'Pope Who Never Was' Shows How Close Major Change Can Come To The Papacy
It may be just smoke. Or it may be Benedict's first big test. The issue is condoms -- whether the Church can allow them in unusual cases, in order to save lives -- and it was all kick-started by a prominent Cardinal who many had on their short lists of papal candidates.
It showed how close the Church can come to leadership by a pontiff with views at strong variance with current policy.
When Time Magazine speculated on a successor to John Paul II, this former archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Carlo Martini, had been listed as one of 12 likeliest candidates.
"According to Italian newspaper accounts, based on rumors and leaked reports, Cardinal Martini won a substantial number of ballots during the first round of voting in the recent conclave," noted a news service at the time.
Some know him as "the pope who never was."
And so there were waves last week when in a dialogue with Ignazio Marino, famous Italian bio-ethicist, which was published in a European periodical called L’Espresso, Cardinal Martini, asked when he felt human life began, replied “not immediately with conception, but after.”
At the earliest stage, argued the Cardinal -- before male and female chromosomes combine, forming new DNA -- there is “no sign of an individually distinguishable life,” and actually it is not yet an embryo (and thus it can be manipulated without any objections of a moral nature, the Cardinal said).
Although the Cardinal had expressed similar views before, the remarks made news because of their lucid presentation and because they were joined by equally strong remarks on euthanasia and condoms.
The Church has long taught that life begins at conception, and such is the basis for its opposition to abortion at any time, as well as to manipulation of the fertilized egg.
Other points Cardinal Martini made included an openness to the insertion into a woman’s womb – even a single woman – of embryos otherwise destined for destruction; allowing fertilization with the sperm or egg from an individual outside a couple if that couple is having trouble conceiving; permitting single persons to adopt children; and use of condoms for spouses when one of them is infected with AIDS (as “a lesser evil”).
When it comes to euthanasia, Cardinal Martini said that such was never to be approved but those who helped a person die should not be condemned if such was done "out of a sentiment of altruism." He felt the same about those who have received abortion.
The Vatican rushed to respond, restating its position on condoms (through an official from the Pontifical Council for Health and Pastoral Care, presided by Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragán) and on when life begins (which is at conception, reaffirmed the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Monsignor Elio Sgreccia).
At the same time, the Holy See is preparing a "study" for internal dialogue, not a "document," on condoms and AIDS, says Cardinal Barragan. There is thus the possibility -- and only the possibility -- that the Pope could bend slightly, a move that would nevertheless cause a tidal surge. A test this is. Some claim it is more than just a chance.
"The question the study addresses
in particular is that of couples united in sacramental marriage, in which one of
the spouses suffers from AIDS," reports Zenit New Service. "The study responds
first to the question: What guarantee exists to prevent infection with AIDS
through a condom? A second question is: Is it morally licit to use a 'technical'
Meanwhile, the remarks of Cardinal Martini, who is a Jesuit, also brought to the fore the issue of that Order, which many have labeled as overly liberal. Just last weekend, after a Mass commemorating St. Ignatius, the Pope reminded Jesuits -- who operate many major universities -- of their vow to be obedient.
In the Pope's first months, a stir was caused when another prominent Jesuit, Father Thomas J. Reese -- editor of America Magazine -- resigned at the request of his order following years of pressure from the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Benedict had headed before becoming Pope.
That move led many to believe that Benedict was indeed a tough enforcer who would weed out the type of liberalism that has been seen as pervading the Jesuits (and other orders).
At the same time, Benedict has been on friendly terms with Cardinal Martini. Just two weeks ago, speaking to youth of Rome, the Pope had suggested to the young people that they read the Cardinal's expert writings on the Scriptures. Thus are indications that Benedict will continue to be a Pope of surprises.
"A Jesuit, Martini embodies the reformist spirit of Catholic progressives. He has for two decades been the 'great white hope' of that constituency, the man most of them would elect to the papacy if they had the chance," noted a liberal Catholic periodical.
Could he actually have made it to the top?
Obviously, he did not. But it was a reminder of what could crop up in the way of like-minded cardinals in the next papal election.
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