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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.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    “The last thing we need is a church that follows society, that’s a recipe for disaster.”

    We already have it. That’s what Vatican II was all about. The disaster is already with us; has been for decades now.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Exactly. This is the man who says the SSPX is “stupid” and calls Jesus Christ “the ultimate liberal”. And he’s the head of the CDF. 

  • Andrew

    Entryism. Both of the masonic, and of the marxist, sort.

    This piece of information only makes it more likely that ‘they wanted to dismantle the Catholic Church’…..

  • awkwardcustomer

    Here’s an interesting comment on Cardinal Martini from Fr Blake’s blog:

    ‘There is a Marxist sense of cultural struggle, or even low level war, in
    Martini’s writings, which marks out the left (left in bot the theological and
    political sense). There is need to attack, an attempt to destroy “the
    institution” of presenting the “institutional” Church in opposition to the
    Church of the masses. Once those things which are attacked are destroyed, they
    are replaced by another left leaning institution that is far tyrannical than
    that which went before. In classic Marxist terms there is a continuous process
    of purification that goes on until such time as perfection is achieved. In the
    case of the Church of course, until such time as the institutional Church is
    destroyed and replaced by a perfect human society, which of course will be
    something quite contrary to Church of the Gospel or Revelation.’

  • Cmangine

    In a nutshell, the Church must return to the being the “true” Catholic Church and stop attempting to be the Protestant-Catholic Church.   

  • awkwardcustomer

    ‘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.’

    What we have in the Church, Fr Lucie-Smith, are people who run from the Cross. 

  • Matt

    Cdl. Martini was on to something. We need to rethink how we minister to those who are divorced, to avoid driving them away from the Church. While we cannot vacate Jesus’s teaching on the matter, what we can do is figure out a way to be more loving and charitable to those who are in this situation through no fault of their own.

  • J.R. Smith

    I’m sorry, Father, but with all due respect, this article is little more then damage control and mental gymnastics. Cardinal Martini’s views were anything but benign or orthodox. May God rest his soul, but the man was a bitter and angry relic of the 1960s whose views are far more antiquated then those held by the Church which gave him everything. His attacks on vestments and clerical habits bespeaks, ironically, a sense of pride … a pride which would lead one to believe that such vestments are designed to honor to the man wearing them. Incorrect. They honor the *office* of the Priesthood and Christ Himself, who is present in the Priest as an “alter Christus” during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Pope Pius XII was truly prophetic when we said:

    “I hear around me reformers who want to dismantle the Holy Sanctuary,
    destroy the universal  flame of the Church, to discard all her adornments,
    and smite her with remorse for her historic past” – Pope Pius XII

    It was/is men like Martini who desire nothing more then a total assimilation of the Church into the gaping maw of Modernism and they will advance this agenda under the guise of “progress”, “renewal” or “revival”. Sorry, but I’m not buying the snake oil. We’ve had 50 years of pie-eyed revolutionaries within the Church proclaiming the new Springtime to be just over the horizon … and guess what? We’re in a nuclear winter and it is only a return to sacred tradition in our liturgy and our teachings that will allow us to survive.

  • Charles Martel

    Dear Fr Lucie-Smith. Nice try, but it’s not going to convince anyone who knows anything about Cardinal Martini, who was one of the worst liberals in the hierarchy (and that’s saying something!).

  • JabbaPapa

    There was a divorced remarried in our parish, who received communion — oh but of course, she had obtained an annulment of her first marriage prior to remarrying. ;-)

  • JabbaPapa

    That’s a fantastic example of cognitive dissonance in action !!!

    I mean : this has …. what, exactly … to do with anything in the interview of Cardinal Martini ?????

  • JabbaPapa

    Let’s see yours, Jabba.

    Maybe if I get bored later in the day — I’ll think about doing one, anyway.

    But translating Italian>English is bloody hard work.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Hear, hear!

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    What you really mean Matt by “figuring out a way” is exactly that, isn’t it? To “vacate Jesus’ teaching on the matter”.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Yes, of course it has!

    You notice in his interview that Martini praised ” .. Bishop Romero and the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador”.

    The Jesuit “martyrs” of El Salvador were carrying Kalashnikovs.

    The man was a revolutionary.  

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Perhaps Father Lucie-Smith means the Neo-Catechumenal Way, whose foundational writings pour outright hatred on the Church of 1,965 years and which preach Lutheranism. 

    “Renewal” my foot!

  • Marialouisa

     Also, a significant reason that people are afraid to get married, or don’t place importance on it, is because they have seen so many divorces or been raised in divorced families themselves.  The unmarried problem stems from the divorce problem, it didn’t happen in tandem.  While overall I would agree with Lisa, I do think children of unmarried parents suffer and we do need to address both problems.  But only when we address the great tragedy that is divorce, the number of unmarried parents will continue to rise.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Read the book!

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    You’ve got me interested, I must admit. 

  • teigitur

    Indeed and a resounding success the last 50 years have been in the church! Oh! wait a second…….. I am wrong,…. possibly the worst times since the “reformation”!!

  • nytor

    I really wish they’d suppress the Neocats. They are appalling. They have resisted every attempt to drag them back in line and keep trying to have their “liturgy” approved.

  • Lazarus

    Difficult to see how this would have been much different from High Church Anglicanism or Lutheranism of the time -and (to put it mildly) it didn’t work out too well for them, did it?

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    These links tell you all you need to know about this protestant body. It is ABSOLUTELY astonishing that the recent Popes have shown this organisation, whose theology is openly heretical, any favour at all. 

    This tells us much about the collapse of orthodoxy in the highest reaches of the Church – as Our Lady and certain mystical Saints have many times told us would happen.

    One of the “successes” of Vatican II! 

    There are problems with ALL of the lay movements resulting from that Council. Focolare, the Neo-Cats, St. Egidio. Like socialism, Vatican II rusts and corrodes absolutely everything it touches.

  • luam_nud

    I have just noticed this article and have got same translated over in Queen’s University.

    I have sent the whole statement, as delivered by the late Cardinal Martini, to the Editor of the Irish Independent who took bits from here and there instead of the whole statement, for translation from Italian to English as I am sure that the translation that I got would not be acceptable to him.

    The Irish Independent link is:

    Nevertheless, I noted the section noted above and supplied the Editor with a Translation from Italian to English.

    Notwitstanding this I have also received the translation of the full statement from Queen’s University here in Belfast but I am sure that the Editor will not accept same.

    I eagerly await a statement in the Irish Independent reversing the article as posted on the 3rd of September 2012. 

  • Lazarus

    This is far too big an issue to deal with in a combox -and I confess that I haven’t (yet) read your book!

    But to the extent this means opposing (say) in ethics manual neo-Scholasticism to narrative, and opting exclusively for the latter, I’d have to disagree. The sort of conceptual rigour and metaphysical ambition you find in neo-Scholasticism is an essential part of the Church’s treasury of wisdom. It’s also -based on observation as well as in principle- a sort of reasoning that is more likely to appeal to those with a background in analytic philosophy and the sciences.

    When we stand in the Church, we stand within the Body of Christ, not in a narrative or even a tradition. But when we stand in that space, there are various tools and traditions lying around that we can and should make good use of, subject to the living Magisterium of the Church.

    My slogan? Garrigou-Lagrange AND von Balthasar!

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Von Balthasar? The man who thought there is no-one at all in hell (apart perhaps from himself)?

  • JabbaPapa

    Particularly revolting was the way that they attempted, recently, to twist the statement from the Holy See about their *organisational structures* to make it sound as if their liturgies had been thereby “approved” — still, at least this did provide the occasion for the Holy See to repeat, not unemphatically, that these liturgies are greatly abusive and in urgent need of reform — AKA return to orthodoxy.

  • awkwardcustomer

    It provides some background to Cardinal Martini’s final interview, may God have mercy on his soul. 

    I assume you don’t agree with it.   

  • Patrickhowes

    Very fair point!But was Cardinal Martini referring to liberalisation or perhaps providing an honest and good sexual education which emphaiszes the importance of sexual love within marriage?.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Are you saying that Cardinal Martini’s comment - ‘the Church is 200 years behind the times’ - represents a mistranslation? Really!  How should the comment have been translated then?

  • awkwardcustomer

    Why not advise them to carry their crosses?

  • Patrickhowes

    Very intelligently put!I agree that Catholicsim well taught is a blessing.Badly taught it can traumatise.

  • awkwardcustomer

    What they mean by ‘renewal’, is bypassing Calvary and heading straight for Pentecost.

  • awkwardcustomer

    What the Church really preaches is the Cross. 

  • JabbaPapa

    The Jesuit “martyrs” of El Salvador were carrying Kalashnikovs.


    Is this another of your wind-ups ?

    If so, it’s a particularly obnoxious one !!!

    «Ahora es el momento de matar a los jesuitas». 16 de octubre de 1989. Universidad Centro Americana de El Salvador. 1.00h de la madrugada. Tras diez días de planificación al más alto nivel político y militar, un comando especial del Ejército entra en la residencia de los sacerdotes. Buscan a los «delincuentes terroristas». A los «cerebros marxistas» de la guerrilla salvadoreña. El teniente Espinoza ordena «no dejar testigos». Primero matan a sangre fría a cuatro religiosos. Después a dos más. Y en una habitación tirotean a una madre y su hija. 3.00h de la madrugada. Operación terminada.

    Videos :


    And although it’s a completely different place and time and completely different circumstances, why not rewatch Of gods and men ?

  • paulpriest

     In other words you don’t have a bloody clue what you’re talking about?

    Let’s remove the moral principles which provide moral means to lead us to the virtuous ends?


  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Read Father Malachi Martin’s book on his former Order (the Jesuits) and be educated Jabba. 

  • Lazarus

    ‘Might be’ rather than ‘is’, I think, But that’s a legitimate hope, isn’t it? (I’m perfectly happy to pray for it and leave the actual judgment to God.)

    But rather I was thinking of the von Balthasar who a) engaged with European literary culture in order to discern the Catholic elements in it; and b) reinvigorated that neo-Platonic vision of the world where the creation world is an emanation of the life of the Trinity and can be illuminated by considering it as such. 

    And in the context of Father Lucie-Smith’s remark, the Catholic thinker who found neo-Scholasticism too dry and wanted to put narrative life into theology. (And thus a fitting contrast with Father Garrigou-Lagrange.)

  • luam_nud

    The translation into English has been read in a bit here and a bit there and all have been put together by the Media to make us believe that, that is what he said.

    But he didn’t say that.

    You have, unfortunately read what the Media Agenda has written and not that which the late Cardinal Martini actually said.

    Some may say that meaning can be lost in translation but I have had the words as spoken translated here in the Queen’s University of Belfast and that translation iscompletely different to what the Media has said.

    Remember: We are the Church but the Church is Truth hence it does not go along with satanic trends as we have today.

  • luam_nud

    “Cardinal Martini, who was one of the worst liberals in the hierarchy ”


  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Then post the translations you have. Those here talking about “mistranslations” seem to think Italian is a language like the Bushmen’s of Namibia, full of untranslatable clicks.

    If you have your Queen’s translation, post it in full here please. 

  • JabbaPapa

    It’s probably worth pointing out — again — that the social works undertaken by the liberation theologians have never been condemned, but ONLY their theology, and the errors that it taught, which sought to combine a political message with an ecclesial one.

    As for Bishop Romero :

    On 23 February 1977, he was appointed Archbishop of El Salvador. His appointment was met with surprise, dismay, and even incredulity. While this appointment was welcomed by the government, many priests were disappointed, especially those openly aligning with Marxism. The progressive priests feared that his conservative reputation would negatively affect liberation theology’s commitment to the poor.

    On 12 March 1977, Rutilio Grande, a progressive Jesuit priest and personal friend of Romero who had been creating self-reliance groups among the poor campesinos, was assassinated. His death had a profound impact on Romero, who later stated, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path‘”.

    Romero urged Arturo Armando Molina’s government to investigate, but they ignored his request. Furthermore, the censored press remained silent.

    Tension was noted by the closure of schools and the lack of Catholic priests invited to participate in government. In response to Fr. Rutilio’s murder, Romero revealed a radicalism that had not been evident earlier. Traditionally, the church had been complicit in the aims of the state and military to privilege the wealthy and powerful while the majority of the population remained in abject poverty. He spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture.

    In 1979, the Revolutionary Government Junta came to power amidst a wave of human rights abuses by paramilitary right-wing groups and the government. Romero criticized the United States for giving military aid to the new government and wrote to President Jimmy Carter in February 1980, warning that increased US military aid would “undoubtedly sharpen the injustice and the repression inflicted on the organized people, whose struggle has often been for their most basic human rights”. 

    Carter, concerned that El Salvador would become “another Nicaragua”, ignored Romero’s pleas and continued military aid to the Salvadoran government.

    Ultimately, these men (and women) were martyred for resisting the heresy of Americanism.

  • JabbaPapa

    Published two years before these murders ?

    What information about the murders could it possibly provide ?

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Alright, the worst.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Lots of information about the collapse of the Jesuits into gun-toting Marxist guerillas in various South American jungles. 

  • JabbaPapa

    I’ll just say it strikes me as being a grossly exaggerated depiction of his probably far milder political views.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Thanks Lazarus for that. I need to do more reading. 

  • JabbaPapa

    … which can only mean, obviously, that these particular murdered Jesuits can only have been Kalashnikov-wielding guerrilleros ?

    Let’s just say that given what I’ve seen about Father Malachi Martin so far, I would take ANY of his more or less extremist claims with a good portion of salt.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Not extremist at all.

    His book on the heretical rebellion of the Jesuit Order was greeted with many words of support by Jesuits horrified at what had happened to their formerly great Order. And the head of the Jesuits in Russia confirmed to me personally only 4 years ago that the collapse of the Order into heterodoxy was almost total in the Americas and beyond. 

  • JabbaPapa

    But rather I was thinking of the von Balthasar who … b) reinvigorated that neo-Platonic vision of the world where the created world is an emanation of the life of the Trinity and can be illuminated by considering it as such.

    Not necessarily criticising, but this is basically what Islam teaches.

    Inductionist versus emanatist squabbling is a little past its sell-by date though, don’t you think ?