passed away from Parkinson's disease on August 31st at 85 years of age, the liberal prelate, who was known for being open to the possibility of a married priesthood, ordaining women as deacons, and allowing Communion for some divorced Catholics in second marriages, gave a final interview in which he had some last words for -- and about -- the Church he served for so many years. The interview was conducted by a Jesuit confrere, Fr. Georg Sporschill, who also interviewed the cardinal for his book, Nighttime Conversations in Jerusalem, and freelance writer Federica Radice, and published in Corriere della Sera. The interviewers describe this as "a sort of spiritual testament" and assert that Cardinal Martini read and approved the text prior to his death. We have translated it into English. -- RG
How do you view the situation of the Church?
The Church is tired, from the good life in Europe and in America. Our culture has aged, our churches are big, our religious houses are empty, and the Church bureaucracy is increasing, and our rites and habits are pompous. But do those things express what we are today? (...) Comfort is burdensome. We find ourselves here like the rich young man who went away sadly when Jesus called him to make him his disciple. I know we can't leave it all easily. But at least we can seek out men who are freer and closer to their neighbor. As were Bishop Romero and the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador. Where are our heroes to inspire us? We shouldn't limit them within the constraints of the institution for any reason."
Who can help the Church today?
Father Karl Rahner readily used the image of embers hidden under ashes. I see in the Church today so many ashes over the coals that a sense of hopelessness often overcomes me. How can we free the coals from the ashes so as to reinvigorate the flame of love? First, we have to look for those embers. Where are the individuals full of generosity like the Good Samaritan? The ones who have faith like the Roman centurion? Who are enthusiastic like John the Baptist? Who dare to do new things like Paul? Who are faithful like Mary Magdalene? I advise the Pope and the bishops to seek out twelve people who are out of line for leadership positions. Men who are close to the poor and surrounded by young people and experiment with new things. We need to be confronted with men who are burning so that the spirit can spread everywhere.
What tools do you recommend against the fatigue of the Church?
I recommend three very powerful ones. The first is conversion. The Church must acknowledge its own mistakes and follow a path of radical change, starting with the Pope and the bishops. The pedophilia scandals push us to embark on a journey of conversion. The questions about sexuality and all issues involving the body are one example. These are important for everyone and sometimes they're even too important. We must ask ourselves if people still listen to the Church's advice on sexual matters. Is the Church still a relevant authority in this field, or just a caricature in the media? Second, the Word of God. The Second Vatican Council returned the Bible to Catholics. (...) Only those who feel that Word in their hearts can be among those who help the renewal of the Church and are able to answer personal questions with a right choice. The Word of God is simple and looks for a listening heart as a companion (...). Neither the clergy nor the Church leadership can replace the interior life of man. All external rules, laws, dogmas, are given to clarify the inner voice and the discernment of spirits. Who are the sacraments for? These are the third instrument of healing. The sacraments aren't an instrument for discipline, but a help for men at moments along the way and in the weaknesses of life. Are we bringing the sacraments to the people who need new strength? I'm thinking of all the divorced and remarried couples, the extended families. The latter need special protection. The Church upholds the indissolubility of marriage. It's a grace when a married couple and a family are able (...). The attitude we have towards the extended family will determine the children's generation's approach to the Church. A woman has been abandoned by her husband and finds a new companion who takes care of her and her three children. The second love succeeds. If that family is discriminated against, not only the mother but also her children are cut off. If the parents feel they're outside the Church or don't feel supported, the Church will lose the next generation. Before Communion we pray, "Lord, I am not worthy..." We know we aren't worthy (...). Love is a gift. The question of whether the divorced can take Communion should be reversed. How can the Church come to help those who have complex family situations with the power of the sacraments?
What do you do personally?
The Church is lagging 200 years behind. Why doesn't it shake itself up? Are we afraid? Fear instead of courage? However, faith is the foundation of the Church. Faith, confidence, courage. I'm old and sick and dependent on the help of others. The good people around me make me feel love. That love is stronger than the distrust I sometimes feel towards the Church in Europe. Only love conquers fatigue. God is Love. I have one more question for you: What can you do for the Church?