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Carlo Maria Cardinal Martini died. He was a strong contender for pope when John Paul II was elected. Already sick with Parkinson's, he was less likely to be pope when Benedict was elected. Meanwhile the Protestant media has been going to town that Martini died condemning the Catholic Church; decrying with his last breath its obsolescence. On different occasions including his deathbed interview with a fellow Jesuit priest, Martini said:
"Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty; [and] when the church rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are [seen to be] pompous."
"The church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change, starting from the pope and the bishops. The pedophilia scandals oblige us to take a journey of transformation."
"A woman is abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion to look after her and her children. A second love succeeds. If this family is discriminated against not just the mother will be cut off but also her children. The church loses the future generation."
"The church is 200 years out of date. Why don’t we rouse ourselves? Are we afraid?"
"Our culture has aged." Martini grew up under the shadow of Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West -historical philosophy of inter-war Europe that inspired Hitler. European culture is dead, it died with Bach; its creativity dried up; leaving only a dry intelligence to perfect the art of war.
The pedophilia scandal. In the swirling storm of rather belated American complaints of having been molested by priests as boys, an Italian cardinal, confronted by media, with the embarrassing "crisis of the Catholic Church" said, "it was crisis of only the American Catholic Church. Italians like their women mature." Indeed Renaissance popes had experienced mistresses from the finest families, one of them under age.
Martini never said that any article of our faith is wrong and needs to be changed. But Martini might have suggested that the way to propagate the faith needs to change from the way it was done 200 years ago. Which is to say that 200 years ago it had improved from the way it was done 200 years before that.
The medieval Church pondered birth control when faced with the prospect of unbaptized babies or "uncatechized" children going to hell. One answer was terrifying in its logic and demographic implication. No more sex. The Albigensians believed in love but sex demeaned it. It developed into the chaste cult of courtly love where a knight could openly declare his infatuation with his lord's wife but never touch her. She reciprocated with affectionate gestures, attaching her kerchief to the point of his lance but not another protrusion. The Church put the community to the sword. At any rate there was no doctrine on sex; if you did it confession wiped it clean.
Times change; truth does not; but the strategy for extending truth's dominion and the tactics for defending its borders could stand improvement.
It was done with the sword when the sword had the last word. It was done by persuasion in the Age of Reason when Jesuit Mandarins served the Chinese emperor in Chinese dress and carved self-governing republics along the Amazon to keep Indians from slavery. And lately it responded with humanity to secular inhumanity in the modern and postmodern ages exemplified by holocaust perpetrated by the Belgians in the Congo where black children had an arm chopped off so they worked in pairs; by the Dutch Protestants in Indonesia so they would forget how to grow spices outside Dutch plantations, and by English Protestants by exporting what little of the harvest was left during droughts, condemning tens of millions of Indians to death by starvation.
Like other religions, the Church has fought in context, Martini said. And while it cannot change the past, when it tried to answer Protestant barbarism with its own, it might apologize for what it did then. And it has.
Martini believed in the inviolability of marriage but he also believed in compassion and common sense. To condemn a wife for starting another life with another man hurts her children as well and the Church may lose them all. As in politics, the art of religion is addition; but in the inclusive sense of keeping more in and thereby increasing the numbers of the saved. Indeed the Church is 200 years out of date - in its tactics but in the same unceasing war against heresy, the devil and hell.
Cardinal Martini was not above using the pomposity of the Church vestments and ritual as Archbishop of Milan. He hosted the most prestigious affair in fashionable Milan for which the fashionable fought for admission. He made it fashionable to feel lost in the modern world and found by the Catholic Church or at least Cardinal Martini.
He called the huge forum Cattedra Dei Non Credenti: lectures for non-believers. He presided over it, said Harvey Cox, garbed in the most splendid vestments. One Holy Week, I attended the last words at the Duomo. As the ultima palabras droned on, Martini presided, gaunt and ghostly in mien, sitting on a throne for hours in the gold and purple vestments of the Roman emperors.
Martini knew when to use tradition to awe the faithless and make the faithful proud of the long history of their religion. He also knew when to dress more efficiently for hand-to-hand combat in the trenches in the unending struggle for the souls of men. He must have seen the Nazis gain respectability by switching from schoolboy khaki to black by Hugo Boss. No one needs fashion sense more than a soldier, to impart a visible dignity to service and glory to sacrifice.
Ours is a religion of history, rooted in historical events that are all we know for sure about what it says. Martini admitted that every attempt in theology to exclude women from the priesthood has been discredited. Even Aquinas was troubled by the speciousness of the arguments against female ordination. But Martini noted that nothing will change the historical fact that the Son of God picked men to carry his message and the weakest of them all to be the head of his imperishable Church. Against that historical fact, Martini said, we cannot ordain women even if Christ loved them more than men; as when he could not say no to his mother at Cana and gave the honor of discovering his resurrection to women not men.
God could have created a new man out of nothing to be His Son to atone for our sins but it seems only a man born of woman could attain the complete humanity essential for that purpose. Martini quoted Aquinas, citing Augustine: "It was ordained that the Son of God should receive His body from a woman…for thus was all human nature ennobled."
The Church must enlist more science in the service of faith and as Father Gaston observed, it did not oppose the heliocentric system because of its originality. As the conservator of Greek culture, the Church knew Aristarchus of Samos discovered it over a thousand years earlier and may have censured Galileo and Copernicus for plagiarizing an old idea though they worked out mathematics better.
The Church celebrated the discovery of the Big Bang Theory which proves that time and the world had a beginning; and quantum physics which proves there are multiple unseen worlds alongside this one. So how many times in how many parallel universes did Christ have to die or did their Gardens of Eden have better outcomes? We don't have to know. We live and die only in this one. And so Martini invoked genetics to show that the instant of combination of sperm and egg created a unique identify that is murder to extinguish - by a morning after pill, by sucking out a fetus to make stem cells for the aging rich, or by abortion to be spared the shame or expense. Martini never endorsed birth control but like Benedict advised that men who cannot control the urge might use condoms to protect themselves from AIDS.
Times change. The battle of good versus evil goes on but the way to fight the next war is not with the strategy and weaponry of the last one. The Church must keep up with the devil by changing tactics when he changes terrain. So if the situation calls for self-purging hell’s double agents in the Church, it should be as assiduous in rooting out pedophilia among the clergy as it was stamping out sexual frenzy among nuns at Loudon.
But Martini was wrong that the churches of Europe are big but empty. In fact they are packed with Catholics of mixed, Asian and African race. Filipinos packed the Duomo in Milan and all other churches in formerly catholic Europe.
Martini was elegant, sophisticated, handsome, learned and wise but he could not see that changing the Church includes electing a black, brown, red or yellow man to the throne of Peter to hold the keys of the kingdom, here and hereafter. He failed to say that the Church must never identify itself again with any worldly "ism" like feudalism, monarchism, fascism, capitalism, imperialism and democracy. Its kingdom is not of this world.
The Church has never suffered as much damage to its credibility than when Cardinal Spellman blessed US troops bound for the Vietnam War. Spellman was an American. In China, bright students at Beijing University envy our Catholicism. Not for its truth but for its holism, its ability to induce consensual conformity to doctrines over very aspect of life, outward and inward. People like to be ruled.
Martini knew this and saw it wasted by a Church that would not keep up with the present, the better to preserve and advance the best of the past. The doctrine of papal infallibility was affirmed, not to make anything the pope said true, but to give him the authority to declare which Church teachings must be kept completely unchanged and what could be set aside or revised for the time being.