August 31, 2012
Cardinal Carlo Martini, Papal Contender, Dies at 85By GAIA PIANIGIANI
ROME — Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most influential progressive thinkers, who once was considered as a possible successor to Pope John Paul II, died in a Jesuit retreat near Milan on Friday. He was 85.
His death was announced by the Archdiocese of Milan, where he had been archbishop for 22 years before retiring in 2002. He had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for some time.
In the later years of Pope John Paul II’s tenure, Cardinal Martini was frequently mentioned as a contender to be the next pope, especially by members of the church’s progressive wing. But in the 2005 conclave after the pope’s death, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, a hard-line defender of the faith, was the choice, becoming Pope Benedict XVI.
In a message sent on Friday to the current archbishop of Milan, Angelo Scola, Pope Benedict praised Cardinal Martini as an “authoritative biblical scholar” and “a zealous prelate.”
A Jesuit who was a respected expert on Scripture and the early church, Cardinal Martini espoused liberal, if diplomatically couched, views on a range of subjects — including priestly celibacy, the right to die, condom use and even abortion — that sometimes put him at odds with church doctrine.
In 2005, for instance, the Catholic News Service described him as having expressed “openness to the possibility of allowing married Latin-rite priests under certain circumstances,” as well as to the ordination of women as deacons.
Cardinal Martini was sometimes described in the news media as having gone as far as suggesting the church consider ordaining women as priests. But in an interview with The New York Times in 2002, the cardinal, who spoke impeccable English and a number of other languages both ancient and modern, disavowed that position, saying that his views on the subject were “much more nuanced.”
He also expressed notably liberal views on issues relating to health and the human body. In 2006, in a dialogue published in the Italian newsmagazine L’Espresso between Cardinal Martini and the Italian bioethicist Ignazio Marino, the cardinal challenged official church policy by arguing that condom use was justified in some cases to prevent the spread of AIDS.
More striking still, in the same exchange he characterized the legalization of abortion as a “positive” development, inasmuch as it could “reduce or eliminate” illegal abortions. He added, however, that the availability of legal abortion should not be construed as a “license to kill.”
In 2007, in a letter to an Italian newspaper, Cardinal Martini expressed qualified support for a patient’s right to die, urging the Vatican to honor the requests of terminally ill patients who ask “in all lucidity” for life-prolonging treatments to be withdrawn.
Cardinal Martini, who never held a parish pulpit, was also known for his inclusive approach to contemporary theology. In Milan, he helped draw young people to the church by presenting a series of forums in which religious believers, atheists and agnostics met to discuss issues of mutual concern.
And in recent years he wrote a column for the Italian daily Corriere della Sera in which he answered questions from readers on topics like the clergy sex abuse scandal and divorce.
An advocate for interfaith dialogue, Cardinal Martini served on the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews. In the 1960s, as rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, he created a program under which Catholic students go to Israel to study Judaism, biblical archaeology and Hebrew.
In a 2004 speech at Gregorian University in Rome, Cardinal Martini said that Catholics could not fully understand their own faith without a meaningful understanding of Judaism.
“It is not enough to be ‘anti’ anti-Semitism,” he said. “We need to build friendships, recognizing our differences, but not allowing them to lead to conflict.”
He expanded on those views in his book “Christianity and Judaism: A Historical and Theological Overview.”
Carlo Maria Martini was born Feb. 15, 1927, in Orbassano, near Turin. He entered the Society of Jesus at 17 and was ordained a priest in 1952.
Ferruccio de Bortoli, the editor in chief of the newspaper Corriere della Sera, said in a video message that the cardinal would be missed as a theologian, “but especially as a teacher and spiritual guide for all of us, also for those who do not have the gift of the faith.”
As a result of his work in Jerusalem, Cardinal Martini became deeply attached to the city. After retiring, he lived there much of the time.
In an interview with The Times that year, he was asked how he would continue his public work in Jerusalem. As The Times reported, “he looked stricken.”
“It’s not my intention to go to Jerusalem and do something in society,” Cardinal Martini replied. “I want to become a private man. I’m sure personal prayer is more important, and silent study will help the world more than many words and actions.”