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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.

  • Proey04

    Coming late to this story – can anyone direct me to an english translation of the text of the Cardinal’s interview?

  • JabbaPapa

    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?

    No, that’s not what I’m saying, I’m talking about the interview in its entirety, not this or that sound byte picked out from it.

    If you like though :

    “La Chiesa è rimasta indietro di 200 anni.”

    … doesn’t really mean “is 200 years behind the times”, which would be far more brutal than the Cardinal’s statement ; and at the same time, narrower.

    Into French, it’s a no-brainer to translate : “L’Eglise est restée en arrière de deux cents ans.”

    “The Church has kept 200 years’ behind.”

    … is probably as close as I can get.

    You see, he’s not talking ultimately just about 2012 versus 1812 — he’s actually suggested a broader failure to keep up, so that he’s effectively also comparing the Church of 1950 with that of 1750.

    Which is a view that I’d BTW disagree with — but he’s NOT talking about a Church stuck in the 19th century, he’s talking about one that is actually more generally antiquated than the English translation suggests.

  • JabbaPapa

    … was Cardinal Martini referring to … perhaps providing an honest and good sexual education which emphasises the importance of sexual love within marriage?

    The Church already provides this — though it’s possible that this is not the case in Italy, where this would likely be viewed as strict family business, and priests keep your noses out of it !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    Just be forewarned, several people (including me) have expressed dissatisfaction with the translations doing the rounds…

  • JabbaPapa

    Well fair enough, but that wasn’t my point — neither about Malachi, nor about the fact that his book cannot possibly include details about these murders in El Salvador.

  • http://cumlazaro.blogspot.com/ Lazarus

    I’ve very little understanding of the details of Islamic theology -so I’ll have to put that aside as I can’t make any intelligent response to it!

    It’s also misleading (me not you!) to talk about emanation here: although neo-Platonism does talk about the process of creation as a process which is almost a necessary outflowing of the nature of reality, I don’t think von Balthasar can be charged with that. Creation is a free act of divine will.

    Putting all that aside, I was simply referring to the way that von Balthasar seeks to understand the world theologically and even scripturally: the story of God is reflected in the story of his creatures, so that we can’t understand ourselves and our natures without understanding (eg) the life of the Trinity, which is reflected in the earthly life of the Jesus, and then in our lives. Can’t see anything heretical in that -so if Muslims agree, good for them!

    Not quite sure what you’re thinking of in your final sentence. Is it the difference between a metaphysics based on immanent teleology (ie ends built into the nature of substances) versus extrinsic teleology (ie ends imposed by an external agent)? If so, I’m (broadly) with the former -as you might expect from someone with Thomist sympathies! (But I may have picked you up wrongly here…)

  • awkwardcustomer

    You’re splitting hairs.  Without being as excellent linguists as you, I think we can get the drift of what Cardinal Martini meant. What’s that saying – Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are – or words to that effect?

    That dreadful rag ‘The Tablet’ loved Cardinal Martini.  Enough said. 

  • http://cumlazaro.blogspot.com/ Lazarus

    Don’t we all!!

    So much simpler to be an atheist where apparently you all have to read is ‘The God Delusion’…

  • awkwardcustomer

    Alternatively, just have a look at the Jesuits’ website.  That should tell anyone just how far that order has sunk. 

  • awkwardcustomer

    Or it could mean that the those particular Jesuits were murdered for being revolutionaries, or for supporting the revolution, rather than for being Jesuits.

  • Paul Kane

    Father, I think you miss a major point to Cardinal Martini’s comments.

    You focus on “leading the common people back to God” – - that presume that “we” are farther away from God than perhaps elements of the Church are today.  Secondly, I think you miss the direction of the traffic.  Cardinal Martini was also calling upon the Church to be lead back to common people too…

  • paulpriest

     Not true – read H U v B’s “The God Question & Modern Man” for an entire chapter on Hell; or ‘Heart of the World” where it’s an intrinsic part of the Metaphysic.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    … but haven’t provided an alternative, so your dissatisfaction is entirely unproven.

  • JabbaPapa

    My dissatisfaction exists independently of your personal opinions about it.

  • JabbaPapa

    Oh well I’m glad you cleared that one up then, Thou Shalt Not Kill Unless Thou Shalt Think That These Be Marxist Revolutionaries Armèd With Kalashnikovs, And Yea Thou Shalt Not Need To Prove This Except By Insinuation And By Invoking Ye Mighteous Scribblings Of Ye Sedevacantist-Sympathisers.

  • JabbaPapa

    Ah OK gotcha, thank you for the excellent clarifications !!

    Not quite sure what you’re thinking of in your final sentence. Is it the
    difference between a metaphysics based on immanent teleology (ie ends
    built into the nature of substances) versus extrinsic teleology (ie ends
    imposed by an external agent)? If so, I’m (broadly) with the former -as
    you might expect from someone with Thomist sympathies! (But I may have
    picked you up wrongly here…)

    Sorry, maybe I was being a bit too elliptical — but it’s actually nothing so elevated or intellectual ; the mainstream of Western philosophy and theology just dumped both inductionism and emanatism in toto towards the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries :-)

    (a rather surprising quantity of Rabelais’ more arcane satire was aimed at those still clinging on to these outmoded, and really very ingrown, theories, in the face of the intellectual revolutions of both the Printing Press and the Renaissance itself)

  • JabbaPapa

    ha ha awesome !!! :-)

  • JabbaPapa

    You’re splitting hairs.

    Cripes, you asked me about one line in the interview.

    And no, FWIW — I’m not splitting hairs ; it’s the people rabitting on about “the Church of 1812″ who are doing that !!! (albeit sometimes entertainingly)

    What’s that saying – Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are – or words to that effect?

    Nobody’s even *attempted* to deny his liberal approach to theology.

    That doesn’t mean that this great big awfully indecorous hooplah isn’t extremely exaggerated.

    He’s not being embalmed for permanent display in Red Square !!!

  • awkwardcustomer

    I wasn’t condoning murder and I have no sympathies whatsover with the Sedevacantist position.

  • Nesbyth

    Yes! I think it’s known as” ignore the magnificent oak tree that has grown up over centuries and hunt for the acorn”…
    However, the oak tree can be pruned to keep it healthy, but to make the acorn all-important is nonsense.

  • scary goat

     Don’t we often hear the expression “The Church moves slowly” ?  And isn’t this generally a good thing?  Hare and tortoise and all that.  Better to stick with the tried and tested until you are really sure changing something is a good idea rather than jumping on band-wagons too quickly without thinking it through properly. Better to have a strong position which may be open to “tweeking the details” with time and experience, even if there is some dissent going on in the ranks, rather than rushing into what seems like a good idea at the time only to realise that you have opened the flood gates after it is too late.  Contraception is a prime example.  People will always bend rules and break rules, but at least in theory the rule is still there. Those who have allowed contraception, thereby separating sex from procreation, now have no argument against all sorts of things.

  • Parasum

    That makes it too easy for the rest of us. If a course of action has the consequence that we – ever so conveniently ! – don’t have to lift a finger to help, that is a red light.

    Besides, we should “bear one another’s burdens”, because we are “members one of another” – not behave as though others had absolutely nothing to do with us. God did not leave us in our problems, but became one of us, and carried a Cross He had no need whatever to carry. As we treat others, we shall ourselves be treated. Jesus spent a lot of time going after people not so very different from those who are cold-shouldered today.

  • Parasum

     “Certainly not any major reforms, it would be totally counter-productive”

    ## Would that not depend on what they were ?

  • AugustineThomas

    They don’t understand that a man truly can be liberal and Catholic.

    In fact, Catholics were the first liberals, when that word had meaning.

  • Matthew Roth

    ‘Anything who knows anything…’

    You pulled a logical fallacy straight out of the logic textbook, my friend. Clearly, Father knows something about the late cardinal, which happens to result in a different view of him. The other implication is that neither of you know anything about him.

  • Matthew Roth

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think he’s going to respond to your obnoxious comments which are disparaging ad hominem attacks-very uncharitable too-towards the clergy.

  • Matthew Roth

    You can’t just get the drift. We learned this lesson in translation with the 3rd edition of the Missal. 

    His point in Italian is not expressed well by the literal meaning of the English translation. 

  • Matthew Roth

    That’s exactly what the Holy Father has pointed out.

  • Matthew Roth

    Why did you put words into his mouth, which mean something that he states he didn’t mean?

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Cardinal Martini was in favour of homosexual “unions” what a surprise.

    http://abbey-roads.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/shaken-not-stirred-cardinal-martini.html

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    The liberals’ use of words is now well-known and understood. 

  • JabbaPapa

    The issue with civil unions for homosexuals is a complex one, and it involves questions not just of religious matters but ones that are also entirely secular in nature.

    The Church in France had this very debate when the PACS system was being discussed, and during the period of its introduction — and a general consensus was actually reached between the Church and the State, one that President François Holland now, extremely dangerously, wants to just trash by introducing “gay marriage”.

    The compromise that was eventually reached with the PACS, after the first version of the law (which was a “gay marriage” in all but name) was overturned by the Constitutional Court, was to create a system of civil unions that very clearly is NOT marriage or “marriage”.

    The PACS addresses the civil need that homosexuals not be actually nor actively discriminated against (qua discrimination per se) — but WITHOUT affecting the Institution of Marriage itself.

    Because it is a civil union that is legally detached from defining any notion of the sexuality of the contractors — to the extent that a brother and a sister, an aunt and an uncle, any two people for any personal reasons at all with the exception of those who are married may join in such a civil union.

    If this is the sort of civil union that is envisaged, the French experience with them shows that one could not disagree with the Cardinal — whereas if these are civil unions as defined in UK Law, where they are “gay marriage” with a different name, then there can be good reason to be opposed to them.

    Without any proof otherwise, I’d suggest that the less marriage-like form of civil unions is what he meant.

  • JabbaPapa

    I’ve pointed this out too — but with the important proviso that the great majority of contemporary 21st century liberals in the Church are Modernists or Relativists or both.

    I am firmly convinced that Cardinal Martini belonged to that older generation of Catholics, in whom liberalism had not yet been almost completely overwhelmed by these heresies.

  • JabbaPapa

     Well, quite.

  • JabbaPapa

    To be fair, you were not the sole target of that sarcasm — that you should take BTW somewhat tongue in cheek of course.

  • JabbaPapa

    Don’t we often hear the expression “The Church moves slowly” ?  And isn’t this generally a good thing?

    Well quite — and here’s exactly the reasoning behind my own disagreement with Cardinal Martini’s statement about the Church, as in its original Italian.

  • JabbaPapa

    Exactly.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    I hope Paul Priest sees your post and answers you :-)

  • Thomas Doyle, O.P.

    This is typical church spin.  The late Cardinal said many times what the contemporary church hierarchy don’t want to hear…that the institutional Catholic church is out of touch. The sexual philosophy suffers, not because it is not communicated in a credible way, but because it is substantially not credible and it is not credible because it is unrealistic.  This spin is similar to those, like the 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…..wake up Church…get real!

  • Fides_et_Ratio

    the 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

    Precisely the opposite. The Holy Father is implementing the Council Vatican II the way it is written, while Hans Küng clings to the “Spirit of Vatican II” illusion.

    And there is nothing “unrealistic” in Catholic sexual teaching. The Church is simply proclaiming what Jesus taught to His apostles.

  • awkwardcustomer

    Why would the advice to carry one’s cross exclude the giving of support, help and charity to our fellows?  It is not an either/or stiuation, surely.  We all have to carry our crosses, as Christ said:

    ‘If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ (Matthew 16:24)

    Without Grace this is impossible.  But who said anything about abandoning our brothers and sisters to get on with it? Fr Lucie-Smith’s article cites Cardinal Martini as calling for a reform of the Church’s sexual teaching.  What is this other than a flight from the Cross?  The teaching of the Church can be hard so let’s change it, is the attitude.  But the Cross is hard, and so all the more reason to show love, support and compassion to one another.  Abandoning the Cross and encouraging others to do so is not true Charity, since it is not what Christ taught. 

    ‘Why, then, do you fear to take up the Cross, which is the road to the Kingdom?  In the Cross is salvation; in the Cross is life; in the Cross is protection against our enemies; in the Cross is the infusion of heavenly sweetness ……’ Thomas A kempis, ‘The Inner Life’ (Penguin Books, p 34)

    Personally, I need all the help I can get from other people.  

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    And you are a religious?

    God help us.

  • Ælfrid the Mercian

    Not yet he’s not. If he was, we wouldn’t have the Novus Ordo, would we?

  • Ákos Szederjei

    Considering that most usable reforms were reversed officially and unofficially, I think your suggestion would have been preferable. 

  • Ákos Szederjei

     Ask the ladies in the Vatican about that. They will tell you a different story about it.

  • Bruno Bonazzi

    “200 years  behind his time”…. and where has been the Holy Spirit during this time??? A new Don Bosco??? But wasn’t he son of this church 200years behind its time? And why wasn’t this cardinal one of these saints, all obedient and respectful to their  Church?????? The only thing he has DONE, it has been a doubtful christian death… ( oh certainly, according to the rules of a church behind its times….) 

  • Christopher Forrester

    http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2012/09/i-am-not-martinian-i-am-catholic.html
    I am not “a
    Martinian”, I am a Catholic. What we might do for the soul of Carlo Maria
    Martini.

    by Antonio
    Socci

  • JabbaPapa

    Your narrative is 15th century, dressed up in 21st century paraphernalia.

    If anything, Cardinal Martini has probably confused his own atavism as belonging to the Church Universal …

    The nature of the Church is both contemporary and eternal — NOT this history-based view of the good Cardinal, may God receive his soul and his worship !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    What on EARTH does Novus Ordo have to do with Catholic sexual morality and teaching ????

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

    “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.”

    FOR GOD’S SAKE LET US FORGET ABOUT RENEWAL. IT IS THE SAME OLD STORY OF TRYING TO LIFT ONESELF USING ONE’S TWO HANDS . OR THE SAME THING DONE IN A COLLECTIVE WAY SOMEHOW; RATHER LET US GO FOR EVANGELISATION, FOR WE ARE NOT AT ALL, OR NOT SO MUCH  AN EVENAGELISED PEOPLE. THE WORK OF EVANGELISATION REQUIRES APOSTLES AND NOT BISHOPS.

    FIRST OF ALL, APPOINT, WITH THE CONSENT OF GOD’S  OWN PEOPLE AND MORE ESPECIALLY  WITH THE GUIDANCE OF PEOPLE WHO ARE ALREADY APOSTLES IN PRACTICE, PERSONS WHO ARE ATTUNED TO THE SPIRIT OF JESUS THE LORD TO SUCCEED TO THE OFFICES OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES. FOR THIS WE NEED TO DO AWAY WITH THE OFFICES OF THE BISHOPS AND THE LIKES – SO MANY OF THEM. WHAT IS THE USE OF THEM, ARE THEY APOSTLES IN PRACTICE?

    IF THE BISHOPS  HAVE TRULY INHERITED THE OFFICES OF THE APOSTLES, THEY NEED TO LIVE AND FUNCTION LIKE THE THE APOSTLES, PRODUCING FRUITS FOR THE LORD: 30-FOLD, 60-FOLD AND 100-FOLD.

    MERE RITUAL ANNOINTING WILL NOT  AND CANNOT MAKE  APOSTLES OUT OF SUCH PEOPLE.

    INSTITUTIONALISATION OF THE CHURCH IS TO BE DEALT WITH FOR THE ADVANTAGE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD JESUS THE LORD ANNOUNCED TO US. DOING AWAY WITH DENOMINATIONAL CHRISTIANITY IS ANOTHER URGENT MATTER. THIS ALL REQUIRE SELF-DENIAL ON ALL LEVELS STARTING FROM THE TOP FOR LOVE OF CHRIST THE LORD.

    LET US LOOK WITH CONFIDENCE AND HOPE TO THE DIVINE RETREAT CENTRE FATHERS OF MURINGOOR-POTTA, INDIA OR TO SIMILAR APOSTOLIC GROUPS AND INDIVIDUALS ANYWHERE AND EVERYWHERE ALL OVER THE WORLD IF ANY.

    ST. PAUL WAS NOT OF THE TWELVE APOSTLES, AND YET HE BECAME AN APOSTLE WITH THE HELP AND GUIDANCE OF THE RISEN LORD. HIS SECRETS WERE HIS YEARNING TO SUBMIT HIMSELF TO THE YOKE OF THE LORD, AND HIS UNDYING LOYALTY AND OBEDIENCE TO HIM AND  SO HE WENT INTO THE CAVE OF HIS  OWN HEART AND CONFRONTED THE LORD  THERE AND CAME OUT AS THE BEST OF ALL APOSTLES.

    THE SEVENTY-TWO DISCIPLES JESUS PROMOTED TO APOSTLESHIP: FOR THEY TOO PROCLAIMED HIS WORD., AND EVEN THE DECON STEPHEN BECAME AN APOSTLE.

    MARY, THE MOTHER OF JESUS THE LORD BECAME THE QUEEN OF THE APOSTLES!

    MARY MAGDALENE IS KNOW IN THE WORDS OF POPE JOHN PAUL II AS THE APOSTLE TO THE APOSTLES.

    LOOK AT THIS TYPICAL CASE OF CALL TO APOSTLESHIP: THE LORD INVITED A YOUNG MAN TO FOLLOW HIM. BUT THE YOUNG MAN REPLIED, “LET ME FIRST GO AND BURY MY FATHER AND THEN I  SHALL COME TO FOLLOW YOU”. BUT THE LORD SAID TO HIM, “LET THE DEAD BURY THEIR OWN DEAD, AS FOR YOU, COME AND PROCLAIM THE KINGDOM OF GOD”.

    IF SUCH HAS BEEN THE CASE WITH SO MANY OF THESE PEOPLE, CAN’T  WE THE PEOPLE OF THE PRESENT DAYS LISTEN TO THE VOICE OF THE LORD CALLING AND BECOMING TO US? OR ARE BECOME ONCE AND AND FOR ALL OUR OWN GREATEST ENEMIES?

    CAN”T WE SET ASIDE, PRACTISING DELF-DENIAL IN A COLLECTIVE WAY, THE WAYS AND TRADITIONS OF THE INSTITUTION FOR THE SAKE OF THE LORD?

    INSTITUTION BINDS US. BUT JESUS THE LORD SETS US FREE FOR HIS KINGDOM. IF WE ARE NOT READY FOR THIS FREEDOM WE ARE MOST CERTAINLY LIKE THE EUNUCHS OF KINGS AND EMPERORS OF THE BY-GONE AGES.