Incomplete Transition

by Juan L. Mercado


“He looks like (a) severe Renaissance pope: tall, elegant and bony, with grey hair combed smoothly back, a beak of a nose and piercing blue eyes,” the Economist wrote in April 1998. “(Carlo Maria Martini) might have stepped out of a canvas by Raphael. But looks can mislead”.

The cardinal archbishop of Milan died August 31. He was 85.  Thousands filed past the coffin of a priest considered, in the 2005 conclave, as “papabile” or future Pope.

Martini’s death leaves the College of Cardinals with 206 members. Of these, 118 of are under 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave. The only Filipino cardinal, Ricardo Vidal of Cebu, is almost  81. The next two red hats could go to Manila’s archbishop Luis Tagle and Jose Palma of Cebu, observers bet.

To  his last breath, biblical scholar and author Martini, who reluctantly agreed to be cardinal, remained “shaker and stirrer”. “The Catholic Church is 200 years behind the times.” Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera quotes Martini saying in the last interview before his death.

“Our culture has grown old,” Martini noted.” Our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up.  Our religious rites and vestments are pompous.”

The Church should adopt a more generous attitude towards divorced persons. Otherwise, it will lose the allegiance of future generations. The issue is not whether divorced couples can receive communion, but how the Church can help complex family situations.

In 2008, Martini  criticized prohibition of birth control, saying the stance had driven many faithful away, BBC recalls. In 2006, he argued condoms could “in some situations, be a lesser evil — which Benedict XVI echoed last year.  To  conquer tiredness of the Church a “radical transformation, beginning with the Pope and his bishops” is urgent.  “The child sex scandals oblige us to undertake a journey of transformation”.

Did a Piece of Wood Change Church History?”, is an insightful story on Martini, published in this week’s issue of America.

Thomas Fitzpatrick, S.J, drove Martini to the Jerusalem airport and said:  “Carlo, I know you do not want to be Pope.   I am your religious superior. As Jesuits we are supposed to obey superiors. If you are elected, please accept. We both  laughed;”

“I’ve seen the tv coverage”, I told Martini  when he returned. “I know you don’t have to use a cane. But you used it to demonstrate how sick you are. Am I correct?”  “Yes,” he said.

“After that in the Jesuit house in Jerusalem, I’d point to the cardinal’s cane and say: “Here is the piece of wood that changed the direction of the Catholic Church.”

Half a world away, Martini would have recognized similarities in conflicts that rock church bureaucrats and faithful here in the controversy over House Bill 4244 or the “Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health” bill.

The 192 faculty members of Ateneo de Manila University, who declared support for HB4244, should be investigated, Episcopal Commission on Canon Law Bishop Leandro Medroso asserted in an interview over Radio Veritas. They could be fired for teaching students concepts contrary to Church teachings, he said.  Excommunication is possible. And in a full page Inquirer ad, Bishop of Antipolo singled out constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas for criticism.

Why? LIke Cardinal Martini, this Filipino Jesuit did nothing more than reiterate Catholic teaching on the issue in his Inquirer column, among other fora. Here are some Bernas excerpts:

“Public defense of gospel values, however, especially when carried into the arena of public policy formulation, whether through the advocacy of lay leaders or the moral suasion by pastors, is not without limit”, the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines taught.

“Pastors have the liberty to participate in policy debate and formulation. (But) that liberty must not be exercised to detriment of the religious freedom of non-communicants, or even of dissenting communicants.  This is not just a matter of prudence; it is a matter of justice.”

“There may be some Catholic believers who, in all honesty, do not see truth the way the Church‘s magisterium discerns, interprets, and teaches it. (Here) the Church must clearly and firmly teach what it believes is the truth and require its members to form their consciences accordingly.

“Yet the church must also, with all charity and justice, hold on to its doctrine on religious freedom —  that the human person is bound to follow his or her conscience faithfully, and must not be forced to act contrary to it.”

When a bishop tells a pro-RH Bill candidate that his diocese will campaign against him or her…the bishop no longer seeks to persuade about reasonableness of the Church’s position. (He) is  appealing to the legislator’s instinct of self-preservation. Such a tactic is counter-productive to  formation of a kind of politics based on principles. It reinforces a way of practicing politics that values expediency rather than service, justice, and the common good.

“The threat against candidates would be meaningful if there were such a thing as a Catholic vote. In its “Catechism on Church and Politics for the 1998 elections”, CBCP itself denied the existence of a Catholic vote: There is generally no such thing as a ‘Catholic vote’ or ‘the Bishops’ candidates’. This is simply a myth. It still is today.

Indeed, the old church of the diktat has yet to complete transition to the church of religious freedom.


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