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 143.

    The RC church stands for power over foolish frightened people, the life blood of the church is fear. It tells you your dammed,but, it'll save you; so long as you obey and acquiesce at all levels. Yet, it covers up it's own abominations from the inquisition, antisemitism and more recently the horrors of child abuse. I say this as an ex-Catholic who wanted to really understand my religion.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    200 years behind the times and infinitely irrelevant. All organised religions are nothing but long running cults. It's time to let go and grow up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    He did like the use of condoms,as a lesser evil.That seems almost radical!

    If only RCC would acknowledge this?Of course they wont=Jesus never wore a condom.I dont know if they had animal gut condoms then,Who could say?

    They may have even used sheepgut condoms @131ludwigvb?

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Interesting that the pope still carries the insgnia of the knights templar.
    While he's surrounded by pagan symbols that would make holy men from Babylonia blush!

    This religeon worships god alright, but not the one who you would ever want to meet...

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    It's the people who follow the Church that are 200 years behind...its just they don't know it.

    It's called blind faith.

    Questioning what you read and preached is healthy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    I`m not sure what he means by "200 years behind" the times. Is he saying the church should change their beliefs to suit todays thinking? If todays thinking is seen by the church to be against the teachings in the bible then of course they shouldn`t, otherwise it makes the whole point of following the bible pointless and no i`m not religious. You either believe and follow it or you don`t.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    It is always sad when a voice of reason is lost to the world. It is also sad that all religions had a chance to bring unity to the world if they would have chosen tolerance and mutual respect of other beliefs. With global connections now we need to start thinking "WE" not self. Mutual respect for everyone and end nationalization. Start teaching helping each other. Treat each other as family.

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    So, the cardinal says reform the Church, but wait till I'm gone. Christ was not so timid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    He was right and wrong. Right to point out some of the many flaws in the church. Wrong to promote change. The church should be sticking to it's beliefs if it is to be taken seriously. Hopefully that way, more and more people will see sense and come around to the potential the world has without religious powermongers preaching how we shoud be living. Here's to the collapse of all of the religions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    117 - These events are episodes in the history of the Church. Only.
    Maybe where you live. I note England didn't give up witch trials after it became Anglican. Here in the USA Salem was famous for them. Africa kills its children over witchcraft.
    Dixie justified slavery by Christian principles. Westboro Baptist hates everyone, and Ted Haggard, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, &c &c &c

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    @123.Rebecca Riot

    It comes down to a hell of a lot more than them not having catchy tunes to sing along to.
    Human rights abuses, contributing to the spread of homophobia, contributing to the spread of disease, hoarding of insane wealth, hoarding of public historical art, influencing democratic governments, preaching intolerance, MASSIVE hypocrisy... the list is endless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    There appears to be an increasing 21st century divide between religions in an ever troubled world - thus increasing the problems?

    The media doesn't help. It's time we criticised ALL religions for their failings to unite together for humanity while preaching peace.

    In my lifetime, I've yet to see any religion not looking out for themselves in the name of 'their' god and unchallenged dogma.

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    " As Jesus said, his sheep know his voice."

    "sheep" says it all doesn't it

    Baa ... rubbish.

    Do you go to football? That's where you pay through the nose to be sheep!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    As global communication increases the Catholic church would benefit from appreciating other cultures and customs. This can be done through humility prayer. Society's view on marriage and divorce is changing . The catholic church must proceed through prayer not tradition.

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    All these people saying, 'only 200? Add another zero. 2000 years out of date!'. Jesus would have been 12, there was no Church. To say 1978 years out of date would be more accurate. People are saved by grace and not by works. People don't need to confess to a priest, Jesus is our Great High Priest. Priests don't need to be celibate, Peter was married.

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Comment #80 - Leap said: "I do not expect liberals and atheists to understand these things".

    Leap, you maybe right in that "we" don't understand these things.....but we have moved on FAR BEYOND where you are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    I'm not sure why the BBC chose to make this a main story and one for comments. It's not a significant story, since Martini's views were well known to those who pay attention to such matters, and it's ideal to attract a lot of heat but not much light. Few comments so far distinguish between the Catholic Church as a whole and the Vatican - a bit like equating the Br. Govt. with the UK population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    I think he's absolutely right. Last week I visited Florence and was asked to cover my bear shoulders when entering a church. I respect that, but then saw that no men had been asked to do the same thing. Then I came face to face with a huge painting of semi-naked men painted in the 14th Century! We moan about equality for muslim and jewish women, but christianity is just as bad.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Prior to establishment of main religions there was no 'word of god',the Catholic Church in particular is very adept at manipulating the 'words of God' to suit its own agenda including making itself rich (search 'wealth of catholic church' and learn the truth).In the last century people are now rightly questioning the Church authority.Bravo Card Martini for saying what needed saying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Your article begins:

    "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."

    Was that cause and effect? 'T'is a power to be reckoned with indeed.


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