Back in 2005, as the papal conclave met in the Vatican, most people knew what to expect from the outcome — Joseph Ratzinger, a trusted ally of Pope John Paul II, would soon become Pope Benedict XVI.However, it’s easy to forget that there was another, much more radical contender.
At one point, Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera said Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former archbishop of Milan, would garner about as many votes as Ratzinger in the first round. After the conclave, the Associated Press reported that he was the “main challenger” to Ratzinger.
Martini – who had been suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s disease — had indicated he didn’t want the job, and in the end he is believed to have instructed his supporters to vote for Ratzinger.
However, many supporters had hoped that he would finally become Pope and lead a new, progressive Church.
Even today, some of Martini’s positions look positively radical for a church so rooted in tradition.
According to a 2005 article from the Catholic News Service, Martini “made news with his openness to the possibility of allowing married Latin-rite priests under certain circumstances, ordaining women as deacons and allowing Communion for some divorced Catholics in subsequent marriages not approved by the church.”
Once it was clear he would not be Pope, Martini’s views became even more progressive. In a book published shortly before his death in 2012, Martini wrote, “I disagree with the positions of those in the Church, that take issue with civil unions”, though he stopped short of supporting gay marriage. “It is not bad, instead of casual sex between men, that two people have a certain stability,” he wrote.
Perhaps the most controversial statement from Martini came after his death. In an interview published just hours after Martini died in Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, Martini said that the Catholic Church was “200 years out of date”.
“Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous,” he wrote. “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.”
Of course, even if Martini had been selected as Pope, his power would have had its limits, and his death in 2012 suggests that he might not have been Pope for too long. Regardless, considering the current rift between the reformers and the Vatican-based conservatives, it’s understandable why the reformers may feel like their time has come.
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