Cardinal Carlo Martini says Church '200 years behind'

Catholics pay tribute to Italian cardinal Carlo Maria Martini at Milan's cathedral Cardinal Martini's body is lying in state in Milan Cathedral

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Italian Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini has described the Roman Catholic Church as being "200 years behind" the times.

The cardinal died on Friday, aged 85.

Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera has published his last interview, recorded in August, in which he said: "The Church is tired... our prayer rooms are empty."

Martini, once tipped as a future pope, urged the Church to recognise its errors and to embark on a radical path of change, beginning with the Pope.

Start Quote

The child sex scandals oblige us to undertake a journey of transformation”

End Quote Cardinal Martini

Thousands of people have been filing past his coffin at Milan's cathedral, where he was archbishop for more than 20 years.

The cardinal, who had retired from the post in 2002, suffering from Parkinson's Disease, is to be buried on Monday.

'Old culture'

Martini, a popular figure with liberal stances on many issues, commanded great respect from both Pope John Paul II and his successor Pope Benedict XVI.

The cardinal - a member of the Jesuit religious order - was often critical in his writings and comments on Church teaching, says the BBC's David Willey in Rome.

He was a courageous and outspoken figure during the years he headed Europe's largest Catholic diocese, our correspondent says.

Cardinal Martini gave his last interview to a fellow Jesuit priest, Georg Sporschill, and to a journalist at the beginning of August when he knew his death was approaching.


Cardinal Martini was a renowned academic and biblical scholar, as well as a prolific author of popular books on religion.

But it is highly unusual for a leading member of the Catholic hierarchy openly to challenge Church teaching - or rather to criticise the way in which the Church often expresses its teaching with negatives and prohibitions rather than encouragement to believers.

Pope Benedict is now faced with a difficult choice: whether or not to attend Cardinal Martini's funeral in Milan on Monday - which many leading Catholics say would be a powerful affirmation of Church unity.

The Pope has rarely awarded red hats to Catholic leaders of any nation who dare to question traditional doctrine.

The cardinal had returned to Italy from Jerusalem, where he had settled on retirement in 2002 to continue his biblical studies.

Catholics lacked confidence in the Church, he said in the interview. "Our culture has grown old, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our religious rites and the vestments we wear are pompous."

Unless the Church adopted a more generous attitude towards divorced persons, it will lose the allegiance of future generations, the cardinal added. The question, he said, is not whether divorced couples can receive holy communion, but how the Church can help complex family situations.

And the advice he leaves behind to conquer the tiredness of the Church was a "radical transformation, beginning with the Pope and his bishops".

"The child sex scandals oblige us to undertake a journey of transformation," Cardinal Martini says, referring to the child sex abuse that has rocked the Catholic Church in the past few years.

He was not afraid, our correspondent adds, to speak his mind on matters that the Vatican sometimes considered taboo, including the use of condoms to fight Aids and the role of women in the Church.

In 2008, for example, he criticised the Church's prohibition of birth control, saying the stance had likely driven many faithful away, and publicly stated in 2006 that condoms could "in some situations, be a lesser evil".

Corriere Della Sera plans to give a copy of his last book entitled Speak From The Heart to all its readers.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    I would say that it is quite optimistic estimate. Catholic Church (just like any other major religion) is at least 1000 years behind the times. Nothing changed since establishing first papacy. Nepotism, money, well documented over centuries sexual exploitation/excess, countless dead in the name of blah, blah . Religion (as an institution) is at the center of everything bad since it was conceived.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Enlightened chap.
    The Church could be really radical and allow its gay priests to marry, perhaps reducing these abuse scandals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    A great pity he didn't speak out more forthrightly. Maybe someone will take over his mantle within the Curia, but I doubt it. The Catholic Church has got to change. I'd hoped that with John Paul 1, it would happen, but he was murdered. John Paul 2, great in many ways, put back the cause of liberalism in the church by decades. Benedict 16th is doing no better. God help the Catholic Church

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    "The old appeals to racial sexual religious chauvinism and to rabid nationalist fervor are beginning not to work. A new consciousness is developing which sees the earth as a single organism and recognizes that an organism at war with itself is doomed." - Carl Sagan

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Whenever someone has the courage to speak out like this, some take heed, some take heart and others take courage. Changes do happen. The concern that this one old man has expressed over divorcees is just the tip of the iceberg. The same concern for the outcasts of the church is rapidly growing beneath the surface. Reality will triumph, as it did over holding Mass in local languages.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Politicians, dictators and governments come and go, yet religions persist.

    It's human nature to be a predator - yet we exhibit lethal bovine behaviour at the same time.

    Three main holy books, that focus on ancient rituals, continue to divide humanity because they can. I don't see any religious leaders and their politicians having the courage to change a thing on the ticket they were voted for.

  • Comment number 57.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    The Church is doomed. All we need to do is grow up and realize that we do not have to believe in fairy stories to live a decent life. The Catholic Church is all about power - principally power over gullible minds. It is a frightening institution and corrupt from top to bottom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    It's true, the catholic church clouds over true Christian values with its 'traditional ways'. I am surprised the catholic church is still standing with its corrupt and out of date ways. If you want to be a true Christian join a modern Christian church that is sure and clear on its values, not one that doesn't even know its place in society any more.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    "...our prayer rooms are empty".

    A welcome sign of progress

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Sounds like another cardinal not believing in the divine creator. It's either the word of God or it's not. If it is, it's the duty of the church to stick with it. If God doesn't exist and the Bible is simply a book of morals written by human beings as a form of primitive legal system then of course that is adaptable. The Church never taught that though. This is not a business, it's a religion...

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    I'd be interested to know who at the BBC decided to open up this story to comments? It just opens the doors to the usual atheists, anarchists and liberals who will jump on any opportunity to jump on their soap box to attack the Catholic church and religion in general. I personally don't follow in any god but the left wing give non-believers a bad name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    As a previous comment stated, his ideas will die with him as no one in the Vatican wants to hear this sort of thing. They like their fancy dress, their rituals and their affluent lifestyle (povery - like heck).

    Is it any wondert that there is a shortage of candidates for the priesthood.

    In the next 50 years, in the western world, the church will be just a rump centred on the Vatican!

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Only 200 years?

    Given Jesus' command not to hoard wealth, but to give generously to those less fortunate (Matthew 19:21); and his condemnation of showy religious hypocrisy (Matthew 6:1-3); oh, and his command not to hurt children (Matthew 18:10), I would say the Catholic Church is about 2,000 years behind the times!

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    200 years isn't enough. I want to be part of a church that's like the one back 2,000 years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    Wot only 200 years behind the times all religion and the church is is a money hoarding orginisation fighting povery without touching its billions an exclusve club for the few to control those stupid enough to beleive in its teachings

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    What should they do? Rewrite the Bible?

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    At my church we have more and more catholic people turning up each week - most of them describe the faith and teaching like a religious cult.

    Jesus was sent here to set us free not to enslave us to religion.

    This man saw the light.

    Also where does it say in the bible that you can not use contraception?


  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    200 years behind? I think a zero got missed off somehow.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    For 2000 years the Christian church has made an enormous contribution to progress in terms of education, tolerance, human rights and social development. It would benefit mankind if the church could rediscover and reassert itself in an era of increasingly self-centered attitudes and materialistic values


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