Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Martini: backstabber or faithful son?

Primus inter pares

You'll know from a previous post here, that I am becoming a great fan of Cardinal Martini, whose funeral was celebrated two days ago and whose exchange of letters with Umberto Eco I enjoyed greatly. Upon hearing of his death, I was keen to learn more about him and I also eagerly read the last interview with him, published in the Corriere della Sera (and available in English translation here).

The interview took place on 8th August and asks Martini to comment on the state of the Church - a question he is very well positioned to answer and that he answers with great honesty. Martini says that the church is tired, culturally out of date, being weighted down by bureaucracy and basically showing the traits of a mature business rather than a dynamic start-up (my words :). The Church lacks the dynamism of John the Baptist and St. Paul, the faith of the Roman centurion (whose servant Jesus healed) and of St. Mary Magdalen and the closeness to the people that the Servant of God, Bishop Óscar Romero and the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador had. Martini’s answer to this predicament is to involve more people from outside formal Church structures, to recognize our own errors and start a process of conversion, to return to the Word (i.e., to a personal closeness to the Gospel), to renew an adherence to the sacraments and to be open to all, regardless of what family and social circumstances they are in. Finally, he exhorts us to renew our faith, confidence and courage and to let ourselves be conquered by God’s love.

My immediate reaction was that of gratitude for such a greatly distilled analysis of where the Church is today, for the degree of honesty and self-criticism, for the concrete steps forward and for a final call to love.

The second hand, to form applause with Martini’s interview, then is the message that Pope Benedict XVI sent to his funeral. The pope picks a line from Psalm 119: “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path” to sum up the cardinal’s life, calls him a “generous and faithful pastor of the Church” and states that everything Martini did was “for the greater glory of God.” The pope then goes on to say that:
[h]e did so with a great openness of heart, never refusing to encounter and dialogue with anyone, responding concretely to the Apostle’s invitation to "always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope " (1 Peter 3:15).
Finally, he concludes by saying: “May the Lord, who guided Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini his whole life, receive this tireless servant of the Gospel and of the Church in the Heavenly Jerusalem.” Not only an elegant nod to Martini’s fondness for the earthly Jerusalem, but also an endorsement of his faithfulness to and inspiration from God.

If it were just for these two texts - the last interview with Martini and the pope’s message at his funeral - you could think that the two were uncontroversial parts of giving thanks for the life of a great son of the Church and, I believe you’d be right. A quick look at the press presents a very different picture though. The Independent calls Martini’s interview “a damning critique that has rocked the Catholic Church,” the Daily Mail calls it a “scathing attack,” the Belfast Telegraph says that the “Vatican is rocked by Cardinal Martini's damning words from beyond the grave” and all news outlets latch on to Martini’s saying that “the Church is two hundred years behind.” Reading these and virtually all other reports (with the notable exception of Fr. Lucie-Smith’s blog), you’d think that Martini’s last interview was some kind of vengeful, underhand jab at the Church. Instead, I see Martini’s words as much more in line with Blessed Pope John Paul II’s emphasis on acknowledging past wrongs as a first step towards a renewal of the Church. E.g., in Incarnationis Mysterium he says that the Church “should kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters” (Section 11), such humble repentance being in fact a common feature of the attitude of saints.

I'd first like to thank my bestie, PM, for suggesting this as a topic for a post :)

I also realize that I may come across as someone who unreservedly agrees with everything the Church and its representatives do. Let me assure you that this is far from the case and may in fact be more a consequence of my desire to focus on what is good and worth sharing rather than on presenting a complete, balanced view of how I see the Church. As an example of something that recently irked me, take a look at the third question in this very recent interview with Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor:
Q: At a lecture after Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ installation you urged Christians to treat atheists and agnostics with deep esteem. However, later you are quoted as saying that a lack of Faith is the ‘greatest of all evils’. You blamed atheism for war and destruction, and implied it was a greater evil than sin itself. Is this a contradiction, or were you misquoted?
[At this point Cardinal Cormac got up and went to his adjacent study. Perhaps this was an abrupt end to our interview? However, after a few minutes he returned with two books.]
A: Yes, I was misquoted – it was out of context. To get the full meaning of what I said, I would encourage [you] to study the books I have assembled ‘Faith in Britain’ and ‘Faith in Europe’.
No, thanks … If the Cardinal cannot address this, very good question in the interview and his only recourse is to bring back TWO books that the reader is to study and from which they are to distill what the Cardinal thinks, then in all likelihood those books are not going to be any help either. Seeing a response like this (and much of the lengthy interview) just makes me recoil in frustration and shake my head in disappointment …