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Don’t believe what you’ve read about Cardinal Martini’s last interview

The cardinal was calling for a religious revival, not for the abolition of unpopular Church teachings

By on Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Cardinal Martini after celebrating his final Mass as Archbishop of Milan in 2002 (AP)

Cardinal Martini after celebrating his final Mass as Archbishop of Milan in 2002 (AP)

I have just been reading the Cardinal Martini interview in the original Italian. You can find it here. There are various English reports on the web about the substance of the interview, but all of them seem to focus on the headline-grabbing nature of the cardinal’s words, particularly his assertion that the Church is 200 years behind the times. But they miss what to me is the nub of what the cardinal has to say.

The cardinal starts off by lamenting the fact that churches and religious houses are empty. Well, we are all agreed on that – no one agrees more than Benedict XVI. This is not a good state of affairs. The cardinal then goes on to suggest three things that need to be done, and here too there is nothing particularly exceptional in what he has to say: we need to reform our sexual teaching, return to the Bible and return to the sacraments. The first of these may seem radical, but there is general agreement on this too. The sexual teaching of the Church is not getting across to the faithful, let alone to the population at large. It needs reform; but please let us remember that reform is not to be confused with abolition. Reform means a return to the roots, a reformulation of the eternal verities in a new and compelling way.

The cardinal mentions the plight of the divorced and remarried. Again, this is a problem that all recognise. But I would say, from my own perspective, that the problem is far deeper than that. Many of the children I encounter pastorally are children not of divorced and remarried parents, but of parents who have never been married. And that is a rather different thing. It is not people getting divorced that is the fundamental problem. Rather, it is people not wanting to get married in the first place.

But here is what the cardinal says, which we all need to hear:

Dove sono le singole persone piene di generosità come il buon samaritano? Che hanno fede come il centurione romano? Che sono entusiaste come Giovanni Battista? Che osano il nuovo come Paolo? Che sono fedeli come Maria di Magdala? Io consiglio al Papa e ai vescovi di cercare dodici persone fuori dalle righe per i posti direzionali. Uomini che siano vicini ai più poveri e che siano circondati da giovani e che sperimentino cose nuove. Abbiamo bisogno del confronto con uomini che ardono in modo che lo spirito possa diffondersi ovunque.

(“Where are the individuals full of generosity like the Good Samaritan? That have faith like the Roman centurion? That are enthusiastic like John the Baptist? That dare something new like Paul? That are faithful like Mary of Magdala? I advise the Pope and bishops to look for twelve persons out of the usual run of people for management posts. Men that might be close to the very poorest and that might be surrounded by young people and who might try something new. We need comparison with men who are ardent in such a way so that the Spirit can be poured out everywhere.”)

But what does this mean? I think it is a call to a radical religious revival, and it reminds me of the key scene in Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun, Sister Moon, where St Francis arrives at the papal court in the Lateran Basilica to ask recognition for his order. A cardinal leans over to the Pope, whose magnificence contrasts so strongly with the humility and poverty of Francis, and says something along the lines of: “This is the man who will lead the common people back to God.”

To say that we need a new St Francis, or a new Don Bosco, or a new Francis de Sales, is to get to the heart of the problem. But – and it is a huge but – we do have such people in the Church already, people who have led us back to basics and who have initiated strong currents of renewal.

As for the great ones of yesteryear, they are still with us, too. We need to rediscover our roots. The era of St Francis was a pretty dire one for the Church, but let us remember Pope Innocent III’s dream: he saw the Lateran Basilica, his cathedral, and the mother church of all churches in the world, tottering, and a little friar holding it up (as painted by Giotto). My guess is that this was Cardinal Martini’s dream as well, as well as that of Benedict XVI, and indeed of all of us who long for the renewal of the Church.

  • JabbaPapa

    Frankly, I’d hope that such Illuminati as David Cameron or François Hollande were to stop acting like tyrants.

  • Christopher Forrester

    So if we have a more realistic sexual philosophy it will all be OK? So on what grounds do you base your correct high moral stance on homosexuality and sex abuse by clergy? You see if I follow your line of thought and Martini’s there is only moral relativism, social norms that change and personal preferences. So Fr you pint out others fallen human nature but you tell me we simply have to change the definition of what is fallen and sinful! Get real!

  • JabbaPapa

    I have never and will never remove my cross since my baptism into our Church in 2005.

    Those attempting to force the contrary are evil.

  • Jjoycesr2000

    What is needed is a return to the teachings of Jesus NOT the church.  The leaders of the church in Rome have lost the way, but do not know it.  The scandals that grow are the results of not thinking in terms of Jesus but the church.  The church should be secondary to God, the Fatner, Son and Holy Spirit.  That has not been the case for a very long time.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    Please read the Bible.

    the house of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and the foundation of truth.

    (speaking to the Apostles):

    Whoever hears you, hears me. And whoever despises you, despises me. And whoever despises me, despises him who sent me.

    Amen I say to you, whatever you will have bound on earth, shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you will have released on earth, shall be released also in heaven.

    And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.

    Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”16.He said to him again: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.”17.He said to him a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was very grieved that he had asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” And so he said to him: “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my sheep”.

  • JabbaPapa

    The church should be secondary to God, the Fatner, Son and Holy Spirit.

    The Church is in fact secondary to the Trinity.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian


    “The scandals that grow are the results of not thinking in terms of Jesus but the church”. 

    The scandals which fill the modern Catholic Church are neither the result of “thinking in terms” of Christ nor the Church. 

    They are the result of thinking in terms of the world and nothing else. 

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Dear Father, even I wouldn’t suggest “getting rid the Bishops”. Their office was created by God Himself on earth.

    Get rid of the unorthodox Bishops – oh yes. Get rid of the worldly Bishops, lukewarm in Faith – yes. 

    But let’s not have any more throwing the baby out with the bath water. We’ve had fifty years of that already.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    A response to, “e present pope, who are desperate to revise history by saying that Vatican II did not say and do what it really did say and do …”. 

    If the Pope was following Vatican II truly, he would have to get rid of the Novus Ordo Jabba. What the Bishops mandated at V II was the Old Mass with the Epistle and Gospel said in the local language after they had been said/sung in Latin. 

  • Olafsm

    The WORLD POPULATION was 2 billion as recently as 1925! We closed the century with 7 billion people; and are racing towards 11 billion by 2030 (in 18 years!). Population Explosion is the biggest reason for poverty: does the Church have any other solution for this except to advise people not to have sex, something that even consecrated people with holy vows of chastity often find difficult or impossible to maintain? Ol.

  • JabbaPapa

    The population is currently expected to peak at about 9 billion, then to start falling.

    Your presentation of the Church’s teaching on sexuality is frankly bizarre.

  • JabbaPapa

    Novus Ordo is almost never implemented as it was intended by the Council Fathers — the curate of my own parish gets a lot closer to those intentions than most, but whilst he’s very traditional-minded, his Latin is dodgy, and he does not reserve the use of the Vernacular solely for Evangelisation and Education and Edification.

    The Vernacular remains quite necessary though — as St Gregory of Naziansus said in his 32nd Oration, “My brothers, our faith would be the most unfair thing in the world if it applied only to sophisticates and those with a flair for language and logic. It would then of necessity remain beyond the reach of most persons, like gold and silver and all the other things considered valuable here below and in great popular demand; and what would be near and dear to God would be that which is placed high and touches only a few, while anything close enough to be grasped by the multitude would be scorned and rejected. When even among human beings the more fair-minded would not behave in such a way as to find pleasure only in outstanding distinctions rather than call for those within our power to achieve, you surely cannot expect that God would act at all otherwise. His wonders are many, but nothing is so specially characteristic of him as beneficence towards all men.

    No — the REAL liturgical scandal in the immediate post-Vatican II years was the attempt to just abolish the Traditional Mass *entirely*.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    False. The Earth population is predicted to reach 9B in 2050, then 10B in 2100, and then start falling.

    Most of the world is underpopulated.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Would very much appreciate a prayer from you JabbaPapa, as I’m carrying a particularly irksome cross at the moment.

  • Hayden

    I think you misread Chrysostom’s comments; he noted that Archbishop Muller’s remarks has been misinterpreted to appear heretical.

  • Matthew Roth

    Sorry mate. I’m still taking question to your attitude. 

  • Fr. Philip Nelpuraparampil

    As an Indian Catholic Priest from an Oriental Catholic Church, I appreciate the author for giving clarity to the topic. Renewal is the vocation and essential nature of the Church lives in the history. Those who stand for relativism and promote relativism in ther Church misinterpret certain authors and leaders. I think Cardinal Martini has been a victim of this group. His earlier comments on certain occasions may caused it.

    Fr. Philip Nelpuraparampil 

  • JabbaPapa

    I’ve not much charism for prayer, but sure.

  • Chike Oshi

    @AelfridtheMercian:disqus I take exception to your reference to the graceful Namibians. Focus on the issue and please don’t be cynical with a people’s heritage. Thank you. 

  • Alex Hawkins

    Dear old Church of England is not a Protestant church ,but remains a Catholic church.
    Henery V!!! only withdrew from the Pope for his own reasons. The established church
    remains as we say each sunday in the Creed ‘ We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church’.    

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    The clear point is that their language is fiendishly difficult. True or not?

  • awkwardcustomer

    Many thanks.

  • Tomjones20

    As a Catholic- “all-embracing” (Oxford dictionary) I am shocked & saddened by this article & the comments posted. All this talk of liberals/conservatives etc is to miss the point.
    Jesus Christ is our Saviour- that is what this saintly man was saying. His question is “God is love …what can you do for the church?” Dio è amore cosa puoi fare tu per la chiesa?
    Show courage, Christians, not fear.
    May the Holy Spirit deliver his church from error and guide her on the path to salvation.

  • frank11024

    Oh please.  What a bunch of gobbleygook this article is.  Cardinal Martini was an arch liberal until his dying day.  And I’m not in the sspx or anything like that, although I am a conservative, traditional Catholic.  We don’t need anyone to make excuses for him or whitewash his words, which were often at odds with the Pope.  Now I’m not making an infallable pronouncement, and you can take this as a mere coincidence if you like, but something happened the day after Martini died that kind of made my mouth drop.  I was in the sitting room in my house and someone in my family was watching Martha Stewart in the living room while I was reading the paper.  She said, “Happy Valentine’s Day”, which obviously means it was a re-run.  She proceeded to say, “Today we’re going to teach you how to make a Dirty Martini”.  Coincidence?  Maybe so, maybe not.  But interesting nonetheless.

  • JabbaPapa

    Your comment is very exaggerated — the Cardinal was most certainly in the liberal camp, but he was orthodox — and neither a rebel, nor a relativist, nor a modernist, nor an Americanist nor a Marxist.

    Your anecdote is devoid of meaning.

  • Jacques

    When the freemasons praise a catholic cardinal, that’s not a good sign, neither for the Roman Catholic Church, nor for that cardinal.,-addio-a-un-uomo-di-dialogo,-grande-espressione-della-chiesa-parola.aspx 

  • Jacques,-addio-a-un-uomo-di-dialogo,-grande-espressione-della-chiesa-parola.aspx

  • James

    What Cardinal Martini has shown is that there are always different way of envisaging the Church and its mission, and that the Benedict XVI vision, for all its strengths, is but one way - in possession institutionally for the moment (in the inscrutable ways of Divine Providence). The imagination of Cardinal Martini was to embrace change; the imagination of Benedict XVI is more cautious, to say the least! Those who have felt disempowered during the current papacy can take new heart that the Catholicism is not in fact monochrome … Pius XII after all was followed by John XXIII.

  • Deoacveritatimyfaithsustainsm

    Martini like many other bishops in the Catholic Church have stopped being Catholic, and deceiving many by their false teaching.
    These men like Martini twist the words from the bible and the less educated on theological matters go and ignorantly believe the deception being taugh by these traitors.

  • Martin

    You lot should be on Oprah. Talk about the spiritual equivalent of ‘trailer trash’.  Hilarious. 

  • Cafeteria R.C.

    If you look at the CONTROL of humans by the RCC, then you would see why the Freemasons was formed. Open you minds and learn from history. How many closed minds still support the RCC’s INQUISITION? And they thought moveable type was dangerous, whats their view of the internet? Where would man be today if the RCC just stay with the teachings of Christ like the good holy happy protestant churches do? The good holy honest Cardinal Martini would have made a grand pope of the likes of Pope John XXIII. The RCC today has cause more RCs to lose faith in their church by the policy of silence the truth of the children sexual abuse crimes to protect the image. And they speak off the Mason’s secrets as a bad thing. Many good men in history where and are Masons. Does the RCC administration practice what they preach at all times? NO! Open your minds and ask questions.

  • bbj770

     This is nothing more than spin and damage control.  Martini is right, the church is 200 years behind the times; are we afraid!  No, the people of God are not afraid But the hierarchy are, they are desperately trying to maintain their own importance and conserve their power – bit like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!!
    The real question is “Where is Christ in all this?” His teachings have been betrayed for many years, the pomp and grandeur that our “princes of the church” are clinging to is a betrayal Christ’s teaching.
    We don’t need another council, we DO need to implement Vatican II to the full.

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    The real question is “Where is Christ in all this?” His teachings have been betrayed for many years, the pomp and grandeur that our “princes of the church” are clinging to is a betrayal Christ’s teaching.

    How so? What is your specific proposal for the Church?

  • C Lake

    Because the abuses of Vatican II have done really well so far haven’t they? What exactly do you think Vatican II was, some kind of hippy reformation?

  • Gerald Spencer

    There is no acorn. The teaching of Jesus is that the seed dies and is no more, the tree is what is left.

  • Matt

    Thanks for asking. I don’t know if you’ll ever read this since the post is quite old… Anyway, I think many clergy don’t know what to do in this situation and need a little help. We need a caring, pastoral approach to these problems. For example, when my mother consulted her pastor about her intention to remarry (after being left by her husband), she was simply told she would not be able to receive communion. He did not do anything to encourage her to embrace her new state in life, or help to support her materially, or help her get a deeper understanding of the Church’s teaching. She promptly left the Church and went ahead with her plans.

  • Benedict Carter

    The old Vatican II hippy line! Let’s get rid of the Ten Commandments.


  • Fides_et_Ratio

     There are people – such as all the modern Popes – who are faithful to Vatican II and are perfectly orthodox. The problem are the “Spirit of Vatican II” clowns.

  • Michael

    I am so disappointed by the opposition to such an enlightened and necessary approach to our Church today. Remember the Church’s initial reaction to Cardinal Newman? There are huge challenges for the Church in the 21st century – challenges we have never had before, challenges that require a new approach…

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    Some Catholics (such as the Lefebvrists) do exaggerate in their resistance of reform.

    However, it IS essential to understand that the Church can reform her practices, her language, but NOT her Faith.

    The uniqueness of Catholic (the one true Church) Faith, the call to holiness, the call to chastity, the right to life, are all negotiable.

    Expecting the Church to approve remarriage-after-divorce is like expecting a river to flow upwards. It is simply not going to happen.

  • EditorCT

    Notice, that this priest doesn’t say HOW the church’s sexual teaching needs to be reformed. I’m researching for a short report on Martini in our newsletter, overdue at the printers, so will be very short indeed, to find out what “the usual suspects” are saying about him. Only stumbled across this – now Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, whom I’d hitherto regarded as a “dissenter lite”  moves into the category of the usual suspects. Must keep a closer eye on his writings from now on.

  • Michael

    who said anything about reforming our faith? 

    Please, please, please lets not turn this into a philosophical debate, it is about one thing and one thing only… our love of God. All we have to do is be ready to listen… put down your theological debates and embrace the Year of Faith. This is not a time to be defensive but an opportunity to share our faith. It is a time to be open to the workings of the Holy Spirit

  • Joseph Polaschek

    Although born into roman catholicism, I had serious doubts about it and God from a very early age. Eventually, I felt that in good conscience I could no longer participate in it.  While working toward my Dr. of Metaphysics degree, I was able to source documents and teachings which truly opened my eyes to the evil caused by this organization.  Cardinal Martini does not go far enough in condemning this “church.”

  • Bruno Bonazzi

    oh, the ‘good’  caused by all the other organizations..!!! I think rather at the evil caused by  people such as this  cardinallmartini to the (true) Church! requiescat  in pace! 

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