This may seem a bit odd, but I was deeply saddened over the long weekend to hear of the death of former Cardinal and Archbishop of Milan, Carlo Maria Martini. Martini lost his battle with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 85. He had stepped down from the Catholic Church in 2002, but was young enough to be a part of the conclave in 2005 that elected the new pope. Now, I am not a Catholic—far from it, in fact—but Cardinal Martini was far from an ordinary cardinal.
After the passing of Pope John Paul II in 2005, Cardinal Martini came a close second in the papal candidacy to Joseph Ratzinger (now known as Pope Benedict XVI). The contrast between the two men is as dichotomous as can be—with Benedict on the right, and Martini on the left. By some reports, Cardinal Martini received more votes than Cardinal Ratzinger on the first ballot. When it came down to it—according to many commentators—the college of cardinals elected a man in better health, who aligned with the traditional ideals of the church.
In 2006 Martini spoke out against the church’s view on contraception, arguing that condoms were the lesser of two evils in regards to the rampant spread of HIV-AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. He also spoke out against the church’s long-standing stance on gay marriage—going as far as to say he understood the need for Pride parades as a tool of self-affirmation for the LGBT community.
In an interview published after his death in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Martini said the church was 200 years out of date and spoke about the need for change.
“The church is tired,” said Martini in the interview. “Our culture has aged, our churches are huge, our religious houses are empty and the bureaucratic machinery grows, our rites and our vestments are pompous. People surrounding me make me feel love[d]. This love is stronger than the sentiment of mistrust which I sometimes perceive towards the church in Europe.”
So back to the reason why a Jew from Montreal is mourning the loss of a cardinal from Milan: we live in a time where religious teachings are considered by some to be justification for racism, homophobia, and terrorism. While we can say it has been this way for as long as religion has existed, we are finally at a place where many can see the error in this way of thinking. People like Cardinal Martini are hard to find—he was a devoutly religious man who, despite living with scripture for many years, acknowledged the need for change.
It takes a lot of courage for a person to go against an institution like the Catholic Church, and even more so for someone who has been a high-ranking member for decades. Every generation has certain people who fight for what they believe to be right, and we had Carlo Maria Martini.
You stood for basic rights for all people, no matter how different from you, and for that, may you truly rest in peace, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.