Carlo Maria Martini RIP 1927 – 2012
Today in Milan they bury one of the greatest churchmen of the second half of the twentieth century. A Jesuit and former Archbishop of Milan Carlo Martini was primarily a scholar . Martini was awarded his doctorate in fundamental theology in1958 with a thesis exploring the problems of the Resurrection accounts. After some years of teaching at the faculty of Chieri he returned to Rome and earned another second doctorate in Scripture with a thesis on a group of codices of the Gospel of St Luke. He caught the eye and patronage of Pope Paul VI who made him rector then rector magnificus of the Pontifical Institute.
After the death of pope Paul VI he was made archbishop of Milan in 1979 by Pope John Paul II who participated in his consecration and later elevated him to the college of Cardinals (1983). He remained archbishop and a leading member of the Curia until 2002 when – suffering from a rare form of Parkinson’s – he retired. He went to the Pontifical Institute in Jerusalem. By then his liberal views made him suspect in the new conservatism championed by the dean of the sacred College – Cardinal Josef Ratzinger who had become alter-ego of the increasingly frail Pope John Paul II.
On the death of the pope in 2006 Martini was nevertheless one of the favourites in the conclave and it was said he garnered up to 40 votes on the first ballot. such figures are of course highly speculative but it said that Martini made it clear to the cardinal-electors that he could not and would not accept election. On the third ballot Josef Ratzinger was duly elected and took the name Benedict XVI.
Martini retired into relative anonymity and ceased himself to be a cardinal-elector in 2007. Still he found time to speak out on various subjects. On the condoms to protect from AIDS he suggested that in order to protect a partner from the greater evil of being infected it was proper to use protection. He was critical of the excessive pomp of Latin ritual. He was strongly supportive of increased collegiality between bishops and the pope. He was in favour of women being ordained to the deaconate. He was liberal on matters of sexuality often declaring that the church should encourage civil partnerships between same sex couples since they resulted in less promiscuity in relationships and greater fidelity. His was increasingly lone roar of the liberal lion a wilderness of conservatives.
History will lionise him for those many achievements; others will remember him for his saintly humility; others yet for his integrity and vision ; yet others will be glad this liberal thorn is finally plucked from their side…but his voice will most surely survive in his wonderful scholarship but also his timely admonition
“Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous”.
You needn’t carve his name on marble vaults, nor pray to him as if he were some saint. He never learned to master all his faults; He seldom tempered weakness with restraint. You needn’t honour him with empty praise. Instead, consider what he had to say. When great men die should comets fail to blaze; Let their wise words illuminate each day.