Liberal Catholic Cardinal Carlo Martini dies

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Image caption,
Cardinal Martini (r) was once thought to be a strong candidate for pope

Italian cardinal and progressive Catholic Carlo Maria Martini has died at the age of 85.

An archbishop for the key archdiocese of Milan for over two decades, Martini was once tipped as a future pope.

He passed away on Friday near the northern city, having suffered from Parkinson's disease for several years.

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.

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi described Cardinal Martini as "a great evangeliser".

The BBC's David Willey, in Rome, says that one of the characteristics that distinguished Martini was his dual identity both as a distinguished academic and as someone able to explain Catholic teaching in easily understandable terms to everyone.

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".

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