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 903.

    @879 Capitalism might be flawed, but much like democracy it's the best we've got. Although your second point is a good I don't know if the need for leadership is childish rather than as individuals we may not have all the answers. I know I don't

  • rate this

    Comment number 902.

    890. I think St Paul believed Christ's second coming was imminent, ie during his lifetime. I wonder if he was disillusioned on his demise?

    895. "religion must now be abolished". The only way to overcome it is by opposing it with better understanding of the cosmos. Anything else will only induce a feeling of martyrdom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 901.

    The message is the lord not the Church. Entry through him not the church.

  • rate this

    Comment number 900.

    I'm not even religious either but only a fool fails to see that the Church has something no other system has

    The weakness with ANY system is people

    Their Greed, their hubris, corruption, evil, narcissism, collusion etc etc

    Only the Church has survived the sin and weakness of mankind

    All other large organisations have crumbled into dust

    Rocket science it aint

  • Comment number 899.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 898.

    It's either the word of God or it's not.

    Then its not.
    The NT is a few texts selected by people from many, then mistranslated and interpreted.
    The OT is written down form oral tradition, then mistranslated and interpreted.
    Either its not the word of god or so distorted as to make it not the word of god.

  • Comment number 897.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 896.

    887 founded about 300 BC and still never updated wow.
    Just let me make a comparison if your so stach in your position why are you not stoning gays? Or unmarried non-virgins? Or jews? Also the roman empire left a technological legacy shattered by your religion we used technology like the roman empires until 1800s And its legacy lives.
    The bible waswritten and chosen by romans in thcouncil of nicea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 895.

    Its a great shame this cardinal's views were not more frequently reported as it seems he understood what is needed. So far as religion is concerned, it's time to realise it is no more than another fairy story (for adults) to made up to control the masses. The masses cannot be controlled any more and religion must now be abolished for the sake of humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 894.

    Yes, but it's not only the church, so are the other major religions of the world, the only technology they have learn to adapt so well is the cellphones, you travel anywhere in the world but holy Nokia, or holy Samsung or holy I phone (the ring tones are religious though) and. Sure hope god is listening well to their conversations!

  • rate this

    Comment number 893.

    What should they do? Rewrite the Bible?

    The bible is not a single book but a collection of religous texts, the message is largely determined by the choice as to which texts to include. Initially this was done in Council of Rome in 382, The Catholic church finalised its list in 1546 at the Council of Trent. changing the canonical list would alter the bible & could alter it considerably

  • rate this

    Comment number 892.

    The Cardinal Carlo Martini only told about 1/10th of the truth: The Church is about 2000 years behind the time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 891.

    He would be judged by his God,but is it a large congregation of blasphemous people or a few faithfuls that God wants?please always remember you're working 4 God.

  • rate this

    Comment number 890.

    St Paul said it all about 2000 years ago

    "If Christ be not risen, our faith is in vain.'

    and if he is, then there are going to be a lot of disillusioned Atheists come Judgement day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 889.

    874. Yes but this time its a little different. Unlike the Reformation, which essentially believed in the same god, this time it has to fight greater knowledge and understanding of the cosmos and all thats in it.

    Now religions are on the back foot as the space for god contracts. Given enough time its questionable whether all but the hardiest beleiver will be able to make a case for such a being

  • rate this

    Comment number 888.

    fdgsr Truth is God; God is Truth. All else is irrelevant.

    By far the best comment on this acrimonious blog site!

  • rate this

    Comment number 887.

    The Church will outlast the BBC and Liberalism too

    2000 years and counting

    Critics of the Church come and go, none are original
    Their systems and their creeds turn to dust in the fire of time because they are based upon fanciful notions, opinions and hubris

    As each empire crumbles into dust and is compressed into a few pages of the History Books, the Church continues to march into the future

  • rate this

    Comment number 886.

    The fact that the Catholic Church and the Mafia have their power base in Italy is no coincidence.

    The Church like tne monarchs must change with the times or die. In other words bend with the wind., if thats the case, whats the point?

  • rate this

    Comment number 885.

    The human race has existed for at least 200,000 years or maybe as much as a 1,000,000 years. The bible has existed at maximum 3,800 or at most for the last 2%, the church for 1%, of the existence of human history. I think it could change quite easily. Could it possibly last for another 1% or will we wake up before that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 884.

    871. martin - Except of course we know that Genesis was more or less "plagiarised" from other stories that predate the bible, like Babylonian Flood stories.


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