resorts more to anathemas than dialogue. Martini has long embodied the best of the spirit of Vatican II. His tenure as Archbishop of Milan gained great respect form people of all ideological stripes, in a city noted more for hard nosed commerce and left wing politics than piety. Sadly he was replaced by a Vatican right wing aparatchik. Martini remains a powerful and lonely voice true to the Council's direction. So many like Papa Ratzinger and the herd of right wing clones in the episcopacy have thrown the Barque of Peter into reverse. When the likes of Cardinal Martini leave us,will there be room for progressives in the Catholic Church? It scares me when I think that the great influence of and strides made by Erasmus were rejected and forgotten even by the end of his life. Martini realizes well that Luther and the reformers were mostly right in their critique of the Church.The Chruch hardened itself with the Tridentine ethos that dug the divisions in Christianity even deeper. And now we have the Vatican promoting the Tridentine Mass again. It is a highly symbolic statement for sympathies that go far deeper than just an affinity for Gregorian chant and a priest facing the wall.

Phoebe said...

Yes, it IS great news. I'm reminded of Abbe Pierre, the great French priest and social activist, who also issued a very controversial collection of reflections, "Mon Dieu...pourquoi?", in his twilight years. It worries me that this generation of post Vatican II thinkers is passing away and I don't see too many courageous progressive Catholic theologians taking their place.

Robert Blair Kaiser said...

Rather than ask, "Why?" we have to realize that we also have the intelligence to ask, "Why not?" And the courage to act on that intelligence, and DO all we can to change things. We can do more. Much of what passes for "theology" in the Church is really just politics. Ecclesiastical politics, but politics nevertheless. Therefore, we have to learn to exercise the art of politics.