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His Eminence Carlo Maria Martini S.J.
Archbishop Emeritus of Milan
Martini in 1992
Church Roman Catholic Church
Archdiocese Milan
See Milan
Appointed 29 December 1979
Enthroned 10 February 1980
Reign ended 11 July 2004
Predecessor Giovanni Colombo
Successor Dionigi Tettamanzi
Other posts Cardinal-Priest of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere (1983–2012)
Ordination 13 July 1952
Consecration 6 January 1980
by Pope John Paul II
Created Cardinal 2 February 1983
Rank Cardinal-Priest
Personal details
Birth name Carlo Maria Martini
Born (1927-02-15)15 February 1927
Orbassano, Kingdom of Italy
Died 31 August 2012(2012-08-31) (aged 85)
Gallarate, Italy
Buried Cathedral of Milan, Italy
Nationality Italian
Parents Leonardo Martini
Olga Maggia
Previous post
  • Rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute (1969–78)
  • Rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University (1978–79)
  • President of the Council of European Bishops' Conferences (1986–93)
Alma mater
  • Pontifical Gregorian University
  • Pontifical Biblical Institute
Motto Pro veritate adversa diligere
("For the love of truth, dare to choose adverse situations")
Coat of arms

Carlo Maria Martini SJ (15 February 1927 – 31 August 2012) was an Italian Jesuit, cardinal of the Catholic Church and a Biblical scholar. He was Archbishop of Milan from 1980 to 2004 and was elevated to the cardinalate in 1983. A towering intellectual figure of the Roman Catholic Church, Martini was the liberal contender for the Papacy in the 2005 conclave, following the death of Pope John Paul II. According to highly placed Vatican sources, Martini received more votes in the first round than Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the conservative candidate: 40 to 38. Ratzinger ended up with more votes in subsequent rounds and was elected Pope Benedict XVI.

Martini entered the Society of Jesus in 1944 and was ordained a priest in 1952. His appointment as Archbishop of Milan in 1980 was an unusual circumstance, as Jesuits are not traditionally named bishops. He was on the liberal wing of the church hierarchy. Suffering from a rare form of Parkinson's disease, he retired as archbishop in 2004 and moved to the Pontifical Institute in Jerusalem. He died at the Jesuit Aloisianum College in Gallarate near Milan, eight years after.

Hours after his death, the Italian daily Corriere della Sera printed his final interview, in which he described the church as "200 years out of date."

Early life and education

Carlo Maria Martini was born 15 February 1927 in Orbassano in the Province of Turin, Piedmont, to Leonardo, an engineer, and Olga (née Maggia) Martini. He was baptised on the following 22 February. He was educated at Istituto Sociale, a school run by Jesuits in Turin. He entered the Society of Jesus on 25 September 1944 and was ordained to the priesthood by Cardinal Maurilio Fossati on 13 July 1952. Martini completed his studies in philosophy at the Jesuits' House of Studies in Gallarate, in the province of Milan, and theology at the faculty of theology in Chieri.

In 1958, Martini was awarded his doctorate in fundamental theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University, with a thesis exploring the problems of the Resurrection accounts. After some years of teaching at the faculty of Chieri, he returned to Rome and earned another Doctorate in Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, graduating summa cum laude, with a thesis on a group of codices of the Gospel of Luke.

Academic career

After completing his studies, Martini quickly pursued a successful academic career. In 1962, he was given the Chair of Textual Criticism at the Pontifical Biblical Institute. In 1969 he was appointed rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute. Throughout these years, he edited a number of scholarly works. Martini became active in the scientific field by publishing various books and articles. Furthermore, he received the honour of being the only Catholic member of the ecumenical committee that prepared the new Greek edition of the New Testament, the Novum Testamentum Graece. In 1978, under Pope Paul VI, he was nominated to become the rector magnificus of the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he served until his appointment to the episcopacy.

Episcopate and cardinalate

On 29 December 1979, Pope John Paul II appointed Martini Archbishop of Milan. Martini received his episcopal consecration from John Paul the following 6 January, with Archbishop Eduardo Martínez Somalo and Bishop Ferdinando Maggioni serving as co-consecrators. In the consistory of 2 February 1983, he was assigned the title of Cardinal-Priest of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere. The motto he chose for his coat of arms is translated as "For the love of truth, dare to choose adverse situations".

Carlo Maria Martini, 2006
Martini in 2006

Martini served as relator of the sixth General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in 1983 and as President of the European Bishops' Conference between 1987 and 1993.

In 1987, he began the so-called "cathedra of non-believers" (cattedra dei non-credenti) which was conceived together with the Italian philosopher Massimo Cacciari. It was a series of public dialogues held in Milan with some gnostic or atheist scientists and intellectuals on the matters of bioethics, the social doctrine of the Church and the reasons to believe in God.

In 1996, Martini was presented with an honorary doctorate from the Russian Academy of Sciences. In Spain in October 2000, he was awarded the Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences. Martini was admitted as a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in November 2000.

Martini was one of a group of like-minded prelates who met annually from 1995 to 2006 in St. Gallen, Switzerland, to discuss reforms with respect to the appointment of bishops, collegiality, bishops' conferences, and the primacy of the papacy; they differed among themselves, but shared the view that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was not the sort of candidate they hoped to see elected at the next conclave.

In 2004, Martini reached the Catholic Church's mandatory retirement age and was succeeded in Milan by Dionigi Tettamanzi. At the time of the 2005 conclave, he was 78 years old and hence eligible to vote for the new Pope (being under 80). For years many "progressive" Catholics harboured hopes that he might eventually ascend to the papacy, but when John Paul II died, most commentators believed that his election was unlikely, given his liberal reputation and apparent frailty. Nevertheless, according to La Stampa (an Italian newspaper), he obtained more votes than Joseph Ratzinger during the first round of the election (40 vs. 38). Conversely, an anonymous cardinal's diary stated that he never mustered more than a dozen or so votes, in contrast to another Jesuit cardinal, Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, and quickly withdrew his candidacy. In his book La Chiesa brucia, Andrea Riccardi stated that Martini told him in personal conversation that he had not been in favor of the election of Bergoglio. Upon reaching the age of 80 on 15 February 2007, Martini lost his right to vote in future conclaves.

In June 2012, when Pope Benedict XVI was contemplating retirement and was being urged not to retire by some of his closest confidants, Martini, suffering himself from Parkinson's, urged him to follow through on his decision to resign.

After his retirement, Martini moved to the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Jerusalem to continue his work as a biblical scholar. He returned to Milan in 2008 where he spent his final years in a Jesuit house.

Death and funeral

Martini died in Gallarate on 31 August 2012. According to an online Zenit news statement about his death, Pope Benedict XVI, in his formal message of condolence sent by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, praised Martini's strength during his struggle with Parkinson's, his long service as Archbishop of Milan and his work as a scholar of the Bible. The Mayor of Milan, Giuliano Pisapia, led the tributes by saying, "Carlo Maria Martini illuminated the way for the entire city, not just for part of it. For this reason, today more than ever, Milan mourns its Archbishop."

More than 150,000 people passed before Martini's casket in the metropolitan cathedral of Milan before the Requiem Mass, following the Ambrosian rite, on 3 September. At the beginning of the ceremony, the representative of Pope Benedict, Angelo Cardinal Comastri, vicar general of the Vatican City, read a message. Cardinal Scola presided over the concelebrated Mass and delivered the homily. At the end of the Mass, Cardinal Tettamanzi read his remembrance. Concelebrating with Cardinal Scola were Cardinals Comastri, Tettamanzi, Bagnasco, Piovanelli, Romeo, and Ravasi. Also present were the sister of Martini, Maris, his niece Giulia, and his nephew Giovanni. In attendance were Father Adolfo Nicolás SJ, superior general of the Society of Jesus, and representatives of other Christian denominations and the Jewish and Muslim communities. The Italian government was represented by Prime Minister Mario Monti and his wife. In a private ceremony Martini was buried in a tomb on the left side of the cathedral facing the main altar.


Often considered to be one of the more liberal cardinals, Martini achieved widespread notice for his writings. On occasion Martini's views proved to be controversial, thus bringing him comparatively large amounts of media coverage. In the final interview he gave, shortly before his death, he urged major reforms to the Catholic Church, calling it "200 years out of date" and arguing that, "Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty, and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous".

Martini was known to be "progressive" on matters concerning human relationships, the possible ordination of women to the diaconate, and some bioethical questions.

Dominus Iesus

In 2000, he criticized Dominus Iesus, a declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that the Catholic Church is the sole true Church of Christ, and described the document as "theologically rather dense, peppered with quotations, and not easy to grasp".

Beginning of human life

Martini's position on the start of a distinct human life during the fertilization of oocytes was rebuked by certain Vatican officials.

Right to refuse treatments

Martini, speaking about the right to die debate, said that "terminally ill patients should be given the right to refuse treatments and that the doctors who assist them should be protected by law." It is traditional Catholic moral teaching that one is morally bound to apply "ordinary" treatments, but not "extraordinary" treatments. The distinction was the basis of the declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1980 that "when inevitable death is imminent in spite of the means used, it is permitted in conscience to take the decision to refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted." The Catechism of the Catholic Church also states: "Discontinuing medical procedures that are burdensome, dangerous, extraordinary, or disproportionate to the expected outcome can be legitimate". Martini, in fact, refused medical treatment as his illness advanced.

Collegiality of bishops

Carlo Maria Martini 2010
Martini in 2010

Martini called for greater collegiality in the governance of the Church and urged continued reflection on the structure and exercise of ecclesiastical authority.

Role of women in the Church

Martini demonstrated a desire for further theological enquiry on issues relating to the role of women in the Church and expressed support for the ordination of female deacons.

Sacramentum caritatis

In March 2007, some advocates of gay rights interpreted him as openly criticising the attitude of the Church authorities. While speaking at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to a congregation of over 1,300 visitors, he remarked that "the Church does not give orders." Martini stated: "It is necessary to listen to others, and when speaking to use terms that they understand." These remarks came days after Pope Benedict XVI published the 140-page apostolic exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, a document giving the conclusions of the 2005 Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. Critics interpreted this document as an attempt to influence Catholic politicians, particularly when in 2007 the Italian government was unsuccessfully trying to pass legislation offering legal recognition of same-sex unions.

Social work

Furthermore, he promoted combating social ills, often calling for greater action to be taken in assisting socially underprivileged. Martini wished that the Church rekindle a "burning fire in the heart" of men and women today.

Catholic schools

Martini was a stringent supporter of Catholic schools and many times he spoke in favour of state contribution to Catholic schools. He said that one hour a week of teaching of Catholic religion in the Italian high school was not enough and the time dedicated to religious teaching in the school had to be increased.


In his book Credere e conoscere, published shortly before his death, Martini stated his belief that "the homosexual couple, as such, can never be totally equated to a marriage", he also said that he could understand (although not necessarily approve of) gay pride parades when they support the need for self-affirmation.

See also

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