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Martini repeats his call for reform

NCR Staff

For the second time in as many months, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan has spoken out on the need for reform in the distribution of power in the Catholic church.

Martini, 72, is widely seen as a leading candidate to be John Paul’s successor.

In a different context, another cardinal — this one a curial official — echoed the need to reconsider how the pope’s authority is exercised.

Martini’s comments came after a weeklong visit to the Holy Land, during which he focused on the relationship between the Catholic church and other Christian churches in the region.

“For me, the balance sheet for the ecumenical path is, on the whole, positive,” Martini told Italian radio Nov. 14. “But the Catholic church still has to take some fundamental steps, and the way we exercise papal primacy is one of them,” Martini said. “It needs to be thought about again.”

Martini said that in the 2,000-year history of the church, the pope’s office has taken many different forms. He noted that John Paul himself, in his 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint, invited reflection on how the papacy might be reconfigured in order to reduce the obstacles to ecumenical détente.

“We need to distinguish between doctrinal matters and the concrete means of exercising the pope’s jurisdiction and power,” Martini said.

Cardinal Roger Etchegaray in mid-November also voiced the need for reflection on the papal office.

The pope should not be “a kind of super-bishop,” Etchegaray said. “For Catholics, the problem is how not to be more papal than the pope.”

There is an “urgent duty for the Christian churches to reach a deeper understanding of the role played by the bishop of Rome,” said Etchegaray, who was speaking at an ecumenical conference in Genoa, Italy, sponsored by the Sant’Eggidio community.

Etchegaray, 77, is head of the Vatican’s commission for millennial celebrations and former president of the Council for Peace and Justice. Of French Basque origin, Etchegaray is often mentioned as a papal candidate himself.

“I think that the Petrine ministry is at the dawn of a new era in its history,” Etchegaray said.

Martini broached the issue of power in the church during last month’s European Synod, where his call for a “new instrument of collegiality” sent shockwaves through the European press. Many observers initially believed Martini was calling for a new ecumenical council.

The cardinal clarified his remarks the next morning in an exclusive interview with NCR. He was not calling for a council, he said, but for a more collegial style in the day-to-day operation of the church (NCR, Oct. 22).

The church needs space “where issues can be faced with freedom, in the full exercise of episcopal collegiality, while listening to the Spirit and protecting the common good of the church and all of humanity,” Martini said in his speech at the synod.

“In general, the key task is the deepening and the development of the ecclesiology of communion of Vatican II,” he said.

“Others include the position of women in society and the church, the participation of the laity in some ministerial responsibilities, sexuality, the discipline of marriage, the practice of penance, the relationship with the sister Orthodox churches,” Martini said.

Martini’s latest comments drew wide reaction in the Italian media. Marco Politi, senior Vatican correspondent for the Roman daily la Repubblica, wrote that Martini has taken on the role of enfant terrible for the church, “inserting himself to return to the agenda the church’s unresolved problems that the Vatican would like to sweep under the rug.”

Politi noted that even conservative-to-moderate bishops, such as Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Germany and Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi of Genoa, complained at the European Synod about micro-management by the curia and asked for a halt in the flow of documents from Rome.

“The issue is democracy, even if the church prefers to speak about collegiality,” Politi wrote. In the background of the discussion about collegiality and papal primacy, Politi said, bishops are sending signals about what they believe should be the program of the next pontificate.

Martini’s comments did not go down well with everyone. The Times of London quoted Msgr. Gianni Baget Bozzo, a theologian close to the pope, as calling them “very dangerous.”

“If he is advocating a synodal government of the kind which prevails in the Anglican and Orthodox traditions, that would be disastrous,” Bozzo said.

National Catholic Reporter, December 3, 1999