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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 7, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 36
Leading liberal Catholic cleric dies
Section One
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Leading liberal Catholic cleric dies

Cardinal Martini was one of very few progressives in high church office

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the standard bearer of the Catholic Church's beleaguered liberal wing and once a leading candidate for pope, died August 31 at the age of 85.

In a remarkable final interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on August 8, Martini lamented the ultra-conservatism of the Catholic hierarchy.

'The church is 200 years behind the times,' Martini told reporters. 'Why does she not shake herself? Why are we afraid?'

Particularly in the Western world, 'the Church is tired,' he continued. 'Our culture has aged, our churches are huge, our religious houses are empty, and the bureaucratic machinery grows. Our rites and our vestments are pompous.'

Nevertheless, Martini said more hopefully, 'People surrounding me make me feel love. This love is stronger than the sentiment of mistrust which I sometimes perceive towards the Church in Europe.'

DEATH SPARKED DEBATE
Martini had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for the past 17 years and had refused further treatment prior to his death.

His decision reignited the debate between supporters of assistance in dying and the Catholic hierarchy. Contrary to church teaching, Martini once said ending one's own life for medical reasons is 'a private decision.'

Many of his positions on other social issues were also contrary to those favored by the Vatican. He was welcoming towards Gay and Lesbian Catholics, believed that divorced Catholics should be allowed to receive full sacraments, and said he understood why women might choose abortion even if he could not approve it.

Although he believed same-sex relationships 'can never be totally equated to a marriage,' Martini did approve of civil unions.

'I disagree with the positions of those in the Church that take issue with civil unions,' he wrote. 'It is not bad, instead of casual sex between men, that two people have a certain stability' and the 'state could recognize them.'

CONDOMS 'LESSER EVIL'
In 2006, he annoyed the Vatican when he told l'Espresso magazine that condoms could be considered a 'lesser evil' in combating AIDS, particularly for a married couple.

Four years later, the pope himself came close to affirming Martini's opinion when he said a male prostitute who uses a condom might be taking a step toward responsible sexuality because he was looking out for the welfare of his partner.

In 2008, Martini went even further, saying that the church's prohibition on birth control had likely driven many of the faithful away.

In 2009, Martini was quoted in a German publication as saying it was time to re-evaluate priestly celibacy as a means to combat pedophilia among priests. He later said he had been misquoted.

A PAPAL CONTENDER?
Martini was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, and when that pope died, he was considered a leading contender to succeed him, even though he had already retired from active duty as Archbishop of Milan.

According to one account of the 2005 conclave, Martini got more votes than Cardinal Ratzinger - now Pope Benedict XVI - in the first round of balloting, but then the traditionalists coalesced behind Ratzinger, giving him the election.

A different account, which came to light in the recent Vatican leaks scandal, said Martini actually got a mere handful of votes and asked for his name to be withdrawn.

In any case, had Martini been chosen, the trajectory of Catholic politics might well have been different.

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